For many reasons, this has been an unprecedented season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Though the competition series’ 12th cycle has brought in record ratings for VH1 and showcased what RuPaul has frequently described as one of its strongest casts to date, it’s been a bumpy road for the queens. For one, the show’s wise decision to disqualify Sherry Pie from the competition mere days before her debut meant that plenty of footage (likely including valuable screen time for the other competing queens) was left on the cutting room floor. But that hypothetical lost air time felt like a mere inconvenience after COVID-19 swiftly shut down events, bars, and more, cancelling the cast’s plans for a promotional tour of the country, and effectively putting live drag—and nightlife in general—on hold until further notice.
Of course, drag queens are quite resourceful and, as last week’s charming sleepover-themed reunion proved, so is RuPaul’s Drag Race. Queens across the world have turned to social media and streaming platforms to show off their jaw-dropping talent and creativity like never before, and Drag Race has responded in kind. The finale will feature finalists Crystal Methyd, Gigi Goode, and Jaida Essence Hall lip-syncing for the crown in their own homes.
Before we see how tonight’s remotely filmed finale plays out, The A.V. Club had the opportunity to Zoom with season 12’s dazzling dozen, and there was a lot to unpack. In the video above, the queens answer some of our most burning questions, like, “What was really going through Jackie Cox’s head during Jeff Goldblum’s runway critique?” and, “How did they ever convince Dahlia Sin to stick around in that broccoli costume?’ Below, we reflect on the wild season with the entire cast, and find out how watching along from home has changed the way the queens see themselves, Drag Race, and the drag art form in general.
Note: The following interview was conducted over a series of individual and group Zoom calls, so answers have been threaded together for a more streamlined conversation. To see the full interview with each of the queens, check out the dedicated playlist on our YouTube channel.
The A.V. Club: For the final three queens, what would a win mean to you? What do you think your crowning would represent?
Gigi Goode: I mean, first of all, it would also be a win for my mom. This whole experience to me, I am dedicating to her because she has played such a pivotal role in my drag career and just my upbringing in general, obviously. But it would also mean so much because I think that I’ve been able to prove the audience and the judges wrong on so many different fronts, and I think the fact that I’ve been able to do that several times throughout the season is just very telling of what I’m able to do as a drag queen.
And with that being said, I think I really encompass every aspect of every single winner that has come through the circuit, but at the same time, I am nothing like any of them. So to me, a win for Gigi only makes sense.
Crystal Methyd: You know, I feel like there’s always like a kooky queen that does drag a little bit differently on the show, but I feel like there truly hasn’t been anyone that takes the same approach to doing drag the way that I do. And I think that it would really be a push to encourage more crazy things to happen on the show.
Jaida Essence Hall: I think that a win for me would be a win for so many people, and—not trying to be political—but I see so many people who inbox me or they message me and then they just say that they go through so many similar things that I’ve been through in my life. I think that for me, coming from a horrible ghetto area, not finishing high school, so many things in my life that told me I would not be successful, that told me… “you will be working a regular job, you will never be able to make dreams happen for you to come true.” And I’ve done it and I just want to let people know no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter what circumstances you have in life, you can be successful and you can be your own success, but you don’t have to be a textbook version of what that is.
AVC: When you make it to the finals, there’s always a lot of talk about “scorecards” and your “arc” for the season. What would you say was a pivotal moment that defined your time on the show?
Crystal: You know, I feel like in the beginning of the competition, I was really intimidated by all the other girls, especially when you look at their racks of clothes and all the amazing garments that they brought. And I definitely got in my head and I think that was something where once I finally just relaxed and just started enjoying it again, that’s when things started going good. I would say it would probably be the Rusical. I kept a diary during the show; I wrote, “I’m going to be in the top for the Rusical, and this is my story arc change. And I’m going to be in the top from now on,” and that’s what happened! So that’s when I really just tried to start having fun.
