QUEER VOICES
26/07/2018 16:00 -03 | Atualizado 26/07/2018 16:00 -03

'RuPaul's Drag Race' Winners Reflect On Their Journeys Since Taking The Crown

Eight of the queens take a look back.

Illustration: Alyssa Spatola/HuffPost; Photo: Getty

Last month, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” made Aquaria the 10th queen to take home to coveted title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.

It’s been quite a journey for the hugely successful reality television show, from humble beginnings on Logo TV to a primetime slot on VH1. “Drag Race” has blossomed into a massive cultural phenomenon, including the semiannual RuPaul’s DragCon convention where fans from around the world meet stars from the show.

And this year alone, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”and “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked” have garnered a total of 12 Emmy nominations.

In honor of the finale of the 10th season of “Drag Race” and the show’s many Emmy nominations, HuffPost caught up with eight of the show’s winners to discuss their lives since the show, the cultural phenomenon that “Drag Race” has become, and what they hope the future of this show will be.

Season 1: BeBe Zahara Benet

Taylor Hill via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

The years after “Drag Race” have been amazing, but that comes with a lot of the hard work you have to put in. I tell everyone “Drag Race” gives us a platform, not a career, so it is after [the show] that the real work begins. I have been fortunate to release lots of music, create tours [and] visual live spectacles ... done lots of national and international traveling, to name just a few [things]. And most of all, really identifying and solidifying my brand.

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

The greatest gift I have received is the opportunity to share my gifts with the world in an even broader spectrum. The ability to listen to many personal stories from my fans and how my work inspires, encourages and empowers them. To me it means my purpose here on earth is being fulfilled and there is no other better reward.

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory? 

In my opinion ― not to sound biased [laughs] ― it would be my lip-synching in the finale with my sister Nina Flowers. It was fierce, honest and fun. It felt more like a performance than a battle.

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

I hope that the show keeps showcasing a wide variety of different facets of the art, I hope that it keeps its authenticity and the true form of the arts. I know it’s a TV show and it’s not meant to be taken so seriously but it is important for the new generation to understand the origins of the culture. Appreciate it and respect it and that transcends from the contestants of the show to the fans that watch it. There is a lot of bullying and trash-talking on social media and the fans attack the performers a lot. It is unfortunate, and I hope everyone understands that what we do is blessing others without gifts and we ask for nothing but love in return. The art form of drag unites and not divides.

 

Season 3: Raja

Santiago Felipe via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

It’s been seven years since my win on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It seems the real work came after the win, which viewers and fans don’t quite understand or see. What most also don’t see is the amount one learns about themselves after the fact. Somehow, I’ve maintained a steady flow of appearances, experimentation and exploration.

I’ve been able to compare my life years before and after I became a television drag queen, and that is what propels me. It would be useless for me to give you a seven-year résumé. All I can say is I am so fucking blessed and lucky. I have drawn in an audience, a tribe, fans around the world and they’ve been my great motivator. They make me want to inspire [and] in turn they challenge and inspire me. I am currently preparing for my second one-woman show, “Masque.” I’ll be performing this summer in Provincetown, please come! 

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

Friendships. The amount of friendships from not only cast members, but in general the relationships I’ve made, has been the most rewarding. 

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory? 

I don’t know. I suppose the ones with less antics. I like a clean, emotional, smart lip-synch. I loathe flying wigs and shoes, punctuated with a shablam.

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

I’d like it to be more educational, more diversity in the casting. Drag isn’t just boys in makeup. There is an entire spectrum not being represented. I’d like it to feel more provocative and daring, because that is why I fell in love with drag. Perhaps I need my own spinoff. 

 

Season 4: Sharon Needles

Santiago Felipe via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

Before “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” drag was a very expensive hobby, a passion and an absolute need to create something that was other than myself. When you have big dreams as a child of being a famous star, drag is the easiest vehicle of feeling like you are something more extra than you actually are. But since “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” I’ve had the opportunity to make every single dream I’ve ever had come true. I’m a model, a music producer, an inspirer and, most importantly, I’m a handful. 

