Author: Deborah Nelson
There exists a podcast (by Grizzly Kiki) called “Phi Phi O’hara: She’s Actually Really Nice!” So I cannot use that title for this article. But I would if I could!
[quote]Phi Phi: “I’m like the smallest, littlest queen. I sit there with my Red Bull. I don’t do anything. I’m harmless.”[/quote]
Late August 2014
Phi Phi O’hara and I are sitting on a park bench somewhere in New York City. We have spent the past five hours together. We have shopped, eaten, walked and now are about to drop.
This is the longest I have ever spent one-on-one with any drag queen (aside from personal friends). It is easy for an experienced RuGirl to put on that “public face” or “media personality” for a half hour interview. But Phi Phi has kept it real the entire time. At this point I’m not sure if we we are on an extended interview or having a girls day out. Or a girl/guy day out, since Phi Phi – Jaremi – is not in drag, and has been a complete gentleman. Yes Jaremi holds doors for ladies. He will not let me help him carry his heavy bag of drag (which he wore earlier at an audition). He definitely does not pay though because we went Dutch at lunch!
By the time we get to the park we are supposed to do a video interview but both of us are kind of vegetables. Jaremi is insisting on calling over a cadre of pigeons. I keep telling him that they disgust me but he just looks at me and shrugs and keeps calling them. Which I find hilarious, annoying and endearing all at once. This is definitely more “pesky little brother” territory than “interview with famous drag queen.”
The pigeon video was, sadly, ruined by my cutting it off too soon, but here is a video of Jaremi talking about his cute longterm boyfriend Mikhael and the strong bond that they have.
I remember back when I first joined Dragaholic and I was looking at past competitors to see whom I might want to approach for an interview. About three quarters of the way through a You Tube video called “Phi Phi O’hara’s Kindest Moments” (which was, of course, actually a collection all of her rants) I realized that I understood this bitch!
It was when laid back Chad Michaels was trying to shush Phi Phi for harshing his vibe by saying to her “We had some good shit going here…you’re going off…” that Phi Phi’s response set off a light in my head. She said, “You’re damned right I’m going off, and you know what? So what? Everybody deals with it differently.
That really struck me because everybody does deal with stress and competition differently. Even in the world of drag, which is made up of outsiders and people who have been marginalized by society, there still exists a broad spectrum of emotions, reactions and personalities.
Watching Phi Phi tell fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race Contestants to kiss her ass, that she didn’t need their two cents and that “nobody came here just just play it safe and get by,” I completely identified with her! I realized that I (in the parallel universe where I would have been a contestant on Drag Race) could very well have acted and reacted in a way similar to Phi Phi.
Phi Phi brought passion to Drag Race. She brought a desire to win. She didn’t come from a family of money. She came from a family where she was put in the hospital by a father who beat her up. Getting on Drag Race is life-changing for any queen. You suddenly have access to management, national and worldwide gigs, and a much higher booking rate. But being champion means not only taking home the crown, it means $100,000 in prize money (“50k after taxes”, says Phi Phi). That is a huge chunk of change in addition to whatever additional income touring would bring. So of course she would want it. I would want it too!
Not only that but being champion means just that. You are the best. The winner. Despite Phi Phi’s declaration of “I’m a winner just by being on season four.” I will bet – at least at the time – that she really did want to win.
Some people go on Drag Race thinking they will sent home the first day. Some people go with an attitude of ‘This is going to be fun!’ And a few going in thinking ‘I’m a fucking fierce queen and I can win this bitch.’ And I think that’s how Phi Phi felt. She said it herself, on the show, “I am fucking fierce and I am good at what I do.
Phi Phi’s comments on her passion and competitiveness on Drag Race:
[quote]I was passionate and I felt like I was being attacked the entire time. People were like ‘You can’t be this passionate about drag.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s a competition! Did we all forget that we’re competing? I’m confused!
I felt like season four really got into us and into our backgrounds and who we were. We weren’t afraid to show our ugly moments and our troubled past and show that it’s okay and that you can grow from that. I feel like they don’t show a lot of that anymore. Now I feel like it’s more about ‘the drama.’