Jaida: I think it was in the first episode because we had to do so, so much. Right from the jump we had to do choreography. Now people say, “Don’t say you’re not good at choreography!” but dancing and choreography are two completely different things. You can be in the club dancing and shaking it off and turning it and then when they ask you to be on the stage in a choreo, it’s a completely different story. [Laughs.]
And we had to sing, which is not something that I’m particularly good at, but it also showed that no matter what situation I’m in, I can rise to the occasion and make it work.
Gigi: I think honestly the Madonna Rusical was so pivotal for me, both externally and internally because it was something that changed my own personal trajectory. As soon as I felt that challenge win that I really honestly did not think I had, I was like, “Okay, I’ve had a taste. I need more, so let me go ahead and get a third win.” “Okay, I need more than that, let me go ahead and get a fourth win.”
And somebody told me the other day on Twitter that I have the record for the most challenge wins, both maxi and mini, of any drag queen that’s been on the show. Which I did not think about, it did not even occur to me. And when they said that, I was like, “Are you shitting me right now? This is something that I used to watch in my living room with my friends and try and hide from my parents, and now I’m doing it.”
AVC: Speaking of Twitter, so much of this season was solely experienced through social media because of quarantine. You all had to miss out on this tradition, of sorts, to travel the country and watch the season in bars among fans and friends. How did watching from home change the way your perception of your time on Drag Race?
Aidan Zhane: Well, I’ll be the first to say because of my situation where I started as a bedroom queen, not much has changed [Laughs.]. Which isn’t ideal necessarily, because you don’t go on Drag Race to continue doing the same damn thing. But I’m just taking it day by day, and taking it for what it is and enjoying that I do have a platform now, even if I’m stuck at home currently. So, just looking forward to getting back out there.
Widow Von’Du: For me, I definitely feel like my body is not as limber as it used to be, since I ain’t been bending, and stretching and moving, just sitting on the couch, watching TV. But you know, watching the season back and seeing my powerful messages, then getting all the response back from fans who were like, “You helped me realize, this, this, and this and that.” It’s been amazing. So I’m very thankful.
Jackie Cox: What I found is we have such a passionate fan base, and they really comment for two reasons: One, if they’re obsessed with something, or two, if they are furious about something. It’s such a passionate fan base. And so you only get those kinds of extremes of like, “I love you. Everything you do is amazing.” Or, “Why did you do this? That was terrible. Why are you still in this competition?” So you miss that real world mentality of the other 80% of people who are like, “Oh, it’s a great show.” I think you’re missing a little bit of the nuance.
And I’m at least grateful that we’re able to connect with each other, at least virtually through Twitter or whatever, we can still engage with folks. And especially the international folks, like people in countries where we may not go for maybe a long time, if ever are able to watch either us on social media live or on other platforms doing shows live, which they’re able to connect with us right away as they see us on TV. If we would have been touring, it would have been only at those viewing parties. So that’s another really great benefit, I guess, or I guess a positive way to look at this situation. But yeah, I am excited to actually hit the road and see people in real life when it is safe to do so.
Jaida: I feel like we have such a personal touch with the people who support us and I think that is because of what’s going on in the world right now. Usually they can come out to the bar and see you and tip you and give you money and then carry on about the day. But now, because we don’t have a way to connect with them in that kind of way, we have to make it a little bit more personal. I’m all about it because I’ve always been the type of queen where I’ve liked to make personal connections with people, so I’m glad that I get to actually do that. And I’ve never also been good with social media at all. But now I’ve been doing lives and tweets and getting lost in DMs [Laughs.] So I’ve been trying to do it, trying to turn it up.
Heidi N Closet: For me, I look back and see there’s been a growth and change in who I am. Like, I remember looking back on the first episode or two, and I just see how insecure and how nervous I was going into it and how much I’ve grown and changed since then has, is incredible. And, you know, also the makeup just so happened to get better too. So, you know… double win.
AVC: How many episodes were you guys out on the road before everything shut down?