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

I remember being 15 years old and seeing Marilyn Manson in the Antichrist Superstar Tour and being so moved by the totality of a celebrity. The most important thing I’ve accomplished is seeing that very look that I gave at that show as a young kid in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. I love reminding people that the world is a freak show and when in doubt, freak them out.

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory? 

The best lip-sync in “RuPaul’s Drag Race” herstory is Jujubee [performing] “Black Velvet,” Season 2. Undeniable!

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

Drag has always been done at midnight in a smoky bar for the gay community. But what “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has done has taken a subpopular culture, LGBTQ umbrella experience, and put it in the living rooms of everyone across the world. What I want people to take from [the show] is just to respect these entertainers as the clowns they are and the damaged goods that are underneath. 

 

Season 5: Jinkx Monsoon

Santiago Felipe via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

The most succinct way I can describe what winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has offered me is that I now have the career I always wanted/planned on having ― just about 15 years earlier than expected.

I worked in theater as an actor leading up to “Drag Race,” with a mélange of drag work on the side to keep me busy. In a given year, I would play a role in a musical at one of the many theaters in Seattle, I would host and star in drag variety shows, and my music partner, Major Scales, and I would create cabaret shows to be performed anywhere ― from dive bars to dinner theater. After winning “Drag Race,” I still do all these things ― but on a global scale!

I’m able to take my original cabaret shows on tour: My show, “The Vaudevillians,” played for a four-month extended run Off-Broadway in NYC. Since then, Major and I have created new original cabaret shows every year that have taken us on tour through the U.K., Australia, Europe and many summer residencies in Provincetown, Massachusettes. One thing that was an absolute dream come true was having the means to produce two full feature albums, showcasing mine and Major Scales’ original music. “The Inevitable Album” came out in 2014 and “The Ginger Snapped” came out in 2018. I’ve appeared on television shows here and there, including “Blue Bloods” with Donnie Wahlberg in his directorial debut for the episode “Manhattan Queens.” The documentary about my drag journey before, during and after “Drag Race” ― “Drag Becomes Him” ― directed by Alex Berry and produced by Basil Shadid, was a personal favorite, as it not only gave you a glimpse into the life of a drag queen, but the project was crowdfunded by my newly found fans and followers.

I feel like I’ve been given so many opportunities that I never would have gotten if it weren’t for the TV show that showcases the talents of drag artists and exposes an ever-growing audience to the work that we do. 

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

It’s going to sound cheesy, but: his laughter. Ru has an amazing sense of humor and a vast knowledge of cultural references. When I was performing “The Vaudevillians” in New York, Ru was able to attend one of the final performances and, throughout the show, was probably laughing harder than anyone else in the audience. That show was something I had worked on for years leading up to “Drag Race,” and I never dreamed that one of my drag idols, the most influential drag queen of our time, would one day be in my audience getting every reference and enjoying every moment. It was surreal, but life-affirming. In that moment, I truly felt that there is nowhere that drag can’t take me. Drag is my chosen medium for my work because it combines so many practices into one. For so long, it hasn’t been taken very seriously, or given the credit it deserves. In the past, drag queens have been seen as one-dimensional archetypes, rather than the multifaceted, heavily nuanced artists that they are. So, in addition to his laughter, Ru gave me ― and all drag queens ― a platform with which to garner the respect that we’ve always deserved.

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory? 

Dare I say my own? Ha, ha. I mean, let’s face it, my lip-sync against Detox was pretty epic.

