LouLou D’vil, a fabulous Finn who embodies the golden age of classic striptease, was crowned Miss Exotic World 2013, the Reigning Queen of Burlesque on Saturday, June 1st at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. I have enjoyed spending more time with LouLou recently, and when we hung out in London a couple of weeks before the pageant, I could sense the composure and determination beneath her happy manners and sparkling smile. She struck me as someone who never waits for opportunity and success to drop into her lap; she works hard, without compromise, and creates her own good fortune. She infects you with her warmth and charm, and I’m delighted for her.
We enjoyed a long, excited and interesting phonecall on Tuesday, and here is your chance to listen in. We discussed victory, risk, luck and love, but LouLou D’vil’s life can be summed up by two of her favourite words: ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’!
Holli: Congratulations! How are you feeling?
LouLou: Oh, I can’t even describe it. Really amazing! I still can’t believe it.
H: Completely unexpected? Not even the slightest inkling?
L: No, I really didn’t expect anything. I just wanted to do a great show and do my best. That’s just the way I am; I never expect anything beforehand. I’m overwhelmed, and so happy.
H: Can you take me through Saturday – your preparation, performance and the build-up to the result?
L: Sure. It was an awkward day, because I don’t get nervous that much any more, but on Saturday morning I was really, really nervous. I just tried to relax and meditate that everything was going to be fine. It was up and down; one minute I felt nervous and then I felt great, then I was nervous again! [laughs] I knew in my mind that I wanted this so much because this is the biggest dream I’ve ever had. So I just tried to keep myself calm and told myself that everything would be fine, trying to mentally prepare myself. Towards the evening I began to feel better and better. When we arrived in Vegas I was sick, and even on Thursday I had a high fever, so that was kind of rough because I didn’t have all the energy that I usually have – that was my biggest worry. But I felt better in the evening; I played my favourite music and danced alone in my hotel room [laughs] to prepare and get myself in a good mood. And it worked!
H: Was the atmosphere nice backstage, were things relatively calm?
L: The Queens are the last group of course, so there were a lot of other people buzzing around and everyone was very excited and ready to go on stage. It was a nice atmosphere, as always, and everyone is very supportive. But I was able to create my own bubble so I could concentrate on my own performance. I usually don’t talk that much when it’s my time to go. Just before I had to go on stage I went to be by myself and just… I’m not sure how to explain…
H: Get in the zone?
L: Yes, just thinking positive thoughts and reminding myself that I’m here to have fun, and it doesn’t matter what happens as long as I do a good show and the audience is having fun. So I was saying that to myself and calming myself down.
H: Were you happy with your performance? Did everything go smoothly?
L: Yes, I was happy with it, although I’m never 100 percent happy. I’m a perfectionist, so there is always some little thing that I’m not happy about. Of course, the audience and other people don’t always notice those little things. But yes, I felt great and really happy. I thought, well, I’ve done my best and I couldn’t have done anything differently when I performed my act, so I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I gave it everything I could.
H: So how did things build up to the results?
L: Well, when I had done my own act, I went into the audience to join my boyfriend, who was there too. I was the third performer in the group, so I had time to go and watch other people. I felt great, because it’s a very special event and I know almost everyone there, so you are watching your friends perform. If I didn’t know them then perhaps it would feel more competitive, but I know all these great people personally and not just as performers, so it was great to cheer everyone on.
H: So you were first awarded ‘Most Classic’. In the past, receiving one of the other awards has lead to winning one of the main titles. Did it occur to you at that point that it might be a good sign?
L: Actually I thought differently [laughs] because I didn’t recall that at the time. I thought, okay, ‘Most Classic’, that’s awesome. But maybe that’s it. I didn’t think it would be possible to get two trophies; I don’t know why I thought that.
It all just happened so suddenly: I was in the audience having a drink, and then you hear your name and think, what? That’s so awesome! [laughs] And then I couldn’t get on the stage because there were no stairs! But of course there was David Bishop to help me get on stage. So that was classic! [laughs] But yes, it didn’t occur to me that maybe I was going to win the whole thing.
