Maya Angelou said if you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. This week’s portrait has learned how amazing he can be. A social media personality extraordinaire, Joel Correa, pronounced Jo-el, fuses his passion and love for music, fashion, comedy, and makeup to deliver uplifting and empowering messages to his audience. He has worked with the likes of Milk Makeup, Colourpop, & Morphe and has amassed half a million followers on TikTok. Well, make that a half a million and one, counting me. 

So give me the 411 on Joel C.

He’s a queer creative. He’s a lover of fashion and film, makeup, music, art, feminism, poetry, activism and all that good stuff. 

I know that you live in NJ, where are you from?

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. I used to live above a pawn shop on Frankford Avenue! Right underneath the El. I slowly migrated more Northeast and I’m currently in the South Jersey area. 

Tell me about the family.

I was blessed to have both a mother and father in my life, and I have a sister who is 5 years older than me. We’re a very close-knit family, very tight. We cried in front of each other, we celebrated each other’s successes. My sister is my biggest supporter; she would dive to the bottom of the ocean if I needed something. We’re like this (fingers crossed together). I’ll protect her even after I’m not here in body. 

Nice. What was a favorite trip together?

I’d have to say Albuquerque, NM. My mom and dad had gone before, but this time we all went together. My dad had a slew of health issues but they’d wanted to take us for a few years and we finally went. It was one of those trips where you think it’s going to be a bad or boring time, but it turned out to be one of the best trips, filled with good energy. I got to see how head-over-heels my father was about the land of New Mexico. Hearing about the native history, knowing that we have native blood, there was a calling in the area. My dad has passed, and now my mom lives there on her own. There was just something about it and it holds a special place in my heart from that trip. 

You said you have some native heritage, what else is in your background?

I’m mixed. I come from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. I’m about 30% African, about 20-30% European influence from my mom’s side — she was part French — there’s also Latino and Taino. Again I’m very blessed in that my parents knew a lot of the history of our ancestors, and taught us, this is how U.S. history really went in terms of our people. But yeah, I have this beautiful amalgamation of ancestry and we were taught to honor all of it. 

Can you speak any other languages?

I speak Spanish fluently and I’m currently Rosetta stoning my way through French. ‘Cause, you know, I want to see how many I can learn before my time’s up!

What were you like as a little one?

I was a curious kid. I was obsessed with science and nature. And music, which has always been this pervasive obsession. My parents were both musicians so it was inevitable! My sister loved music too, but not as passionately as I did. She didn’t want to sacrifice her nails to play the guitar. Me, I was into it, and video games, and technology. I was a product of the ‘90s, though I was raised by people with an ’80s mentality. So I was listening to ‘80s club synth, but also listening to ’90s hip hop and R&B, pop, I was just a sponge. I was always amongst adults and I was very observant. I was bullied a lot in school so I kept a low profile. I didn’t like to cause trouble. 

What was the low point of the bullying?

Um, I was bullied about the color of my skin, because it was a predominantly white school, but also because of my sexuality. And this was before I was even ready to embrace it. It drove me to some of the lower points in my life. I don’t want to get emotional; it took me a while into my adulthood to reclaim that self love because of the bullying. You know, being called the most horrible things, things that didn’t even make sense. I’ve been called racial slurs that didn’t even apply to me. Not that they should be applied to anyone. So that was a struggle, and I tried to masculinize myself so that my sexuality wasn’t a precursor to a first impression. That started to make me feel like there was never going to be a reality that would be true for me because of my constant effort to play a role that wasn’t me. And it was exhausting! I think a lot of queer people can emphasize with hiding behind that veil, where we can see out, but no one can see in. I struggled with suicidal tendencies as an adolescent and I’m fortunate that I found the proper support system, as queers we build our own family until we get the support structure we need. Luckily, in the long run, there was a positive outcome for me.  

Happily. I know that you’re a musician, when did you start and who taught you?

My mom was a vocal coach and music educator. We’d do scales in the car and stuff like that. 

What instruments do you play?

I’m mostly vocals, but I also play guitar and piano. My mom had me formally trained on piano. I learned how to read music and all that and then when I was a teenager I rebelled and started teaching myself guitar. And my dad was a guitar instructor so it killed him but I wanted to learn on my own. 

So both parents were in music?

Yes, they were pastoral musicians and would also do sweet 16 parties and quinceañeras, weddings, funerals, all sorts of things. At Christmas they’d do parrandas, which is a Puerto Rican tradition where you show up at someone’s house late at night with a group of people all carrying instruments and just start playing! And we sing a song that basically says, “I bring this posse so that you will let us in and feed us and give us drinks!” Often the homeowner will be in pajamas and suddenly they’re trying to find cheese and crackers to feed everyone and mixing drinks. And then they join the group and we all go to another house and it continues into the wee hours of the morning! My dad was the driving force for all of that, he was such a beautiful soul. They were a power duo and they were inseparable. They still are! The way my mom talks, you would think he’s still here, but that’s just how deep their love goes. They went by Diego and Damaris, and their home and their work lives were both built on love and a partnership. I adore them. 

I want parrandas to come to my place!

Careful what you wish for, ‘cause I’ll do it girl. 

I’ll wear my good PJ’s and be ready for you come December. Give me three highlights of high school.

