'RuPaul's Drag Race': Jinkx Monsoon talks winning Season 5, her 'sick fantasy' of being the first drag host of 'SNL'
"I have told everyone: Ask me tomorrow how I feel about winning because I'm still processing," Jinkx says. "It's gonna take a little bit for me to soak it all up and really understand what just happened. I have to say, I'm ecstatic, but I'm eating pad thai with [fellow Season 5 contestant] Ivy Winters right now and I just started crying out of nowhere. That's the kind of day it's been. We're eating lunch, drinking a coca-cola, and I just burst into tears for no reason."
While Jinkx may still have been in a state of shock, she was able to tell us that her victory over fellow finalists Alaska and Roxxxy Andrews left her with mixed emotions. "Well, you know, it was difficult because what I truly believe about me and Roxxxy and Alaska is we are all equally passionate about this art form and we all three want it so bad and worked our a--es off to get to the level we were at and to have one person win and two people get that close and not win, it's real bittersweet," she admits. "But, that said, I'm really happy it was my name that was picked, you know?
"I just wish there was a way everyone could win that prize because they worked so hard and they're such fantastic drag queens. If I could do a 'Mean Girls' moment and break up the crown and give a piece to everyone, I would have. But that crown ain't plastic, girl."
Check out our full Q&A with Jinkx below.
Zap2It: You faced a lot of criticism from the other queens, Roxxxy especially, over what they perceived as your unpolished approach to drag. The season seemed to devolve into a battle between the comedy queens versus the pageant queens. How did that feel?
Jinkx: Well, you know, the show documented it, but that is like the age-old struggle with drag queens. There are many different schools of drag, there are different ways to do drag and that's what I really love about the art form is that there's no right and there's no wrong, there's just the way you want to do it. But it's a fight I've been having my whole career with girls who think that drag should be all 100 percent fishy glamour all the time and girls who think that drag should be funny and campy all the time. And what I truly love about 'RuPaul's Drag Race' is doesn't matter who you are, what you do, just as long as you do it to the best of your ability and you do it to the fullest extent. It may look like it's pageant queens versus campy queens, but what it boils down to is who is just giving everything that they've got, you know? Who is at 100 percent right now? And the best part of this whole experience is that I learned so much from Alaska and Roxxxy and all the girls on this season that I'm a whole new person, I'm a whole new drag queen. I'm thankful for every experience that I had because I feel like I'm Jinkx 2.0, you know? Ready to take on the world.
Throughout the season, Detox often complained that this wasn't "RuPaul's School for Girls," which often seemed aimed at you. Was that fair of her?
I think what that was referring to was that out of all the queens, I was the one who had to undergo a transformation, you know, to stay in the competition. Let's face it, the first few episodes, my make-up was all over the place. But that just goes to show that I'm from a completely different school of drag. When I do drag in Seattle, it's either in a play, like a full-on musical production, where I have three spotlights focused on my face at any given time, or I'm in my Showgirls show, which is the same story. I'm, like, flooded out with lights. And for a girl as pale as I am, if you don't contour heavily under those stage lights, you won't be seen. You'll just look like a big, white blob, you know? So I was doing theater stage make-up. I was painting for -- I said I was painting for the back row, ['Drag Race' Season 2 alum] Manila [Luzon] said I was painting for the Hubble telescope, which I thought was hilarious. But all it took was ... the 'Can I Get An Amen?' music video [challenge.] I saw what I looked like in HD camera and I adapted. But, no, I don't think I was at RuPaul's School for Girls. I think I persevered because I was able to put away my own personal feelings and put away my own pride and just adapt and learn and evolve. And I think that's really the only thing that can stand in your way on RuPaul's Drag Race -- stubbornness. If you're too stubborn, you will not go far.
You also faced some heavy criticism from judge Michelle Visage over your runway looks, which she often deemed "pedestrian." However, you were able to finally win her over. How did that feel?
I mean, I think it showed. I think my reaction was just like [screams]. It was, I don't know -- literally from the moment that her critiques got as harsh as they did, I was determined to just ... I become determined to prove people wrong. Like, when Coco [Montrese] came for me, I became determined to show her what I've got, you know? And same thing with Michelle. I just had a vendetta to prove her wrong and show her that I can do anything I set my mind to. So when I accomplished that, I don't know -- that was a definitive moment for me. Not only did I get to roast RuPaul, but then I got my first positive critique from Michelle on the show and it was very exciting for me because I think I realized then and there, it's not about doing someone else's drag. When they ask you to do more, when they ask you to deliver glamour, they didn't want me to deliver Roxxxy's glamour or Alyssa Edwards' version of glamour, they wanted me to do the most fully-realized, 100 percent glamour version of Jinkx Monsoon and that night I feel like I not only accomplished what Michelle asked of me, but I stayed true to who I still was.
Throughout the season, you only found yourself in the bottom two once...
I'll bottom, but I'll only do it once. [Laughs]
After an awesome lip-sync, you sent Detox home. How did it feel to send another competitor home?