H: So I imagine everything became one big flurry of surreal activity once it was announced…
L: Oh, totally! We all had to go on stage – I can’t remember if they’ve done that before – and then they were announcing people. We were holding hands and getting excited: who is it going to be? First Runner Up… Second Runner Up… And then Queen. And the hostess said, ‘I am so happy to announce that the next Queen is…’ And all of a sudden you hear your name. I just burst into tears and was like, ‘Excuse me? Can you repeat that?!’ [laughs] Because I didn’t expect anything, so it was a really, really big surprise and such a big dream… I don’t even know how to describe it. I can’t even remember what I did after that! [laughs] Of course, we went partying until about six or seven in the morning, and then I heard I had to do a photo shoot at 1PM and thought, oh awesome, I’ll get to sleep for a couple of hours! [laughs] But I was so happy and excited I didn’t even care; I could do that, I could totally do that on two hours sleep!
H: It must have been great to have your boyfriend there…
L: Oh, it was the best thing. I would have been devastated if all this had happened and he wasn’t there. It’s really important to have your loved ones around you, and he is the most important person to me. We were both crying, we were both so happy…
H: Aww, that’s lovely.
L: And of course I had my best friends there, Bettina May and Ms Redd, so that made it even better. Everybody close to me was there. It makes a huge difference to share it with loved ones.
H: I imagine Sunday was also fairly crazy, or did you manage to snatch a little relaxation by the pool?
L: I wouldn’t say it was relaxing. [laughs] It’s such an amazing buzz because everybody wants to come and congratulate you and talk to you. It’s awesome. We did get to go to the pool party because there was a little photo shoot there. We were able to hang out a little, but because there are so many people talking to you your head is spinning around. I still don’t feel like I can relax because I’m still so excited. Maybe when I go home everything will start to sink in and I will relax! I’m just so excited because I have so many things to plan for this year: where am I going to go, what am I going to do? Planning all these trips and things. It’s fun!
“For me, the Burlesque Hall of Fame is all about the legends, honouring them and meeting them, and I think every performer should remember the roots of burlesque and remember these absolutely amazing ladies.”
H: I saw some really nice photos of you posing with some of the other previous queens. How does it feel to join their ranks and be a queen alongside these incredible women?
L: Oh, I feel so privileged and honoured because so many of the queens from past years are also good friends and I’ve been able to get to know them better, and they are just so, so supportive and everyone seemed so happy for me. It’s very emotional just to be able to say that I am one of those amazing ladies, because I love them all so much and they are just incredible performers and people. It’s really amazing.
H: You must be pleased to see the European competitors doing well and taking titles: Lada Redstar taking ‘Best Debut’, and Laurie Hagen awarded ‘Most Innovative’ – everyone went mad about her. Do you see this as a particularly good thing – does it connect the European scene more with BHoF and raise more awareness of it?
L: I think so. I think, when you win something, more people become interested in BHoF and think, ‘Oh, what is this?’ Because if they haven’t heard about BHoF before, be they performers or people within or around the entertainment business, they will become more aware of it as a result. And I also hope that more European girls will get excited about applying to the event, because there haven’t been that many European applicants. Usually there are a few, but I’ve heard so many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t know, should I apply? Is it possible that somebody from Europe or somewhere other than the United States could be successful there?’ So I think it’s great proof that they can really achieve something at BHoF, that it’s not only for US performers, but a truly international event.
H: Absolutely. Can you briefly describe the scene in Finland right now and what you hope to inspire and even improve there as Queen?
L: Well, we have a lot of performers in Finland, and I think the Helsinki Burlesque Festival is really well known because when I have talked with people here, so many of them want to come to Finland and do the festival. It’s a truly international festival that is so well organised and produced, and everybody seems to have fun…
H: The recent line-ups for the festival have been amazing…
L: Yes! And I hope that now I’m representing Finland, even more people get excited about the festival and want to come, because Finland is not a big country and it’s amazing that we have such a big scene and the festival is so well thought of. Even though it is winter time during the festival, it is something really exotic for a lot of people. We are just proud to show what we have in Finland. It’s great.
