We Chat to RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 Winner, Jinkx Monsoon

INTERVIEW: RuPaul's Drag Race Season 5 Winner, Jinkx Monsoon

If you haven’t seen Rupauls’ Drag Race then go out and get yourself a netflix subscription immediately.
The smash hit reality show and its competitors have gone from cult phenomenon to mainstream mega stardom. Ahead of her uk tour of The Vaudevillains, calling in at Leicester and Nottingham this autumn,Sixty9°’s Jonathan Fraser interrupted season five winner Jinkx Monsoons’ 4th of July celebrations to find out more about the tour and the wonders of Rupaul.

Happy 4th of July! What am I interrupting you doing? Any plans for the holiday?

I have rehearsals later today, we’re just working through the holiday. I have a show that opens tomorrow
and another show that opens on Saturday so they’ll be running simultaneously for the next two months. There’s no rest for the wicked, I’m afraid.

So where did the Jinkx Monsoon story begin, how was she created and how did you first get started in drag?

Well I was about fourteen years old, just about to turn fifteen, and that was when I started seeing
drag shows. I used to go to this queer youth resource centre in my hometown of Portland, Oregon
and occasionally they would have Drag Queens from the local bars, come and put on shows for the teenagers, teach us a little bit about drag and then we would put on our own drag shows. The first
time I ever considered that I was doing drag I was dressed up as the Queen of Hearts for a fairy-tale
themed drag show. I didn’t really look like the Queen of Hearts; I was more kind of like an early Bette Midler but I just remember all the attention I got that night. It was really hard to say, ‘ok this is the one and only time I’m ever doing drag’ because after the response that I was given for my first time it was pretty much a done deal from there. From then on, I did drag every weekend for the next 3 or 4
years and then continued doing drag in my off time from college. As soon as I graduated I decided to go back to it and supplement my day job by doing drag work wherever it sprung up. It’s been a big part of me for half my life now and I’m pretty sure it’s a permanent fixture.

You were already an established actor and performer before the Drag Race, what made you decide to do the show?

There was a time where I really wouldn’t have volunteered myself to go into such a competitive arena as a drag queen. I really love drag and it’s my preferred medium for performance art plus I work as
an actor, so I play female roles and drag roles and male roles, anything that strikes my fancies I
guess. I just really love performing and drag race seemed to me as a showcase for talented drag
performers and it was giving drag performers this opportunity to take their career to a global audience
and show off their skill set in a much larger way than they could locally. I kinda consider it a shortcut
towards what I’ve always wanted to do as a drag performer. I went on drag race kind of thinking of
it as the world’s best audition reel for a drag queen and since Drag Race I’ve been able to do a wide variety of things that have really fulfilled me as an artist and a performer, like take shows that I’ve written off Broadway and I’ve gotten to produce my own album and I’ve gotten to do TV and movie work. I’ve just had all the opportunities open up for me because I was willing to share my personality and passion on national and international television.

Is this sudden worldwide fame a little crazy? Do you arrive for a show in say, Australia, and see these crowds going wild for you and think Oh My God, I’m in Australia and they know me?

Absolutely. I was raised with very humble beginnings. When I flew to LA to film Drag Race that was
only the second time ever in my adult life I’d been on an airplane. I grew up in Portland Oregon and then moved to Seattle, which is only 3 hours away, so that was pretty much it for me. And even though I really loved everything I was doing as a local artist and actor and performer in Seattle, I’ve always had lofty aspirations, only because I’ve always felt like I could handle it. I don’t get too consumed by the celebrity aspect of it or the fame aspect of it but the more notoriety I get because of Drag Race or other appearances I get just equates to more work for me as an entertainer and as an artist. Drag Race gave me a huge audience and a celebrity following within the queer community and all that means I get to take my shows to new places and I get to perform and do arenas, that’s what is the most exciting thing for me about it. Especially going to foreign countries, it’s still very surreal to me and it’s very exciting.

One of the things that your work demonstrates quite clearly is that you’re not populist. You’re not mainstream and you don’t take the obvious route. Whether its playing Little Edie to a new generation of fans or coming out on stage dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, there’s an intellectuality and historical aspect to your work. Is that an intentional stream?