What made me laugh was this year when Bianca said, ‘I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win.’ And people praised her for that. That was the same thing I said. And I got shit for it because everyone wanted us to be friends. Well in the real world we’re not all friends and people don’t get along.”[/quote]
Once I realized all of that I totally “got” Phi Phi and no longer saw her as the “crazy bitch” but rather the fierce, perhaps underdog, who wanted more than anything to be number one.
Plus Phi Phi owned up to her behavior on the season four reunion. She said straight up she acted like a crazy person. So, for me, it was all done at that point. Time to move on. If you want to continue to hate her, enjoy life in 2012. For the rest of us let’s talk now.
Phi Phi’s drag these days is fierce, creative and inspiring. These days she is a mean queen only on the sewing machine!
Phi Phi’s recent “Rita Repulsa look” (which she wore to her twice-monthly Thursday night gig at NYC’s Industry – one of the best drag shows around) rocked the drag world and was so impressive that people like me, who had never watched “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” had to google “Rita Repulsa” just to see what this get up was all about. By the way, Phi Phi made the whole outfit herself!
[quote]My drag has changed completely since I’ve been off the show. On the show you’re only allowed to bring so much, so I was only allowed to “grow” as far as what I brought with me. Now I would know what to pack and what to bring so I could do what they want. At the time (of season 4) I was still learning. I had really cheap makeup on set. I’m not orange anymore either!
The show (at Industry) is really campy. It’s nothing like I was on Drag Race. Which is great because now it’s pulled me out of this box. The Industry show likes to push peoples’ buttons, but for fun. We take serious subjects and lighten them up and make people laugh. Fans will come to the show all the time and they don’t expect that. They expect some pageant rhinestone gown to pop out. Then they see me in a full on chicken outfit…'[/quote]
Not only is Phi Phi masterful at whipping up fierce costume characters, she can also serve up the fishiest of fish. Her boy look is cute and she can sing too! Have you heard her hit single “Bitchy” (available on iTunes)? I told her I listen to it at least three times a week but I lied. I think I listen to it every time I get into the car!
Phi Phi has started work on a new recording project and from now on will sing (out of drag) under her boy name, Jaremi Carey. Watch this exclusive video for the 411 on Phi Phi’s new recording project:
Aside from her New York Gigs Phi Phi travels far and wide for other shows. And – get this – she is friends with Sharon Needles! And Sharon has nothing but nice things to say right back about Phi Phi. So everybody say “Love!”
Phi Phi and I had our first conversation by phone (right before the craziness of “Pride Season” began). I immediately found her to be a really warm, funny and humble person. Sometimes when you do a phone interview it takes a while to “click” and for the “awkward” first date feeling to wear off. But Phi Phi and I hit it off right away.
We touched on a variety of topics during the phone call including:
Phi Phi was very vocal on Drag Race about her poor relationship with her father and the abuse she suffered growing up. She told me straight up (in New York) that she was put in the hospital because her father beat her up. She mentioned on Drag Race that she hadn’t seen her dad since she was 18 because he had a “problem” with her lifestyle.
On the DILF episode of Drag Race Phi Phi was partnered with a man she describes as someone everyone should be like. “He’s an open-minded heterosexual male who just values people for who they are, he doesn’t judge people.” She continued, “My dad’s not like that. If I could have a dad like that my life would probably be a lot easier.”
At the time I think some part of Phi Phi still felt she wanted and/or needed her father’s approval. She said on the runway (brushing back tears) that she didn’t think that her father would watch the show but that “I hope he values who I am.”
Now, almost three years later, she seems to be truly over it – officially. She says she is glad she told her story because hearing it can help other people who have dealt with similar situations.
[quote]It took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t me who was the problem. It was him. I’m glad I went on the show and I shared that story. There are so many kids out there who feel it’s their fault. And it’s not.
I deserve to only have people around me who deserve to be around me. I’m living my dream and I can’t let them bring me down. We all want our family there. But it’s your life at the end of the day and the person you should be making happy is yourself. The real people who deserve to be there are the people are the people who want to see you happy.'[/quote]
Please, however, do not feel sorry for Phi Phi. “I don’t want a sob story, I want people to feel strengthened by the story,” she said.
