Bold & Beautiful: Tamara Knight
Art and Fashion
An experienced “science nerd,” James Banks is also known as a pop star, lip-syncing queen by the name of Tamara Knight. After years of no in-person interviews (at my go-to spot, with some of the greatest and most creative LGBTQIA+ people in Salt Lake City,) James Banks, aka Tamara Knight, was definitely worth the wait and did not disappoint.
This wildly intelligent, hardworking and kind individual is the complete package, highlighting his talent, beauty and brains just by opening his mouth. Banks, 21, is a Las Vegas transplant, but Tamara was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Moving to Salt Lake on his 18th birthday, he soon began the prestigious pre-med program at the University of Utah. He recently graduated, only weeks ago, with a BS in Biology while also completing a minor in Chemistry. He will be spending his summer applying to schools to further his profession—while simultaneously entertaining the masses.
“I had that mindset of, ‘I’m gonna do it no matter what. And if you accept me, you accept me, and if you don’t, then sorry!’ And, not everyone has the privilege to be viewed that way … “
Tamara’s interest in drag started with a classic YouTube spiral of makeup, queens and their performances. Her official drag career didn’t officially start until the end of 2021. When the owner of local bar Why Kiki met Banks and realized their love of music, they dared Banks to do something he had never done before—get onstage and be the dancing, musical pop queen he always admired and looked up to.
Banks calls it the reverse psychology that grabbed his attention. “A lot of queens who performed there started doing it too, saying I wouldn’t do it, and I’d do a bad job, or that I’d do a half-assed performance,” he says with a smile. “But I’m that type of person that’s like, you tell me I can’t do something? Now I have to just prove you wrong.” So Banks accepted the challenge, and a true love for the art of drag was born. They’ve been a staple at Why Kiki ever since.
I wanted to dig a little deeper with Banks regarding how his family reacted to his decision to pursue a hobby in drag while still working his ass off in a U of U research lab. “I come from a very privileged, Gen Z, viewpoint when it comes to certain things,” Banks says. “So, for me I had that mindset of, ‘I’m gonna do it no matter what.
And if you accept me, you accept me, and if you don’t, then sorry!’ And, not everyone has the privilege to be viewed that way … There are people who are in the LGBTQ+ community who walked so we could run.” Banks’ mom and grandma finally got to see them perform in person at Why Kiki after their college graduation, which was a truly monumental moment of support.
Tamara is a beautifully unique individual. They are a minority that is not represented enough in Utah. As Banks says, “Especially in the Black community, there [are] some reservations and conflict between the Black community and LGBTQ [people] and that’s something that we’ve got to iron out … The men in my life still struggle with it,” he says, “but my mom is super supportive of it.” Banks explains this issue is not from a negative opinion, but simply something that has existed longer and that continues to grow deeper. But I am hopeful it’s something that can be improved on in the years to come.
“One thing I like to highlight in my drag is Black girl magic. So a lot of songs that I’m performing are by Black women, whether it be Beyoncé or Janet, Megan Thee Stallion or Nicki Minaj … “
When I asked where Tamara’s inspiration came from, Banks easily responded. “Pop stars. Growing up it was Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, and I would go and hide in my room and learn their choreography in secret.” Which makes sense as to why hairography is a main part of Tamara’s sets. “If I put on a long wig, you can’t tell me anything.”
Showcasing Black talent is massively important to Banks. “While there are queens here that definitely do that, there’s just not as much representation as their white counterparts,” Banks says. “One thing I like to highlight in my drag is Black girl magic.
So a lot of songs that I’m performing are by Black women, whether it be Beyoncé or Janet, Megan Thee Stallion or Nicki Minaj … I really try to showcase Black talent, and I think it’s really appreciated here in Salt Lake because there’s not as much of it.” There are queens like Tamara Knight from the underrepresented cultures of Utah’s community, and there are kings like James Banks who represent an underrepresented STEM community. It’s safe to say I can speak for all of SLC by saying that we’re lucky to have them both.
Music, medicine and beauty came together to create the excellence that is Tamara Knight and James Banks. Their dedication to paving the way for higher education and Black talent is unparalleled. As a POC within the queer community, they are an active member of both. Banks has been performing at Why Kiki bar and participated at the Utah Pride Festival celebration. Make sure you keep an eye out on Banks and follow him online @thetamaraknight on Instagram. P.S. Don’t forget to tip your local queen!