In my shows, I haven't lip-synched for three years. I sing live in all of my shows. So for me, I had a lot to prove because Roxxxy had thrown down the gauntlet, like, 'How can we know you're gonna be America's next drag superstar if you've never performed?' I mean, I don't think that I had never performed because, you know, every episode we're performing. Every episode that we have a challenge, we're performing, whether we're lip-synching or not. But, for me, I felt like I had this moment to prove I can do anything. If you need me to lip-sync Yma Sumac in incomprehensible Peruvian, I will do it if that's what it takes. But sending Detox home was really bittersweet. I mean, we didn't really see it in that episode, but Detox and I got along really, really well and she's such a fierce competitor and she's so confident and so determined to do what she does best that it was hard to send someone home who I knew had worked every season to get on that show -- she's auditioned every season. I know what this competition meant to her and I know that it had to sting to get sent home at the top four. She was one step away from making it to top three, so I think everything I could've said to her was said in my bow to her because when I looked across that stage and realized she was going home, the only thing in [my mind] was gratitude that she and I got experience that together for the time that we were together and I bowed to her because she's a true queen and a fierce competitor.
While I think I know what you're going to say, what would you say was your shining moment during the season?
[Laughs] Well, you know, I don't think anyone really took me as a threat until Snatch Game and what was so funny was half the girls -- you know, some of the girls did know who Little Edie [from "Grey Gardens"] was, it wasn't across the board no one knew -- but half the girls not only didn't know who she was, but thought I was insane for doing her. When they saw I wasn't even gonna wear a wig, they were like, 'What the hell are you doing wearing a scarf on your head?' And then I turned around and won that challenge and showed them that one should never be so blissful in their ignorance that they discredit someone else because if you don't know who that person is, you might be on the outside of the joke and that's a bad place to be, you know? My other proudest moment was working with Dave, my veteran. At first I was so worried about the challenge of having to turn the oldest -- and he'd hate me for calling him that -- but the oldest veteran with a completely different dress size from me into a drag queen, but he taught me so much and he really lit a fire under me. In that moment that I worked with Dave, I realized that I had to win this thing for Dave and for all the people who have been fighting the fight for gay rights before the fight really even started.
On the flip side of that question, what would you consider your lowest moment?
Well, I talked a little bit about my make-up confusion. [Laughs] I think the Sugar Ball -- Alaska said it best. I failed not once, not twice, but three times in that because none of my looks were a success. I thought I was the life of the party and I was very happy with what I was wearing. It was not a success in the grand scheme of things. It's a catch-22 with 'RuPaul's Drag Race' because if I had it to do over, I know that I could take everything that I've learned from 'RPDR' and apply it to the competition, but I never would've learned what I learned had I not been through all of it, you know? I think you learn twice as much from your mistakes and your downfalls then you do from your success. So as much as I cringed to watch those embarrassing moments, those are the moments that really defined me.
Now that you've taken the title, what's next for Jinkx Monsoon?
People have mentioned before that they think my heart belongs to Broadway. Though I think my career is destined for Broadway, if I get my way, I'll be the first famous drag queen playing legit female roles on Broadway -- and not just to make a joke that I'm a man in a dress, but to actually play the roles in a whole new way and bring a whole life to some iconic roles, but my passion is with drag and for me, I don't want to do drag if I can't also do theater and I don't want to do theater if I can't also do drag. So I hope to marry the two for the rest of my life. And I also have this sick fantasy of being the first drag queen host of 'Saturday Night Live,' so I'm kind of crossing my fingers that I can meet the right people this year and make this happen.
Regarding your desire to play iconic female roles on Broadway, are you at all worried about a backlash from biological women who could look at it as you stealing their roles because of a "gimmick"?
I've already had that in my career because my first professional role, my first time on a legit stage getting a paycheck for acting, I played Columbia in 'The Rocky Horror Show.' I beat out a biological woman for that and she was a little pressed about it, but I truly believe that whoever is right for the role should play the role, regardless of gender, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of your background. If you're right for the role and you bring the right energy and life to the role, then you deserve it, you know? I've seen countless times, women have taken male roles and people have cast females in male roles for poignant statements in the show and I don't think that it shouldn't be the same way for men. I think for a long time, to cast a man in a female role, you'd instantly get a laugh and maybe he wouldn't be taken serious -- you'd only really do it as a joke. But I want to prove that it doesn't always have to be a joke. It can be real and a man can deliver an iconic female performance and be poignant and real and authentic in that role.
During the finale, RuPaul asked all three finalists what motivated them to win and, with your mention of hoping to advance social change, you were the only queen to make it about something more than herself. Do you think "RuPaul's Drag Race," which can often be written off as just campy fun, even within the gay community, is doing something important to advance the visibility of the gay community?
I don't know if anyone who worked on 'Drag Race' Season 1 knew that it would grow into what it is today. When I started drag, there was a stigma against drag, not just telling my straight friends that I was a drag queen, but even in the gay community. To be a man who dressed as a woman still had a lot of negative stigma around it. A lot of drag queens are embarrassed to even tell their family, sometimes, that they're a drag queen or that they want to become a drag queen, you know? And now, because of 'Drag Race,' because you get to see the amount of work, the amount of passion, the amount of heart and soul that you have to put into it if you want to take it seriously, I think that stigma has been proven wrong. Drag is cool now in a way that it never has been and that's because of 'Drag Race' and it's because you get to meet the people behind the drag queen ... I had no idea that the little things that I said to myself on stage, like 'Water off a duck's back' were going to become this mantra for everyone out there who's going through a hard time or who's facing adversity and have that desire to persevere. And I'm lucky enough to live in Washington where gay marriage is legal and I want to make sure that that is the truth for all of America as soon as possible. Not because I'm in love with someone who I want to marry, but because I don't think it's right for a huge portion of our population to not have the same rights as everyone else, you know? I think if you're an American citizen and you pay your taxes, there's no valid reason why you shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else.