RuPaul’s DragCon is just around the corner, taking over the Los Angeles Convention Center for a fourth year May 11-13. Boasting appearances from more than 85 Drag Race alumni and — for the first time ever — an interactive installation of the iconic Werk Room, DragCon is sure to be the kitty cat’s meow.
“I remember when I started performing, I thought, ‘Why is this something that we do after hours, underground?’” asks Drag Race royalty Alyssa Edwards. “I was waiting on the world to change and the idea of this art to become mainstream, and I think that’s what RuPaul’s Drag Race has really accomplished in such an eloquent way. So now I’m living that: I’m here in full drag, in broad daylight at RuPaul’s DragCon taking pictures with these kids. That’s very exciting to me.”
Billboard caught up with the queen of tongue pops to talk about returning to season 10 as a mentor, his upcoming reality show Haus of Edwards and what to expect with the Werk Room addition to LA’s DragCon: “Who knows, maybe me and Phi Phi will get to relive that magical TV moment with the mirror. You’ve gotta admit, that was great TV!”
Hey, kitty girl. DragCon is fast approaching! What are you most looking forward to?
Oh my gosh, there’s so much. I remember going to the first ever DragCon and, I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve never experienced a ComicCon or anything like that of this nature. So it was a full carnival of extravaganza. I was a little bit more prepared the second year because I was excited to see everything. I wanted to walk around rather than just sit at my booth and take photos all day.
What I’m most excited for is, well, a lot of the fans that you meet at RuPaul’s DragCon are not just the fans that we meet at, like, these clubs. There’s actually a lot of families — it’s very family-friendly. You meet these young children and their moms and dads and grandmas, so it’s rather exciting.
Totally. What do you have planned for your booth?
Well, being that this is the world’s largest drag culture convention — and I’m from Texas, you know everything is bigger and — I don’t wanna say better, but I do believe that to be true. My booth last year was huge, and this year it’s almost doubled. I’ve paired up with This Free Life, and I can tell that it is all things Alyssa. I definitely wanted to stay colorful and fun, and very Lisa Frank-inspired.
This year we have a little runway catwalk at my booth. So I’m gonna be doing little spotlight shindigs here and there. The Haus of Edwards will definitely be in the building, you won’t miss us. And if you miss my booth, you will not miss my wig.
I’m curious — is there any competition between you and your Drag Race sisters over who has the best booths?
Why must everything be a contest? [Laughs] You know, look; I mean come on now. After all, we are all these flamboyant men in full regalia. So I don’t think it’s necessarily a contest, I think we’re all very excited to get to be a part of this, you know? But I will tell you — I am a queen of many crowns, of many crowns. And I’m usually a one-take queen. The only thing I had to do twice in my life was RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Right! And I saw that they’re letting fans explore the actual Werk Room set this year? Are you going to surprise fans by hiding behind the mirror?
[Laughs] Well, lemme tell you, I don’t think it’s gonna be me in that mirror — every time I look in the mirror now, all I can think of is Miss Vanjie, so. [Laughs] That’s kind of the name on everyone’s lips this season, my darlings.
But yes, I knew that with this being the fourth year for this, they were gonna definitely add some exciting surprises. With the Werk Room, that is gonna be exciting. And who knows, maybe me and Phi Phi will get to relive that magical TV moment with the mirror. You’ve gotta admit, that was great TV!
Oh it was fantastic TV!
Oh my gosh! I remember getting the call from my grandmother, she loves the show. And she said “Justin, I saw you on that television show when you were dressed up like a woman.” And she said, “And I thought you were going to jump through that mirror, you veins were popping out of your neck!” And I thought, after that conversation, “Wow, never in a million years did I believe I would be talking about drag with my Granny over in Oklahoma.”
This Werk Room idea is genius, I think it’s gonna give people a little bit more insight of the behind-the-scenes of what really goes on, and how big the room is and the feel of the room. I remember watching the show, and then going on the show, walking in the Werk Room, it was like “I did it! I got the golden ticket!” [Laughs] It’s like that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory kind of fantasy. The amount of like, oh my gosh, it’s all coming back to me, very Celine Dion right now! It was so magical and surreal, even to this day, I know this sounds kind of cheesy or something to say I’m thankful and grateful, but I am all of the above!
