RuPaul's Drag Race star Asia O'Hara apologizes for shocking finale stunt: 'It wasn't a careless act'
Warning! This post contains major spoilers regarding Thursday’s grand finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10. Read ahead at your own risk!
From the charmingly incorrect side of facts regarding the history of British linguistics to the deepest corners of North Korea, Asia O’Hara dragged her massive charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent (with fabulous gusto) far and wide across each episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10. Heading into the last episode of the season as one of four finalists vying for the crown, the 35-year-old knew she had to craft a legacy-making lip-sync that would dutifully cap her time on the program—which included producing some of the most jaw-dropping runway looks in its decade-long history. Thus, she enlisted a squad of winged backup dancers to help her secure the Drag Race throne, hiding a treasure trove of butterflies in cocoon-like pods that she hoped would soar high above the crowd upon their release. But not everything went according to plan, as the butterflies — and, as a result, O’Hara’s set — failed to take flight the way she’d intended, resulting in a fourth-place finish for the fan-favorite queen.
In the aftermath of her shocking exit, EW caught up with O’Hara to reflect on her time on the show, tease what she would have done on the finale stage if she’d made it to the next round, and clarify a few misconceptions about the performance (let it be known that no butterflies were harmed in the making of this lip-sync, but O’Hara’s ego took a bit of a blow that night, instead). Read on for the full conversation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your dress and the look for this performance was so right, but the performance didn’t quite turn out the way you’d planned. How did you come up with this idea and what ultimately went wrong?
ASIA O’HARA: All four of us went in thinking this was the most important performance of our careers. At that point, we’d seen each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we all wanted to prepare as much as possible for whoever we ended up lip-syncing against and feeling confident we could present something better than them. My thought process going into it was: I’m considerably older than the other competitors. I’m the only one who’s not really a dancer or who doesn’t do kicks or flips and whatnot, so I thought, “Well what can I do in the part of the song where I’d normally do a split or something?” I wanted to create a moment that was unforgettable, a moment that people would think, “Oh my God, that’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.” The competitor in me is always thinking about how I can eliminate doubts in anyone’s mind that I’m the best person on the stage in the moment.
In my head, the butterfly release was going to work out perfectly. I didn’t share my ideas with anyone — including my boyfriend — because I’ve learned that it’s hard to explain to people what I see in my head, and also I wanted it to be a surprise to everyone and I wanted a genuine reaction. It just didn’t work out. A lot of people create pieces of art or movies they think are going to be blockbusters, but they flop. So, this was my blockbuster I devoted a lot of energy into that just did not turn out the way I thought about it in my head.
How did you land on using live butterflies, though, and where did you get them?
It’s actually very common! Many people do it at weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and bridal showers all the time. So that part wasn’t difficult. I got the butterflies from a place in Florida that specializes in butterfly releases for specific events. Ironically, finding out how to release these butterflies out of my costume was actually the easier part.
Do you know specifically what went wrong though? Why didn’t they fly?
I used what are called Painted Lady butterflies, and going west across the continental divide, they have to be kept cool — basically in hibernation or asleep — so they don’t stress. They need to warm up to a certain temperature in order to fly away. I, of course, rehearsed it at home several times and it worked, but [the finale was] a different place and a different environment, and I don’t think the contraptions were warm enough to wake the butterflies up. But, as they warmed up in the stage lights during the break, they started to fly away!
What was going through your mind when you opened the first cone and the butterfly didn’t fly out? I could read it on your face, that the realization that it wasn’t going to work might have hindered the rest of your performance.
I knew when Kameron picked me that this was my moment to outperform her. She was, as people call it, the lip-sync assassin of the season. We’d all discussed with one another that nobody was going to be upset with who picked whom, so when she picked me I was like, okay, this has to work because I’m not going to be able to outperform her with just a performance. So, I opened the first one and the butterflies kind of looked at me like, is it that time? I thought there was going to be a warning! In that moment I knew, okay, it’s not going to go the way I planned and that it was probably my last hurrah. But, I continued to open the other three, thinking the ones on my chest were maybe going to be warmer. It just was not the case, but you know, I wasn’t going to just stand there and fold my arms and say I was done. I did my best. And to be quite honest with you, after opening the first one the rest is kind of a blur.