H: And the fact that the festival is so well thought of that big international names come over for it – it must be inspiring for the new Finnish performers to see them…
L: Oh yes, definitely. And I’m very happy about the fact that there are legends involved in the festival, because the legends are something we should all appreciate and praise. For me, the Burlesque Hall of Fame is all about the legends, honouring them and meeting them, and I think every performer should remember the roots of burlesque and remember these absolutely amazing ladies. Even my arm can tell how close they are to me…
H: Of course, you have tattoos of Satan’s Angel and Tempest Storm –
L: Yes, and Dixie Evans…
H: I saw congratulatory messages to you from Satan’s Angel and Tempest Storm online – that must be really special…
L: Oh my God, you cannot even imagine. I’m doing what I’m doing because of them; they are such a great inspiration. Every time I am able to talk with them is a great honour for me. They are incredible ladies – in their sixties, seventies, even eighties – and they are still so full of energy and fun to hang around with, and they have amazing stories. On Sunday night, Tempest Storm saw me after the show and she told me it was so great to see me again, because we saw each other at Viva Las Vegas in March and she remembered that. She said, ‘It’s fantastic that you are doing classic burlesque and you do it beautifully, and I’m happy to see you keep classic burlesque alive.’ I was just… wow. Their words, and what they think about me as a performer, are the most important things to me, because I think so highly of them and I just want to make them proud. I love the fifties burlesque style, it comes from my heart, and if I can make those ladies proud I couldn’t be happier. I truly hope that all the other performers remember that these ladies do exist and they can teach us so much, and we should enjoy and appreciate them as long as they are around.
“The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your act and to be able to show through your body that you are having fun, to be your true self. Being real and projecting real emotions on stage.”
H: Let’s just briefly talk about the act you competed with – ‘Sex on Legs’. When we met in London a couple of weeks ago, we discussed your decision and you said you wanted to go with something tried and tested that you felt really confident about and had performed frequently. You must feel that this decision paid off…
L: Yes, because creating an act is a long process. I think you have to perform your act for about a year before you really feel it without thinking about the choreography and all those little things: how your costume works, etc. After a while, you can just enjoy the music and let your feelings shine through, because that is so important. It’s good to be technical and know all the movements, but for me it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your act and to be able to show through your body that you are having fun, to be your true self. Being real and projecting real emotions on stage. And that all comes after you have been doing your act for some time. That’s why I’m not a fan of taking new acts, because it takes time to really know your act. So I think it was a good decision to do an act that I know very, very well. And if your act is over four minutes, you have to cut it down to four…
H: Did you have to do a lot of cutting?
L: About two minutes, which is quite a lot, because every moment counts. It’s hard because the music is the key element, so if there is something missing from that music, you have to think everything through again. But I was able to do that quite easily because I had a great friend who was able to edit my music the way that I wanted it, the way that would sound best for me. There are a lot of people that have been really supportive; it’s awesome.
H: You’ve already suggested some good advice for those who are thinking about competing for Queen one day. Is there anything else you would advise?
L: I just think you have to do what you do best. Not try to do what someone else is doing, but really try to be original and yourself. And work super, super hard! And not think that someone is going to come and get you and make it happen – put yourself there. And just be genuine. That’s all I can really say.
H: So, what do you hope to achieve as Queen in the coming year, as a representative of the Burlesque Hall of Fame?
L: Well, I would love to do something with the legends, because they are so close to my heart, and I hope that we will see even more legends next year at BHoF. That would be the greatest thing for me – to help and support the legends in some way. But I haven’t had time yet to think much further than that – I’m still bubbling under the surface!
H: We’re on Tuesday – I imagine you are still digesting it all!
L: Yes! But I just want to spread a positive message: that people should enjoy their lives and work hard and believe in their dreams, and just believe in themselves and be good to other people. I think if you are good to other people, good will also come to you.
