Moving on to RuPaul’s Drag Race, I have to ask: during the competition, which challenge was the most difficult for you?
The most challenging would have been the Bitch Ball. Every season has a ball episode, and I’m sure the Atlanta queens know what I’m talking about because they have such a great ball scene. What we had to do was create three entire looks in one day based around the concept of a dog. I’m not a real sewer, and I was the only one in the room who wasn’t an advanced sewer. I found that part quite challenging. But I won that challenge. In fact, I won every sewing challenge without ever touching that fucking machine. That goes to show the real thing to applaud a drag queen for craftiness. Real drag queens can dive into any dumpster and turn it into couture. I could sell life insurance to a dead person.
You seemed to be the contestant this year that the majority of Drag Race viewers loved to watch. Was that surprising at all to you?
I knew I would be entertaining because I’m different. A lot of drag queens like to assimilate. A lot of drag queens, when they’re growing into their characters, try to follow the rules and try to follow the successful queens amongst them. I was the complete opposite. It’s like…punk rock was challenging society, I felt like I was the punk rock queen of drag. I wanted to challenge what we all thought drag was, or what most Americans were exposed to. I knew I would be funny and kitschy, but did I ever think I would win? Absolutely not. RuPaul’s Drag Race has previously been a show for beauty queens, and I’m glad that this year, it was given to the artist and not the model displaying the art.
The finale was done a little differently this year. The winner was announced after the finale, and even then you filmed three endings for each finalist. How did that impact your reaction to winning on-camera?
Well, I was very disappointed in the producers’ decision to do it that way. Of course I understand. No other reality show in history covets the sanctity of the process of knowing who the winner is, because it really is a downer for the gay community to know who wins [in advance], and RuPaul’s Drag Race is to us the way the playoffs are to most Pittsburgh Steelers fans. No one wants the surprise ruined for everyone, but we had a lot of queens and press in the live taping, and we knew we wouldn’t be safe. So it was a last-minute decision. We were told about 20 minutes before taping that we should make up some things. I was worried that if I acted, my fans would be disappointed and wonder just how honest and real my story was on the show. So when RuPaul asked me if there was anything I would like to say, I simply said, “Happy Halloween!” I didn’t want to do a “I can’t believe you chose me! Oh my gosh!” I didn’t want to give any of that because I knew it would be leaked that we filmed three separate endings, so I just acted as graciously as I could to hold that crown.
How did you find out that you actually won?
I found out on TV, just like everybody else! I was in New York, and we were doing a show because, of course, it was the last episode. We invited all the New York fans to come out, and all the RuPaul girls were doing a drag show. And I was standing there with the other two finalists, Chad Michaels and Phi Phi O’Hara. I was also with my best friend, Randy; my boyfriend, Alaska Thunderfuck; and my mom, who’d flown in from Iowa. So I really couldn’t ask for a better way to learn. I was learning it with America right on television. It really has come full-circle. I’m not just a contestant and the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m the biggest fan of this television show ever. I’ve seen every episode, every Monday at 9:20, in the same La-Z-Boy chair. It was just great to come full circle, to be a fan of the show, a part of the show, and having it bond together. Being a fan, and watching myself win live on television. It was surreal.
What has life been like since winning RuPaul’s Drag Race?
It’s been insane. I moved into a new apartment. It’s called “Every Airport in America.” And I’ve given up my favorite narcotic, sleeping. Beyond that, it’s been phenomenal. A year ago, I was paying my rent by cashing in the penny bowl, and making up every excuse I could to the electric company to keep my power on. Now, I’ve been put into a financial position to take care of myself and my family. You know, RuPaul didn’t give me the crown this year. This year was really based on fan reception of the show, and I had an overwhelming majority support me. So I’m on a 60-city tour, which at times I find is running me ragged. Sometimes I cry and I scream and I punch the wall. But at the end of the day, this is me writing my thank-you notes to every fan who supported me. So I just want to make sure I hit every city and meet every fan who was there to not only go online to support me, but found some solace and maybe hope for the future, so that their teen years that were as shitty as mine could become more fruitful and they can make more positive changes for themselves. I never wanted to be a role model because all of my role models are fucking dead, but I do take the challenge very seriously.
Since winning RuPaul’s Drag Race, what’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you, or the most surprising thing?
If Chad Michaels had won and she wanted to work with her idols, that would never happen. Cher’s not going to work with her. If Phi Phi O’Hara won and wanted to work with her idols, never gonna happen. Nicki Minaj is never going to call her. But I’m the kind of person whose idols were underground, cult figures, so I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many of my idols. So few of them are alive. I’ve been able to work with Amanda Lepore, Suzanne Barnes, and just recently, I’ve gotten to work with my biggest idol, an Atlanta resident – Jayne County, who I just did a photoshoot with, and that was a life-changing day for me. Atlanta, you have no idea what you spawn. Pittsburgh spawns great stars. We have Andy Warhol and Mr. Rogers, Christina Aguilera and Sharon Needles. But you guys, you have the home of Lady Bunny, RuPaul Charles and Jayne County. So you guys have some famous drag queens up in your town. Oh, and don’t forget Nicole Paige Brooks!
Next:Needles’ talks Atlanta