Interview With America's Next Drag Superstar, Bianca Del Rio
This week Drag Race fans watched as RuPaul crowned America's Next Drag Superstar. After a fierce season with a three very different finalists — Adore Delano, Bianco Del Rio, and Courtney Act — it was finally revealed that Bianca Del Rio would wear the crown. Gay.net spoke to the star performer the morning after she learned the news, which she did while sitting beside Act and Delano at the Official Finale Viewing Party at the Tropicana Las Vegas Casino Hotel.
Gay.net: If you could compare the sweet taste of victory to any food or dessert, what would it be?
Bianca Del Rio: I’m from New Orleans, and there’s this thing called pralines. … That’s what it’s like. It’s really sweet and chunky. And you’re gonna regret it once you ate it, but it’s quite magical and it’s full of calories, so I love it.
What will be your first act as America’s Drag Superstar?
The first act today is getting on a plane and going back to New York! That’s my first act. I haven’t left the hotel yet. So it hasn’t clicked yet. But tomorrow… I’ll be at Therapy in New York, because unlike those queens, I’ve kept all my New York gigs at the same rate, and I’m ready to go back and be a part of it. ... I’m excited to get back to New York and relish in the madness. It’s been a long journey for me. It’s been almost a year since all of this started, so it’s “Free at last! Free at last!”… I haven’t even looked at my phone. I have 840-something text messages I haven’t even looked at. I haven’t been on Facebook yet. So I’m looking forward to being at the airport and having a moment to sit back and seeing what everyone has to say, and relish in it for a minute.
We all saw your coronation at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on television. But you were sitting beside Courtney Act and Adore Delano in a Las Vegas hotel when you found out the news. Can you set the scene for us? What happened?
It was a long day! We start early with press and red carpets and photo shoots and promo stuff, very glamorous. ... But the great thing was getting to watch the show. I spent the past two months watching the show at the Ritz in New York City with over 100 people on Mondays. And I was finding myself, as I was watching it with them, having to go home and rewatch the show to see what really happened. So it was great last night. I’m on a couch with Adore and Courtney, who are brilliantly talented performers, and we all stepped back and said whoever was to win, we were OK with it. Despite what other people say on Twitter, “Team Adore,” “Team Courtney,” “Team Bianca,” you didn’t really have to choose between us. Several people were very adamant about [who] should win … but if we don’t dislike each other, why is everyone else doing it? We all present different qualities, so it was great to be there with those two. And just sitting back and watching it with 1,000 cameras on you, it was kind of surreal, you know? Because we all experienced it together. So if I had to choose, they were the best people to be with. But it was probably the most relaxed and calm setting I’ve been in, in the past year.
Viewers didn’t see this at home, but there was an alternate ending filmed for this season, in which both you and Adore would have shared the crown. Were you surprised to hear this possibility during the show’s taping? Afterward, did you and Adore discuss the possibility of sharing the title?
Once you go on the show, your mind goes everywhere. And for me, it went … What if you win, what if you don’t? … The thing is, we weren’t privy to any information prior to it. We knew that they were going to crown each of us and film it, but yeah, we’re in front of an audience of 1,600 people that you can’t fucking trust. And I think they were trying all options. But it did throw us while we were there. Like, I can’t believe this is happening! Had it happened, I wouldn’t have been upset at all. But it’s one of those things. You just never know. And even though we filmed it, Ru said it countless times, it’s her decision to make. And she’s a bad bitch. She ain’t worrying about what you think. She’s gonna do what she wants. I think that’s quite obvious. So you just didn’t know. Even if you felt that you were deserving or you did this or did that statistically, they’re a great group of people. And if I had to choose, I would rather be up there with Courtney and Adore than Gia Gunn, for Christ’s sake. … So there are people who are worthy and brilliantly talented, [and] I would gladly share it with all of them.
What will you bring to the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar that we haven’t seen before?
I was worried, I think initially, well, not worried, but … concerned, will they get me? Will they understand me? Will they get my approach to things? And they were beyond kind. World of Wonder is an amazing operation, a very well-run machine that produces the show, and I was just grateful that they understood me and allowed me to be me. I didn’t know. It’s two things that happen: It’s a competition and it’s a reality television show. And you really don’t get an opportunity to explain yourself. Well, I can sit back and go, “This is what I do. This is what’s it’s about,” or whatever, but it’s hit or miss, you’re in or you’re out. But they were able to capture what I do and treat me kindly. For that, I’m eternally grateful. But what am I going to bring? Anything anyone else has done, I’m going to do the opposite. I’m not doing an album. Don’t worry. I’m not going to do some shitty song and some video and act like I’m a rock star. Not at all. So I’d like to travel, and I’m working on a one-man show that I’ll be doing in the fall that I will be doing in a cabaret setting, a theater setting. And I have an independent film that I’m working on with a friend of mine called Hurricane Bianca. And it’s a film about this guy whose a down-on-his-luck schoolteacher and gets fired for being gay, because people don’t realize … you can still be fired for being gay. And this guy gets fired, to get revenge on the town, he returns as this hateful drag queen, which is Bianca. [Laughs] And Bianca comes back to wreak havoc on all these people. So it’s a comedy. It’s not a period piece. It’s a comedy, and I’m hoping to film that by next summer.