I just do what comes naturally to me. What has always been aesthetically pleasing to me is the old Hollywood, the old ideals of glamour and I just felt like there is more versatility. Trends get watered down and homogenised, so when you pick something with a more timeless aesthetic there is so much more versatility with it. I like to do things that are a combination of modern and classic; I draw inspiration from a lot of old Hollywood icons like Bette Davis, Madeleine Kahn, Lucille Ball and Carole Benette but then I also draw inspiration from modern day female comediennes like Maria Danford, Margaret Cho and Sarah Silverman. I like to combine the old Hollywood silhouette with a very modern brassy, lude and irreverent modern ideal of femininity.

That juxtaposition is what the Vaudevillians is about isn’t it? How would you describe the show and the concept behind it?

I always describe it as more of a one act musical than a drag show. The premise is two Vaudeville stars get frozen alive in the 1920s and then, thanks to global warming, they’re thawed out and returned to civilisation hoping to carry on with their tour where they left off. The problem is they are shocked to find that all of their music from the 1920s has since been ripped off by pop icons throughout the last century who have taken their music completely out of context. The show is about them setting the record straight and playing you the music as it was originally intended with its original integrity. What that boils down to is that we do 1920s ragtime covers of pop songs and put into some idiotic historical context.

It’s a very, very funny show, very clever. We saw it in London and absolutely loved it.
You’ve got another project with Major Scales; the new album The Ginger Snapped, can you tells us a bit more about that?
With this we’re doing a kind of 90s garage band throwback album. It’s heavily inspired by ska music of the late 90s and early 2000s and some punk and grunge influences and whilst our first album was
around 50% covers, this is almost entirely original music by us. It draws a lot of inspiration from No Doubt, Portishead and Garbage, you know all those strong female fronted bands from that era.

You’ve got a duet on there with Amanda Palmer, is that right?
Yeah, we have features on the album by Amanda Palmer, which was a huge win for us. She’s been my rock goddess since my teenage years and a huge influence on me as an artist and a musician. I sent her a message on Twitter, just taking a shot in the dark and later on that night she wrote back to me and said
she was totally down for it. The song is absolutely wonderful and she sounds amazing on it. The album comes out this Fall and I’m just awestruck that we were able to achieve so much with limited resources. We are all independent artists, I’m funding the album 50%
out of my own pocket and 50% from crowdsourcing. I couldn’t be
happier with the way it is turning out and the sound of this album. We’re hoping to release it around my Birthday which is September 18th and it will be out on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. We’re working on music videos too so hopefully there’ll be a couple of music videos out and previews of the album out soon.

Season 9 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race has just finished, did you enjoy it?

I really loved season 9. It was amazing for the diversity of the cast. As a gender non-binary person myself, I find it really awesome any time a drag queen on Drag Race has come out as trans on the show or as a result of the show. I think part of it is that Drag Race gives you the ability to be self-sufficient and not have to fit into the real world anymore. This season we had Peppermint, who was the first transbodied
person on the show and I thought it was really empowering for Peppermint to be so outspoken
both on and now since the show. It’s a sign that drag race is going to keep progressing and evolving
and the cast are going to become more diverse going forward. The whole queer community is taking
a huge step forward in terms of mainstream entertainment thanks to Drag Race. It’s showing the
world that queer artists are valid and important and have a unique voice that needs to be heard.

So is your Drag Race journey over now or is that a chance of an appearance on an All Winners All Stars sometime in the future?

There was a time when I said I would never go back to the competitive arena and that kinda changed after I watched All Stars 2. So many of the cast were friends of mine who I work with constantly and who I really love and appreciate and so when I saw how much fun they had on that show it made me think I could do it again. Even though there is no projected All Winners All Stars yet I do think it must be an idea in the minds of the producers right now and I would totally go for it. I’m not saying I would go on and win but I would definitely give al l those other winners a run for their
money. I don’t think I’d be an easy contestant to take on…

Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales star in The Vaudevillians at
Leicester Y Theatre on the 25th November.
leicesterymca.co.uk/theatre.
Tel 0116 2557066

Nottingham Glee Club on the 5th December.
glee.co.uk Tel. 0871 472 0400