On Thursday night, RuPaul’s Drag Race put the T in “politics” when the queens were tasked with lip syncing in the season’s first musical challenge: a Grease-inspired show titled Trump: The Rusical.
Some queens soared on the stage — Silky Nutmeg Ganache scored her first win of the season for her hilarious and spot-on portrayal of an angelic Oprah. But others did not; after missing the mark as Omarosa Manigault and Ivanka Trump, respectively, Ra’Jah O’Hara and Mercedes Iman Diamond faced off in a lip sync battle to James Brown’s “Living In America.” Ru elected to keep Ra’Jah around, sending Ms. Mercedes home.
Mercedes chatted with Billboard the day after her elimination about her emotional embrace of her Muslim heritage on national television, why she doesn’t get involved in politics, and of course, the ever-growing popularity of her “opulence” memes.
How are you feeling after watching your elimination?
I am, you know what, I am feeling great! I’m happy, I’m literally so happy, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Yes, I’ve done a lot of pageants, and when I do a competition, the only person I can really compete against is myself, and there’s only going to be one winner. Somebody has to go home every week, honey! And it was Mercedes turn! I’m so happy I got to be on that stage, to get critiques from Mother Ru, and Michelle and everyone else, it’s just so amazing.
Before we talk about anything else, there is one word that we need to discuss — “opulence.” You became a meme overnight after that episode, what has that been like for you?
“Appalance! You! Earn! Everything!” [laughs] You know what, that day, it feels like yesterday to me. I was going into that scene like, “Bitch, you got this girl!” As soon as Michelle was like, “No, that’s not it,” I was like “Opulence?” And then she was critiquing “earn” instead of “own,” oh my god [laughs]. I was like “Mercedes, you fucked it up, now you’re making fun of yourself and people are gonna laugh at you when this comes on TV.” But seeing all of the memes — I mean, Brooke Candy retweeted something about me. It was so amazing! I talked to Brooke Candy, and she was like, “Girl, I am so happy, I am in love with you, you’re amazing.” Like, oh my god! Brooke Candy? Girl!
That was pretty great. Plus, you are one of a select few queens who got her very own Adam Joseph remix! That’s huge!
I know, so you know I’ve been talking to him! There might be something in the works, you never know! When he contacted me, I was like, “Shut up.” Now, a lot of the queens are performing to that mix he did, girls are tagging me. It’s like … this is so much bigger than I thought it was gonna be. And it’s so good! [laughs]
On a more serious note, you got very real during the show about your experiences in life, between your stroke and your Muslim identity. What was it like for you, in the moment, deciding to be honest while the cameras were rolling?
Everywhere I go to, one thing that I don’t involve myself in is religion and politics. That’s the kind of thing that can erase friendships, family, and it just causes drama. So I choose not to be involved usually. So when they started talking about politics in episode three and it shifted to religion, I was out of there. Like, “Ok, it’s time for you to go Mercedes!” But I was not thinking about the fact that there was a camera there. When I walked away, I was like … that was a big mistake. I realized after, and that whole night I was processing it in my head. Like, you have to fix this. I don’t want people to think that I’m not proud of who I am.
It was an opportunity for me, actually, to talk about it and be a voice for a lot of gay Muslims out there. That it is okay to be who you are. You can have any religion and still follow your heart. What makes a difference? I was thinking, “I know there’s a little gay boy that’s Muslim who is out there watching Drag Race and who is scared to be himself.” I want them to know that it will be ok. You may lose family, but you will gain another family that will love and support you no matter what.
That must have been so difficult, being someone who avoids politics, having to perform in this very political challenge.
Trust, girl! [laughs] I do not follow the Trumps, I don’t know nothing about them. You know, they don’t like gay people and they don’t like Muslims, so I don’t follow them! So to have to play Ivanka, I was like, “Bitch, do your best.” But girl! I knew nothing about this girl! Ultimately it was cute and fun, it was fun making fun of them.
But you know who killed me? Miss Shuga Cain, when she walked out on that runway looking like Trump? That shit was so funny [laughs]. She is hilarious — when I saw that in the back, I literally said, “Shut the fuck up, you are not about to bring some Cheetos out onto the runway.” When she touched her faced, I was dead. Done. That’s it. [laughs]
So after being on the show, opening up on your heritage and having to engage in politics, do you see yourself getting more involved in the political side of drag?
Probably not politics, to be honest. Definitely more with religion, I want to be a voice for the Muslim community, and specifically the gay Muslim community. But as far as politics goes, I don’t know — that’s pretty tough! [laughs] I really don’t know that much about politics, but maybe! I can learn!