RuPaul's Drag Race star Nina West deserves the world (and her own sitcom)
Warning! This post contains major spoilers regarding the most recent episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11. Read at your own risk!
You know that feeling you get when a couple like Brangelina breaks up? The one that softly whispers “love is dead” into that icy piece of meat in your chest otherwise known as a human heart? That’s likely how RuPaul’s Drag Race fans feel in the wake of Nina West’s elimination Thursday night, as this season’s heart and soul — dubbed by RuPaul herself as the “pride” of the competition — made her untimely sashay away from the show after her Pride-themed approach to the perennial makeover challenge fell short of expectations on the main stage.
Through charity work (she’s raised over $2.5 million for LGBT community causes), a passionate dedication to using her platform to speak on queer issues, and her warm, maternal approach to the competition, Nina won the hearts of Drag Race fans and judges alike. Still, in the eyes of the panel, her output on the runway never quite reached the same heights as her skills in the acting challenges, and, after lip-syncing against Silky Nutmeg Ganache (which RuPaul dubbed a “meh” experience), she was ultimately sent home in sixth place.
As Drag Race fans struggle to collect pieces of their shattered hearts in Nina’s absence, EW caught up with the Columbus queen to discuss her time on the show, how the next generation of queens are forgetting drag’s charitable roots, and her plans to take network television by storm — all in the same of spreading love, equality, and unity way out west.
Ahead of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11’s penultimate episode next Thursday at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on VH1, read on for EW’s full exit interview with the latest eliminee.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I don’t think a Drag Race elimination has hurt this much since Latrice Royale’s on season 4. It just doesn’t feel right, does it?
NINA WEST: [Laughs] I really appreciate that! There was more I wanted to do. As you build up to these final episodes, you know what’s going to happen: I’m hoping or guessing [next week is] going to be another acting challenge, or a challenge that would’ve been right up my alley. So, it’s bittersweet. But, sitting in the position I’m sitting in, it has been a decade of my life trying to get here. And the fact that the fandom is so responsive to this elimination, I’m really lucky and I’m glad that people connected to me in the time period that I had there. I sit in a different vantage point when I left filming. Then, I felt like it was over. They did a really good job editing out my sobbing!
Watching you cry when Ru said you were the “pride” of the season made me tear up! Why was hearing that specific word such an emotional trigger for you?
I wanted to be my authentic self and I wanted that to resonate. I wanted to leave a mark on the competition. It’s a reality show, and you don’t know how you’re doing in the context of it all; You can have wins under your belt, but you still feel like you’re floundering. That’s the mind game of a reality show: You second-guess yourself. So, when she said that, I felt seen, validated, and it felt like I’d done what I set out to do. But, it also felt like, ugh, I’m so close to that final episode! It was almost gut-wrenching. Those words hit me really hard.
You had an incredible career before the show, and this is going to make it better. But, when you were cast, the thought of seeing you in the context of Drag Race surprised me — mainly because you’re such a community unifier and the show is so competitive. Was that a strange dynamic for you?
That was definitely one of the things I had to reconcile: this idea of what I wanted for my career versus what I’d already built with my career. It was scary. I have a network of friends and fans in Columbus, and I was concerned that I would jeopardize everything I’d built if I had an awful moment or if I said something out of turn or I snapped. [Laughs]. That’s not really me, but I didn’t know what I was getting into! It was like, I could mess up everything! I had to try to figure out how to make it happen if I really wanted it.
You made it happen by staying out of drama and being a kind person, which I think is probably difficult for a lot of people to do in the context of a reality show. Did you have to train yourself to do that?
No! I don’t engage with it at all. I don’t do it here at home. I was there to make a reality show, to show the world my talents, and hopefully win $100,000. I wasn’t there to get caught up in who stole who’s wigs! The true insanity of it all is that these girls were losing themselves, and I don’t think they realized it! Over things that just didn’t matter! Most of the girls who lost themselves in things that didn’t matter were [eliminated]. I’m usually maternal or paternal and speak up when something isn’t correct.
You and Shuga were just the mamas getting drunk while the kids misbehaved in the other room.
Yeah! We’re the two old biddies sitting there gossiping about the drama and having a laugh about it.
One of the things I admire about you, too, is the $2.5 million you’ve raised for charity. How has the exposure from Drag Race has allowed you to expand on those charitable endeavors?
Drag Race put a tremendous light on the work that I’ve done and the stories that have been kind of lost. This isn’t just me. Drag queens all over the country do this. Most drag queens are fund-raisers who do fundraising for their softball teams or AIDS service organizations or LGBTQIA youth groups. It’s been going on in the queer community for decades. It’s surprising, but it used to be such a staple and a rock of how queens were built and raised in the community: You had some kind of connection or involvement, like, you did food pantry work! So, having this platform and showing these kids that this is also part of the job was really important to my story and the story of what the history of drag is really about.
As the episodes aired, we decided to do a t-shirt benefit for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. We’re now raising money for a local organization here in Columbus called Kaleidoscope Youth Center, which is an after-school drop-in for LGBTQIA youth. But the show is also allowing me to find work on a national level with organizations that I believe in. Especially now, as we’re nearing an election year, I want to use my voice for queer causes and political causes that directly affect the gay community. One of those rocks of a queen is how politically engaged she is, and somewhere along the way queens have become more about the look and the followers rather than the substance and the community work. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m grateful that a queen like me — representative of a lot more queens than most people think — had a chance to be on the show and shine as she talked about those things.
You did say in Untucked that your goal was to also spread this message by being the Barney of drag. What did you mean by that?
One of my dreams has been to engage a younger audience, queer parents, and parents of queer kids. There aren’t a lot of resources out there [for queer education], and I have a lot of gay friends who’ve adopted or straight friends who have children who are different in one way or another. It’s so up my alley, because I’m a Disney nerd, out the ass! I want to fill that gap and be the drag queen who’s like Barney or Mrs. Doubtfire, doing stuff that’s family friendly.
Then I think a major network needs to give you your own sitcom. How do we make that happen?
You’re preaching to the choir! That’s what I want! I have ideas. Today, for example, I’m releasing two different EPs, as only a Drag Race queen would…. One is an EP that’s a comedy album that’s true to me, it’s called John Goodman. It’s about me, John Goodman, being a big man in a dress. The other EP is a children’s EP, and the lead track is called “Drag Is Magic,” talking about how drag is dress-up. It’s based on RuPaul’s principle: Everything you wear is drag. It’s not a bad word. It’s a subcultural art form, but it’s being so adopted by people, so it’s ok for kids who are curious about what it is to consider dress-up drag!
What would your sitcom be? Would it be along those lines, geared toward children?
I don’t know, because there’s the other half of me that wants to do SNL! Like, I’m Chris Farley! Put me on SNL! If I did a sitcom, I imagine it would be like, Disney Channel-meets-Hallmark-meets-SNL. It’s a crazy hybrid where there’d be this crazy neighbor played by boy me, and then there’s this magical lady played by Nina. Fun ensues! Kind of like Pee-wee’s Playhouse! I imagine it’s situational comedy on a very special block. We’re going to [teach] lessons, but we’re going to have moments of great levity and fun.
Leading into this, people asked me if I wished I’d gotten on an earlier season, but I think my time is now, because there’s no greater time that people need to feel better about themselves and learn how to talk to one another and have a conversation with people who are different, because we’re living in such a divided world. We don’t talk to each other anymore. We don’t know how to communicate with one another. Anyone who has a differing opinion, we say they’re automatically wrong. I think that’s problematic. And someone like me can help lead the conversation and lead the way. [communicating] that it’s ok to be kind, nice, an lead with love!
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