Kelsea Ballerini celebrates Drag Race royalty at CMT Awards in defiance of Tennessee drag ban

Kelsea Ballerini performs with drag royalty against drag ban. (Getty)

Kelsea Nicole Ballerini sang out against Tennessee’s anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry alongside Drag Race icons at the CMT Awards in Nashville.

During the country music awards ceremony on Sunday (2 April), the singer-songwriter took to the stage to perform her powerful hit “If You Go Down (I’m Going Down Too)” with RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Manila Luzon, Kennedy Davenport, Jan Sport and Olivia Lux. 

The anti-drag legislation, known as Senate Bill 3, was signed into law on 2 March, and prohibits “adult cabaret performance” and “public drag” in front of children.

The bill has since been halted by a federal judge.

It comes amid a swathe of bills attacking trans and the wider LGBTQ+ community, and Ballerini is the latest of many celebrities to defend the drag community.

The stage was decorated in a traditional white-picket fence aesthetic, symbolising the traditional values right-wing politicians and pundits claim are under threat.

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To cheers from the crowd, the queens provided backup vocals and danced. As the song came to an end, they were surrounded by confetti and rainbow strobe lights. Frankly, iconic.

The queens explained the inspiration behind the performance to ET.

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“Just like all these amazing country music artists, we drag queens are also artists. And we deserve a space to be ourselves, express ourselves, and create something wonderful for everyone to enjoy,” Manila Luzon said.

Jan Sport added: “Any opportunity for us to share our gifts with the world is a blessing. So, it’s more of us having a message to bless other people. It’s not bad. It’s all good. It’s all love. It’s all total liberation – that’s what the arts are all about.”

According to Lux, Ballerini was unconditionally supportive, telling them to “take up space” on stage and “amplify the fact that you’re here”.

Davenport hopes people can “look up to” them as role models, adding: “I take the job on wholeheartedly because that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to uplift we’re here to stay free.

“We’re here to lead people to a brighter light in this business!”

Ballerini took to Instagram to thank the queens, and fans shared their reaction to their striking performance.

“Thank you. More country artists need to speak out and share support,” one person wrote.

Ballerini joins a resistance of country artists showing up for the LGBTQ+ community, such as Maren Morris, Dolly Parton and Brooke Eden.

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“Thank you for being so open and supportive and outspoken for what you believe in. It’s sometimes hard to see artists, especially in country music, stand up to the hate going on in the country. Thank you for showing so much love and standing up for what you believe in” another fan reflected in the comments.

The tide may be turning in Tennessee thanks to the ruling from Judge Thomas Parker, who temporarily blocked the law on Friday (31 March).

He ruled: “At this point, the court finds that the statute is likely both vague and overly-broad.”

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