As we enter 2014, it's safe to say that-- for better or worse-- the gay male's decades-long love affair with fifty-something Madonna Louis Veronica Ciccione is NEVER going away! With her endless parade of emblematic "looks" through the years, Madge has also been one of pop culture's most imitated women. If imitation is indeed the most sincere form of flattery, then it's also safe to say that no one flatters Maddy quite the way that Beardonna does. If you've been to the gay mecca Provincetown for the infamous Bear Week in July, or hung out at the annual outdoor Urban Bear Fair in New York City in May, you've no doubt met the New York City counterculture star known as Beardonna-- or at least SEEN the hirsute and hot-to-trot performer. No, boys, it was NOT a hallucination brought on by the combo of the cheap beer and hot sun. Beardonna is real... and is coming out in a BIG way! Lock up your sons and daughters-- and your Twinkies!
Underneath his Blonde Ambition-inspired ensemble (complete with cone-shaped bra...) is Beardonna's male persona, Rob Donadio. Donadio, who also has a popular character named Wonder WoBear (It's EXACTLY what you think it is!), proclaims to be first and foremost a fan of The Mother of Reinvention, with an affinity for her classic pop tunes: "I'm a bigger fan of her classic music. I like her new stuff-- I like ALL her stuff-- but my favorites are the older ones. They are the ones I parody now. I'm not really making fun of her. It's a show of my love for her: my fandom... my 'ho-MADGE' to her!" Donadio is also a proud Bear. He tells me, "Bear Donna is not a 'he' or a 'she'... It's just 'BearDonna'! So people who refer to me as a drag queen, I'm really not. I'm a performer who's a Bear in real life. My chest is extremely hairy. I don't think it's all that hairy, but you can pull this ('This' being his chest hair!) out to seven and a half inches--- which is not the world record, by the way. The world record is nine inches! I've always been hairy. I dreamed about being hairy when I was growing up. I come from a family of hairy Italian men. I enjoy the masculinity of being a Bear, and I like hairy men myself. The whole Beardonna thing is just for laughs. We need a Bear 'mascot'!"
Even when not singing his notoriously NC-17-rated parodies of Madonna's hits and other songs, Beardonna knows how to get attention! Although the occasional small child may run away, both the guys and the girls always flock to him, usually asking for pictures or requesting to pinch one of those dangerously sharp-tipped dollar-store breasts. Since the first public appearance of Beardonna, the performer has performed at many NYC and New Jersey hotspots, including many events for charity. On August 14th, two days before Madge's 55th birthday, Beardonna and I met in New York's Times Square just after Beardonna's latest video shoot. Beardonna more than held his own with all the other larger-than-life characters hanging out in the area, including a new, mediocre incarnation of The Naked Cowboy, the Naked CowGIRL, and the new Naked Indian (Sorry to be so politically incorrect, but "The Naked Native American" just doesn't sound right... and I've never thought of tight black Calvin Klein briefs as being bona fide Native American costume. I was ready to start a riot!). We make our way from Times Square to a 24-hour eatery in Chelsea, one of New York City's last remaining gayborhoods, stopping for photo-hungry tourists along the way. We meet up with Beardonna's friend Anthony Calcara, his co-star on the radio show "Two Fags and a Hag"... and then proceed to talk about "important" issue: like why the restaurant doesn't have any banana cream pie on its menu. Now, THAT'S something worth starting a riot about!
JR: Hi Beardonna. Thanks for speaking with me! So, just when did Beardonna, shall we say, "bust out" onto the nightlife scene?
BD: I think that the first time Beardonna "struck a pose" was at the Urban Bear Festival, May 2012. That was the first time I stepped out as Beardonna... So it really hasn't been that long!
JR: Ah yes, that's where we first met! So, what has been your most outrageous Beardonna moment... so far?
BD: Hmmm... I think the most exciting story I have to tell is when I had a "wardrobe malfunction". I was in the street after an event, and I had a costume on that didn't have too much "support" to it, which I found later on! I was taking pictures with people in the street, which I am always happy to stop and do. A friend noticed something: Just like some female celebrities have "nip slips", I had a "ball fall"!
JR: Oh, no!
BD: Yes. One of my boys was striking a pose all on his own! I was wondering all along why people were looking at me funny. I think that was the reason...
JR: (Laughs) Wow! So, we can't talk about Beardonna without bringing up that OTHER icon who inspired him... I forget her name! So, at the risk of getting too deep here, I have to ask a philosophical question!
BD: Uh oh!
JR: Yes! So, just how relevant is Madge in GLBT culture as we approach 2014?
BD: Well, I feel that she's still VERY relevant. She's still a trailblazer-- maybe not as much as when she first came out-- but she's certainly done a lot of good for our communtiy. She's got some real kick-ass music as far as I'm concerned. I still love it! Still love HER. I love that she doesn't bow to anybody and still does what she wants and gets what she wants-- and she's happy with what she does! That's the way all of us should be. Right?
JR: Absolutely! Have you ever met any Madonna fans who, shall we say, didn't have a sense of humor about Beardonna?
BD: I have to say that I have not! I haven't had any negative incidents or feedbacks about BearDonna. They either don't say anything and they move on, or they stop and hug me... which I think is great. And I'm happy with that!
JR: Madonna fans can be REALLY hardcore. They WILL kill you for a "Ray of Light" promo henna hand painting kit or something like that.
