“America’s Next Drag Superstar” Sasha Velour

Sasha Velour won on "Ru Paul's Drag Race" in 2017
Sasha Velour won on "Ru Paul's Drag Race" in 2017

Since she stormed the RuPaul’s Drag Race workroom with an ear-piercing scream and a high-fashion look, Sasha Velour was one of the girls to watch on this season of the hit reality show, which saw record ratings after premiering on VH1 this year. I sat down to chat with Sasha, where we discussed snagging the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” what she wants her legacy to be, and how she is taking the title and the responsibility very seriously.

“I am excited to help present all the amazing beauty and power of drag to a national audience.” 

Michael Cook: You rode on the Logo float in New York City Gay Pride. What was the experience like? 

Sasha Velour won on "Ru Paul's Drag Race" in 2017
Sasha Velour won on “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” in 2017

Sasha Velour: Oh, I was on cloud nine sitting on that float! Being surrounded by so many people and so many rainbow flags, heading down the avenue in the middle of Pride; I will never forget it.

You are officially the winner of Season Nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race! Congratulations! 

SV: I am so thankful to have such a strong support system and community, who have been giving me pep talks whenever I needed them, and supporting me. It was so great to get to celebrate with all of them.

Where does your drag aesthetic come from? 

SV: You know, I try to tune out trends in both fashion and in drag. I look around and see a lot of people who fall into the same path as the other people around them. One of the most amazing things about drag is that it can establish a sort of beauty that is new, different, or at least at odds with what is around you. It is not necessarily about inventing something that is new, and completely different, but just sticking to your guns and resisting the advice of how you should look. Truly, my drag should be a reflection of what I love and what I have always loved.

Sasha Velour won on "Ru Paul's Drag Race" in 2017
Sasha Velour won on “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” in 2017

The challenge on Drag Race that I think other out-of-the-box thinkers have struggled with before is sticking with your guns, while at the same time being able to evolve enough and satisfy the judges. I think my over-thinking nature and overly analytical nature helped me see ways that I could rise to the challenge, satisfy people’s expectations for glamour and grandeur, but also following my own instincts about how I wanted to present myself, what I want to look like, and what attitude I wanted to adopt toward drag.

I think one pitfall we see frequently with other Drag Race contestants is some of the girls getting into their own heads, and presenting what the judges want as opposed to what they truly are, which ultimately leads to the outcome that they were not necessarily wanting. 

SV: Exactly. The judges don’t want you to lose yourself; they want you to rise to the next level as yourself. I think you have to be simultaneously really clever, and at the same time, have really good instincts [laughs].

Was there ever a time during the season that you saw the tide start to shift, and start to think that you just may be able to snatch the crown from your competitors? 

Sasha Velour won on "Ru Paul's Drag Race" in 2017
Sasha Velour won on “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” in 2017

SV: I think maybe during the last few episodes of the season where it was clear that the judges were kind of shocked that I had survived, and outlasted the fate of other out-of-the-box queens, and had been able to be funny, deliver comedy and fashion, sew things, and then death drop, and dance on command, even though it was something completely out of my comfort zone. They put me through the full stretch of things that are expected in drag, and I was able to do all of them at least passably well [laughs] — but still able to delight and entertain them at the same time. I think at that point I thought…I might have a real chance. That is also why I was determined to go into the finale with a real fighting spirit, and show them that I did have what it takes to be a real star.

You are part of an illustrious and colorful group of ladies now. What do you want your legacy to be as the ninth winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race?

SV: You know, it can be hard to distinguish yourself from a pack of such amazingly talented people. I think I am going to follow in the RuPaul model though, which is to establish myself not as just a star performer of my own, but of a producer, and curator of drag. That is why I am investing a lot of this prize into the magazine that I produce that kind of documents what is going on right now through both art and essays. There will be a lasting record of history of, for example, things that have happened like Drag Race. I also produce a live show that brings together lots and lots of types of drag. It has grown from being a small bar show with a reasonably loyal following to now one of the most popular and well-respected shows in New York City, in just a couple of months. Obviously the show has been a huge part of that. I am excited to take advantage of this platform to become someone who helps present all the amazing beauty and power of drag to a national audience, in a different way. I think that this will secure my legacy.

You were on what was arguably one of the more important seasons of the show, between the political climate and the show being aired on VH1 this year. In terms of being an activist, how much of drag do you think activism really is? 

SV: I think all drag is a form of activism; it’s presenting queer versions of gender. Even if your drag is a traditional depiction of femininity, it still crosses and blurs boundaries, and people’s expectations. My drag is all about that: drag does not have to be about classic femininity, and can be an expression of any way you experience gender as a queer person. A serious approach to turning that into personal experiences, into something artistic, and meaningful for lots of people to experience, and enjoy. Then I also think that the most important thing that makes drag activism is when drag queens take on the roles of community leadership. They are able to encourage people to go out and vote to protest and to donate money to important causes that help support, especially queer people. I am starting to turn my “Nightgown” show into a non-profit organization that is going to create scholarships, and housing needs for queer and trans people in need. In this political climate, someone who translates fabulous shows into actual good work is more important than ever.

As a leader in the community who is able to make a difference now, and has a following, being a leader in the community is almost crucial. 

SV: Absolutely! These teen fans are a loyal and engaged following. I sometimes wish they would pay more attention in school than tweeting me though [laughs].

Speaking of the fans, this season’s reunion was definitely more heated than some have been in the past. Do you think everyone got a fair shake, or some people were better represented than others? 

SV: It was a tense event. I think it was one of the more real moments that we had had on the show with one another. A lot of us, speaking just for myself, had grown tired of how some of the other queens were presenting themselves to the audience in ways that were not one hundred percent truthful or authentic. The reunion was basically holding each other accountable, and holding each other accountable for being honest. I think that created a lot of tension and it was confusing for the audience in some ways, because they did not have the full picture, such as the complexity of different people, and things like that.

Your foray into music with your Season Nine New York drag sisters was so much fun with C.L.A.T., and working with the amazing Mitch Ferrino was another success. 

SV: It was an experiment and so much fun! Mitch is so fabulous and has been so supportive to all of us, a real cheerleader, and someone who makes all this fabulous music. I am also working with Mitch on some future projects also. You know, I never thought I would be making music, but there is now an audience that is interested, and I am inspired to keep experimenting!