By day, 34-year-old John Downs works as a male nurse at the local psychiatric hospital, but by night he transforms himself into the beautiful and glamorous Sommora Mann. Downs came to Reno four years ago and hit the drag world with a bang. Imitating the fabulous Reba McEntire, he performs in the Silver Dollar Court, an annual cross-dressing extravaganza that raises money for local charities.
How long have you been doing drag?
For seven years now.
Why portray Reba McEntire?
I don’t necessarily portray her. It’s more like I use her as my inspiration. When I was younger, she was my all-time favorite country artist. I always thought she was just the bomb, and I fell in love with her earlier music. I loved the way she carried herself on stage and how she just had a style all of her own.
How do you become a woman like Reba?
I practice forever. Weeks before a performance I practice. I’ll practice while I’m getting ready for work and stuff like that. I only lip sync during a performance, I don’t sing.
Where do you perform?
Locally, in the gay clubs, like 1099 or Visions. Most of the major shows are at 1099.
When you are in drag, what is your absolute favorite article of clothing?
My body briefer, which is almost like a girdle. I always buy it two sizes too small and take it in when I get home. I wear it under everything no matter what.
Where do you get these glamorous costumes?
I don’t buy most of them. I sew, so I make a lot of them myself. It’s much cheaper. Being a drag queen is very expensive, so whenever you can save money, the better.
Any good beauty secrets for drag queens?
Oh, lots of makeup. And no matter what, no queen can go without Danskins [tights], no matter how beautiful they think their legs are. And mostly, the higher the heel, the better.
So what is the best thing about dressing as a woman?
The jewelry, it’s bigger and flashier.
Being a woman is so much more high-maintenance. The makeup alone takes, at the very least, an hour.
All-time favorite female?
Barbra Streisand, she’s a goddess as far as I’m concerned.
What are the highlights of being in drag?
It’s really fun. You get a lot of attention, and you get to go to other cities for festivals and represent Reno. It’s just like a big party. I get a lot of satisfaction from doing all of this for charity. There are so many positives about the entire thing. It opens doors for you.
When you’re in drag, which bathroom do you use?
The women’s, unless I am in a casino. Then I use the men’s. It’s just a general rule.