On Thursday night, RuPaul’s Drag Race brought us to church, as the queens created and filmed their very own televangelist talk shows honoring their favorite pop divas. Nina West’s team took on Britney Spears, while Ra’Jah O’Hara’s tackled Mariah Carey.
While the Britney squad excelled in the challenge, handing Nina West her first win in the competition, the Mariah team flopped since no one in the group seemed to know much about the Elusive Chanteuse. In a shocking move, RuPaul forced each of the bottom six queens to lip sync at once to the Hex Hector remix of Jennifer Lopez’s “Waiting for Tonight.” When the dust settled, RuPaul sent Honey Davenport packing.
Honey chatted with Billboard the day after her elimination about the shocking lip sync battle, what went wrong in her Mariah Carey challenge, and her outspoken activism.
How are you feeling after watching the elimination last night?
You know, I thought it was gonna be the hardest thing that I’ve ever watched. I was telling a friend yesterday, “I’m so sad right now, and nothing will make me not sad.” I felt that I would be very hurt.
But actually to be quite honest, watching it last night, I just felt so proud of myself. This has been a dream of mine that I got to accomplish. I really wish that I could have went further, don’t get me wrong — I wish I had more opportunity to show the world who I am, but this definitely just gave me some great exposure to showcase all of my art to the rest of the world, and a big huge platform to talk about all of the social issues that I based my career around. I’m in a really great place.
Going back to that moment, what was the reaction from you and in the room when Ru announced that all six of the bottom queens would be lip syncing for their lives?
Initially, it was like, “So… that’s real. I didn’t expect to lip sync this early.” But honestly, I felt like, “This is what I do, I’m a performer.” Listen, I’m a New York City staple, I definitely didn’t expect that anybody else would out-lip-sync me. I was like, “Just make sure you deliver the song and the performance in the style of Honey Davenport.” And watching the episode, I felt like I did that. I’m super proud of what I did — it was risky in its own way, and whoever did or didn’t like it, that’s one thing. But I was exactly who I am. I was true to who I was, and I let the world see who I am. I think I performed that song as well as I would have at any other venues.
It was clear to the audience that the Mariah aspect of your challenge went a little awry. If you could go back, would you choose a different diva to worship?
Well, I personally don’t like being told “no.” So I would like to just say “no” to the rest of the world about going back to attempt Mariah again, just because I’m stubborn. However, I was definitely the voice of reason, saying that we didn’t know enough about Mariah and that it was probably a bad idea. I should have taken a stronger stance on that, clearly. Because it was a bad idea, yo. [Laughs.]
I thought your runway look was so strong, I loved the homage to Lady Gaga’s “Angel Down.” In the clip they played, you said the outfit was inspired by your connection to gun violence — if you don’t mind my asking, in light of the Christchurch shooting news, what is that connection, and what message did you want to send with your look?
Well, it’s a combination — the full thing of what I should have said was it is inspired by [both] “Angel Down” and “Formation” by Beyoncé. I try to make art that speaks to the world I would like to see one day. It’s really insane that we live in a country that will ban plastic straws to save the fish, and not guns to save the humans. I grew up in West Philadelphia, in the projects, and I lost countless family members and friends to gun violence. I have been held at gunpoint more than once. It’s the world I grew up in, they were so easily accessible to my friends and to my enemies.
This is a real problem in our world today. But because of the state of our government, no one is really addressing it. Nobody is really tackling it. Nobody is talking about how kids are dying in schools, and if they do, they talk about it for two weeks and then they let it go. I felt that, with the social phenomenon that is RuPaul’s Drag Race, I could kind of keep that conversation going.
You have a history of activism — you quitting your hosting gig at New York’s The Monster after some of their racist practices were exposed comes to mind. Why is being an activist as important to you as being a performer?
I don’t think it was a choice. Like I said, I’m one of those people who you don’t tell to “not.” I look at others like, “This is not okay, why are y’all letting this happen?” I’ve always been a, “Nope, that’s not gonna do it for me” kind of girl. For that reason, I feel like it’s a responsibility, not a choice. So with The Monster, I loved that job. I didn’t want to leave that job. I ended up spending upwards of $20,000 on runway looks for the show that you’re never gonna get to see on the main stage, so I needed that job!
But, I really truly felt like with my position … we call ourselves drag queens. That makes you a ruler. How are you expected to rule or lead if you are accepting things that are unacceptable to your community? It is literally your duty to take care of that, and to speak up about those things and defend your people. I just felt like, when it comes to social issues like that, if I don’t say something, who will?
You’ve also got new music out — your last single was “The Hive,” and today you’re releasing your new song “Warrior.” What was the inspiration behind these songs, and what do you have coming up?
That’s right, we gotta talk about my music, this is Billboard! I’m dropping a whole visual EP soon, which is gonna feature all of my looks for the runway that I didn’t get to show, along with the looks that I have been showing.
I dropped “The Hive” and a 30-second music video. Because, you know, music videos can cost like $10-20,000, and I did not win that $100,000 honey. Well, not yet, I guess there’s always All Stars. [Laughs.] With what I can afford, I’m making a bunch of 30-second music videos for each of my runway looks. But “The Hive” is about being an outsider, and feeling like I needed to be the voice for people who were outsiders, because nobody deserves to feel that way. It’s a good intro for me to say, “Welcome to all of you who may feel this way, because I’m about to speak up about some things.”
And then with “Warrior,” which is produced by Chew Fu [who was worked with the likes of Lady Gaga and Madonna], I wanted to remind everyone in the world who has a platform that this is the time to start fighting. It’s about when you don’t feel like you have a slice of the pie, pick yourself up and fight for yourself. If we all picked one issue to tackle for 5fiveminutes a month, it would be changed. So yeah, this project has taken so much out of me, but I have really found my voice.