Nina West talks about her “Drag Race” experience and  the legacy of drag

Nina West
Nina West

Nina West says “Go West”

Not since Latrice Royale came soaring into the hearts of America during RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4 has a queen been as loved as Columbus, Ohio’s Nina West. Striving to always do her best in every challenge West seemed to surprise even herself with some of her victories. That Leigh Bowery inspired facekini runway challenge will go down in her-story! While this Midwest Maven has gone home just short of the Top Five, she has plenty planned for her post Drag Race career. I caught up with Ms. West to talk about being the “Greek chorus” of the season, what ladies from her hometown would rock the Drag Race runway, and her plans to quite possibly be the “Mrs. Doubtfire of Drag”!

Guess what NYC Queen Shuga Cain thinks would be a Drag Race game-changer – Read Michael Cooks last RuPaul’s Drag Race interview with Shuga Cain here

You are one of the girls who so many of us expected to be on the show for so long; how does it feel to have made it onto the show, and to have had such an excellent showing? 

Nina West: I am so good, are you kidding me? I am on cloud nine! I thought it was going to feel a lot different today, but I had some time to prepare for that (laughs). It is a thrill; I could not have written a better outcome, other than being in the competition longer and fighting for that crown. You go to onto the show fearing the worst. You could be the first person eliminated. Maybe the people aren’t going to like you. All of those things play out in your mind.

Then you start to see yourself going through the episodes, making it to the Snatch Game challenge, and you realize you have to stay focused on the present and get out of your head. But that is really hard. Especially when you are surrounded by 14 other people who are equally as insecure. You all want the praise, you all want to shine. And there is only one winner per episode usually. You are juggling all of these things. And you have to stay out of your own head. You have all of these things thrown at you—and then filming long days. It’s an emotional, mental, and physical roller coaster. And trying to stay “in it” is tough.

So many people knew who Nina West was already. Both your fellow competitors and viewers who are devoted followers of drag knew. Was that a difficult reputation to live up to in the competition? 

Nina West
Nina West does Harvey Fierstein

NW: Initially, I started off rocky; I was Sylvester Stallone in the beginning (laughs)! It was kind of gratifying that there were these kids that I did not know, or that I had never heard of. They were Instagram famous and they knew who I was. Then it throws you off your game a little bit. I realized that the pressure was probably a little turned up on me to produce and to be whatever they think that I am. Of course, that got in my way real quick. I had to get out of my own way and say, that “this is who I am and this is what I do.”

Regardless of whether or not they know who I am, I know that I have this tremendous army of support back in Columbus Ohio and win, lose, or draw I get to go home to that. I don’t know how many girls here have that. I get to go home to that safety net and do my shows, be fabulous, and live the ultimate drag dream. I had to get out of my own way, which is super hard on television.

For those that don’t know, what is the Columbus, Ohio drag scene like? 

Nina West on "RuPaul's Drag Race"
Nina West on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

NW: The Columbus drag is very theatrical, It’s camp, but it’s also pageant. It’s hybrid. And it’s kings, queen, gender non-binary, female presenting, it is all over the place. It is these large production shows that are rehearsed for six to eight weeks with eight to ten dancers and a cast of ten kings and queens. Usually the shows have a theme around them or a storyline. And you are loosely working off of that with crazy and funny mixes that are telling that story. At a major production show, which will usually have a twelve to fourteen night engagement run in the city, we will always do a charity number. My drag family has made a name for itself by giving back to the community that has been so supportive of it. That has been going on since I was a drag baby with my own drag mother Virginia West. The idea of giving back and raising money is something we do at the end of every show, and usually it is for a queer organization directly giving back to our LGBTQ community.

Towns like Columbus, Ohio are able to show some sickening drag, but also keep that tight knit family vibe; do you think that’s fair to say? 

NW: Definitely. I think we are also our loudest and biggest champions, maybe sometimes to a fault (laughs). Columbus loves Columbus. These smaller towns all have their small town pride, but Columbus is just so great. I think the reason that I am so proud of Columbus is because my community has really raised me.

