It was hard for fans not to fall in love with the bright Milli Von Sunshine on Secret Celebrity Drag Race. Pulling out all of the stops on each week of the lip sync-focused program, the disguised star quickly earned a reputation for leaving it all on the stage, especially when it came to her dance moves and elaborate costumes.
That certainly remained true during last Friday’s episode (Sept. 2), where the drag newbies got to team up with Drag Race stars for a series of show-stopping duets. For Milli, that meant dropping it low with season 13’s Gottmik to Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj’s “Side to Side,” wherein she played the role of a clumsy airline hostess ready to serve up some delicious dance moves.
Sadly, that could not save the star from the chopping block. Facing off against Thirsty Von Trapp in a heated lip sync battle to “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson, Milli was ultimately eliminated, and revealed herself to be none other than Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz.
Ushkowitz chatted with Billboard shortly after her elimination about finding her campy side as Milli Von Sunshine, how Glee gave her “a bit of an edge” on the show, and what it was like crafting stunning performances while 10 weeks pregnant.
It was so fun seeing you on Secret Celebrity Drag Race! How are you feeling looking back at your time on the show?
You know, it feels like so long ago now! But getting to watch it in real time is so much fun, especially with my daughter. When we were doing this, I was newly pregnant, about 10 weeks pregnant with her. So it was definitely a challenge, and then you add an early pregnancy onto it? It was even harder. But now that’s a fun story that I get to share with her one day, that she was there for it! It was such a wild experience, and I’m so glad people are getting to see it.
Were you a fan of the show before you got cast on the show?
Honestly, I was not an avid viewer, but I was certainly well aware of the universe Ru had created, and everything that drag stands for and does. I just haven’t watched every season [laughs].
With how fast this show is growing, I think it’s unreasonable to expect anyone at this point to watch every season.
Seriously, there is so much of it everywhere!
But you got paired this week with season 13’s Gottmik for the duet challenge — what was Mik like to work with?
Mik is amazing. Just so supportive, so much fun — I mean, truly all of the queens that came in to support us and work with us were just the most fun, especially after a couple of weeks of us being in this vortex. Mik was so cool, and it was such a good pairing for the both of us, especially with my look I was going for, all of the makeup and everything. It was such a wild experience having all of these iconic queens come in and perform with us.
I’m so glad you brought up the look, because your makeup and costumes have been so polished and also bold every episode, it has been so cool to watch that transformation every time.
Thank you! Yeah, it was really fun to keep thinking, “Okay, let’s go as far as humanly possible with this.” And it worked!
Ok, I’m gonna go on the record — I don’t think you deserved to go home this week. Getting the critique of being “too perfect” from the judges? Destroying the lip sync for your life? I think they made a mistake. Were you feeling some type of way when that was happening?
[laughs] It’s okay, everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Yeah, I thought it was a possibility having seen the other performances, and I took their critiques to heart. I definitely agree with them that, had I gone to the next week, I would have really played into the camp of it all. Playing into that knowing feeling of what’s going on was something that I was missing a little bit. I think that’s the thing that put me in the bottom, ultimately. But, my lip sync for your life, I was truly just like, “If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.” I was actually so excited to do that song (“My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson) because I love it so much. It’s just really fun.
To your point about bringing more camp — I watched your “Dancing on My Own” performance, and that was about as campy as it gets.
Oh my god, thank you! That was my favorite one by far. From the song selection process, to creating the look, to have Jujubee guide me on that after doing such an iconic performance of it herself, and then to get the critique that I did, it’s like, this was the strongest performance for me on the show. I also have to give props to our creative director Renee (Gauthier, the show’s senior creative producer), who really helped us shape all of these performances with us. She was like. “I have this crazy idea, just go with me.” And having just gotten married the year before, it felt really symbiotic!
Obviously this is not your first time lip syncing — back in the Glee days, you and your cast members would be lip syncing to your own performances while filming. How would you compare those experiences?
Listen, Glee set me up for success here, even though I got kicked off. I definitely felt prepared when they pitched the concept of the format — like, “Oh yeah, that is in my wheelhouse, I’ve done this before.” So there was a bit of an edge over some of my fellow contestants in lip syncing, getting the words down along with the moves. And also just with how fast it moves; you have one week to get it going and use all of the moving pieces and then get your look together for your character — that was all pretty much the same!
I still can’t believe you were doing all of this while 10 weeks pregnant, that is wild.
Yeah, me neither! It was… really a challenge. I mean, it was so fun, but by the time I was getting kicked off, it just so happened to also be right around the time I was starting to get pretty sick. So you know what? It all worked out!
With this being a show about transformation, how do you think this experience will help inform your work going forward?
I think, as a performer, going into this felt very comfortable. But the added drag element was really about bringing out this inner self, an inner child almost, who was just wanting to get out and play. I think finding that joy in what can feel like work a lot of the time is something I’ll be taking with me.