Season 3 of RuPaul‘s Drag Race has come to a close, and Sutan Amrull, a.k.a. Raja, now reigns as “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” All hail the queen!
RuPaul has moved on—casting for Season 4 has already begun—but we still have some unanswered questions from the show. Amrull talked about going to Indonesia—is that where he’s from? In a drag queen competition with contestants wearing prosthetic breast plates, why did he usually compete flat-chested without even stuffing his bra? And what on earth is a “lifetime supply of Kryolan cosmetics”?
Queerty’s Dan Renzi grabbed Amrull’s attention between stops on his now-frenetic public appearances schedule to get some answers.
QT: Who the hell are you?
AMRULL: Who the hell am I? Well…my name is Sutan, I’m also known as Raja, and I’m a glitter hippie, artist, performer, model, muse…(pause)
You didn’t say ‘drag queen.’
I guess drag queen somewhere in there. I’m a performer, and artist, so it’s sort of all-encompassing.
We’ll get back to this. I have a more important question. This is supposed to be the search for “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Are you American?
(laughs) I am American.
Where were you born?
I was born in Baldwin Park, California, which is outside of Los Angeles. My father is from Indonesia, and when I was about six, my parents moved us over there. We lived in Bali for four years, and then we moved to Jakarta for two. Then we moved back to Baldwin Park, which is the ‘hood, really. I went to junior high and high school in that area.
Why did your parents decide to move to Bali?
I really don’t know what the exact story is. But my father just decided he wanted to, and the entire family moved out there, and it was one of the best things my parents could have done. It allowed me to embrace that culture. I eat the food, I speak the language—I’m more Asian than Manila Luzon is, actually.
I find it hard to believe anyone is more Asian than Manila Luzon. Female impersonators are a big part of some Asian cultures, like in Thailand. Is it common in Indonesia?
Indonesia is primarily an Islamic country, so they’re not down for embracing any trannies. But there’s a huge gay culture in Bali. That’s where a lot of Indonesians escape. That’s their New York or San Francisco. That island celebrates the arts—as soon as kids are pushed out of the womb, they are taught a craft, either dancing, or painting, or sculpting. Everybody does something with their hands, or everybody’s moving, everybody’s playing an instrument. I grew up a hippie.
What was your art?
I am an illustrator and painter. It’s what I went to school for—I went to university for 2 ½ years before I decided it was bullshit, and decided to follow my own artistic path.
Oh, completely. In Indonesia there is a word, “banci” (bon-kee), and that word really means “faggot.” Growing up there, before I knew what the word “faggot” was, I knew what “banci” meant. I heard that as a kid constantly. And I never thought I was that different. I was just having a great time, playing around in bed sheets and towels, making costumes and wrapping them on my head. I made elaborate costumes out of whatever I could find around the house.
I think this is a stage of development for gay boys. I used to wear pajama bottoms on my head like it was my long hair, and pretend I was Cher.
My mother had a Wonder Woman beach towel, and I learned how to fasten it onto my head with a safety pin, and I made Wonder Woman bracelets out of Styrofoam cups. I would cut the bottoms out of them and make slits on the sides, and I had Wonder Woman bracelets. And I would run around the yard, with a fuckin’ towel around my head and Styrofoam cups around my wrists, and tell everyone I was Wonder Woman.
When you’re dressed as a woman, do you feel like you have a different identity?
At one point in my life I felt like that—putting on women’s clothes made me feel like a woman. But now, evolving and becoming more comfortable in my own skin, it’s becoming the same thing. I don’t feel separate from it, I don’t think my personality changes that much, I think it’s still the same person in a different outfit.
Are you in a relationship right now?
No, not really.
Have you ever had a relationship with a man who enjoyed it when you were dressed in drag?
Oh God, yes. I was in a relationship with a man for six years, a Russian artist who I met at a tranny bar, 7969 in West Hollywood, otherwise known as Peanuts. He met me as Raja, we found we had a lot of things in common, but he preferred me to be in drag. He really wanted me to be a woman. So I kind of lived this life, this duality, and it was a really great relationship–but at the same time it was a very dangerous one.
I started to lose myself. My hair was kept a certain way, and I made sure my nails were done, and my brows were tweezed. But I don’t really need all that. I’m comfortable with who I am, I don’t need that sort of relationship anymore. It served its purpose, and I learned a lot from it.
What did you learn?
He was one of those dangerous types of guys–y’know, tattoos, and he sounded like Dracula, he had that thick Russian accent, and he was sexy, and we did tons of drugs and drank Jack Daniels…but now it’s done. I can’t do all that. I need a normal, quote/unquote, relationship.
You said it served its purpose. What purpose did it serve?
It forced me to really figure out who I am as a person. Am I woman? Do I really identify to this femininity in this way? I really didn’t, so I was able to find myself more through the relationship.
And this really explains why your drag is so androgynous.
Totally. A lot of drag queens have such strange hangups about it. But of course I had sex with him in drag. I look great in drag, why wouldn’t anybody want to fuck me? I loved it. It felt like role-playing. I loved putting on heels and corsets and having sex that way. It was fantastic. Everyone should try it.
But it does become exhausting. Sometimes you just want to boy it down and do it that way. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t the way I needed to live my life. For some people it works, but it wasn’t the path I needed.
Let’s talk about the show. How long were the days?
One episode takes two days. We would tape three or four episodes in a row, and then get a day off. It’s really hard. Every two days you have to learn a new song in case you have to lip sync for your life.
What did you do on your days off?
We mostly stayed at our hotel. We were sequestered, so we couldn’t do very much. There was a chaperone there, so once in a while they would take groups of us to the pool to get a little sunshine, or they would walk us to get a meal. We couldn’t just walk around freely and call our families or anything, they were really on us.
What would be the problem with calling your family?
They want you to be separated. What I think it is, from working on “Top Model,”* I knew there was the whole sensory deprivation idea, where they basically take away all your communication so you are forced to interact with each other.
What is a lifetime supply of
Krylon Kryolan cosmetics?**
I have no idea. I haven’t gotten any of it yet. I don’t know what I’m going to do with a lifetime supply of Kryolan. I think a lot of people are getting Kryolan for Christmas.
What is Kyolan?
Kryolan is a theatrical or professional makeup. It’s not something you can get at the beauty counter.
Who’s a bigger megalomaniac: Tyra Banks or RuPaul?
(pause) No comment.
It’s like they’re the same person! Everything comes back to them.
But at least Ru is funny about it.
*Prior to competing on “Drag Race,” Amrull worked for six seasons as a makeup artist on “America’s Next Top Model.”
**Part of the prize package of winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a “lifetime supply” of cosmetics from Kryolan, a sponsor of the program.
Editor’s note: As commenter Brandon H correctly points out, an earlier version of this article misspelled Kryolan.