So speaking of Columbus, who do you think would really be game changers is they got on RuPaul’s Drag Race

Nina West on "RuPaul's Drag Race"
Nina West on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

NW: There are a few entertainers that I would love to see from Columbus on the show. I think Crystal Something Something is a brilliant talent. She is in Circleville, Ohio and kind of cut her teeth in Brooklyn. She is kind of a mother of the Brooklyn scene that now exists in Brooklyn and she lives in Columbus now. I would love to see my drag mother Virginia West on the show. Although I don’t know if she would ever do it. I would love to see her go on there and really flex her muscles. She is a pageant queen and much different than I am, so I would love to see her on there. Barbie Roberts is another really creative powerhouse. He is an illustrator and graphic artists and his point of view and perspective is so unique and interesting. The way he talks about gender, gender identity, and gender fluidity, is pretty breathtaking.

The inevitable question for you; a future iteration of All Stars just may come calling. Would you take another crack at the crown for an All Stars season? 

NW: Girl, yes! (laughs). You don’t say no to RuPaul, cmon! Let me tell you, you are no bigger than the person who is giving you the opportunity. I am having a tremendous opportunity in my life right now because of the show and because of RuPaul and because of what the show does. I would be a fool to say no to someone who has already given me a ticket to the world.

The next step in your journey is going to be the Reunited reunion taping. There seems to be a great deal of tension between some of the girls this season, and you have served as almost the “Greek chorus” of sorts. How are you thinking that you are going to approach the reunion? 

Nina West CD EP release in 2019
Nina West CD EP release in 2019

NW: That is an interesting question because there is a lot that is going on with our cast (laughs)! There are different sects and divisions that were always there when we started. But they have really pronounced themselves as the season has gone on. You have the “Dream Girls,” you have me and Brooke Lynn, you have Brooke Lynn and Vangie, and there is all this floating, and everyone saying stuff about everyone else. I think my role at the reunion will be kind of what my role was during the show; kind of that maternal/paternal character.

It looks like people may be looking to you to hold people accountable for things that they actually said…

NW: Here’s the thing, I don’t really care for drama. I am not going to sit there and watch someone not repeat something that they said behind someones back now that they we are all together. That has been a common theme that has happened, specifically with our cast. Last nights episode is a prime example. Ariel Versace comes back guns a blazing to talk about these wigs and all of a sudden, she has nothing to say?

I was not directly affected by that. And I kind of wondered why people were wasting their time over something so foolish and inconsequential when you are here for $100-thousand dollars. On the other hand, it’s almost like I could let them be distracted while I keep my head down and concentrate on the completion. I could care less who stole who’s wig or who did this or that. A few of the girls don’t have that experience dealing with other people and being challenged or being given constructive criticism. There was a fine line on our season with that also, and just how to talk to another person in general.

What is next for Nina West

NW: Today I am doing two pre-orders on two EP’s that will drop next week. The first EP is a comedy album that is really fun and called John Goodman. It’s really tongue in cheek about my appearance (laughs). The second EP is children’s music and it’s called Drag is Magic. It is probably been the most exciting project that I have worked on in the past five years. I have wanted to do this forever. I am a kid of The Muppets and Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Disney and I grew up with Disney, Beauty and the Beast, Paul Reubens and Jim Henson. I don’t feel like there is anything like me being represented to a world that is family friendly and kind and good. It’s something that I wanted to do and it just makes sense for me. Yes, it’s going to be controversial and people are going to have a tremendous amount of issue with it. But I just feel like it is what I need to do. The long term goal would be like a children’s television show or a children’s book series, I would love that. I could be the Mrs Doubtfire of Drag!

What gives you the most pride? 

NW: I think that people trust me enough to donate to causes that I believe in, and to use my voice to find strength, and to be lifted up. I did not ever think that that would happen in my career. I didn’t think that people would ever look to me to be this rock or this calling post. That is greater than anything.

People trust me and want me to be their voice and lift them up. That is a gift. I am very grateful for that; it means so much that people have held me to that regard and that standard. I think it has made me a better queen because of it. Drag queens are based in activism and based in community involvement and engagement. Somewhere along the way we forgot about that; we lost that. I think it is really important that queens across the country know that there are hundreds of thousands of queens like me around the world. They do fund raising and charity work and are integral to their community rising. Raising money for softball teams, or AIDS organizations, or children’s organizations.

There are drag queens like me in every city. Somewhere it got lost and that is okay. I am thrilled that Drag Race put me on the show so I can show people that there are people like this also. People as equally as viable to the community as the look queen who is turning looks on the runway.