The Multicultural club, I was in it for 3 years and one year I hosted our annual show which was the beginning of me feeling that I had a personality to offer, instead of just being off to the side. Coming out, even though I came out as bisexual, which is a safety net for a lot of queers, to test the waters by saying, “Hey, I’m still one half of you, half normal,” and then Chiro’s, which was a spiritual or religious retreat but it was designed for kids to get away for 3-4 days without distractions, no cell phones. They purposely room you with someone you don’t know, so that you have to come out of your comfort box. And taking out the God part, and just keeping the love, it was one of the most enhancing experiences I’ve ever had. It sounds morbid, but people write letters as if you were dead. It forces people to take the time to say things they might not have expressed before. It was a time when I was beginning to express myself as queer and felt like I was rebuking my family, but I got crazy affirming letters from classmates and family. You’re not going to believe this, but some were from people that I might have only interacted with one time, some of whom had already graduated. One was from a girl who ended up as the head of the theater dept and she said, “Joel, you walked in and did not know my name, and told me that I was going to do a great job. And to this day, you’re the only person who encouraged me like that.” It was something that she remembered and went out of her way to write me about. I still have those letters, it was so impactful.

You never know the impact of your words. I just met up with someone last week who told me I’d changed their life and again it was just because of something simple that I’d done. 

Oh my God, see? And when you hear things like that how could you not want to keep spreading positivity. 

Let’s jump forward to your current work. How did all this fabulousness get started?

It started with my love for art and fashion and film. I worked for Lush cosmetics and there were these girls with incredible makeup with these beautiful winged eyes, and I’d always compliment them on it. Finally one said, “Joel, you’re obsessed with it, just go get yourself some liquid liner and do the damn thing.” So I started going to work with winged liner which evolved to me learning all about drag makeup. Fast forward to 2018 and I started practicing with fashion makeup and posting it on my Instagram, and Morphe, the juggernaut makeup company, reposted me. They have about 10 million followers, and I woke up from a nap with a ton of messages from friends telling me about it. I started thinking, hey, if Morphe thinks I have something here, maybe there’s something in this for me and I started practicing more and more. Then TikTok came around in 2020 and I posted a 9 second clip of me lip-synching a scene from “Mean Girls.” It was just a little joke, like me as the gay uncle having fun. I closed the post and the application to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and I woke up the next day and opened up the app and overnight I had gained 40,000 followers and 250,000 views! There was a weird sense of panic and anxiety. I mean, what do I post next? But that train took off and I did another video that went viral, and then another! I’ll be honest, if you asked me 3 years ago if I thought doing makeup was going to take me anywhere, I would have thought you were crazy. And yet, it somehow has flourished into a full-time thing. I get that it’s all about the artistry, and the joy, but there’s not a day that passes that it doesn’t blow my mind that this is what I do. Some people ask if the makeup is an identity thing, but no, for me it’s just art and my face is my canvas. I’ve worked with and been sponsored by brands that I’ve only dreamt of working with and I’m so thankful that I get to do what I love. 

That’s amazing, I’m sure the family is proud.

Oh yes, my sister texts me and is like, “Joel! You have 7 MILLION LIKES!” And she always checks in on my mental health as well, because as your followers grow, so do the demands about your content or the frequency, people get attached to you and they want access, they want more. It’s especially true when you do live shows, because you’re doing a demo but then you’re also answering questions, and juggling it all. It took me a while to build what I have now, it was trial and error, but it seems to be working. I mean, I met you because of it!

Aww shucks. Let’s talk about your music. 

I call it fusion music, because it genuinely is a mixture of everything from surfer vibes to R&B, blues, Latin, everything I love, as long as it’s not culturally appropriated. It’s also heavily inspired by Ani DiFranco. I modeled a lot of my musicianship from her and my parents. She’s the reason I picked up a guitar. When I saw her playing her guitar, there was something about seeing this 5’4” woman just raging on the guitar with powerhouse vocals coming out of this tiny body and singing the most profound lyrics. She sang about everything from racism to feminism to capitalism, to personal breakup and it was moving. I adore that woman. I am indebted to her. 

That’s cool, one of the people I’ve interviewed is her manager or agent, something like that. So you do your own lyrics and music?

Yes, I do it all, from the time I push the record button until the last note is played. I like control.

I saw your music video, very cool.

Steps? That was the first song in 9 years. I was in a pretty toxic relationship and had put the music down for some time. I’ve now lived by myself for a few years and that was step one in reclaiming myself. But that song was about a short-lived relationship with someone where we both liked each other but were just at an impasse. I’m working on new stuff that I hope to have out next year. 

What was your 1st tattoo and which ones are most meaningful?

My first tattoo was a koi fish on my ribs at 19! The two most meaningful are the pocket watch and the family crest on my right forearm dedicated to my father since he loved pocket watches and the crest is for his last name “Correa.”

Best concert experience?

Seeing Pink at the “I’m Not Dead Tour.” She single handedly was responsible for helping me overcome a lot of my depression. Her music came to me at a point in my life when I needed it. That was my first real rock concert, and it solidified my love for Pink. 

If you had to describe yourself as a traffic sign, what would it be?

Yield, because I’m always the one going, “Hey, let’s all slow down, let’s all come together.” 

What’s something you have done that impressed yourself?

I’m gonna be vulnerable here, I have a high school diploma, and in school, I never thought I’d amount to much. I’m sitting here in my nice apartment and everything in here, I’ve worked for. I have a salary now and I pay for myself. The fact that I have a roof over my head and I can afford to pay for it each month is huge to me. 

What are some of your lyrics that have the most meaning for you?

I have a song called Rockabye, and it’s a lullaby that I wrote to myself. It’s one of my favorite songs and the lyrics are: “Just Rockabye my baby, just fall to sleep because this is your song, Gonna run, gonna run, gonna run away from all that I’ve done. From the shackles of the man I’ve become.” It was written to my former mental health suffering self. The words were for me and will stay with me forever.