However, I think the best one to date happened quite recently, on “All Stars 3.” It was BenDeLaCreme vs. Shangela. The song was “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters, and from start to finish it is a brilliant lip-sync. On the one hand, you have Shangela dancing her little Shangie heart out, bucking and twirling like she does best, and on the other hand, you had the comic brilliance of DeLa mimicking the moves and fiendishly commenting on her own dancing limitations in a very entertaining way. I think it was the single most entertaining lip-sync stunt, that had never happened before and can never happen again. I love both of those queens ― it was such a good two minutes of television.

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is one of the most visible and celebrated representations of the queer community to date. I believe that “Drag Race” has helped the straight/heteronormative/mainstream community better understand the LGBTQAI+ community from a behind-the-scenes perspective. I believe it has helped drag evolve and manifest in ways that we had previously never dreamed of. What I see for the future is more inclusiveness for more members of the queer community.

I think for the show to continue to grow as the phenomenon that it is, it will continue to embrace all the areas of drag that are out there, and that have always been there. I started drag at age 15 and trans drag queens have always been a part of the communities I’ve been in. “Drag Race” has helped with the visibility of trans drag queens in some ways, and I believe in my heart that it will continue to do so in bigger ways. The trouble is, the queer community has such limited representation in mainstream media. So there is a lot of pressure on “Drag Race,” as the most successful example of queer representation in the media, to be a beacon for all areas of our community ― but one TV show can’t represent all the many members of our diverse community.

I would love to see the success of “Drag Race” inspire more TV networks and production companies to create content that represents the queer community that is for us, by us. Drag is an amazing part of our community ― but the queer community is vast, and we need more visibility and representation in the media. It is essential to our progress, our fight for fair and equal, basic human rights and for our survival. 

 

Season 6: Bianca Del Rio

Jeff Kravitz via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

My life completely changed after winning “RPDR.” After living and working in NYC for 11 years, I packed up and moved to Los Angeles. For many years I worked at a Broadway costume shop during the day and did drag gigs at night. Drag is my full-time job now. My friend Matt Kugelman and I had been talking about making a movie, “Hurricane Bianca,” for years. Not only were we able to finally raise enough money to make the movie, but the sequel to it was recently released. I have a book that came out this year. I’m currently traveling the world with my third stand-up comedy tour. When I take it to South Africa next month, I will have performed my show on six continents. That’s pretty crazy for me to think about. I never would’ve imagined doing that in a million years. To say “RuPaul’s Drag Race” changed my life is a major understatement, and to think it happened to me when I was 37 years old and was planning on quitting drag is absolutely insane.

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

Ummmm ... $100,000!!!! Which was really $36.42 after taxes. Uncle Sam is a dick. Free country my ass!! 

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory?

The best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory, without a doubt, was Charlie Hides’ lip-sync. OK ... it wasn’t really the best lip-sync. I just enjoy ribbing her. 

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

World domination!! #RuPaul2020

 

Season 7: Violet Chachki

Santiago Felipe via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

I get paid to travel the world and have total creative freedom when it comes to my own live performances and my own digital content. I collaborate with some of the top fashion, art, beauty and burlesque creatives and brands. I get to be openly and visibly queer on huge stages (both physical and digital) with huge audiences. I get to affect people, expand horizons and hopefully help the next generation of queer people. I’m never home and never have a steady social or romantic life and not much privacy. 

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

A platform to inspire change.

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory?

Hands down ― Alyssa Edwards vs. Tatiana. High drag.

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

I want the show and its winners to be revered with the amount of respect the legacy of drag deserves. I know it’s a reality TV show but I want the show and its contestants to honor drag as a means of queer survival and necessary protest. I don’t ever want it to lose any amount of credibility. It’s a very magical show and I know it has helped countless people with a variety of things. 

 

Season 8: Bob The Drag Queen

Tara Ziemba via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

Traveling a lot and not being home very often. You know, essentially city to city, plane to plane. Right now, I’m actually in Berkeley, California, doing a production of “Angels in America.” So this is actually the longest that I have been in one place for a very long time. And that’s pretty new to me, not being out and about. It feels like it’s kind of wild, actually, because it’s been in one place since late January. Outside of that, once I’m done here, it’s literally right back to the “Drag Race” grind.

