VH1
Nolan Feeney
January 25, 2018 AT 01:58 PM EST

Oh, honeeeeeey. It wouldn’t be right to have another season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars without Trixie Mattel. After competing on the show’s seventh season in 2015, she’s built one of the most successful post-Drag Race careers of any non-winner — if not any contestant, period. Her YouTube talk show with fellow season 7 alum Katya became a full-fledged television show, The Trixie & Katya Show, on Viceland last year. She also released a folk album, Two Birds, that cracked the Top 10 of Billboard’s independent and Heatseeker album charts. (Okay, so we’re not exactly dealing with Taylor Swift-level numbers here, but the market for drag queen folk musicians is only getting bigger!) So whether she outlasts her other competitors this season — Aja, BenDeLaCreme, Chi Chi DeVayne, Kennedy Davenport, Milk, Morgan McMichaels, Shangela, and Thorgy Thor — is almost beside the point. Act like you’re America’s next drag superstar, and you just might become one anyway.

“The limitations of how well you did on Drag Race, you have to believe they do not apply to you,” Mattel says of life after the show. “Nobody would have thought three years ago that I’d get to do what I do now. Except I saw it, and I decided to make everyone else see it.” Below, Mattel fills EW in on why she’s back to compete for the crown, how drag has evolved over the course of the show, and her Grammy aspirations.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to compete again?
TRIXIE MATTEL: Money. I have money, but spending RuPaul’s money is a lot more special. I have expenses: I have to buy rosé, I have to buy a new Rubik’s Cube because I solved mine. Some people say that Drag Race is about glory and immortalizing yourself in the Hall of Fame. For me, it’s about shaking RuPaul down for her money.

How do you think you’ve changed since your first season?
I got a lot more confident. I always say you can be great at drag and not great at Drag Race, and you can be great at Drag Race and not great at drag. Since my season I’ve had success on the music charts with my album. I have my own TV show. I tour the world. Before, I was like, “I hope I’m wonderful!” This time I’m like, “I’ve been wonderful, and this is going to be a showcase for that.” The judges may not see it, though. I’m strange! I have a weird sense of humor! I look crazy!

Do you feel more understood now, though? Your unique makeup got a lot of attention during your first season.
Nowadays my makeup isn’t even a conversation. People are like, “That’s just her face.” Through my YouTube series and my TV series, people have come to respect my sense of humor. And with my music, people have been surprised by this other world of talent I have. I’ve learned to take risks, because every time I take a risk it pays off. The first time [on Drag Race], if anything, I was trying to look softer and play the game I thought a winner would play. But you’re never going to win if you don’t do what you would do. You’re never going to win if you do what you think the judges want.

You’ve said before that the “real” Drag Race doesn’t start until after the show. What do you mean by that?
Anybody can be fierce for the four months that you’re on television, but it takes more ingenuity to get out into the real world and look at the game pieces you start with and be like, “Okay, how am I going to get from here to there? What do I have in my arsenal to do that?” It’s more about being a business person than being an artist sometimes. And the limitations of how well you did on Drag Race, you have to believe they do not apply to you. I lost my season twice. Nobody would have thought three years ago that I’d get to do what I do now. Except I saw it, and I decided to make everyone else see it. I’m very proud of my career. A lot of people get their career from the judges of Drag Race saying they’re great. I had to go and build that reputation from the ground up.

The new All Stars season is the third in a little more than five years. Why do you think it works so well?
It’s the grad school of drag; if you liked these artists as undergrads, you’ll love them as doctoral students! Or, if you understand Pokémon, you have your Squirtles, and eventually you want to see them evolve into Wartortles and Blastoises.

Drag Race alumni are having more success than ever on TV and in fashion: you have your Viceland show with Katya, Alaska was on Scared Famous, Courtney Act is on Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K., Violet Chachki is walking in runway shows. Why is this happening now?
People are starting to view us less as drag queens and more as artists. We’re presenting ourselves as celebrities and not as props. We’re not just pretty things and ornaments. We have gifts, and we probably have more gifts than normal celebrities because we have to do it all. I’ve been on shows where real celebrities show up with a team of 15 people and everyone does everything for them: hair, makeup, going through jokes, telling them what to say. We show up carrying suitcases and put ourselves in drag. People are starting to respect the work involved.

Also, with Viceland, it’s primarily a network for straight guys. But people are starting to realize that watching a show with drag queens on it doesn’t make you gay. That’s crazy. If you watch Sex and the City, that doesn’t make you a woman! Katya and I have always said with our show, it has to be funny. It’s a talk show, but we’re dressed up. The comedy and the music is the candy bar, and the drag is the candy bar wrapper.

Were there particular queens you were hoping would be on your All Stars season?
I thought Ongina would be there. I hoped Darienne Lake would be there. I thought Kim Chi would be there. I think they asked a lot of people, and a lot of people declined for their own reasons. I don’t know why people say no. I don’t know the mentality of whom they cast and why they choose them. But there were people where I was like, “Of course this person is there.” I knew a Shangela would be there.

Did anyone surprise you?
Yeah, I was surprised BenDeLaCreme was there, because she’s garbage. I’m kidding! She’s sitting right here next to me. I was happy they had some throwbacks in there, people like Morgan McMichaels [from season 2, which aired in 2010]. Morgan will be introduced to some viewers for the first time, and I think that’s important.

It’s interesting to see how much the look of the queens has changed from the early seasons to now.
People used to fully wear [regular] clothing on Drag race! They used to wear sweaters and denim capris! They’d wear a sensible cork wedge!

What drove that change, besides the show simply being on the air?
I think people used to be impressed by drag because they didn’t know what they were looking at. But now because of this show, people know about padding and contouring and tucking. Thorgy [Thor] and I always say that you don’t do drag for the audience, you kinda do it for other drag queens. Just like how they say women don’t wear makeup for men, they wear it for other women? Whether we like to admit it or not, we are always trying to one-up each other and impress each other. With this show, we see what’s done and are always trying to wrack our brains and out-do what’s on television. Because now audiences are so critical of drag. Jinkx Monsoon says watching Drag Race doesn’t make you an expert on drag, it makes you a fan of Drag Race.

I’m guilty of that sometimes, having rewatched so many seasons in the past few months.
It’s fine! We watch American Idol and judge people’s singing. We watch Project Runway and judge people’s fashion. It’s the nature of it. A lot of Drag Race queens are like, “I don’t like all the negative comments and critiquing!” But honestly, that’s what a show like this is about. It’s about audiences being encouraged to discuss with one another what they like or didn’t like. I don’t have a problem with negative comments. It’s part of the fun of it.

I was really hoping your album was going to get nominated for a Grammy this year. How do we make that happen?
Oh my God, wouldn’t that be wonderful? I applied for consideration and didn’t make it, but that’s okay. My album Two Birds did really well, and this new album coming out is called One Stone. Get it? Two birds, one stone? I’m gay — we’re very into jokes and being clever. So One Stone comes out this season, and I’m hoping with the momentum of Drag Race and with more eyes on my work, we can snag one.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.

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