August 8, 2022

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Fashion groove

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ All Star Raja Does Not Identify as a ‘Fashion Queen’ — ‘I’m the O.G. Style Queen’


Coming back to RuPaul’s Drag Race for a victory lap has proven to be a joy for both queens and fans on All Stars 7. For Raja, the winner of season 3 of Drag Race, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

Returning to the show 11 years after she originally appeared, Raja has gone on to make a name for herself as one of the show’s greatest style icons — to the point where she founded and regularly hosts the YouTube series Fashion Photo RuView, where she and fellow Drag Race alums like Raven, Gottmik & more get real about the fashion and style represented on the runway of Drag Race.

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So it’s no wonder that for her return on All Stars 7, Raja has brought her brand of glamour and cranked it up to 11. Fans have been fawning over the queen’s looks for weeks while angrily protesting that fact that she had yet to win one of the season’s Legendary Legend Stars. Now, with the latest episode out, those fans can rest easy — taking on the role of a soothsaying sorceress to deliver a hilarious commencement speech, Raja finally won her first star.

Raja chatted with Billboard after the fifth episode’s airing about how fans have reacted to her performance on the show, Republican politicians focusing on drag queens performing for kids, and why she’s not comfortable with being called a “fashion queen.”

[Spoilers ahead for RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 7, episode 5]

In the history of Drag Race, you are largely considered to be one of the show’s greatest fashion queens, and that continues to show in this season — how do you feel your style has evolved since season 3?

To be honest, it always makes me a little uncomfortable when I hear people refer to me as, like, “the O.G. fashion queen.” That has been recirculating now with the show airing, and it bothers me only because I don’t love fashion as much as I love style. The word “fashion” genuinely makes me feel weird, because it makes me think of brands, and things that are considered “in fashion” and “out of fashion.” I do not love all of that — I appreciate great brands, and I use fashion brands and designers as references to what I like to create — but I admire people who really have their own sense of style. In my place in my life, that is what I revere the most: peoples’ ability to put themselves together in such a way that makes themselves feel unique. That, to me, is more important. So I’d love to just rewrite that narrative and rename myself, I’m the O.G. style queen now.

Also, watching 11 years of this after being on the show, and watching each part of the franchise change and adjust, I am just a little disappointed and tired of queens needing to create something brand new every time and being chastised for wearing something twice. I just think that’s such a strange concept to me; everything I own in my wardrobe is a part of a collection, and it’s an archive meant to be accessed and worn at any f–king time that I want. So I really don’t enjoy seeing queens being mean to each other, or thinking one is better than the other for having some fresh, new rhinestoned outfit. It’s absolute bulls–t and nonsense!

I could not agree more with you — it also creates this even further, classist divide amongst fellow queens, which is ridiculous. 

It really does, and it’s disappointing! I come from the school of drag where you don’t have a lot of money, so you have to be resourceful. So resourcefulness is a big part of drag that I think has sort of faded out of the conversation. Like, being able to walk into a thrift store with an idea for a number you want to perform, and making it work with what you find. That’s drag!

This season of All Stars already has proven to be a very “positive vibes only” kind of season, where we get some drama, but for the most part, everyone on the cast is very sweet and uplifting to each other. What do you attribute that specific vibe to?

I mean, all eight of us won! So we didn’t … I really feel like I’m speaking for the collective when I say we didn’t come there with these attitudes of feeling better than anyone else. Instead, we almost immediately looked at each other and could see what we loved about the others from the get-go. There was never an insinuation or suggestion that there was any shade to one another. I hope the audience doesn’t find it boring for the next few episodes! [Laughs.]

We do try to stir it up here and there, but from what I remember being there, it was always respect 100% of the time. We laughed so much, and in my particular life in drag, I find that fact to be a lot more true to life than seeing a bunch of queens being nasty and shady to each other. I was just really glad to be in a group that respects one another very much. I mean, all we wanted to do was have fun together!

I think it’s actually a really refreshing change of pace to see eight queens vibing and having a good time, it makes it a very good watch. 

Right, because there’s still the game show part of it that makes us feel like competitors! But we just had hearts in our eyes for one another.

Speaking of the game show aspect, we got to see you struggle with the fact that you didn’t have a Legendary Legend Star, which you ultimately won by the time the episode ended. With this no elimination structure, what is it like not winning challenges — is that still just as frustrating, or do you feel less bothered?

