Style Designer, Performer Brandon Hilton’s Combat for the Limelight

Brandon Hilton as Onya Mann. (Picture by Laurence Logan)

“You possibly can ask me something,” Brandon Hilton tells me over the telephone. “Nothing is off limits and nothing’s gonna offend me.”

Hilton was reassuring me after listening to me stumble over my phrases, making an attempt maybe too delicately to ask him about his childhood. Earlier in our dialog, the 35-year-old casually talked about that his father had killed somebody in entrance of him when he was a child. I puzzled how the trauma had affected him.

Hilton grew up in Pacolet, a rural small city in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, about 60 miles southwest of Charlotte. He mentioned he was 2 years outdated when his dad started beating and molesting him, and when he was 7, his dad shot and killed his mother’s boyfriend in entrance of him at a McDonald’s. He’s been in jail ever since.

Wanting again, Hilton feels he didn’t have a childhood after what he skilled at such a younger age. He mentioned he additionally felt pressured to develop up early with a purpose to assist his mother elevate his sister.

However it’s this previous trauma that drives him.

“That has at all times been my largest motivation to sort of get out of Pacolet, South Carolina, and make one thing of myself so I don’t have this shadow of my dad lingering over me for the remainder of my life,” Hilton mentioned. “I don’t need that to be my legacy, in order that’s motivated me to do as a lot as I presumably can to overshadow that.”

Brandon Hilton applies lipstick in the mirror as drag queen Onya Mann.
Brandon Hilton as Onya Mann. (Picture by Laurence Logan)

Now residing in Charlotte along with his husband, Hilton has spent years increase his identify and abilities with a purpose to turn out to be the multifaceted individual he’s right this moment — singer, mannequin, dressmaker, pig farmer, podcast host, drag queen, actor and soon-to-be writer.

Because it seems, past the shadows of his previous not solely lay the sunshine, however for Hilton, the limelight.

Born on Myspace

Brandon Hilton likes to say he was “born on Myspace’’ as a result of that’s the place it began.

He recalled being recent out of highschool when a pal advised him in regards to the social networking web site, which was a primary of its variety within the mid-2000s. He signed up utilizing the desktop pc at his grandma’s home and added a primary profile image, however issues didn’t keep primary for lengthy.

Hilton expanded his content material as he gained extra pals on the location. He credit his platinum blonde hair and the eccentric images his grandma took of him in her storage for serving to him stand out.

As soon as he reached 1,000,000 pals on Myspace, that’s when he began getting alternatives to work with photographers and producers, he recalled.

“Then I used to be like, ‘Alright, I ought to in all probability make the most of this and sort of make it probably not a profession, however only a means that I can make cash and get myself out of Pacolet, South Carolina,’ was the objective. And in order that’s what I did,” Hilton mentioned.

Brandon Hilton as Only Mann
Brandon Hilton as Solely Mann. (Picture by Laurence Logan)

A producer in Texas satisfied Hilton to maneuver to Dallas to work on his music. On the time, he had been recording songs for his Myspace web page utilizing the microphone on his laptop computer, so he was intrigued by the potential for higher-quality manufacturing.

Whereas in Dallas he labored at Radio Disney, doing commercials and voicing promotional segments on Disney XD, although he alleges he was later fired due to his Myspace, which he was advised was “too racy.”

“I feel that it was a little bit homophobic that I bought fired from Disney as a result of I didn’t have something that was actually loopy or something like that,” Hilton mentioned. “I feel they simply weren’t prepared for me on the time.”

Right this moment, Hilton categorizes his music as pop dance, however he described the work earlier in his profession as extra grungy digital.

“I preferred that complete early Luciana, Myspace sound the place the whole lot’s gritty with high-energy dance beats,” he mentioned. “However I sort of grew out of that fairly quick as a result of I needed my music to sound legit and I needed my voice to be higher produced.”

Brandon Hilton’s debut album Soiled On The Dancefloor charted #11 on Sizzling Subject/Shockhound’s most downloaded albums of 2010.

For his sophomore album, NOCTURNALhe labored with Edwin McCain’s producer Marcus Suarez within the hopes of getting nominated for a Grammy, however the album solely reached #63 on iTunes Pop Charts when it debuted in 2011.

Hilton’s music is within the 2012 film Midnight Cabaretby which he additionally stars, and his music “Glamour Zombie” was featured on Oxygen’s The Unhealthy Ladies Membership. He adopted that with the discharge of his first hard-copy album in 2013, a group of singles and remixes referred to as The Better of Brandon Hilton.. SO FAR!!

His fourth and newest album, Rebornwas launched in January 2021 and reached #9 on the US iTunes Dance Chart. “Love Once more,” launched in February 2021, is his most up-to-date single, although he additionally just lately remastered his outdated Myspace music and put it on YouTube as Hilton’s Myspace Mixtapethat includes eight tracks from 2007-’09.