BD: Yes, they can be! But they are open enough to accept the humor of Beardonna, which is really all it is: having fun and making people smile. Nothing too deep!
JR: Well, Madonna's music was always about having fun and making people smile... and it was never too deep either! (Laughs) But the boys still love her! A lot of these guys in their 40's still act like it's 1985 and "Lucky Star" is still on the radio!
BD: Yeah! But I still enjoy hearing all of her older stuff.
JR: I like hearing her classic music too. It reminds me of when I was (SIGH!) much younger... So, while we're on the subject: Out of all Maddy's best-loved songs, which do you feel is quintessential Madonna?
BD: "Vogue". My favorite. I never tire of listening to that song!
JR: What's the hardest part about being a "starving artist"... or, to be more politically correct, an "independent performer" in this day and age?
BD: Starving? (Looks down at belly) YEAH! (Both laugh) Fortunately, I'm NOT starving! It's just about getting people to accept what you do... and get them to come to your shows or have you show up at their events ... and get them to PAY you! I'll do charity work for a cause... but this shit ain't free! I need new cones sometimes! I'm not just doing it for the money. I'm having a great time doing it. I don't know where it's gonna go, but for now it's fun. But to be compensated for what you do, as "art" or "work", would be nice!
JR: Yes, I'm a firm believer that no one in this day and age should work for free... unless it's for charity! So... where are some of your favorite hotspots to hang out?
BD: I like Industry, Therapy, Rockbar, Stonewall, The Duplex... I've performed at a lot of these places.
JR: So, besides Beardonna(!), who are some of your favorite nightlife personalities?
BD: I LOVE Sherry Vine. You gotta love Sherry! Sherry Vine has been very supportive in getting Beardonna out there. Who else? Lady Bunny: a legend.
JR: You and Sherry both have a very similar sick and twisted sense of humor!
BD: Yes! Sherry did kind of inspire me to start this. I was friends with her for a couple of years before, and the idea to do this came out, and she introduced me to a lot of cool people. So yes, Sherry is a big part of Beardonna.
JR: She also knows the importance of getting out there and being seen! She's been a part of New York nightlife for a long time.
BD: Oh yeah!
JR: So, what do you like to do for fun when Beardonna is not performing?
BD: When I'm not performing, There's a radio show...
JR: Ah yes! Rumor has it that your, ahem... "twin brother" Rob Donadio is part of a radio show...
BD: Yeah, he's a nice guy! Very misunderstood! (Laughs) The show is called "Two Fags and a Hag", and it's with my two best friends in the world: Anthony (my "fag") and Drew (my "hag"). Anthony and I have been friends for 34 years now! Our best friend Drew lives in Florida. She's our "straight anchor" to our show. She's married and has a family. So, we have three different opinions. I'm pretty much the whore on the show.
JR: Well, someone's gotta be!
BD: Anthony is a little more sedated, and Drew is a straight woman! So, we have three different opinions! It always makes for an interesting conversation. It's just a lot of fun. We have a blast every Friday morning at 10AM. We talk about a lot of different things. Never anything too serious. We want to try and keep it light and happy, and touch on some important issues, and have special guests. We just try and have a good time.
JR: Sounds great! So, on to one of my favorite subjects: Does Beardonna want to spill any beauty secrets?
BD: Oh, God! You'll have to wait for the book! Beauty secrets? It's all from the dollar store!
JR: Don't be dissin' the dollar store!
BD: I'm not! I wouldn't be here if we didn't have them! "Beauty on a budget"! All my costumes are made on a dollar store budget and a glue gun... and "LOOK OUT"!
JR: You know, I've been asking a lot of really trivial, skin deep, silly, pop culture questions. It's time for a very serious question now: How do you feel about Hostess Twinkies making a comeback?
BD: THANK GOD! (All laugh.) Because I'd have to change one of my songs if they didn't: my "Papa Don't Preach" parody, called "My Belt Don't Reach": all about my love of snack cakes-- Twinkies, Ring Dings, Ho Ho's... That video is all about how I got my voluptuous figure. Sherry Vine plays my mother, Bear Mama... and in the video we see how she gives in to my addiction for snack cakes... and how I drove her to drink. It's quite funny. And, it was shot in 3-D.
JR: Really?! I can't wait to see it! So, where can we catch Beardonna live?
BD: I hope to have a show at The Duplex by the holidays. I would love to do some parodies of the holiday classics: of course, mixed with poop and sex! Hopefully, I'll also be doing something on a regular basis at Rockbar. Wait and see. You'll just have to keep following me!
JR: I can't wait! So, I have to throw one more question in: Let's say we leave here and out on the street you see...Madonna! Let's say she's walking down the street in sunglasses and talking on her phone, yelling something like, "Damnit, Lourdes! I told you NO POT SMOKING IN THE HOUSE!" or something like that. What would you do?
BD: I think I'd vogue on over to her and just say "Hello!"... and she what she says! And throw in, "Our resemblance is mind-boggling, isn't it?!"
Can't get enough Beardonna? Catch him on Facebook (Bear Donna) and at www.Beardonna.com. You can catch "Two Fags and a Hag" at Blog Talk Radio at www.blogtalkradio.com/twofagsandahag, with new shows live every Friday morning at 10AM EST.