Brita: Two, we got in two. I’ve been here in Maine at my parents’ house for, I believe, 65 days now. Yeah. I never thought that I would be watching the entire season from my parent’s house, but throughout this entire experience, I really feel that we have to be grateful. I’m grateful that I’m healthy. I didn’t come here with any drag. I didn’t realize how severe everything was going to be, and that it would be like this.
When you’re on Drag Race, we have the hopes that hopefully we’ll tour around, we’ll be able to make coin to pay back our debts. I spent more on Drag Race than I did it on seven years of college. It’s a lot of money and we hope to make it back.
It’s unfortunate that this is happening, but it’s really putting a lot of things in perspective. I’m also realizing that you don’t need all the glitz and the glam in order to be a drag queen. Honestly, it’s what comes from within and what you can make work around the house. And bitch, I’m definitely making it work, honey.
Rock M. Sakura: When you go home, it’s a lot harder. Sometimes, when you’re out at a club doing an event, a lot of the girls go home in these big public settings, and there’s so many people there to rally around you and really just make you feel good. And sometimes when you’re at home, you can trap yourself in a little glass case of emotion and it can get a little scary when you watch yourself on TV and you have an echo chamber of anxiety sometimes.
Dahlia: Yeah, I think I was literally the only girl out of this cast that got eliminated while the bars were still happening. I feel like everybody says that they wish they would have had the opportunity, if they did go home, to get eliminated in a bar or something. But, for me it was the most—not embarrassing—but kind of awkward moment because you’re just sitting there and you’re like, “I already know I’m going home.” And then everybody’s in here, rooting for you. Because, when you’re at that bar, everybody’s rooting for you, obviously, because you’re there and you may be their favorite queen or not, but it’s just kind of awkward when you’re just sitting there like, “Whoa, I wonder if I’m going home.”
It was kind of cringey. But at the end of the day, it was still kind of good because I also had people there that were like, “Oh girl, you still did good,” and had my back. So it was amazing that way, but also on a brighter note, our season is doing amazing. We’re killing it. I felt like our season is probably one of the best seasons in long time. So no matter what happens, we’re all going to come out on this on the good side. For all of us touring girls, because we’re going to kill it.
Nicky Doll: I think that, as much as it was very frustrating to not be able to tour around the world or to just have our names screamed at the club when you get kicked out, instead of crying yourself to bed alone at home, on the brighter side, I think that we have so much time to really connect with the fan base, so much time to share meaningful and important message, that I think that the fans are really connecting with us on a whole other level. We’re not just this TV personality that they love on TV. We are this TV personality that they discovered on TV, but that they really managed to fall in love with online. And I think that this is something that, without a quarantine, we would have not had the opportunity to do.
AVC: Looking back on the season, what’s something that you wish you would have brought with you? Whether that’s something physical, like a wig or extra padding, or something mental—how do you wish you had prepared yourself more the competition?
Crystal: You know, I felt like getting ready for the show, I was packing my bags up to the last second to try and get to the airport on time. And some of the girls were so prepared. They had like binders of photographs of all the looks they had and what hair went with what, and like pictures of what their face looked like and notes for every day from their friends to read. So I would have loved to have like a little something to remind me of home or something like that.
Jan: I wish that I was a little bit less green in terms of just wanting to impress the judges. I know that I’m that bitch and I have everything that it takes to win this competition, but I just wanted their validation so much that I feel like it got in my way of knowing what my worth is. So I think if I ever go back to an all-star season or if I ever get the chance to come back, I would just go in there and be like, “I know I’m good enough. I know I’m a strong competitor.” Let me just believe that 10% more for myself and 10% less for the judges panel. And instead of showing every single color that I have in my grail box, I’ll just show the brightest and boldest colors so that you know where my strong points are and that I have what it takes to win a crown.
Gigi: I have a very dry sense of humor, and I’ve come to realize that a lot of the fans don’t really get it. I was a little bit reserved on set and it was because I’m definitely much more of a listener than a speaker and that I always tend to use that to my advantage, but I do wish that I was a little bit more open. I wish I was a little bit more vulnerable the whole time.