Going on a reality competition like Drag Race can be a double-edged sword for an artist. You’re promised greater visibility, but you are also asked to sacrifice a degree of privacy and perhaps compromise who you are as a performer in order to “play the game.” Was this risk worth it?
I knew going into it … like I said, you don’t have a chance to explain yourself to America. By no means was it a question of me holding back. For us, it’s 12- to 14-hour days. You’re watching a 40-minute version of it. So while I was there, I thought what I thought. … Granted, things were heightened, going from 0 to 100 in a room [during taping], because you’re not watching everything in between. But I had to accept all responsibility with that. It’s very hypocritical of you to go, “Oh, well, they didn’t portray me in a positive light …” Not at all. I signed up for this, and I knew what I was getting into. [You] basically sign over your life to say, “Here it is.” But I knew that no matter what I said or did, if I did the challenges to the best of my ability — that was what going to get me to the next challenge. It wasn’t so much as basking in glory and going, “Hey! I won this! I’m finished!” … I took every compliment and critique with a grain of salt … [You tell yourself,] “You won that challenge? Great. Move on. What’s next?” Because you are kind of thrown to the wolves while you’re there. You have no idea what’s going to happen. And the only thing you’re in control of is yourself.
The Normal Heart is premiering on HBO next week, which follows Larry Kramer’s lightly fictionalized account of the AIDS crisis in New York. Do you think it’s important that people, particularly younger gay men, see this film?
Of course I think it’s important. As a gay man, we live in a world where there’s so much information that’s out there. And many people have asked me, “Well, who’s your drag inspiration?” or “What has brought you to this point?” I’m like, through the magic of life now, you have YouTube. Go to YouTube and find out who Charles Pierce is. Find out who Varla Jean Merman is. Find out who Coco Peru is. Sit back and watch Bunny, Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine, all these people that have been there before all of us and did and have these amazing careers without Drag Race. But know your shit. I think that a lot of people … they see something working for someone else, and say, Oh, well, I should do that,” or that’s the mold. Many of the contestants I’ve been with on the show can say, “Ru, I want to follow in your footsteps.” But you know, you ain’t gonna follow in shit, because Ru ain’t going nowhere. It’s like, she’s still kind of doing what she’s doing. And I think that’s what people lose sight of. There’s not going to be another RuPaul. There’s not going to be another Lady Bunny. All of this is what you make of it. And roll with it … and be yourself, which is crazy. … You need to know. You need to know about Stonewall. You need to know who Judy Garland is — all this stuff I think is lost because they know Rihanna’s next song, but they have no idea [about] anything that’s important. … Do your research. I love books. I love movies. I love documentaries. I’m all about it.
There’s been a lot of controversy about words within the drag and transgender communities. Do you think the t-word is ever acceptable to use?
Well, I have a sense of humor. And I have friends who are transsexuals. and they have a different path in life. Because they’re friends with me, they obviously have a sense of humor. And they get it. I get it. Did I find the whole “She-mail” thing offensive for me? Not so much. A friend of mine [and I] were discussing it recently, and we looked at it as a play on the word “email” as opposed to being hateful to one community. But I think my issue with it, and it’s something that I said before, is one of the people who were complaining about it, Carmen Carrera, I thought what’s interesting is, she’s complaining about this word, which has been on the show for six seasons. And the only reason we know who Carmen Carrera is, is because of the show. So I got to sit back for a minute and think about what you’re discussing. Like, it’s not that serious. It’s a drag show on Logo. We dress up. We pretend we’re puppets. … Lighten the fuck up. If you want to watch something serious, you watch Meet the Press or some documentary on Netflix. It’s not that serious. You gotta laugh about it. It’s not that big of a deal to me. And I don’t think the show is trying to be hateful to any community whatsoever.
How can the drag and transgender communities work together to achieve common goals?
Everybody does drag for different reasons. Everybody has their path. So the thing, I think, is acceptance. You gotta sit back and go, “Girl, you’re doing what you’re doing.” I’ve been in bars doing shows in the middle of the night, and people [say], “Well, I don’t like it. I find it offensive. I find it wrong.” You’re in a bar on Monday night at 2 a.m. Why don’t you ask yourself, “What the fuck are you doing here?” If you’re here for my serious political views, you’re insane. It’s a drag show on a Monday night in New York City. … [Have] a sense of humor. I’m not curing cancer by any means. I’m grateful for this opportunity. But it’s entertainment. And we all bring something different to the table. So it’s not so much to say there’s a right way or a wrong way, and that you have to do Drag Race to be important or it’s the end of the world. But I didn’t plan to do it five years ago. I’m shocked that it worked out. And we move and try new things. Acceptance is the biggest thing there is.
Why did the drag queen cross the road?
Because there was a trick on the other side. [And] lashes were on sale.