Warning: This story contains major spoilers about RuPaul’s Drag Race. Read at your own risk!
Yes, you have to be able to walk in stilettos, sew a sickening runway outfit, and land at least one joke during Snatch Game to impress the judges; but there’s one Drag Race rule — spoken at the tail end of every episode, just before two unlucky queens lip synch for their lives — that mustn’t be broken: “Don’t f— it up.”
Sadly, Valentina, widely seen season 9’s frontrunner until Friday’s episode, during which she became its latest casualty, didn’t heed the advice.
“I f—ed it up,” the Los Angeles native tells EW of what’s sure to be remembered as season 9’s most shocking installment yet, which saw Valentina squaring off against Nina Bo’Nina Brown in the bottom two following their comical (yet no less haphazard) attempt at creating a sitcom pilot as part of this week’s main challenge. “I didn’t know the [lip synch] song!”
As evidenced by countless queens in the past, not knowing the lyrics to the lip synch track isn’t always the final nail in one’s Drag Race coffin. And it might not have been for Valentina, either, if she’d tried a little harder to mask her shortcomings — just not so literally, as she donned a lace mask as part of her (otherwise killer) runway outfit, a move that forced Mama Ru to halt the track and scold her for obscuring her lips.
“Valentina, this is a lip synch for your life. We need to see your lips. Take that thing off of your mouth,” Ru clapped. When she refused, the Emmy winner’s blood seemed to boil. “It’s a lip synch. What part of that do you not understand?”
“In that moment, I did deserve to be in the bottom. I remember feeling in a state of shock and it was something that I undoubtedly could not get myself out of,” Valentina says of her predicament, though she’s not ready to throw in the towel on drag altogether. “This is only the very beginning. I’m so very blessed to have lived this experience to catapult me to have such a huge following… This was my moment to be discovered. My ultimate dream and goal moving forward is to become the face of drag in all of Latin America!”
Read on for EW’s full interview with Valentina, where she dishes on her disastrous lip-synch, and why her Latina-centric artistry is vital at a time when she says members of her community are being targeted as “criminals and rapists.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: People had you pegged to win this thing! Were you as shocked as everyone else at your elimination?
VALENTINA: In that moment, I did deserve to be in the bottom. I remember feeling in a state of shock and it was something that I undoubtedly could not get myself out of. That, honestly, put me in a position to be sent home. They had no other choice. I was not delivering, because I, myself, did not feel the power in me to deliver because I was in a state of shock.
For eliminations, it seems like the judges tend to consider queens’ performances throughout the whole season, not just the final lip synch. Since you’ve been killing it, why don’t you think they did that for you?
That would be me trying to answer a question based on how other people feel. I can only take responsibility for what I feel and what I think. I had a great time being on the show, and I think every single week leading up to this episode, I was thriving, and I did great. I just got caught in this moment. It’s okay; I can live with that.
Tell me about your mouthpiece. You really weren’t moving your mouth at all under that piece of cloth. Why did you not take it off at the beginning of the lip synch?
I didn’t know the song!
How did that feel, then, knowing you’d essentially pissed RuPaul off enough that he had to scold you?
The only moment I ever felt anything was when Ru stopped the music and raised his voice. That was the moment when I was almost awakened from my state of shock. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was in a real state of shock and I couldn’t even feel. It’s hard for me to remember, to be honest.
Having the benefit of hindsight, do you regret anything?
I can only move forward learning from this experience. It’s almost as if I’m going to self-sabotage myself to take myself back to a moment that happened many months ago and to doubt myself and say I should have done this and should have done that. No, I’m living this experience now, and I can learn so much from that. It’s part of the human experience. Everybody’s had that moment in their life when they’ve had everything they ever wanted in front of them, and all they have to do is go get it, but they just f— up, and I f—ed it up.
What have you learned from the experience, then?
I must apply myself, even when I have no energy. I must find some sort of magic within me no matter what, and push through at all costs for what I believe in and for what I love. I was not prepared, and I’m a very prepared person. I’m a very strategized person, and in that moment I lost all control, so for moments like that I’ve learned to embrace my perfectionistic qualities and to see them more as an asset, to make sure that I’m always prepared… and to always live in the moment and realize what I have in front of me.
It’s interesting that one of Michelle’s critiques for your performance in the challenge was that you actually seemed unprepared. Did you get any inclination that you were filming that bad of a pilot?
On that set, it was a really fun time. Me and Nina Bo’Nina Brown had a great time. The whole production crew was laughing. I find, perhaps, it was more comical in the sense that they were laughing at us and not with us.
You actually haven’t been doing drag for as long as some of these other queens, right? Why do you think it comes so natural to you?
It’s my love and passion for the arts. I’ve been studying performing arts since I was 11 years old. The stage is a natural place for me. I also studied fashion design, I’ve been a stylist, and I’ve done some modeling… so all these things that I studied… it’s all injected into Valentina. Although I might not have the experience as a drag queen… I have my years of love and passion for the stage, and there’s nothing I’d rather be than an artist. My lack of experience be thrown out the window because I’m experienced in the arts. My ultimate goal was to always be a superstar. Through drag I can be the most powerful version of myself… it doesn’t matter if I have the experience, because I have the passion.
Where would you like to see your drag career go from here?
This is only the very beginning. I’m so very blessed to have lived this experience to catapult me to have such a huge following… This was my moment to be discovered. My ultimate dream and goal moving forward is to become the face of drag in all of Latin America!
Have you received a big response from that community?
I have a specific kind of fan that is very protective of me because I, to them, represent something in the media that’s not really in existence. I represent Latina excellence when, in a difficult time when we’ve been criticized for being criminals and rapists, and I come out of nowhere and shine light on my culture, showing how glamorous it can be to be Latino.
Growing up, I idolized Selena because she was Chicana and beautiful and talented and humble, and I could identify with her. When she passed away, I felt that was taken away from me, and I couldn’t look up to anybody else. During these times, I don’t know who else is representing the real culture. Not just being Latino and being successful, but using all of my culture to empower not only myself, but all of them, so they identify with me and they believe in me because they can relate.
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.