She didn’t win the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but contestant Alyssa Edwards may come out ahead after all. Justin Dewayne Lee Johnson, the man behind the drag queen with those hypnotizing jewel-tone eyes and now-infamous “back rolls,” has been tapped by Drag Race production company World of Wonder to develop and star in a spin-off show of his own.
We caught up with Johnson backstage at Solare Coliseum in Miami as he meticulously applied eye glitter, amid a room filled with chattering drag queens and scantily-clad dancers, and as he prepared to bring Alyssa to a packed house of newly adoring fans.
So tell me: Who are you?
How do you mean? Justin, or Alyssa?
However you want to answer the question.
Well, Alyssa is a completely separate character from me. I define myself as an artist, and…well…I’m someone who… [Sigh] Do you know who Lana Del Rey is?
I think I’m Lana Del Rey.
Ha! I’m just kidding! OK for real now, Alyssa is just this character I conjured up growing up in Mesquite, Texas, something to do for fun. Can you believe I was a very introverted little boy? I didn’t talk to anyone…but then I went to my very first gay bar at the age of like 19 or 20, and there was this enormous queen on stage twirling a baton. I thought to myself, “I want to do that.” And when I told my friends, they were like, “Why?“…
My boyfriend says, “You put on a pair of eyelashes and you turn into a whole other person.” Drag has completely helped me reinvent myself. It has helped me be a stronger male, even.
How long have you been together with your boyfriend?
It’s been official for six months. We met through friends. He respects drag, but this is all very new for him. And for me too.
So what’s going on with you getting your own show on Logo?
It’s going to be amazing…hopefully.
Why do you deserve your own show?
I can’t really answer that for you. World of Wonder came to me. They knew I run this dance school (Beyond Belief Dance Co., in Mesquite, Tex.), and that’s what attracted them. Anything in Texas with children, and mothers, and competition, it’s insane. The moms are insane. They will run a bitch over.
So it will be like Dance Moms?
Well…the kids on Dance Moms are cute. They’re talented competition dancers. But my group is very commercialized. We take little girls and cut their hair off and dye it when they are 7 or 8 years old. My girls are like young Beyoncés and Gagas. It’s no joke.
Speaking of competition, who should’ve won “Drag Race” this year?
Well me, of course. Now I was very pleased with Jinkx (Monsoon) winning, and let me tell you why. At the beginning I didn’t see it coming a mile away — the bitch was nodding off the first day, before I knew she is narcoleptic, and I was like “Oh she is going home, she can’t stay awake!” But that whore is talented. She has so many different facets. It sucks that it wasn’t me, but I just kept falling short in the challenges.
Why did you “fall short?”
I second guessed myself. I just kept failing, one two three four five times in a row, and I was ready to jump out of a car going a hundred miles an hour. I gave up. When I left, it was my time to go.
But why would you ever agree it was your “time to go” in a competition?
Because as a competitor, I threw in the towel. I did it to myself. I was telling myself all the things I couldn’t do, and that’s the ultimate no-no. As a dance teacher, we tell kids “‘No’ is not a part of your vocabulary,” but here I am in a competition saying it to myself.
If I were given a chance to do it again, I would do it much differently. I would’ve never imagined myself going up on stage in front of RuPaul, who I have idolized since I was 16 years old — I choreographed my first dance to “Party Train” — and saying “Well I’m not a singer, I’m not an actor…” No bitch, you’re all of the above! “Not an actor”? Hello, look at me, I am sitting here in a corset with all this glitter on my face.
It is inevitable that anyone on a reality show will watch themselves and wish they could go back and change some things.
Some of the stuff I said was really stupid. I didn’t realize I was saying it until I watched the show. Like when I said “I don’t get cute, I get drop dead gorgeous.” Who says that?
And you know what I didn’t know? I didn’t realize behind the mirrors there was a camera. I’m in the mirror doing my faces, and I asked Vivienne Panay, my girlfriend on the show, “Will you tell me how gorgeous I am?” And she said, “But I’m in this competition too,” and I said “I know but just tell me, it will make me feel really good.” So she got into the habit of saying “Alyssa, you look so pretty today,” and I’d be like “Oh thank you, thank you…” and I’d be making faces in the mirror. Then one day I saw a light through that double-sided mirror, and was like “What the fuck is that?” and she said “Girl…that’s a camera…” when I watched it on TV, I thought “Oh girl, you look a idiot.” They got me good.
Of the Drag Race contestants, which queen smelled the best?
Vivienne Panay. Catch of the day.
In an emergency if you had to borrow another contestant’s undies, whose would you not borrow?
She’s my girlfriend, but that Miss Alaska. She’s the type of queen who’s not really bothered with certain things. Y’know, she’s doing her thing, but it’s very grunge rock-and-roll down there. I need my Bath and Body Works lotion.
What is your advice for little boys and girls who want to grow up and be glamorous?
We all have that inner glamor. It’s just finding the confidence within to let it out. I was reading a Kevyn Aucoin book, and I was fascinated by the things he said — it’s about channeling your inner glamazon, and being confident and owning it. I was a very dorky, nerdy, weird little boy, but I’ve embraced that.
It looks like it all worked out for you.
Don’t I look gorgeous?
These bitches can’t take it.