H: Let’s move on to a few things that tell people a little more about you in general… When did you first start performing burlesque – did you have a performance background before that and go on to discover burlesque?
L: Well, I have been dancing almost my whole life. I have tried all different kinds of dance forms. When I was very little I started with ballet – not proper ballet but for small kids – and I enjoyed being a little princess ballerina. But I didn’t become a ballerina. I also tried hip-hop, ballroom and Latin, and classical dance. In fact, my whole family has been dancing as long as I can remember; music and dancing is very important in my family. No one in my family is a professional musician or dancer, but it is close to our hearts, truly a passion. It has been important to me my entire life, but I am not a trained dancer. Actually, when I was younger I was quite a shy girl – I didn’t want to perform! [laughs] ‘I’ll just stay here at the back – that’s fine with me!’
“It was a big decision to quit my day job… But I felt that if I wanted to do something in my life that I truly love and feel passionate about, I had to close my eyes and jump … I have never regretted anything.”
I began performing burlesque when I was 28, so that sounds quite late. Before that, I didn’t do much performing, but I had this feeling that I wanted to be a rock star! That didn’t happen because I couldn’t sing, but it was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a guitar player or the drummer, because the lead singer can jump around and have fun and has all that amazing energy. I had a secret dream that this was what I would love to do – I just discovered I didn’t have the voice! [laughs] So I just forgot it and accepted that wasn’t going to happen, but then I found burlesque and thought, yes, this is so awesome because it combines so many things: costume, beautiful vintage style, dancing, music, choreography… And it was something you could do by yourself – you can create everything yourself –
H: It’s all on your own terms –
L: Yes, exactly. There is no one telling you what to do. I like to do my own thing – I’m not good at taking orders! [laughs] It sounded perfect. And I didn’t even think about the fact that you have to be almost naked – it didn’t even occur to me! I just wanted to try it out, so I did! And I just fell in love, completely, with all my heart. It felt so right. It was the beginning of everything.
H: Did you always hope to reach this level of recognition? Did you take things seriously from the beginning and expect to reach this point?
L: When I start something, I want to give it everything. No half measures – I put everything into it. It’s just the way I work. So, from the beginning, I feel that I always have to do my best, improve my talents and work super, super hard all the time. I think I had been performing burlesque for a year when I did some of my first international shows, and I couldn’t believe it: can this be true? Could I really do this as my job? But in my mind I thought, maybe I can make this work. At one point, I noticed that people seemed to really like my style and wanted to book me. It was a big decision to quit my day job in an advertising office. I was so scared – I have never done anything that scary.
H: It’s a big gamble…
L: Yes, a big risk. You have no guarantee of how everything is going to go; I had no idea if I was going to make it or not. But I felt that if I wanted to do something in my life that I truly love and feel passionate about, I had to close my eyes and jump. So I did, and I have never regretted anything. I knew that if it didn’t work I could always go back, but I had to give it a try and see how far I could go. So I just spread my wings and jumped, and it has been really exciting.
Even being selected to compete for ‘Best Debut’ in 2011 felt as if it couldn’t be true; it was just amazing. And when I won ‘Best Debut’, it was the first moment when I thought, shit! Maybe – maybe one day I could be a Queen. That was a moment that opened my eyes, which made it possible. And then, two years later, ta daa! [laughs]
H: You made it!
L: I made it! [laughs]
H: So your career as a burlesque performer remains a full time occupation now…
L: Yes, absolutely, and I still can’t quite believe it. It’s just amazing. I mean, how many people can say they are doing a job that they truly love and that is still such a big passion? Every time I work, I feel so happy.
H: You’re very lucky.
L: Yes, it has to do with luck too. I think it was Jim Rose who told me something like, ‘in order to be lucky, you have to put yourself in the position to be lucky’ –
H: You have to put in the work –
L: Yes. It’s a great mixture of everything: good timing, being in the right place at the right moment, and meeting the right people, doing the right shows. It is a wonderful adventure: there are ups and downs, but you have to appreciate every experience, even the worst ones.
