Up, Up and Away!
By Steve Desroches
Picking a drag name is serious business. Once one is chosen it’s not so easy to change. It’s akin to a tattoo, really. Choose a dumb one and you’ll be explaining it for the rest of your drag life. So when in 2010 John James Pirroni decided he wanted to be a drag queen, he consulted the pros. Having recently joined the Gold Dust Orphans, he thought two of the co-founders, Ryan Landry and Scott Martino (a.k.a. Penny Champayne), were naturals to ask, as was Jeffrey Roberson, better known as Varla Jean Merman. Pirroni first considered Coco Santi, a variation of a vulgar and crass Haitian Creole expression. No, that wouldn’t work for Pirroni, who wanted a more genteel and kind moniker. Landry suggested Lola Lasagne, the name of the 1960s Batman villain played by Ethel Merman, the fictional mother of Varla Jean. Definitely no food references, thought Pirroni. How about Lola De Boom? That fell flat, too. The quartet continued to toss out ideas as they drove to Logan Airport to drop Roberson off for his return to trip to New Orleans. As they approached the terminal the perfect drag name leaped off a banner, and instantly the car erupted with unanimous approval of the airline-induced inspiration: Delta Miles.
“It was one of the moments when it was just so clear,” says Pirroni. “On that day, three clowns in a car gave birth to a baby drag queen.”
Thanks to that Delta Airlines advertisement for the travel perks program, Pirroni now had the foundation with which to build his drag persona. And much like a Delta 747, Pirroni’s career took off with a boom. With that eureka moment when he decided to pursue la vie en heels, Pirroni acted on advice from his good friend Matty “Liza Lott” Laurenza and reached out to Landry, who was casting his latest show, Phantom of the Oprah. Pirroni thought he’d just be in the chorus, but instead was cast in a scene-stealing role as Nancy Grace. That opportunity opened up a whole new world for Pirroni, who has returned to Provincetown for his second full season as the new host of Sunday Service Drag Brunch at the Pilgrim House, a popular show that mixes the sizzle of drag and bacon.
This hosting gig symbolizes the beginning of a second act for Pirroni as Delta Miles. Twelve years ago, Pirroni followed the Gold Dust Orphans down Route 6, going back and forth to Provincetown all summer, performing at Showgirls, Landry’s weekly variety show that is a local institution, to fine-tune her performance skills. With a commanding stage presence and a powerhouse voice, Delta Miles quickly became an “It” girl on the drag scene in Provincetown. But after five years of both drag and theater work, Pirroni decided it was time to shift gears and pursue his passion for makeup, working for a variety of companies before landing at Sephora. But then the pandemic hit and Pirroni eventually lost his job. Like many, he spent months largely at home doing Instagram live shows and makeup tutorials and raising $2,000 for homeless LGBTQ youth. But he needed more. Once again the siren call of Provincetown beckoned.
“I needed something to do with my life,” says Pirroni. “So I decided to come for the whole summer. And everyone was so supportive. Paige Turner invited me to perform at brunch here at the Pilgrim House, and [owners] Ken and Scott were so helpful. Jonathan Hawkins at the Crown invited me to perform there, too, and each venue was fine with that. It was really great to see and feel this cooperation and support. Everyone was so encouraging. That’s what this community is all about. Everyone here says, ‘Yes’. That’s not true in other places. Here the fact that people are so encouraging is really cool.”
In addition, Mackenzie, an up-and-coming drag performer in Provincetown, proved key to Pirroni’s success here as she was the original host of the Sunday Service, giving him tips on how to make Delta Miles the new star of the show.
On a recent Sunday in April Pirroni stood in the back of the room in the Pilgrim House in full Delta Miles drag in a pink dress, looking impeccable. Special guests this week included Mona Mour, Roxy Pops, and Qya Cristal, all decked out in purple and gold gospel robes. It was a full house. Pirroni’s vision for Drag Brunch is to focus on all-live vocals. As Delta, Pirroni notes his drag persona is “an extension of himself with a wig on.” With a sweet and enthusiastic tone he got the crowd warmed up, cajoling them into hoots and hollers.
When asked when he might pull off a solo feature length show, he smiles and sighs. “It sounds strange, but I don’t think I’ve earned it yet,” says Pirroni. “I would love to do it, but still have some work to do. It will come. I know it will come. Provincetown is the place to make that happen.”
Sunday Service Drag Brunch hosted by Delta Miles is at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St, Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. now through October 30. Tickets are $35 per person and must be purchased in advance. Your experience includes a brunch menu. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are extra. A 20% gratuity will be added to parties of six or more. For tickets and more information call 508.487.6424 or visit pilgrimhouseptown.com.