Most of Hilton’s music is on his YouTube channel, although he plans to rerelease his music on streaming platforms as a part of a brand new undertaking he’s calling his “legacy album.” Launched someday this 12 months, it should comprise over 75 tracks that chronicle his music from the Myspace days to now, plus a couple of new songs.

As with most musicians, Hilton mentioned the messages behind his music have modified as he’s advanced as an individual and artist — rising progressively darker and extra critical, however nonetheless enjoyable. He notes Reborn is his most private report thus far.

“I went by some heartbreak and I misplaced some members of the family that had been actually necessary to me,” Hilton mentioned. “So the songs on that one are nonetheless like enjoyable get together songs, however they’re essentially the most private, as a result of I’ve touched on extra private issues in my lyrics.”

The Home of Mann

Studying to stitch wasn’t a pastime for Brandon Hilton, however a necessity so he might put on the outfits he envisioned for excursions and music movies. The talent particularly got here into play whereas performing in drag — first in Texas after which regionally again within the Carolinas — finally going by the identify Onya Mann.

“I needed to have like RuPaul’s Drag Race degree costumes, and I needed to have very nice costumes, however there’s no shops regionally that promote drag queen costumes and tremendous elaborate issues, so I needed to begin making them,” Hilton mentioned.

It didn’t take lengthy earlier than drag queens from all around the world started asking Hilton to make their costumes, too. Hilton additionally began dressing celebrities he had befriended over time whereas within the leisure trade.

In 2018, he launched the style model The Home of Mann, which has dressed main artists together with Kim Petras, Dorian Electra and Allie X and has been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Paper Journal. Garments can be found on-line, at varied pop-up occasions and Stash Pad, a classic boutique in southeast Charlotte’s Grier Heights neighborhood.

The Home of Mann has placed on exhibits at New York and Paris vogue weeks and has had outfits featured on Claws on TNT; RuPaul’s Drag Race; The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula: Resurrection on AMC’s Shudder streaming service; and Queen of Dragsa German drag competitors TV sequence judged by Heidi Klum.

“If there’s a drag TV present, we in all probability contributed no less than one or two costumes to it for certain,” Hilton mentioned.

Hilton’s newest work will be seen on season 4 of HBO Max’s Doom Patrola TV sequence based mostly on the DC Comics superhero staff of the identical identify for which Hilton designed drag queen superhero Maura Lee Karupt’s costume.

Brandon Hilton as Solely Mann. (Picture by Laurence Logan)

Being a drag performer provides Hilton a novel perspective as a dressmaker as a result of he understands what an outfit wants with a purpose to be useful whereas trendy. He mentioned he takes inspiration from the newest traits in addition to his every day life and no matter is round him, like his saltwater fish tank.

“I’ve a bunch of cool corals and fish and I like the best way they appear, like the best way coral appears within the water when it’s waving and the best way fins look and stuff like that — sea slugs, particularly,” he mentioned. “However I’ve at all times been obsessive about the ocean, coral and marine life, and I get numerous inspiration from that.”

Brandon Hilton as Only Mann.
Brandon Hilton as Solely Mann. (Picture by Laurence Logan)

As if all that wasn’t sufficient, Hilton is presently writing two books: a drag queen guide and an autobiography.

Hilton hopes the autobiography, which delves into his tough upbringing, his grandmother’s suicide and his personal psychological well being struggles, supplies an perception into who he actually is.

And a part of that’s his pigs — little question a nod again to his rural roots. Up till just lately, Hilton had 11 pigs residing in his residence (he has six now). He mentioned they assist preserve him grounded within the face of on-line backlash, demise threats and hate mail.

“It’s good to have my little farm with my chickens and my chihuahua and my pigs, in order that sort of brings me out of this faux on-line world the place individuals hate me a lot,” Hilton mentioned. “I’ve clearly numerous assist and folks love me and observe me from all around the world, however it solely takes one individual telling you to love kill your self to carry you down, ?”

Additionally on Hilton’s thoughts these days is the truth that his dad can be getting out of jail inside the subsequent 12 months. He mentioned he’s hesitant about the place they stand.

“The very last thing that my dad did earlier than being arrested was level a gun at me and pull the set off, however he had no bullets as a result of he simply used all of them on my mother’s boyfriend. In order that’s been like, the lasting impression in my head, all these years. And I used to be like, if my dad will get out, is he gonna come kill me?” Hilton mentioned. He assured me his sister confirmed along with his dad that gained’t be the case.

After I requested what he would inform himself at 7 years outdated, he mentioned, “Don’t surrender on your self.”

“I attempted to commit suicide two totally different instances in my life and I feel so many instances about like, what if I had succeeded as a substitute of, , fucking up little issues and never dying?” he mentioned. “The most effective factor I can say is simply maintain on. Don’t suppose that that is the top as a result of the world is your oyster.”

Hilton fought to step out of the shadows of his previous. If he hadn’t, possibly he wouldn’t be standing within the limelight right this moment, poised for greatness.


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