And there were some times where I said some things that I just didn’t mean, and I would never have said those things. My mom has always, always told me growing up that kindness is the very first thing, and there were some times where I think I might’ve lost that, but I definitely think I wish I would have brought a little bit more of myself out of drag to that.
Nicky: I think I should have probably listened to a self confidence audio book or something like that to really believe that I’m that bitch. Because I watch it now on TV and I’m like, “You could have gone so much further if you would have been your number one fan.” So I think that this is something that I’m working on and, without being too cocky, you don’t want to go too overboard. And also on the fashion aspect, I wish I would have had space to bring props. It was a lot of very conceptual outfits, and the price to pay is that it looks like Carl, which is my boy self, is wearing pajamas in the workroom because they didn’t have space to pack a boy wardrobe. And my quarterback had no fricking ball.
It’s hard to pack for drag race. People don’t realize it, but it just hard to pack your imagination on that main stage.
Brita: I swear. Girl I didn’t even bring suitcases. I brought boxes.
Rock: My first episode, when I wore that tulle outfit, it took up a suitcase and a half and there were space bags with the air taken out of them. It was so big that I literally forgot more than half of my makeup, more than half of my makeup. So I got there and I was crunchy. I was like, “Where the heck is all my makeup?” It was in another bag that we had to switch out of because the bag was too small, essentially what happened.
Dahlia: I definitely wish I would have brushed up on improv. That was the one thing going into the competition that I was nervous about doing, just because improv is not my thing. I’m a funny person, but I’m not good with taking something and making it into something with comedy because, that’s not my forte. So if it was an acting challenge and we had a script or something, I could play it off of that. But improv is just not my thing. So I was hoping, girl, let’s hope that this is maybe the fifth episode, and bitch, it was the first one.
Brita: I was so in my head during the entire competition and it made me act a certain way… The times that I did say, “New York” so many times, or, “entertainer of the year,” it’s because I was trying to talk myself up and be like, “Yo, you belong here. You’ve done some things, you definitely belong.” I was just trying to talk myself up to be like, “You deserve this, you deserve this, you deserve this.” Because when I found myself in the bottom, I wish I was a little more, I guess self-aware of certain things. Yeah. Because I think my package that I brought was pretty strong. I just got so in my head. So that’s the one thing that I would have changed and I would have brought.
Jackie: I wish I would have danced more leading up to… I should’ve thrown myself into dance classes. I’m the oldest queen of this season. I’m not that old, but I’m 35 now. And I probably should have warmed up these old achy bones a little. I will say, I think people have found my dad dancing at least entertaining. I don’t know if it’s ever good, but… [Laughs.]
AVC: Who was your favorite guest judge from the season? What advice of theirs stuck with you?
Aiden: I would have to say Leslie Jones, simply because she was that one judge who, when she came backstage really just kind of had something to say to me, and wanted to help me out and get me in a better mind space. And she gave me a big hug and a kiss.
Gigi: The best advice that any of us had gotten from any judge the whole season was from Leslie Jones, and there could have been an hour or two hour long Untucked special with just Leslie, and I wish they would put her on as a weekly judge, a permanent judge, because the things that she says to us are things that you hear before, some and some not, but it resonates so much more when she’s saying it because she is looking you dead in your soul and she’s telling it to you like it is. And oh my God, the advice that she gave me and everybody just will stick with me for the rest of my drag career.
Heidi: You know, I love Leslie; she’s definitely up there. But I think my number one would have to been Miss… well, she’s not “Miss” anything! Whoopi Goldberg. Oh my gosh. She just has this air about her that just calms the room. When she speaks it’s wisdom flowing and it’s just so amazing, she’s just so, so helpful. Like when she was helping us get ready for the one-woman show—even though my show hadn’t been the best—it wouldn’t have been nearly as good without that advice. And then also, I remember this incident when I went out to go do my lip sync, I was feeling awfully down, and I looked at the judges with my head held down, and I had my eyes just came up, and she’s like, “Keep your head up.”