H: Because you can always learn something from those…
L: Yes, absolutely. I always feel that there are never bad memories, because you can always learn from everything and you should remember that there is almost always something good that can come from the bad.
H: Absolutely. So, what is your daily life like back in Finland – what do you enjoy doing when you are not performing?
L: I enjoy being with my little family. I have two Boston Terriers, and I love to be with them and my boyfriend. We are really outdoors people, so we like to hang out and go for walks, enjoy nature and be with animals. And we also love painting and dancing…
It’s great because we never feel like we’re working – it’s such a great passion. We love to plan our shows together and we help and support each other a lot, always trying to think of new and amazing ideas, what we are going to do next and what type of shows we would like to produce. It’s really awesome to have a partner that you can share everything with –
H: As a fellow performer, he can understand…
L: Yes, totally, and it’s so important.
H: You were telling me the other day that you have started performing together sometimes…
L: Yeah, we have performed together, but this spring has been so busy, planning everything, that we haven’t been able to really rehearse together. I think in the summer, when there is a bit more time, we will try to rehearse more so that things are really polished. We love performing together and there is such a good energy between us; he is so much fun. And it’s also something different – I have learned a lot and I am always excited to learn new things. It keeps your mind stimulated. I don’t want to do just one thing; I want to do as much as possible and learn new things about myself.
H: Be versatile –
L: Yes, that’s great.
H: Have you had a lot of support from your family throughout your career and when you have been competing? Are they supportive?
L: Oh yeah! [laughs] They are very big fans. It is so important to me because I am very close to my family. It was so funny: when I won on Saturday I thought, oh my God – I have to tell my mum and dad and my sister what has happened! But when I looked at my phone they had already texted me: ‘Oh my God, congratulations! We are so happy for you!’
H: Were they tracking the results online perhaps?
L: I don’t know, maybe they were! I was just shocked that even my mum and dad knew about it already! When I performed in London recently, my mum and dad came to see that show, all the way from Finland. We don’t live in the same city any more, so we can’t see each other as much as we used to. The fact that they made such an effort just to see me perform meant so much to me. I am so happy that they are so proud of what I’m doing.
H: That’s lovely. So I just want to conclude by talking about some of your future ambitions and things you really want to do…
L: Maybe winning an Oscar! [laughs] I’m sure I will find a new goal, because I always have to have something to aim for; it’s what keeps me going and keeps me motivated. I have to have some kind of goal that I’m aiming for.
H: Have you considered producing and creating your own shows?
L: Yes, I have produced some smaller shows, but last year I moved to Helsinki, so everything is new and things have been put on ice for a while. But I am sure that my partner and I are going to produce something, for sure. I love it – it’s a lot of work but so much fun.
H: It’s rewarding.
L: Yes, definitely.
H: Any new acts in the works which you can share anything about?
L: Yeah! I’ve been creating this new act now for a year and a half, and it’s still not finished; I have to figure out a couple of things and how to make them work. But hopefully this year I will have two new acts, and they are going to be a bit bigger – the biggest that I have done so far. I’m very excited to do something bigger, but I can’t tell you anything more yet!
H: Will they be very much in keeping with the classic fifties aesthetic, very much in your style?
L: Yes, always, because I know what fits me best. So definitely bump and grind, the fifties taste, but I am also going to add some little modern touches. So it will be a mixture, but retain my own style.
“I just want to spread a positive message: that people should enjoy their lives and work hard and believe in their dreams, and just believe in themselves and be good to other people. I think if you are good to other people, good will also come to you.”
H: Is there final statement you would like to make, any final words as our new Reigning Queen?
L: I just want to thank all of the people who have sent their support and love, because it means the world to me. Without those people, I don’t think I would be able to do as much as I have. All the friends and fans, my family, my partner… my dogs! [laughs] It’s so important to feel that people support what you are doing, because when there is a bad day and you feel like you can’t do anything and don’t know if you are doing anything right, these people are the ones who lift you up and give you hope and tell you that you can do it…
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Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.