Phi Phi O’hara is the only “Third Place” Ru Girl to lose to two champions. Sharon Needless won Season 4. Then Season 4 second place girl Chad Michaels took home the crown for All Stars. That’s a pretty good indicator that Phi Phi was up against some extra fierce talent in her season. It is also, in my opinion, a very strong reason to place her in the cast of All Stars 2, whenever it may be filmed. (Which is why I chose her for one of my first interviews).
Phi Phi says she is down for All Stars but doesn’t expect it to have the same competetive vibe because the girls – and judge Michelle Visage – all know each other from touring.
[quote]I want to do All Stars. Of course, who doesn’t want to be back on TV again? But if you do All Stars you are going to be competing against friends. [/quote]
Speaking of tours, for anyone who still doubts what a sweet person, Phi Phi is, here she is out of drag, singing (via Skype) to her boyfriend Mikhael on their anniversary, during the recent Battle of the Seasons Tour. Phi Phi was on the road and they couldn’t celebrate the occasion together:
Despite the fact that they are head over heels, Phi Phi still receives negativity from Drag Race Fans even about her relationship. She said her and Mikael’s “Cash for Couples” episode received the most “Thumbs Down” of any episode. She said it’s because she is still fighting her Drag Race reputation. Phi Phi doesn’t get it. “Two people found love. Why can’t you just let them be happy?” she said.
Phi Phi on Mikhael:
[quote]”I dont know how he puts up with me! Im never home. He’s super supportive. He’s amazing.”[/quote]
Mikhail has a “normal” day job in the medical industry. Even with his nine to five, he still goes to Phi Phi’s late night shows whenever possible. Mikhael told me he’s a “big believer in the nap!”
Social Media and Haters
Phi Phi says, “There are two ways that I handle it. A: I completely ignore it. Or, B: if I can find a funny way to respond to it then I will. And sometimes if they see the funny response I gain a fan, or fans, that way.”
Bonus Section: Fun Facts About Jaremi Carey (and Ways in Which We Are Similar)
- Jaremi is fun to shop with, has good taste and could probably talk me into wearing something a little more wild than I normally would.
- His waist is smaller than mine!
- Jaremi is really polite to people who work at stores and restaurants, even in Starbucks where they spell his name wrong every time. When we met up we met in Starbucks. Jaremi already had a drink so I ordered one and told them my name was “Jaremi,” just for laughs. They spelled it “Jermey” on the cup.
- He does NOT like a mess and tidied up after me in Starbucks even more than I would have normally tidied up after myself.
- Jaremi is a trained optician! This is the job he was doing before Drag Race. He tried to continue working in this field even after Drag Race but drag just took over. It means, however, that he does have the option of stepping away from drag and having a “real” job. It also explains why he always has fierce glasses. My frames (but not my lenses) came from Costco but I didn’t tell him that.
- One of Jaremi’s dreams is to be on “The Amazing Race.” Same for me! So I asked him if he would apply to be on the show with me. I think he was interested until I let it slip that I am scared of heights. Jaremi is scared of heights too! So he said no. But I have since found out that he is scared of spiders. I am not scared of spiders. So I think he should reconsider!
- We both like Thai food and that is what we had for lunch. Unlike me, however, Jaremi – typical man – would not ask anyone for directions or look at the internet to find a restaurant. We just wandered around until finally I gave him a time limit, and when it passed, pulled out my Yelp app, because this bitch was getting hangry!
- Jaremi ate his food six times faster than me!
- Even out of makeup, Jaremi always uses a straw! (I am a total germophobe so I was taking notes!)
All of the above is the complete truth. As with every Ru girl I’ve met who was portrayed as mean or crazy on the show, Jaremi Carey is actually nice, down to earth and fun.
Watch Dragaholic Deb and Phi Phi Shoppng in New York, at Phi Phi’s Favorite Thrift Store:
Connect with Phi Phi on Social Media