Are there any misconceptions people might have about this moment you want to clear up?
The only thing I think people may not understand is that a lot of research and time and energy went into it, and I really did do my best to present it in the most professional way possible. I traveled to a different state several times. It wasn’t just that I went outside and found a bunch of butterflies and stuck them inside my costume. I was very careful and took a lot of time to research it… it wasn’t a careless act.
I have the utmost respect for everything that draws breath and would never purposely hurt a butterfly or any animal. I rehearsed with a professional company that specializes in safe butterfly releases and the moment was intended to be an amazing display of optimism as well as a surprise for everyone involved, including the audience, production, and the network. As you know, however, that moment did not go as planned and I would like to publicly offer the entire world my deepest apology.
Did this moment serve as a teaching moment for you?
Several times when I’ve had a platform in the LGBT community, I’ve donated financially to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Dallas. Whenever I feel upset and need something to focus on, that’s what I do. Some friends of mine in Dallas are collectively donating over the 100 hours to the ASPCA’s Dallas chapter over the next year. Regardless of how people feel about it, it’s important for me to know I presented something that may not be viewed in a positive light because people are rightfully sensitive to animal rights or insect rights. So I’m partnering with them, and me and a group of people are going to be donating 100 hours of community service to them over the next year, which actually works out perfect because that chapter is one of the top five in the country that’s in need of hours throughout the summer.
Do you regret any part of this performance?
In hindsight, I do regret trying to go so far above and beyond anything I’d ever done that I created a no-win scenario for myself. I do regret that part of it. I don’t regret the result. I think that the right person is going to win, and I had regrets on the way I was eliminated, but I don’t regret being eliminated against Kameron or seeing the other three in the top.
What was that immediate moment after the elimination like for you?
To be honest with you it was embarrassing… In the moment, I deserved my elimination. I was more embarrassed for what had been such a flop, live there in front of so many people. That was not a reaction to the elimination, that didn’t phase me. When the lip sync was over I was completely embarrassed for what I had just presented. The elimination was more like a relief, like, I could finally get off the stage… it was more of an, “Asia, you should have known better than to rely on something that was so temperamental.” The pressure of needing to do well in that moment overshadows normal judgment… the second I saw the first one not take flight, it was like, I should have known not to gamble such a large opportunity on something as temperamental as a butterfly.
That’s why people love you so much: You do think outside the box and you took a risk. What would you have done if you made it to the final lip sync?
I would have won! [Laughs] One of those top four girls that was in the dressing area with me after it was all said and done, we hugged one another and I was congratulatory to the three that made it to the final round. She told me: “Girl, while you were up there I clocked your gig for the final lip sync and I’m glad you got eliminated because I don’t think I would have been able to beat that.” I’ve tried not to think about that and not to live in my could have, should have, would have, but I think I probably spent 50 times as much time, energy, and money working on the lip sync I didn’t get to do.
What was it?
I’d rather not say because I’m hoping nobody does it in the next few weeks. I was going to try to do it this summer during some pride events. It’s still cutting-edge, so I hope nobody else does it. I need to find a way to showcase it. I definitely don’t want it to look like, “Oh, this is what she was going to do for the final lip sync.” If the opportunity presents itself, I would like to present it.
Can you tease it in one word or phrase?
The future of drag!
Okay, I’ll take it. One more question: We talked earlier this week about The Vixen’s impact on season 10 and what the show has ignited in terms of conversation about queens of color, and after the reunion The Vixen said something about the show’s winners having to be palatable for white audiences. How do you feel, being the only queen of color in the top four, and not making it to the final three? Does Vixen’s sentiment have extra validity when you think about it in that context?
No, I do not think it has validity in the results. The results are the results. I don’t think that changes based on skin color. What does change is how well you’re received after the contest or how marketable you are afterwards. The competition has been pretty fair from start to finish, it’s what happens afterwards — the career after — that [minority] queens end up going in different directions based on the market.
RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.