Nina West, the drag persona of Andrew Levitt ’01, first performed at Denison’s yearly Outlook Drag Show in her senior year. In the art of drag, West found a vehicle for pursuing her ultimate passion—raising awareness and money for the LGBTQ community. The Nina West Foundation supports Central Ohio LGBTQ youth and families.
More than 35 main-stage productions later, West is a pillar in the Columbus queer community—her presence as familiar and grounding as the Short North arches that stretch across High Street. But campy outfits and stellar performances don’t begin to scratch the surface of who she is. West is a creator, producer, story-teller, entrepreneur, advocate, and philanthropist—all wrapped in one colorful, larger-than-life package.
The world outside Columbus was introduced to West in Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality competition show that aims to crown America’s next “Drag Queen Superstar.” West auditioned nine times for a spot on the iconic show.
“Getting the phone call that I was cast was unreal,” says West. “It changed my life.”
West has been at the top of her game in Columbus for a long time. But joining the 14 other drag queens who are stars in their own right challenged her to grow.
“In this environment where you’re told ‘No, that’s not good enough. No, that’s wrong,’ or ‘Yes, that’s great, but it could be better,’ you have such a unique opportunity to grow as much as you can,” she says.
Each Drag Race episode included runway shows and challenges to test the drag queens’ talents. West pushed the boundaries of her comfort zone in “Dragracadabra,” in which contestants were tasked to create a razzle-dazzle magic show.
“I know nothing about magic, so learning the trick was so fun. But writing the show around it—that’s what I do. I’m a writer and creator, so I really got to show off what I do best,” she says. “Doing it in such a short time frame really put my ability to task. I proved to myself I’ve got more than what I thought I had.”
Staying true to herself—and bringing quintessential Nina West looks to the runway—was another way she made her mark.
“I think my looks tell a story. You won’t always necessarily get a runway look, but my style of drag is pure over-the-top fashion. Some people will love it, some people will hate it. But the looks will always make you think, make you question.”
West exited Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in sixth place, taking with her a following and platform that has grown beyond Columbus. One of her new fans is singer and Fenty Beauty owner, Rihanna, who now follows West on Instagram. The show also renewed West’s sense of self-confidence.
“The show taught me a lot about myself, about trusting my gut and being confident in my choices,” she says. “Almost 100 percent of the time, I’m doing what I should be doing. It took being aired across the world to really see that.”
What’s next for Nina West? Well, just about everything. She’s releasing two new EPs—one comedy album and one children’s album—touring the world, producing new shows, running her foundation, and taking the time to enjoy every second of it.
“This experience is like I won the lottery,” says West. “RuPaul has opened all of these doors for me, and she has graciously given all of us a bit of her light and her star. I’m just trying to run with it, stay focused, and count my blessings.”