Absolutely. And you returned for season 10 and give the girls a choreography lesson. What was it like returning in a mentor capacity?
I started doing drag because I needed a creative outlet for myself. I knew I wanted to be the Steven Spielberg of dance — I wanted to be a director, I wanted to be a creator, I knew that at 14. So going back this time, now on really what I feel like is truly my destiny, because I believe this whole Alyssa Edwards character was kind of like a trick of fate! It was something that I thought “I’m gonna do this for fun, it’s silly, it’s campy, it’s gonna take me out of my comfort zone,” and now it’s turned into a full-blown career. It was my missing puzzle piece, because I was a really shy introverted young gay lad.
It was surreal because I have been in their pumps. I have stood up on that stage, nervous about putting my art on the front street to be judged. So it was a milestone. Look, you don’t have to win Drag Race to really win. And I am living proof of that, thank you Mary J. Blige! That was a winning moment for me. When Ru calls you to come up and teach the children how to twirl, you go ahead and give them a little bit of Debbie Allen, a little Chorus Line, mix it all together, and turn this gig out.
Totally. And actually, when we polled the season 10 girls, they voted you as the best lip syncer of all time in Drag Race history! So how does it feel to have that kind of legacy on the show?
I would like to just thank the people of the Academy, all of the queens that voted and supported me, my God above, and my mother and my gay uncle for taking me to my jazz classes over at the Mesquite, Texas Joy Sharp School of Dance. No, you know, that was exciting because when your peers can vote for you and the fans and the people appreciate your art and your words and what you do, that’s always a moment to be proud.
For sure. Is there anyone in particular you’re rooting for this season?
This group is funny, they seem very natural, and they’re not afraid to be unapologetically themselves. More than anything, I love when you’re watching something and you see a real moment where you can tell in their eyes that they probably thought, “Well I probably shouldn’t do this, but girl, here we go, gal.” And it makes for great television, it’s entertaining.
I remember during my visit that Blair St. Clair so charming and so cute. And you know, I caught this spark in his eye. And Miz Cracker was so focused and concentrated. Aquaria, who I’ve followed on Instagram for years, I didn’t even know who he was as a boy! And I said, “What is your name?” And he said “Alyssa, it’s me, Aquaria.” And I was like, I had been watching his photos for years, but I didn’t really recognize him in his male persona. I found Monique Heart to be hilarious, Monét X Change, I mean…
Then there’s Asia who is right here from Dallas. The year I won Miss USA, she was my first alternate! And so we have a close relationship. And Eureka?! Oh my gosh! That’s a big character, larger than life personality, and a larger than life, go get ’em kind of get up and drive!
Look, I’m Team Drag. And you know, for whoever wins, it’s like, “The best of luck to you,” but we’re all gonna get a piece of the pie. I was a lovely alternate in season 5, I can’t even remember how far down I was, and I was a gorgeous … what was I fourth alternate? Third alternate in All Stars? But the bigger picture is that I am getting an opportunity to travel, you know, be here at RuPaul’s DragCon and celebrate all things drag and this community. So it’s fabulous. Sorry if I’m talking too much, by the way, because I will ramble.
There is no such thing as talking too much when it comes to you, I could listen to you talk for days.
OK well good, because I will keep going!
My last question for you is: What’s next for you?
I believe my book of life is already written, it’s just now being read out loud. So I’m really enjoying this chapter. That’s the pageant answer. [Laughs]
And the real answer is: The secret is officially out, I just wrapped filming my reality series based around my dance school. I’ve had the studio now for 15 years. And now we’re gonna get to take you guys behind the front doors of not only my studio, but my home, so stay tuned because it’s about to get turnt up and lit! [Laughs] A little bit of Dance Moms, a little bit of So You Think You Can Dance, a whole lot of Honey Boo Boo, and a lot of drag.
Tickets to DragCon at the Los Angeles Convention Center can be purchased at RuPaulsDragCon.com.