RuPaul's Drag Race eliminee on how Tyra Banks inspired her 'goddess energy'
Warning! This article contains major spoilers regarding Thursday’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11. Read ahead at your own risk.
Who would’ve thought a legacy built on the dust of Dorito-hued foundation would produce an impeccable showgirl like Kahanna Montrese? Serving glistening-tight eleganza, a killer body, and the dazzling ability to backflip in kitten heels, the RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 queen proudly carried the name of her drag mother — season 5 competitor Coco Montrese, of “girl, look how f—ing orange you look girl” fame — back into the mainstream spotlight this year. But, the Las Vegas-based beauty’s shine dulled at the tail end of the season’s second episode, and she was eliminated after delivering a so-so performance in an acting challenge and bombing her zodiac-inspired lewk that literally fell apart on the runway.
Following her elimination episode, EW had a chat with Kahanna about her time on the show, Tyra Banks’ impact on her drag aesthetic, and whether she’s finally learned how to play flip cup. Before RuPaul’s Drag Race returns next Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on VH1, read on for our full exit interview with the latest queen to sashay away from the Emmy-winning reality competition.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hey Kahanna! How are you? Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me on what I imagine is a bittersweet day for you. Are you holding up OK?
KAHANNA MONTRESE: It’s all love and happiness over here! We’re good, man!
The thing that has been on my mind with you for months since the cast reveal: Have you learned how to properly play flip cup in a way that doesn’t involve just smacking the bottom of a table?
[Laughs]. No! I’m still tearing up tables and cups are flying everywhere over here. We’re going to have to get a proper one-on-one, still.
I think people maybe predicted this elimination because you let it slip during that reveal that you didn’t win many challenges on the show. Were you kicking yourself after that?
In that little clip I didn’t know what was going on, but I think a lot of people thought it, but they still respected the way I went out because I was fighting the whole way through. So, it’s all good.
Yeah, I’m an Aries, too, and you went out full Aries style!
That’s the only way we can do it. We’re fighters!
I was looking at your Twitter and you recently posted about being a fan of Tyra Banks! She’s one of my idols, too, but your drag is inspired by her?
Absolutely. I love her so much. That’s even why I wear green eyes! I’m such a fan. Her and RuPaul go hand-in-hand for me because of their poise and leadership. I’m hugely inspired by her. It’s something about that top model goddess energy that she puts out. It’s so captivating and I love it and try to embrace it when I’m Kahanna.
So, what did you think of Life-Size 2?
Oh my gosh… it was a lot of things. But it kind of gave me my childhood fantasy back. I got my life. Especially the remix of “Be a Star” with the rap. That was very Kahanna.
Are you into old-school America’s Next Top Model?
Oh, yes baby! I live for the old red-haired Tyra. To me, that was her most iconic phase. We have to bring that back. We need to start a petition.
I’m so with you. The red-haired Tyra, that was cycle 4 when they did the zodiac signs shoot! And your look was similar to Kahlen, the girl who portrayed Aries on that shoot. Did that episode inspire you?
That was such a good season, but no! That’s crazy. I just thought about that [Laughs]. But yeah, you’re right. I see it!
Especially the Aries ram look paired with a tight bikini-esque bottom. But that reveal for you was kind of ruined on the runway when the dress fell apart!
That reveal is going to be iconic. It’s funny how I was so stressed out about it, but watching it I laughed so hard. It needed to happen. I needed to show the world that I was going through it!
A reveal is just a reveal, but a mistaken, unexpected reveal keeps people talking!
Yeah, it was all good.
And the judges weren’t feeling it. I imagine finally getting on the Drag Race stage and then hearing some of the critiques is hard. Especially when guest judge Sydelle Noel told you that she felt like she could make your outfit. How did you feel about that?
Well, she couldn’t. But, it’s all good. I took it as me having to be open because I came here to be critiqued and to grow. It wasn’t like it got to me, but it was like, ok, I did the best that I could but at the same time I do realize that I am on a TV competition, so it was an opportunity for me to be like, ok girl, get it together. Drag is hard, and not everyone can do it. She learned her lesson!
Your looks on the press tour were five steps above what you did on the show. So the show inspired you to invest in other areas of your drag?
It just made me prioritize and make sure I put time into my drag and make sure no matter what I’m doing, I’m showing the best Kahanna. I just didn’t take [the show] seriously. I had so much going on that I was like, I can just throw something on and pull it together, but I just didn’t do that. Every time I get into drag now, I make sure it’s right. I do triple-checks, I make sure I feel comfortable and it’s something I know I’m happy with. That’s what the show did for me…. I needed the show; it molded me into a better queen.
You were read for the same thing last week and this week in terms of your looks not being polished. I get the sense that maybe some queens come into the show with more opportunities or more financial avenues to create these looks — and Monique Heart talked a lot about this last season, the fact that she came in with looks that didn’t measure up because she didn’t come from a background of financial abundance.
There are different circumstances for each queen. I had a lot of financial stuff going on at the time of filming, and I was also working on another show I’d already invested thousands of dollars in for my costumes…. but I did the best I could. But, I’m not going to hold that against why I didn’t place further. I feel that if you get the call — and this is for anyone going forth and considering Drag Race — take your money and put it first. I don’t care if you’re working on other gigs! Put Drag Race first. That’s what I didn’t do. It was my fault. The minute you put your audition tape in, it should be priority.
You also said that until this point, you’d never felt sisterhood like you did on Drag Race. Can you elaborate?
It’s always been work. I’ve never felt that other girls [back home] aren’t nice, but [in the context of Drag Race] we were with each other all day, so there had to be some sort of like, girl, I have your back and you have my back. Even though there are catty moments, there really was a sisterhood behind the scenes and I’d never felt that. Especially living in Vegas, it’s go [all the time]. So it was refreshing to know that these girls had my back.
It didn’t feel very sisterly when Ariel talked s—t on Silky to RuPaul!
I heard a little bit of it, and it kind of made me feel like, woah, we don’t have to do that! But look, we’re drag queens. Ariel probably wasn’t able to express herself, and it made her feel some type of way against Silky, because Silky is very much herself and is able to speak her mind. Ariel was intimidated at that point because we were just meeting each other and Silky was confident from the beginning…. I think Ariel is probably looking back feeling like, I wish I was as outspoken as Silky…. Silky brought the energy and it sparked all of us. She helped all of us be very comfortable in front of the cameras.
Did you see Silky’s Instagram response to people saying she was “too much” and how that’s a problematic thing because it implies that people need to tone down their gayness?
I didn’t catch that, but I agree with that. A lot of times, as gays, we get that from outside our community that we don’t fit in, but at the same time, a lot of people try to take our culture. But you can’t have one without the other. Take us as we are. So, big personalities, you have to take them as they are because there aren’t a lot of people like them. We have to embrace something different. If you want to be all-inclusive, you have to take all of who someone is.
Coco must be so proud of you! What did she have to say to you after your elimination?
When I first got on, she never put pressure on me to redeem her legacy. She was always supportive. When I got back, she had the most love and support for me. I went to her house every day, and it was very emotional. Even when she was getting ready for gigs, she made sure I was in a good headspace, so I can’t thank her enough. She’s like a father figure!
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RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.