As the queen prepares for a handful of tours this year, BenDeLaCreme told Billboard about the stage productions and possible album she has in the works for 2019. The superstar queen also reflected on her time on All Stars 3, who she's rooting for on All Stars 4 and the sometimes rabid nature of the Drag Race fanbase: "We as queer people, transwomen, and femme men have been vilified and have been told we're bad our whole lives. Let's not perpetuate that."
Is it exciting to be back on the road and riding the post-Drag Race fame again?
It's been awesome. After being on season six, you’re thrusted into the public eye, and suddenly you’re working on this huge scale. It's all really overwhelming. Very few of us had that exposure and the fast pace bookings that you get after the show. So it’s easy to get swept up in and take whatever gig, which is fine.
But it's nice to have a second go around where you can really have the opportunity to get a second crack to channel all of that energy the way you want to. I got to do that, and I was able to use the moment in a specific way since I had the experience of doing everything the first time.
I know that when you were offered to go back on the show for All Stars 3, you initially declined the offer. Why was that?
Before season six I had been really focusing on all of my theatre work here in Seattle which I find really satisfying. So after a couple of years of being in that post-season six nightclub circuit rollercoaster, I really started to channel everything back into the stuff I was passionate about. Drag Race is such a crazy experience, and I'm glad I did it, but it's also a terrifying experience. It's a ton of work and it's really vulnerable to put yourself out there in that way.
But overall I had such a good experience on season six. There's no better situation on Drag Race than going home and having people be upset about it. So in some ways I was asking myself how I could possibly do better, and now I'm doing all the things I wanted to do. I thought about it a lot because the producers asked me several times, and it got harder to say "No" each time.
The other big thing too was that I didn’t like the format of All Stars 2. You know all of those girls are my friends. The elimination rules of All Stars felt like it was just about stirring up drama and cause tension between the girls, and I'm just not here for that. I didn’t want to engage in those rules.
What exactly was going through your mind when you finally made the decision to leave on your own terms?
It all fell into place in this way that I didn’t anticipate or expect. I was excited that I was doing well and got to show off what I wanted to show off, but I also felt like I was selling out a bit by playing by those rules. I felt a sense of calm where I knew I could explain myself and not seem disrespectful, which was certainly not my intention because I have the upmost respect for Ru and what she's built.
It was really powerful and it was cool to feel this experience because you never feel like you're in control because someone else is running the show. It was amazing to feel fully in control of my own path.
I remember you posted something on Facebook calling out fans for criticizing you and the other queens for who was voted to be in the top two. What's your take on these kinds of reactions?
When the final episode aired we just saw this insane tidal wave of people having opinions about every queen and the decision that they were making in the moment. There’s this argument like “Oh well you put yourselves out there so we get to scream all of our opinions all over the Internet no matter how it makes anyone feel." Yeah, it's reality TV, but it’s more. The people on the show are doing this because drag is something that's in their soul. It’s not fashion choice, it's something you do because you connect with it intimately.
Drag Race is an inescapable part of the world of drag. For all these people to have these strong opinions about a group of people who are doing their best to forge a path for themselves can be overwhelming. We as queer people, transwomen, and femme men have been vilified and have been told we're bad our whole lives. Let's not perpetuate that.
Drag Race has totally turned into a cultural phenomenon where we are seeing such strong reactions and feelings towards contestants and the show as a whole. What are your thoughts on the show's growth?
Drag Race is like any other huge thing in pop culture where it's complicated and it's got a lot of amazing things going on about it, and it's got some more complex things happening too. There is part of me that definitely romanticizes the days when drag was a little bit more underground and more of a subculture. But at the same time, so many queens are given the ability to do this full-time, at a higher level, and have more resources to put into the work.
I think that the biggest problem I see in that regard, which happens with anything that get super popular, is that people wanna either worship Drag Race as a deity, or they want to cut it down. We don't have to throw it in the garbage because it has a problem, and we certainly shouldn't put it on a pedestal and raise to the level of a god and be blind to the issues with it.
Do you think you would ever return for another season?
Yeah! I think I would. I was really hesitant to go back a second time, but at this point if you go back twice it starts to feel comfortable and way less scary. Certainly my ideal situation is that I would love to come back in a way where they ask certain girls to talk to people about specific challenges and how to go about tackling them. But I don't know. I think I can see myself in a situation where I'm competing again too.
Shifting gears from all this Drag Race talk, do you have any fun gigs or new music coming up that you're looking forward to?
Yeah! I’m taking time right now to write my new solo show which I'll be premiering in the spring. Then I plan on bringing it to Provincetown for the summer and continue to tour it through the country. I‘ll be doing the Haters Roast Tour this winter with a bunch of the other Drag Race girls which will be super fun to travel around with them. I’ll be spending May in the U.K. with Jinkx Monsoon and Peaches Christ doing our Death Becomes Her parody, Drag Becomes Her.
Now that things are rolling with all that, I have some conversations going about putting out music. I've been doing so much writing for the stage that I'm starting to talk to people about writing for other people, and possibly putting out an album or doing some television work. So there's some things bubbling and you never know where those are going to go.
What kind of sound should we expect from a BenDeLaCreme album?
I'm definitely not going to pretend to be one of those girls who cares about a club beat or pop music. Anybody who's seen my solo work knows that I'm really a comedic lyricist. I think it would be a blend of styles. I tend to reference a lot of '60s pop and stuff like that, but I also move into contemporary parodies. After years of gathering music, I feel like I definitely have enough to compile an album, so I might as well do it.
Have you been watching this season of All Stars?
I've been loving it. I feel like it’s really reinvigorating, at least I certainly feel reinvigorated watching the show. I think part of it is that they brought in queens from the single digit seasons back in with double digit girls. It's really nice to see Manila Luzon and Latrice Royale coming in and bringing a more old school take on things. There's a real mix of aesthetics, and I think that it's making everybody come a bit more alive. We also have the newer girls who really get what the show is now, so they can still give us those witty soundbites that the audience seems to crave.
Is there anyone that you're rooting for?
I’m definitely super engaged with everything Manila does. I loved Manila since her original season. Her blend of glamour and camp is very much something that is near and dear to my heart that I identify with. I know people have a lot of different opinions about who she is and how she's playing the game. I know from experience being there that's ok. Everybody has to figure out how to play the game somehow, and it's hard. As much as people want everybody to go on All Stars and not have any friends or allegiances, that's just not realistic. We've all been working together for years. I don't necessarily have an unbiased view, but Manila is definitely my favorite to watch.