How Legendary's Eyricka Lanvin Became the Mother of All Mothers

The star of HBO Max's ballroom competition on leading her house to a string of victories and her own storied career.

eyricka lanvin on legendary
Idris Talib Solomon

When Eyricka Lanvin took to the Legendary stage in episode 5, she had something to prove. After weeks of exceptional performances on the HBO Max ballroom competition series, her house was coming off a surprisingly bad episode. The judges’ critiques, usually a love fest week after week, described Lanvin's last performance as nervous, and criticized its insufficient use of Makayla, a powerhouse performer known for her flips and acrobatics. The house's return to the runway needed to be impressive. And it was.

Eyricka and her children—Makayla, Zay, Carlos, and Packrat—appeared onstage transformed into aliens. They’d come to take over planet Earth after being “disrespected” by humankind’s sense of style. Their otherworldly secret weapon: Makayla in a set of six-inch stripper heels, backflipping and somersaulting down the runway.

At the performance’s end, Eyricka announced their redemption arc: “We’re baaaaaaaack,” her voice sang over the soundtrack.

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The display led the house to the coveted title of Superior House, handed out to the top-performing team at the end of every episode. Now, as Legendary heads into its final week of competition, Eyricka has steered her team to Superior House four times—more than any other house on the series. Regardless of the final decision on the show's first winner, Lanvin’s lead is insurmountable. This moment may establish Eyricka as the mother of all mothers, but it comes two decades into her ballroom career—which began leagues away from the television screens she dominates today.

Before Legendary, Eyricka Lanvin did not dance. Though the house-led ballroom community, started by Black and brown queer and trans folk in Harlem in the 1970s, is known most popularly for the dance form voguing, that style of movement comprises only a small part of the community. When Eyricka was recruited on Christopher Street in New York City’s West Village by her soon-to-be mother Monica Angel, it was to walk the category of Realness.

“This was my first night in The Village, in my past life before my transition,” Eyricka remembers. “There was this big group of people, and I hear someone yell, ‘Hey, hey you! Come here.’ I go over and she says, ‘Oh my god, you are beautiful. What’s your name?’ I told her my past name, and she says, ‘No honey, your name is Eyricka, and I’m going to be your mother.’”

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For decades, queer and trans folks have fashioned themselves into surrogate families, sometimes to consolidate resources or build community, other times to compete as houses in the ballroom scene. Within these families, trans women have passed on knowledge and helped guide one another within their transitions. Monica would eventually do this for Eyricka—but before that, she encouraged her to walk her first ball in drag.

“She told me I would walk this category and win a trophy and everyone would love me,” Eyricka recalls. “All I could think was, ‘Oh god, I want to be a celebrity!’” Two weeks later, after watching VHS tapes of past balls featuring “beautiful, striking” women of trans experience like Sinia Alaia, Ashley Icon, and Sabrina Icon, Eyricka walked her first ball with the House of Angel at The Y in downtown Brooklyn. Her category: Butch Queen Up in Drags Realness, First Time at a Ball. Though she almost chickened out at the last minute, Eyricka pressed on with Monica’s encouragement—and won the grand prize.

“The crowd went up!” she remembers. “Everyone’s screaming, ‘Who is she, what’s her name?’” Here, Eyricka got her first taste of celebrity, snatching the trophy that marked her very first moment on the scene. But when she walked out of the ball into the early light of morning, basking in the glory of her first win, she ran into her biological family, who found the flier for the event in her room. There she stood, in full drag and six inch heels, terrified of their possible response. She bolted, smashing the trophy as it dropped to the ground, and wound up in a diner where she sat for hours regretting what she’d done. But when she finally went home, she found an accepting and welcoming family looking only to understand. With them on her side, Eyricka the legend was born.

After that 2002 introduction to the scene, Eyricka continued to walk the category of Butch Queen in Drags Realness, where competitors who haven’t transitioned look to pass as cisgender heterosexual women. In 2004, Eyricka began her transition and changed her category to Femme Queen Realness—in ballroom parlance, femme queens are women of trans experience. After walking for a year, she added the Femme Queen Face category, which prizes not only bone structure, a perfect smile, and skin clarity, but also charisma. “Those are the belles of the ball, the beauties of the ball,” Eyricka says. “I wanted to be that.”

And so she put in the work. In 2017 she was deemed legendary—a mark of achievement within the scene denoting a decade of excellence in a given category—for Face. She changed houses several times over the years, from Angel to St. Clair, Manolo Blahnik, Khan, and Mizrahi. Within the last two, she was elevated to the role of New York City chapter mother, presiding over the local families there, and took up the same position when she moved to the Xclusive House of Lanvin in 2019. Behind the scenes, she developed a reputation for her style, and other members of the community would ask for her assistance in composing looks for balls. This would culminate in a role assisting the Pose styling team for the FX series’ second season. Throughout her career, Eyricka's queer and trans family grew, adding people who would become essential for her survival.

