'Drag Race': RuPaul crowns Jinkx Monsoon America's Drag Superstar
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched the season 5 finale RuPaul’s Drag Race, stop reading now. For everyone else, click through for the on-the-scene scoop from last night’s New York City finale party, plus an interview with this year’s winner.
If things had gone differently, there could have been a riot on Jinkx Monsoon’s hands at last night’s RuPaul’s Drag Race finale. Judging from the packed and opinionated crowd at New York’s XL Nightclub, Cabaret & Lounge, “Seattle’s premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen” was the heavy favorite to win season 5. Indeed she did, besting ghoul glamazon Alaska and big-and-beautiful Roxxxy Andrews. Far and away, Jinkx had the cheers of the masses on her side, though Alaska had a strong contingent among the audience, including her partner (and last year’s Drag Race champ) Sharon Needles. Roxxxy? Not so much. Let’s just say, I might have worried the audience would tar and feather the mean queen if not for all the wasted feathers. As it were, Roxxxy was never in danger, the fan favorite took the title, and Stonewall 2.0 was avoided. According to Jinkx, who spoke to EW over the phone this morning, there was plenty more going on backstage…
“The three of us were sitting and watching the show together,” she said. “We found out who won at the same time as America did,” and Jinkx was just as relieved to hear her name as the milling fans. That said, “We were all in tears.”
Just moments after the announcement, it was “The show must go on!” as the contestants had one last chance to strut their stuff. Lessons learned from those performances: Serena ChaCha can work some serious hairography, drag queens will never quit Nicki Minaj and Rihanna (witness: Serena’s Roman Reloaded mash-up, Vivienne Pinay’s lipsynch to “Fly,” and Coco Montrese’s stomping mix of Rihanna tracks), less is more if you’re Honey Mahogany, and if you want carnie queen realness the first and last option is Ivyyyyyyyyy Winterrrrrrrs.
Though mostly lip-synched, the performances did feature a few live performances to keep the mix. “As drag queens, you constantly have to be coming up with, ‘What’s the thing no one’s ever seen before?'” says Jinkx. “In any kind of performance field, there are always going to be 101 people doing the exact same thing as you. You always constantly have to be thinking of, ‘What’s going to shock my audience the most?’ Nowadays, Drag Race shows how fantastic and amazing drag queens can be, so audiences won’t sit through a boring show anymore. You have to keep people entertained. Whether that’s singing live or juggling knives and breathing fire or wearing nothing but, like, some dental floss and a pasty…” And, yes, that’d be Ivy slinging those knives and Honey in the “dental floss.”
As for the final three, Roxxxy delivered a surprisingly crowd-lifting lip-synch to 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” IIn stark relief to that pageant-queen polish, Alaska took the stage in garbage bag couture that put “punked-out” attendees of last night’s Met Gala to shame. Tears streaked her face as she growled a bitterly ironic rendition of Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” before literally being dragged off the stage like… well… yesterday’s trash. Jinkx admitted that her good friend “stole the show for a second, and I completely supported it. Why not? If you’re on that stage in your trash bag gown, you go for every last minute you can get.” She did, however, say that Alaska’s eyeliner dribbles weren’t just performance art: “The tears were real. What I love about Alaska is that she works with what she’s got going on. If she’s crying, she’ll cry, she’ll let her makeup run, and she’ll go out on stage and do the most fantastic, tearful number that she can do.”
Jinkx, of course, delivered the night’s final performance as America’s newest Drag Superstar. She had narrowed down her coronation anthem to three diva-approved contenders: Evita‘s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” Cabaret‘s “Maybe This Time,” and “I’m the Greatest Star” from Funny Girl. In the end, she went with “Star” because “it’s certainly a song that I felt spoke to my experience on Drag Race. Funny Girl, the story of Fanny Brice, that’s something I can definitely relate to.” Plus, she added with a laugh, “‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ was just a little too much for a drunk audience at 12:30 [a.m.].”
Of course, not every element of Jinkx’s victory night was so well planned — her beaded champagne coronation gown, for example. “I normally have all my stuff designed by J. Von Stratton in Seattle, but I kind of totally forgot that I needed a dress for the crowning,” Jinkx confessed. “When I got into New York two days ago, Ivy and I got drunk, and she took me dress shopping — I can’t even tell you where it came from or who designed it. I just bought the first dress that spoke to me, and it ended up being perfect.”
NEXT: Looking back on the season and an epiphany… in a dumpster?
Performing since age 16, Jinkx has come a long way since puttung herself through college by working as a janitor. Ironically, it was a more recent trash-y moment when Jinkx realized her potential in earnest. “I didn’t really fully understand where I was or what I was doing until the third day there when we were digging through the dumpsters [to find materials to design our runway look],” she recalled. “That’s the first moment it clicked in for me that I was in the biggest competition for any drag queen.”
A relative newcomer in a workroom full of pros, Jinkx kept her aspirations contained to surviving until Drag Race‘s signature Snatch Game. Once there, she blew the judges away with her uncanny impression of Little Edie Beale from Grey Gardens. Her final breakthrough came during a top-five challenge when she had to design a drag look for a military veteran. Her partner Dave — the oldest veteran in the challenge, who’s also living with AIDS — “gave me that last boost,” said Jinkx. “He told me he saw something really special in me, and he told me all these stories about how he was fighting for equal rights and the gay rights movement. He gave me all the motivation and all the spirit that I needed to carry me through that last stretch. That’s when I really had the fire under me to win. When I made it into the top 5, I thought, ‘There’s no excuse for me not to go for it now. I have to try to win this thing.'”
And so she did. But there’s no rest for the narcoleptic. Next up, Jinkx heads back to Seattle to play Velma Von Tussle in a concert production of Hairspray. Later this summer, she’ll return to New York for a limited engagement of The Vaudevillians, the one-act musical comedy she cowrote with Richard Andriessen about two Vaudeville stars cryogenically frozen then thawed out to perform for modern audiences.
From trash to treasured, “I can’t think of a more parallel Cinderella story,” said Jinkx. Before Drag Race, where she was so often dismissed as nothing but a comedy queen, Jinkx admitted, “No one had ever asked me, ‘Can you be a glamorous, gorgeous beauty queen?’ When they threw the challenge down, all I wanted to do was rise to the challenge. Now I look at that, and I’m thankful for it. Who knows where I would be if I hadn’t gone on Drag Race and gotten that kick in the rear to step it up to the next level? Now that I have, I’m loving every moment of it.”