This time around, I was looking at it as a television show first and foremost. I realized what was happening and I was like, “Okay, I’m not getting my star, so I’m just gonna enjoy how the fans will ultimately react.” I knew that eventually this would be edited and pieced together into a beautifully-packaged television show, and I thought about the fact that there would be a lot of people who were really f–king pissed that I’m not winning anything. [Laughs.]  That kept me going!

Thinking about the product rather than being frustrated was the move. You play it up to camera a little bit, you go with it, and you never let them see you sweat. I’ve never been that kind of person who’s gonna let you see me panic, and if they do witness it, I’m going to do it in a very gorgeous, Diahann Carroll on Dynasty sort of way.

See, you played a soothsayer in this episode, and it turns out you are one in real life, because the fans have, in fact, been “really f–king pissed off” that you hadn’t won before this challenge. 

Honey, I knew it! I knew they would be angry! That made me kind of happy, to be honest. I was like, “I’m already winning.” They kept shading me for four episodes and I was like, “Ugh, I am winning so hard right now.”

I really appreciated this challenge, because I feel like it was a perfect showcase for your brand of comedy. You are a very naturally charismatic and funny person, so did this challenge of having to write a commencement speech feel easier or harder for you to take that off-the-cuff humor and make it a full, written piece?

It was not difficult. This was one of the challenges I enjoyed the most, because a thing not everybody realizes about me is I am a writer! I love prose, I love words, I love a haiku, I love a limerick, I love iambic pentameter, I just love writing. This was my thing, and I felt like I could really go for it. It was definitely a weird way to do comedy, but I like awkward and weird ways of doing things, so it spoke to me immediately. I was one of the few people on the set that day holding a thesaurus in one hand and a dictionary in the other to make sure that all of the words fit together. It was so so fun. I come from a family of educators, my father was a minister, so public speaking was something they always encouraged.

Even just the set it up, knock it down structure of telling people to embrace every moment because “we’re all gonna die” was comedy gold. 

You’re gonna die! We’re all gonna die!

I did want to ask about something a little more serious that happened this last week — in Texas, Rep. Bryan Slaton proposed a bill that would ban kids from attending drag shows, which got right-wing politicians in a tizzy this week talking about how it’s “inappropriate” for children. What was your reaction when you saw that piece of news?

It’s immediately frustrating, yeah. It’s a conversation that doesn’t even need to be had, and since the conversations have been happening, I’ve seen so many Twitter reactions of people digging in deep on this. There was one from … what the f–k is that politician’s name [Colorado representative Lauren Boebert]? She tweeted “bring your kids to church not a drag show,” and she really shot herself in the foot by saying that — if you search for crimes or general darkness from kids being around drag, it doesn’t really exist. But guess what? You Google something about crimes against children and child abuse alongside the word “church,” you’re gonna get millions of results.

But after I’m frustrated, I also just stand back and realize that all of this is a distraction. It’s a distraction from all of the other problems — in the words of my good sister Jaida Essence Hall, it’s a “look over there” moment. They don’t want us to pay attention to the fact that we have a gun problem in this country, that old white men are trying to control women’s bodies, that LGBTQ rights are being eroded, it’s just all a distraction. And the first people they are going to try to come for is the queer community, and a harmless group like drag queens. They’re gonna try and put the finger on us, and it’s just so unbelievably transparent at this point. And luckily, I think a lot of Americans feel the same.

One last question before I let you go — what music have you been listening to lately?

You know what’s so cool? A lot of it has actually been stuff that the girls on the show introduced to me. There was always a van ride between our hotel and the set, and so that would be the time for us to listen to music, and they really inspired me and showed me music that I hadn’t heard. I am a little unaware, and I’m a creature of habit — I’m a Gemini, so I will listen to the same Dinah Washington song or Gladys Knight & The Pips song over and over again.

So to get to hear new stuff is amazing — I learned about SZA, who is incredible! I heard Princess Nokia, they even took me entirely through the Doja Cat library. And I didn’t appreciate Doja as much before listening to her with a group of younger people. I also love emotional music, so I will always love Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey and people like that. I’ll be a Little Monster forever. But my music taste goes, a lot of the time, to things I’m already familiar with — ’90s and early 2000’s music is my go-to. But the girls on the set taught me a lot about new music.

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