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you?

Well, you know, when you work in a microcosm like the New York City nightlife scene, you feel like you can see the impact that your art, or your work, is having on people. But there’s a lot of people will see you and they’ll never really interact with you again, because some of them just come through town. They’re just visiting. They don’t really know how to reach you, and stuff. But with “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” you get to actually travel around and see people. And you get to travel to where they are and actually be a part of their neighborhoods. I actually get to go and be a part of their community, which is pretty amazing. 

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory?

I’m gonna go with the lip[-sync of] Alyssa versus Coco Montrese. That was a really good one. The song was “Cold Hearted Snake.”

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

I don’t know. That’s a heavy question, and I also don’t know that it’s up to me to decide what I want. That’s kind of a selfish concept to be like, “Well, what do I want for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’?” when “Drag Race” is bigger than me ... but “Drag Race” is something different for everyone. You know what I mean? 

For some people, it’s truly an insight into an underground culture that we have never seen before. For some people, it’s a chance to realize that maybe their child isn’t as weird as they thought they were. For some people, maybe it’s just a chance to laugh every once in a while. For some people, it’s an opportunity to be seen on a national platform. It’s so many different things to so many different people. Because it truly is a phenomenon. There’s never been anything like this in the history of television, and I don’t know that we’ll ever encounter anything like it again. I mean, a show that gets more and more popular every year, for about 11 years, and never goes out. Like, that’s crazy. That doesn’t even make sense. It’s kind of unfathomable. 

 

Season 9: Sasha Velour

Tara Ziemba via Getty Images

What has your life been like in the years since you won?

What’s that Gaga quote where she’s like, “No sleep, another club, another club”? [laughs] Airplane, no sleep, another club. Just like looped for 10 minutes. It’s very busy. People see and love all the things that happen on the stage, or on the stage of social media, but there’s a lot of ... I think what a lot of people maybe don’t know, or what they’re learning more and more is how unglamorous it can be ― a lot of us very suddenly find ourselves in very new worlds, dealing with business at a level that is unimaginable and confusing and with the speed of travel and requirement of energy that is pretty intense. Honestly, it’s exciting. It’s a very unusual opportunity and it’s amazing that people from our community are getting to experience that more and more in these times.

What has been the greatest gift that winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has given you? 

The platform. The opportunity to take the projects that I believe and have them reach people in a meaningful way. To enrich my relationships with amazing creatives, like Untitled Queen, like Vander Von Odd, Neon Calypso, designers like Diego Montoya and Florence D’Lee in Brooklyn. People from our community and getting to enrich those relationships and feel like I can play a role in expanding the conversation about drag even beyond “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” That’s been the greatest gift.

What is the best lip-sync in “Drag Race” herstory?

For me ― I just rewatched both of these so that I could stand by these, and it’s like, “Definitely.” My top one for a very long time was pregnant Latrice Royale versus pregnant Kenya Michaels doing “You Make Me Feel.” It’s both very uncanny at times and also so deeply moving and that is the combination that makes drag amazing to me. And then also Alyssa Edwards and Tatiana doing “Shut Up and Drive” with the hair flip.

What do you want the future of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as a show and a cultural phenomenon to ultimately be?

Oh my gosh. People are always gonna look back and see “Drag Race” as this force that catapulted so much excitement and awareness about drag. And I hope that “Drag Race” continues to pave the way for a lot of drag performers and queer artists to shine in the spotlight, to be evaluated on their merits and doing their own creative work. And I hope that “Drag Race” paves the way for other kinds of representations of drag within the media. So that in the future, we can point to so many different places where you learn about drag and meet drag performers. Queer programming in general needs to be expanded ― on television, especially. And I hope that it continues to pave the way and direct audiences to all the amazing things that happen across the board, on and off television.

These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.