the queerty interview

Raja says she’s ready to start a cult—sign us up!

Photo Credit: World Of Wonder / Paramount+

Raja is robbed no longer!

We’re still in the early stages of this already iconic season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 7, but it was becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that the show had, somehow, neglected to reward Raja with a single Legendary Legend star. It just felt wrong! We noticed it, the fans have noticed it, and Raja certainly noticed it, too—just look at that (gorgeous) wronged face:

Well, we could all breathe a sigh of relief after this week’s episode, “Draguation Speeches,” which felt like a long overdue coronation for the eye-conic queen this season. Not only did she kill it on the “Veiled It!” runway—as she always does—but she also brought the house down with an oh-so-clever commencement speech in the Maxi Challenge, one that leaned into her sage-like wisdom and showcased her power in full Sorceress Supreme mode.

Known as the Drag Race franchise’s premier “look queen” after snatching the crown in Season 3 (way back in 2011), Raja has used All Stars 7 as an opportunity to prove, once and for all, that she’s also got the brains and the comedy chops of a Drag Superstar. In the process, she’s won over fans old and new, bringing a large and very vocal supporter base in her corner—something the savvy queen shares was all by design.

We recently had the honor of catching up with Raja, and Mother Gemini spilled the tea on why she just might be the strategic player of the season, why the “boots” don’t phase her, and what we can expect from her very own cult—coming soon to a commune near you!

Queerty: Hello, icon!

Raja: [Laughs.] Oh, I love that—hello, icon!

Since you’re officially a Drag Race legend, it’s only fitting that Hollywood will make a biopic about you one day—who would you cast to play Raja?

Oh my god, I can’t wait! I just think I’d play myself. But, you know, I would probably split it. In the male form, I would probably be… Well, let’s see: Who’s a young, brown, Asian actor? I really don’t know that part.

But at least the parts when I’m in drag, I need Zendaya to do it. Her for sure. She could probably do the boy, too!

Well, I was going to say: Don’t worry about that, we can do a whole nationwide search—people are going to be coming out of the woodwork to play you. But I like the idea of Zendaya doing both.

[Laughs.] Honestly, yes, Zendaya can do the whole thing.

Raja (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images), Zendaya (Getty Images)

Digging into the latest episode, I have to say: Congrats on finally winning a much-deserved Legendary Legend star!

Well, thank you so much!

There’d been something of a narrative brewing with fans online that, up until this point, you’d been robbed, and you’ve made it known on the show that you’ve shared that sentiment. In the first few weeks of the competition, did it feel super obvious to you that you were just barely missing the Top 2?

Yes! And, as anyone who’s watching can imagine, it was frustrating. But I also kind of just owned the moment a little bit. Because I was like: You know what? I might be upset about this, but I realize that we are creating a television show here, and this is going to be viewed by millions of people. And, if they can see how frustrated I am, they’re going to react in the way that an audience does. And that, to me, was the most exciting part.

I was like, “Fine, okay, fine. I’m not getting the stars. I’m not getting the wins. No one’s asking me to f*cking lip sync. But, you know who else is going to be upset? The audience when they see this!” I just thought about the end product. And that’s really what kept me going. 

Because, you know, if this were my first time on Drag Race and I had a lot to prove, I would have been extra pissed. But knowing who I am, and knowing that I’m f*cking Raja, [I knew] the audience wasn’t going to have it! They were going to be upset. So everything happened exactly as I imagined. People have been very, very vocal about it and, mostly, they’ve been very supportive towards me—and they have shown me a tremendous amount of love. And that’s all I could have ever asked for.

 

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Oh, absolutely. But, truly, that is some “galaxy brain” level of gameplay right there—you strategized on a meta level by harnessing the power of the fans. Considering how much the audience has grown since your season over 10 years ago, are you surprised at all by their fervent response to you on the season thus far?

Oh no, none of this surprises me, because I’ve been present the entire step of the way, you know?

Of course!

Yes, I was on 11 years ago, but I also have now 11 years of just watching this entire fandom and conversation grow and happen, and I’ve been right in the center of it. I’m not one of the queens that participated and disappeared, I’ve always had a presence. I had Fashion Photo RuView to kind of keep everyone’s eyes on me, you know? And so I have been part of that process, and it doesn’t surprise me. 

