Chi Chi DeVayne, Popular ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Contestant, Dies at 34

She made her name as a classically trained dancer who delighted audiences and charmed them with candor.

Chi Chi DeVayne performed on the Season 8 premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2016.
Chi Chi DeVayne performed on the Season 8 premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2016.Credit...Santiago Felipe/Getty Images
Azi Paybarah

Chi Chi DeVayne, the self-proclaimed Southern bayou princess who dazzled viewers of RuPaul’s drag show competitions with impassioned lip-sync performances and head-over-heels dance routines, died on Thursday in a hospital in Shreveport, La. Known offstage as Zavion Davenport, he was 34.

His sister, Brittany, said the cause was scleroderma.

RuPaul Charles, the host of the shows, whose contestants often use male and female pronouns interchangeably, said in a statement: “I am so grateful that we got to experience her kind and beautiful soul.”

Chi Chi DeVayne competed in Season 8 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2016, and on Season 3 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” in 2018, gaining a following for delivering splits and high kicks on the runway and for candid, revealing moments away from the stage.

During her season on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Chi Chi told fellow contestants backstage, “I wish that I had the guts to stand up for gay rights.” In response, one contestant, Bob the Drag Queen, smiled and said, “Go do it — you can start anytime.”

That prompted Chi Chi, in full makeup and a fuchsia ball gown, to shake her head and say, “You can’t do it in Shreveport,” her hometown. “They’ll blow your head off.”

The moment captured a paradox, Jenna Wortham wrote in The New York Times. “Queer and gay culture has been so widely co-opted and incorporated into mainstream popular culture that it can feel commonplace, embraced by default,” she wrote. “Yet pop culture has barely started grappling with more complex and ugly contemporary narratives, ones that make clear that universal acceptance is still a fantasy.”

Zavion Michael Davenport was born in Shreveport on Sept. 24, 1985. His mother, Alberteen Wyandon, works as a dispatcher at a hospital. His father is Zan Davenport III.

In his young years there were dance lessons — ballet, West African, modern — and gymnastics, Mr. Davenport told The Shreveport Times in 2017. There were also days spent with friends in empty fields doing “turn flips all day long,” he said.

“And once I started doing drag I had to incorporate that into my act,” he said, “because everybody likes a dancing queen.”

Zavion began dancing in earnest after he graduated in 2003 from Fairpark High School, where he had been a drum major. Soon afterward, he started performing in drag at a nightclub and gaining wider attention.

Chi Chi DeVayne found her biggest audience with “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” attracting fans with a combination of Southern charm, acrobatics and candor about her hardscrabble upbringing.

“Girl, I’ve seen people shot,” she said on the show. “I’ve smelled, like, the smell of brains. When I tell you I come from the streets, I’m not kidding.” In another interview she recalled joining a gang and carrying a gun.

“‘Drag Race’ definitely helped me heal from a lot of things from my past,” she told The San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender News.

In addition to his parents and sister, Mr. Davenport is survived by a brother, DaRico Wyandon, and two half brothers, Zachary and Zamien Willis.

Chi Chi DeVayne finished in fourth place on Season 8 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and soon began performing around the world. “Outside of the United States, the fans are wild,” she told The Shreveport Times.

She returned to compete in “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” in 2018, and though she was more experienced by then, so were her competitors. She finished eighth.

“I’m so sorry,” she tearfully told the judges in one episode, admitting that her competitors’ skills made her question her worth. The guest judge, Constance Zimmer, a life coach, replied, “Chi Chi, you’re worth it.”

Julia Carmel contributed reporting and Jack Begg contributed research.