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As discussed on last week's episode of Legendary, Eyricka was sentenced to two to four years at the Franklin Correctional Facility after being convicted of fraud in 2016. She was the only woman at the facility, sequestered in a dorm with 59 men in Malone, New York—10 hours from her home in Brooklyn. She suffered constant transphobia and verbal abuse at the hands of other inmates and the security guards, and in a particularly violent incident, one of her breast implants ruptured as a direct result of the guards’ brutality.

“I had gone to the sergeant who was in charge and asked, 'Could I be moved?’” she recalls. Eyricka had heard of a gay inmate in the same facility who was cut on his face by another inmate as he slept, and feared for her safety. “He got so upset with me and really aggressive. He grabbed me and was like, ‘Shut your mouth,’” The sergeant used transphobic slurs and misgendered Eyricka, and as other security got involved, she began to resist. In the resulting scuffle she was slammed against a wall face-first, causing the implant to rupture.

In a story that has since gone viral, Eyricka was locked in solitary confinement, refused medical attention for her swelling breast, and came to fear for her life. Kelly Harrison, now known as Gorgeous Kelly Gucci, was one of Eyricka’s mothers in the house of Mizrahi and got wind of the incident. Kelly began a campaign for justice that ultimately garnered support from Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, and Eyricka was eventually transferred out of the facility, and her time behind bars was cut short. After an Internal Affairs investigation, many of the officers involved were suspended.

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**UPDATE: Eyricka has been moved into protective custody (not solitary confinement) and an investigation is underway, according to @justiceforeyricka. Still, it's vital to remember so many trans folk are still being treated this way.** This #justiceforeyricka video broke my heart last night yet I still was able to sleep in my bed safely and comfortably -- something Eyricka King (Thompson) has not been able to do. Eyricka is a black trans woman who is currently incarcerated by New York State. According to a letter she wrote (which took several attempts to get outside the correctional facility's walls) she has been physically and sexually abused and placed in solitary confinement. This is cruel and unjust yet all too usual punishment and treatment of trans women of color. YOU CAN HELP BY: 1. SHARING this video by @slaytv. 2. SAYING her name: #JusticeforEyricka 3. READING her letter from behind bars at @justiceforeyricka 4. CALLING the offices below to demand that Eyricka King (DIN: 16A4486) be moved to a facility where she can be in protective custody and not solitary confinement: 518-445-6176: Health Services Office in Albany (To report cases where a person is not being given appropriate medical attention) 518-457-3955 Jason Effman (Head of PREA in Albany) 518-457-2653 Office of Special Investigations 518-474-1010 Office of the Inspector General 5. SIGNING her petition on @changedotorg #justiceforeyricka #girlslikeus #twoc #transisbeautiful

A post shared by J A N E T M O C K (@janetmock) on

Eyricka is one of many queer and trans folks who have suffered discriminatory abuse within the prison industrial complex. “I felt my justice was served, but it was because I had people on the street who had my back and were holding me down,” she says. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would have made it. Sitting in that cell at that moment, I felt like it was the end of my life.”

This week, almost two years to the day since JusticeForEyricka went viral, the performer is back in the spotlight as she leads her Lanvin family into Legendary’s semifinals and finals, in the hopes of winning the $100,000 grand prize. Eyricka remains the only woman leading a house, and one of the most experienced ballroom names on the show. And she’s guided her team with a different style than other house parents: marking out the path forward, then allowing her children to take the lead as needed.

legendary
Eyricka Lanvin in Legendary.
Barbara Nitke/HBO Max

“I trusted them,” Eyricka says of allowing her children to make decisions about choreography-heavy productions. When they got into the technical aspects in rehearsals, the four children would perform as a group, and Eyricka would stand to the side before coming in for a modified aspect, highlighting her seniority and status as a Face and Fashion girl within ballroom. “They didn’t put any pressure on me. They made sure they gave me choreography that I was comfortable with and that would stand out to the judges. And we delivered every time.”

Though Eyricka stepped outside her comfort zone many times during the competition, quite a few moments placed her squarely within it, and she used her experience to her benefit. In the show’s most recent episode, the competition’s remaining teams find themselves under siege by a group of “super-villains,” a new set of competitors looking to snatch a few top-dollar prizes. Eyricka made it to the last battle of a “Super Fashionista” Pose, Pose, Pose category and went head to head in a pose-off against Champ St. Laurent.

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“Champ is my brother outside of the competition,” Eyricka explains. “I know he’s a great competitor, so once I saw him with the umbrella, I knew he would use it against me.” The logical remedy: Take the umbrella mid-battle. “I knew he wasn’t going to get rough and aggressive with me because I’m his sister,” Eyricka continues. “He would just let it go if I grabbed it. And once he lets it go, I know I have it in the bag.”

And so she did, wrestling the prop away, along with a nice cash prize of $5,000. The win only widens the House of Lanvin’s lead heading into the finale. Regardless of whether or not they take home Legendary's grand prize, under Eyricka’s leadership, the house's star continues to rise: for Pride month, Lanvin performed at virtual events for Billboard Pride and San Francisco Pride, with Eyricka the headliner for the latter. But right now, she only has her eyes on one thing.

“We came here to win,” Eyricka laughs. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”

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