Now, if you would have spoken to me 11 years ago, immediately after, I would have never imagined it to be as huge as it is. But I have been there every step of the process, and watching Drag Race—or drag—become the industry that it is now is pleasing. I’m happy to see it!

You earned your Legendary Legend star for the commencement speech Maxi Challenge, which felt like a gamble that paid off big time. In the rehearsal, both Carson Kressley and Nikki Glaser appeared a little perplexed by your concept, but you stuck with it and you immediately got a big laugh from Ru, just by walking to the podium. How did it feel to get that reaction from the jump?

I was ecstatic! Anytime there’s a challenge that involves exercising your sense of humor and making people laugh, specifically [making] Ru laugh, like the Snatch Game, it’s—as soon as I knew that I had gotten through, and that he was laughing along, I was like, “Okay, I did this right—I did something right!” And it gives you this surge of confidence in the material that you’ve written. 

So this challenge was special for me because, the entire process of doing this season, I really wanted to showcase a whole other part of me, you know? I mean, most people understand and realize that I’m a person who really enjoys creating and wearing clothing and costuming. But no one had really gotten to see the side of me that is a person who’s an actor, a writer, perhaps even a comedian, you know? It was important for me to showcase that side of me that no one had really ever experienced before. 

 

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And I especially love writing, so this challenge was right up there for me. It was like, “Oh my god, I have to nail this” I’m a person who loves prose and words, and I love that—I just love big words. And I love speaking in public, but particularly, I also really love inspiration. I love inspiring people—my dad was a pastor, and my family, entirely all of them were educators.

So, I knew that role of being an inspiration—a guru, a yogi, a teacher—was a role that is important to me. You know, aside from being somebody who’s fashionable, I really want to be in a place of inspiring people and encouraging and using my words as a tool to do that work. So I was like, “I’m gonna go for this, I’m just gonna have fun! I’m gonna make myself a cult leader!” Because, eventually, when Drag Race is all done and over with, I definitely would like to have a commune and be a spiritual leader within it and start a cult! What about you? [Laughs.] 

Well, no, I mean, I’m joining your cult, absolutely! Especially because I know this isn’t going to be one of those boring cults where we’re wearing burlap sacks or something—we’re going to look good while doing it!

Yeah! And no, we wouldn’t have KoolAid—we’d have like a pressed juice or something.

I wouldn’t expect any less from you. Sign me up!

[Laughs.] Coming soon!

 

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On another note entirely: Hypothetically, what would you say to someone who would dare to give your stunning veil runaway a “boot” this week?

Um, well, I don’t care! [Laughs.] I really don’t. I’m at a place in my life where—I mean, I’ll be 48 on Tuesday! [Editor’s Note: Happy early birthday, Raja!] And so I’m not at that place anymore that I care about those things. I never have and, especially now, I definitely don’t care. I know what I provided for this season of Drag Race, and I know how I present myself in my own actual life. 

And I am not at that place where I really care about anyone’s opinion, I really don’t. And that’s a luxury that is the most wonderful thing about becoming older—that you don’t care! You know, the things that I really punished myself over before were based on other people’s opinions. And at this point in my life, I don’t care.

Related: Why ‘Drag Race All-Stars 7’ is THE season to watch

Outside of your season 3 crowning, when was the first time in your career that you’d say that you felt like a winner?

Oh gosh, I don’t think I’d ever really won something that huge before Drag Race. But I can say that I was winning at life, even before I went on Drag Race. So as far as a crown or a title, I never really had [that,] I just knew that there were certain moments in my life where I was on the right path. And when I realized those moments, as they were happening, was when I realized that I was winning. 

As soon as my makeup career started to flourish, and I was working in it—I was in the industry, I was becoming respected and visible—that’s winning. When I realized that a bad relationship no longer needed to happen and I empowered myself and said no to it, that’s when I was winning.

So you know, winning Drag Race? Yes, I got a really fun title, a tinfoil crown, and $75,000 in cash. But, in my own personal life, I was winning at a lot of really cool things, and I found a lot of success through those things. And, so I would say, you know, just life in general!

Even know you’re inspiring us. Again, where is the sign up sheet for that cult?

[Laughs.] Well, I’ll keep you posted. And I’ll see you on the commune!

 

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