‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner talks to ‘OutSmart’
by David Goldberg • Photo by Mathu Andersen
The third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race recently came to a spectacular culmination as the androgynous, mysterious, and catwalk-captivating Raja took the crown. Now travelling the country on Logo’s Drag Race Tour, Raja talked with OutSmart about her career, her future plans, and her love of Houston. Contrary to the history of past winners on the show, it seems that this bitch is here to stay. Watch out, RuPaul, it’s about to get sickening.
David Goldberg: How long have you been doing drag?
Raja: I think I was about 16 years old [when I started], so it will be probably 20 years now of trial and error and being with drag. That’s a long time, right?
It’s a lot of work, too.
It is a lot of work, but you know what—it’s like breathing to me. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have done it for so long, and if I didn’t have it, it would feel like taking oxygen away from me. And I love it.
Was there a long break between when you actually won RuPaul’s Drag Race and when it aired
I knew I was the winner since August, and it was kind of difficult. I didn’t even tell my mom or dad. I just kept it a secret, because I thought it would ruin the surprise for so many people who enjoyed it. For my parents who had never seen Drag Race ever, and they’d never seen me in drag, it was hard for me to keep it all a secret.
What did you do in those middle months?
I kept it really quiet and started working on my fan page and on social networking.. I started preparing myself for what was coming ahead. And I don’t think I’m actually prepared still. I never soaked it all in. I’m just baffled by the whole thing. I can’t believe that I’m going into clubs, and throngs of people are coming to see me, and they’re all so excited.
It’s been crazy since the announcement.
I barely get a day off. It’s just a really fun whirlwind, and I’m enjoying the entire process. I’m having a great time.
So you’re touring now.
I’m touring and performing now, which goes on until October, and somewhere in between, I’m doing my own projects and just kind of keeping my fans interested. I’m experimenting with a little bit of music right now. I’ve got a song on iTunes called “Diamond Crowned Queen,” and we’re working on a music video. But I just want to kind of give tidbits to people who are interested in me. There’s an audience of people now who are really excited to see everything I’m doing, and I’m keeping things up because I’m so fresh for them.
After the first two seasons, many of the fans were waiting for a real superstar that, frankly, we did not get. So for a lot of us, your current work may define not only you but what it means to be the winner of the show.
Absolutely. I think the recognition is really important. I’ve always felt like there was a platform and things for me to say, and I’ve always had a point of view to share with people. I’m always going to keep it out there. I made it very clear during the season that I was really interested in talking to kids: gay youth, queer youth, just freaky youth, who feel a little bit out of place, and I guess I want to be a beacon to them, and to share my experience and to show that you can live a very fulfilling life being the exact person that you want to be.
So while you are touring, you are going to reach out to those kinds of audiences?
Yeah, we’re working with a group called Hope’s Voice. Throughout the year I’ll be doing a few events with them, some workshops, and just talking to different groups about diversity and about tolerance. It’s a very important thing. The world is constantly changing, and it’s good to keep up with the kids and make sure they’re all good.
A few years down, how big and how far do you want to take this?
I always shoot big. I like to go big. I’ve followed RuPaul’s career for however long he’s been around, for 20 years now. And I’d love to somehow mirror that sort of success, and I hope that I can keep that sort of longevity and keep it fresh for people the way that he has.
Is this your first time in Houston?
No! I love Texas so much! And Houston! I dated a boy from Austin for years, and we lived in New York together, and we visited Austin. I’ve been to Houston. I love Texas. I love Queso, and Tex-Mex food is like my favorite thing.
Frozen Margaritas here are like crack.
Sickening. So good.
Have you been to F bar?
I love F Bar. I went there on opening night. It was really beautiful. It’s so sexy, and the cute guys were throwing themselves at me. I was like, Oh my God, Houston, please, I can’t handle all this. I love it.
Do you think RuPaul is happy with you as the winner?
I think he is. There’s been a lot of controversy. It ended up on Perez Hilton that there was a “leak” that Ru and I had been friends for 15 years, and that is really not the case. I’m not coming into this as being some kind of amateur. I’ve been a focus in the drag world in L.A. and New York for a really long time, and I was on America’s Next Top Model. I’ve been performing in L.A. for so many years that I’ve probably always been in Ru’s radar. How could we not know of each other? I know that Ru has known about me for many years, and we ‘ve just been acquaintances, you know, and I’m sure that he is very proud of me. I think he approves of all of it; otherwise, I wouldn’t have been chosen. Ultimately, he gets the final decision.
Have you seen Manila since you’ve won?
Oh yeah. I talk to the “Heathers” quite often. Manila and I saw each other in New York and Las Vegas recently, and we talk to each other virtually every day.”
What was fabulous about you and Manila being the top two was that you were such different types of drag queens.
I agree. While we do have our differences in style, we have a lot of parallels. We’re both visual artists. Manila’s a really accomplished graphic designer and illustrator, and I’m an illustrator and painter as well. We’re both half-Asian boys, and we definitely understand the same references and can hold a conversation together about art or music or politics or the world in general. If it weren’t me, I would have been quite happy to see Manila win it.”
So, for fans who want to see you live, what should we expect?
It’s a combination of many things. I’ve been able, in my years of doing this, to really develop a presence and find a lot of comfort in my personal abilities. I’m not a dancer, but I can definitely command a presence. I’m a very languid and sensual performer, and I think people will fully get to appreciate the other side of me that you don’t get to appreciate on the show. I never got to perform much on the show except when I had to “lip sync for my life” to songs I didn’t get to choose. People will get to see my own personal taste in fashion and music and culture.
I’m very curious: as much as I feel like I know you from the show, there’s so much that’s mysterious to me about you.
Being in these environments, people will get to meet me, find out more about my personality, and have a quick conversation with me. I’m a lot warmer than people realize I am. I think what people got to see on TV was a person who was very competitive, and I was very sure of myself, which is at time frustrating, because it was a competition. But I encourage a lot of people to come up to me. I’m definitely that person who’s interested in meeting people and finding out of about them.
Since you started touring, what’s been the biggest surprise?
The biggest surprise is the amount of appreciation and the amount of love. I never in my life imagined it, and thinking about it really moves me—to realize that people will spend time to focus love on someone that is virtually a complete stranger [to them]. I’m so fortunate and so lucky and very thankful that people are doing this.
What would your advice be to young people interested in drag or any kind of deviant performance?
Own it. Drag has so many different colors and shapes and styles, and it’s such a diverse type of entertainment. You can really do it any way you want. My advice is to own it. Whatever you decide to do, you’ve got to own it and find complete confidence in it.
See Raja in an exclusive Houston engagement in “Drag Live” on Tuesday, May 24, at 10 p.m. at F Bar Houston, 202 Tuam. Raja joins F Bar’s Dreamgirls: Christina Ross, Kara Dion, Tara Dion, Kourtney Van Wales, and Titanica Da Barge. Hosted by Tye Blue. 21+, no cover.
David Goldberg is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.