Jackie: Whoopi definitely gave me amazing advice. I think that this is stuff that I will remember forever. It’s such simple advice, right? Don’t worry about what other people think. But when you take it into something as simple as like, “This is supposed to be entertaining,” and not being like, “I have to entertain.” But do whatever it is that you do, and you are enough entertainment as you are. Just be yourself as often as you can. I think that was my unlock in general this season. And it probably happened a little too late, but I noticed that I got those big belly laughs from Ru whenever it was those improv-based mini challenges, so I think those were the things when I just said whatever was on the top of my head and out my mouth, and not even thought about it. That’s when I got the real connection to really her and making Ru laugh.
Crystal: I’ll never get over Whoopi Goldberg. That was so magical. I’m like, she’s a witch, like everything she said, I wanted to just absorb all of it and remember it forever. I remember going into that one-woman show, I cried right before I went on stage then, because I was just so nervous. And there was just something about her that like, once I stepped on the stage, I just felt totally comfortable.
Widow: Oh honey. I got to meet Chaka Khan, and you know, granted, I did not want to lip sync in front of her, but come on now, I also got to lip sync a Chaka Khan song, in front of shot of Chaka Khan. It just, it touches me in places that I can’t speak about right now. [Laughs.]
It was everything. And also, me being an entertainer, I usually just do songs that are dancing and upbeat, and I do flips and splits and tricks and shit like that. And to be serving her a lip sync in a gown was definitely something completely different for me. And in watching it back, I was like, “Ooh bitch, they couldn’t tell you shit.”
Jaida: I say Whoopi was really good, but Jeff Goldblum was so crazy and funny because usually I’ve seen skits and stuff about him and then when I saw him I was like, “This is really him. He is really this person,” and I loved it. He reminds me of myself, and he saw something in me. We were both lost together! [Laughs.] There was a connection there, that’s that’s for sure.
AVC: What advice do you have for the queens of All Stars 5, who it seems may also have to watch their next Drag Race journey from home?
Nikki: Get comfortable, bitch.
Jan: Full stop.
Brita: Yeah, I’m literally in boxes right now. I look glamorous on the top, but she’s lazy on the bottom.
Rock: Learn to adapt to the social media environment right now. Your number-one priority is learning how to adapt your drag—what you do well in a club—onto digital media, because this is everyone’s opportunity to step up their game and to learn a new kind of genre of drag. Go get some online classes, learn how to do video editing, learn how to do filming, and order your camera’s right now, because they will take four to five weeks to get here. Order it right now. Click on that button. It’s in the cart, but you got to go grab it.
Jan: I would just say embrace it. Art always find a way. We all have the talent to adapt to whatever situation we’re in. That’s why we’re on the show. That’s why we are on RuPaul’s Drag Race. And we’re able to do those things and to show everybody who we are from the comfort of our living room. So embrace it, enjoy it, connect with your fans, because that’s the reason why all of us are here, and just try to make the best out of a bad situation. And just know that positivity is a cyclical thing, and that if you’re giving positive energy out, you’re going to get it back when you need it most. I’m just saying that to all of the girls.
Rock: Also, embrace the technical difficulties of this digital age, because nothing is funnier than looking back at clips and seeing girls fiddle around with their cameras. Like when Jackie fell down during her show, that was the highlight of my life. I could watch that forever.
Nikki: I completely agree with Jan. I think that the less you’re going to cry about what you could have had or what spotlight you deserve to have after going through such an intense experience. As soon as you jump back on your feet and just to go forward with new ways of entertaining, this is how you’re going to overcome this crisis.
Jan: We’re all doing an amazing job. I’m really proud of us.
For the full interviews with all of the Drag Race season 12 queens—featuring even more tea—head on over to our YouTube channel.