The engines have officially started, and with them, our first contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 has crossed their finish line.
The two-hour premiere episode of the now-MTV-helmed franchise saw a record number of queens (16 of them!) enter the work room for the first time, as they sized up their competition — in some cases, quite literally measuring the length of their wigs.
As has become custom in seasons past, the premiere challenge saw the queens vying against one another in an all-out talent show extravaganza. Thanks to her tae kwon do-chopping, duck-walking, comedy-fueled lip sync performance, Las Vegas star Anetra took home the very first challenge win of the season.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s premiere “alien queen” Irene DuBois found herself in the bottom after a less-than-stellar comedy tutorial for making ice water, as did Connecticut queen Amethyst following her underwhelming lip sync to Lisa Stansfield’s “All Around the World.” Facing off in a fiery lip sync to guest judge Ariana Grande’s hit single “7 Rings,” Amethyst eked out a victory, making DuBois the first eliminated queen of the season.
DuBois chatted with Billboard following the airing of the premiere about her time on the show, getting to meet Ariana Grande, joining the legendary sisterhood of the First Eliminated Queens, and the thrilling conclusion to the work room drama dubbed “40-Inch-Gate” by Twitter.
Irene, you did it, you premiered on Drag Race! How are you feeling after watching the episode?
Honestly, watching myself on television has probably been one of the most cringe-y moments of my entire life. Being knocked off first might have been the best thing that could’ve happened for me.
I was going to say, the First Eliminated Queens has become this almost mythical group to be a part of — so if there’s a good time to go, it’s first.
Not only am I now a part of a legendary group of girls — the PorkChops, if you will — but I don’t have to watch myself on TV anymore. [Laughs.] I will say, I have won more money than any other first out in history, so I will be taking that $2,500 and buying a finale outfit.
Well, Irene, I want to get the most important question of our interview out of the way up top —
I swear to God, if this is about the 40 inches, I’m going to lose my mind.
… Okay, but did you ever get to the bottom of how long Luxx’s wig was?
Look, I’m gonna say one thing, and then we’re going to put this issue to bed, for good — that wig was 32 inches long. Absolutely nothing against my sister Luxx, because here is what I have come to learn about Luxx; the laws of physics that guide the reality that the rest of us live in are not the same laws that govern the world of Luxx Noir London. Her reality is its own specific dimension, and in that dimension, that wig is 40 inches. I can’t take that away from her, I don’t have that power, I’m not a god.
If you ever manage to make it into Luxx’s world, you will see what she sees. For the rest of us out here, we can appreciate a 32-inch wig. It’s a beautiful wig, by the way, and she looks gorgeous in it. We don’t judge a wig’s value by its inches.
But I do appreciate that this ended up becoming a very real conversation on the show, because you are a very funny queen who uses playful shade to sort of bond with the girls around you — have you found that art is lost on more people now?
I think that we live in a culture where, rightfully so, we are very vigilant about making sure that people are not being taken down for things like weight, race, age, sexuality. That’s important. I think some people might swing the pendulum a little too far in that direction, and try saying that we can’t make a joke at anyone’s expense, period. Obviously that’s not true, I just like to make sure the jokes are at people’s expense and aimed towards things that they are in control of — things like their drag, the things they’ve made an active choice about. If it’s something you haven’t made a choice about, I’m not going to touch it.
I think I know how to read a room pretty well — just because people don’t like the jokes I’m telling doesn’t mean they’re offensive jokes, and that’s also important to keep in mind! Also, if you are racist or homophobic or transphobic and you think I’m funny, f–k off. I’m not making jokes for you.
There’s so much to talk about from the episode — let’s start with the big gag of Ariana Grande entering the work room dressed as Vivacious and then guest judging. What was you experience working with her as a guest judge like?
I have not met many celebrities at her level — she’s more than A-list at this point, she’s like A-A-list. She is maybe one of the most humble, down-to-earth, genuine people I have ever interacted with in my life. That person is exactly who she portrays, she has such true genuine appreciation for what it is that we’re doing, she made eye contact with all of us, she took the time to get to know us. She was on the work room on camera for probably, what, two minutes? She was talking to us for at least 15 minutes — so lovely, and it almost felt like she was more starstruck than we were.
It was also very clear, as you said, that she not only appreciated what you were doing, but had a very clear, deep understanding of how it works — both drag and Drag Race.
Oh, she fully gets it, and she loves it. She’s not just some average Drag Race watcher; you could tell that she really wanted to be a part of this world. Straight-A’s for Ms. Ariana.
Let’s talk about the talent show. I appreciated that you chose to take a risk in the talent show with a tutorial on making ice water — how much of you choosing to do the ice water bit was you trying to stand out from queens who were lip-syncing?
Oh, at least 100 percent, if not 200 percent. [Laughs.] I can lip-sync — I can’t lip-sync to “7 Rings” apparently, but I can lip-sync very well—
Well, hold on now, let’s be clear — that was a phenomenal Lip Sync For Your Life, and it felt like it could have gone either way for a good two-thirds of it. You did great.
Well, thank you. There were plenty of songs they gave us on our iPods that we could have done, and it wouldn’t matter who I was up against, I could have sent them packing. That song was not one of them. But all of that is to say, I am a lip sync artist, it is what I do in my act five shows a week.
This moment is the one time where I get the choice to do something other than a lip-sync. So, why would I choose to do the thing that I do all of the time? I mean, now I know why, because the other option sent my ass home, so maybe a lip sync would have worked. I just thought that I’d get points for originality, but they were not awarding those points on that night.
You mentioned on the runway that this is normally a much longer bit that had to be cut down to fit the show. What were some of the parts of that act that you wish you had kept?
I was shocked that I was able to get as much in as I did, to be honest. Part of what makes the act work is that it’s a slow burn — something like making a glass of ice water should take about 15 seconds, and I usually draw it out to about five minutes, and there is a lot of comedy that comes with that. There’s also several bits about where you can find things like water or ice, and with those asides you can kind of convey the tone of the piece and sort of illuminate my perspective. You add little jokes in like, “Make sure your water doesn’t contain lead,” “make sure you get some ice before this planet doesn’t have any left,” on and on.
It kind of reminded me of a performance from the incredible Chicago queen Aunty Chan, where she also just takes a very simple concept and milks it — instead of lip syncing, she plays an instrumental Christmas song, and rings a bell like a member of the Salvation Army until people start tipping her.
I have seen the act, I love Aunty Chan. That idea of breaking the mold of what a drag performance is going to be is what I’m interested in doing with my art. That’s why I’m such a fan of Aunty Chan’s, to be honest. Whether or not it got me sent home, I am very proud to have brought a piece of that to the main stage.
Before you go, Irene, what can fans hope to see from you in the near future?
Generally, I am a queen who is very focused on look, I put a lot of work into the visual aspect of drag. I would encourage folks to make sure they’re tuned to my Instagram, because I will be dropping my looks for the show — I will say, if you liked the first runway, you will be obsessed with the rest of them.