The list of accomplishments for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 star Denali Foxx is no short one. Since the show wrapped in April, the Alaska-born fan favorite has gone on to reach over 3 million views on YouTube with their lip-sync showdown against fellow Chicago-based queen Kahmora Hall. Foxx, a professional figure skater, was also named one of the two “lip-sync assassins” of Season 13 with Lala Ri, who she beat in a lip sync for charity that won $10,000 for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Foxx has also since released viral content online, including a promotional music video for queer singer Kali Uchis and Chicago Drag Excellence. That video pays homage to Chicago’s drag scene, and has inspired performers from cities like Houston and Copenhagen, Denmark, to create their own.
Prior to her May 23 performance at ReBar Houston, Foxx spoke with OutSmart to discuss her Drag Race run and her upcoming projects.
Martin Giron: It’s been a busy year for you. From creating tons of social-media content to performing at in-person shows, what has life been like for you since appearing on Drag Race?
Denali Foxx: Life has absolutely been insane. They always say everything changes when you get on Drag Race, and truly everything has changed. I really wasn’t sure what my reception was going to be from home, because my placement was kind of in the middle of the pack and I wanted to make it a lot further. So I put a lot of that energy and confusion into the post-production content, which I loved to do. [At that time,] Chicago had been doing digital drag for a whole year, so when I got home I just tried to do that on another level. I’m so happy to see the fans have resonated with my stuff. It’s very sweet, and I’m so grateful.
You really had your YouTube content ready. What was the process for putting together your videos that aired during Drag Race Season 13?
I really wanted to put out content that would capitalize on what was happening during the show, and it was tough. When I got home I was really disappointed and frustrated, but instead of letting that consume me, I did what any healthy, toxic ice skater does and put that negative energy into my work. It was hard because we were doing it in a pandemic. We had to really make sure that we planned the Chicago Drag Excellence video super-tight, and that everyone was tested and could maneuver through it really safely. It took a little extra effort, but it’s what I love to do so I found a lot of gratification from it.
Your Chicago Drag Excellence video inspired a Houston Drag Excellence video, and it’s sure to inspire more from other underrepresented cities. How did you feel watching that Houston video, and seeing the response to your original video?
It was so good! I have some ‘good judies’ in Houston, and I’m pretty close with [one of the video’s stars] Blackberri. She’s worked up here in Chicago before. I just love seeing cities come together and celebrate themselves after such a hard year, and it was really nice to see the community is still alive. I was gagged.
Speaking of Houstonians, Rose was your close friend on the show. What was it like forming bonds with the queens on a reality competition show, and how have those relationships changed since the show began airing?
Trauma really brings people close together. That environment is extremely intense. For me, especially after being in quarantine for six months by the time we filmed Drag Race, it was just really nice to connect to other human beings. Because of the circumstances we had to film in, we grew a lot closer as a cast because it was a lot harder. I’m so grateful for the friendship that Rose and I had, especially in the moments where I was really scared or sad. Watching it now, it’s really nice to see those moments where you forget your mic is on and you’re just having a real conversation with a friend. I feel like our bonds have gotten even closer since the show ended. I didn’t get to talk to Symone much on the show, but off the show I’ve gotten a lot closer with her. I’ve gotten a lot closer to Olivia, too—she’s one of my closest friends from the show. And obviously I’m so much closer to Kahmora. We were Chicago sisters from the beginning, and now we’re best friends.
Do you have any upcoming collaborations planned with anyone from the Season 13 cast?
I have a lot of special projects I’m working on. I’m going to continue doing YouTube content since the fans really connected with that. Eventually I’d love to do music, but right now I’m focusing on continuing with this momentum. I’d love to travel and meet the fans and perform as much as I can, now that I’m a vaccinista. I have a few projects coming up for May and June and Pride season. And of course, my merch!
You recently released a video lip syncing to “Telepatía” by Kali Uchis. How did that opportunity come about?
So I’ve been obsessed with Kali for a long time. She’s one of the go-to artists that my drag mother and I perform to. After the show, I came home and got an email from Kali’s manager, who was a huge fan. They said “Telepatia” had just been released, and asked if I would do promotional content for her. The fact that I was asked was crazy—she even commented on it. I’m really, really proud of that video. It’s just cool to have that kind of reach, and connect and collaborate with artists I’m super-inspired by.
You’ve mentioned that you’re Mexican and Jewish, and your drag name comes from your hometown in Alaska. Why did you choose to represent your heritage this way, and what has the response to this been like?
I am only my experiences and my journeys through life, and my name and identity is represented in those experiences. When it came to choosing my name, I asked myself what inspired me, and it was my homeland. That’s why there’s a lot of nature themes in the runways I present. I also thought about the most inspiring women in my life, and one of those women is my grandmother, who passed away at a [long-term care facility] called the Denali Center, so it felt very fitting. Being able to dedicate things to my homeland is very important to me, and so is embracing my Latinx roots and being able to be very loudly and proudly Mexican. I’m so glad to have Mexican fans on my side, and to hint at my heritage in a few of my runways. I love them so much.
How has performing changed during COVID-19, and what do you wish more people knew about being a drag queen in the midst of a pandemic?
What attracted me to drag are the live performers with [a strong] stage presence. It’s why I started to do drag. I love being in the spotlight and being on stage and making an audience go up. My drag was designed for club performance. When I got on the show, I was like, “Oh my God, this is my dream. I want to focus all my energy into traveling and performing.” And then when the pandemic hit, it was hard. When I left home for the show, I hadn’t been doing drag for like six months. Digital drag just didn’t really speak to me, because I really loved the relationship I had with audiences and being able to connect with them that way. I had to start to redefine why I did drag and look into other venues that still inspired me, like content creation and stuff like that. I’m not going to lie—if it weren’t for Drag Race, I probably would’ve taken a break from drag because that sense of audience connection is [such a big part of] why I do drag. Now that I’m vaccinated and I’m finally able to start getting that connection back and perform, it has completely revived my passion for drag.
I think what people don’t realize about doing drag in a pandemic is that drag is so expensive. It’s an added layer of pressure and innovation to really try and do drag on a high level when fabric stores are closed. It’s more difficult to connect with audiences, and it’s way more difficult to make money now. So many things have held us back. It has completely redefined the industry, and at the end of the day it’s up to us to really push our brands and stay relevant. The RuPaul’s Drag Race wheels keep turning, and Season 14 is going to come along and we’ll have to compete with them, so it’s difficult. That’s the system.
Tell me about your upcoming Houston performance at ReBar on May 23. What can your fans expect?
You can expect to see me turn the party, buck and kick and stunt, and give you my all. I’m here to give it 100 percent—to connect and feel that relationship with the audience and show love to my fans again. I want to truly feel like a Ru girl, and give that love back to the communities that have lifted me up for a while. I can’t wait to twirl for everybody!
Any favorite destinations you’ve been to when you perform on cruise ships?
Norway was beautiful. Beautiful men, beautiful country.
Favorite K-pop song, other than How You Like That by Blackpink?
Hmm, either Watercolor by Wheein, or Rose’s On The Ground. Or anything that Chungha releases.
Favorite outfit we didn’t get to see on the show?
Definitely my “beast” look, which was made by Eda Birthing (@eda_birthing). It was like this acid trip—a pregnant monster with four legs, and it was very psychedelic.
Best advice for someone learning how to skate?
Bend your knees and use your ass. [That’s also] how I have lived my life.
What: Denali Foxx in Houston
When: May 23 at 10 p.m.
Where: ReBar, 202 Tuam St
This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.