Jackie Cox, unsung hero of RuPaul's Drag Race, deserves the world
The whip-smart, sweet Persian princess opens up about her Jeff Goldblum controversy, Muslim representation, and her infamous booty shorts.
Persian princess. Lisa Rinna. Purveyor of short-shorts and tight-fitting pants. Zaddy.
Before her elimination over her performance in the final musical challenge, Jackie — who, despite her electric presence on season 12, failed to win a single challenge on the main stage — used her time in the spotlight to not only beat her mug, but lend her face to issues impacting LGBTQ people from the Middle East as she openly discussed her struggle to live up to her traditional mother's expectations and her path toward finding comfort in her identity, all while shaking up the competition with a few powerful runway creations (her star-spangled hijab will go down as one of the most important displays in the show's history) and her signature wit.
In the wake of her exit, Jackie chatted with EW for a reflective interview about her time on the show, embracing her heritage, that controversial exchange with Jeff Goldblum on the runway, and whether she purposely wore all those booty shorts for your viewing pleasure. Read on for the full Q&A, and tune in to the RuPaul's Drag Race season 12 reunion Friday, May 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on VH1, followed by the final episode on Friday, May 29 in the same time slot.
JACKIE COX: Oh my God, no! There’s nothing to apologize for! I lived for it. If we can’t laugh, why are we doing drag?
You made many people laugh for good reason this season. But making it so close yet so far, did it take a while to make peace with this outcome and was there a point where you accepted that you wouldn’t win?
I had made peace with it back in the makeover challenge. I’d been in the bottom a few times at that point. It was like, I don’t think I’m going to win this competition, but I didn’t want to give up. Fans and my fellow queens have their eye on the prize being the win, the $100,000, the scepter and the crown, all the jewels! But, the real prize of the show is getting to share your drag and your story with the world... Even though I didn’t win, I’m on every episode! [Laughs]
Also on mostly every episode: Your very particular wardrobe of pants and shorts, because you became everyone’s crush of the season with those. Was that deliberate?
[Laughs] I definitely packed for the wrong weather. It’s much colder in the Werk Room than you anticipate! I actually had more short-shorts that didn’t make it to air. I love shorts, I love my legs, so I was like, let’s let them out! But I was too cold! If you wanted more shorts from Jackie, I’m sorry I didn’t deliver... I don’t know if I have a sense of style or fashion that’s particularly unique; it’s nerdy, hipster-lite, we’ll call it that?
Outside of the shorts, this episode was the best you’ve looked on the runway, with your dotted dress. When I first met you last year, I asked you about your “fashions” and you laughed at me for calling them fashions, but on the show, you had some amazing looks, particularly the star-spangled hijab. Can you walk me through the inspiration for that look and why you chose it for that challenge?
I knew right away that this was a chance to be political. This was a chance to really make a statement. So many of my fellow queens have made political statements in their own way — certainly, Widow shared her experience as well. I wanted to share this moment as an inspiration from the image of a woman in an American flag hijab, so I thought a striped caftan with a midnight blue hijab would be a beautiful image, visually, and to elevate that I worked with Travis, my designer, who was able to take that simple idea and elevate it with pleated panels and the star embellishment and details he brought from a design point of view. It was so much fun to move and dance in, and I wanted to show that it’s not just a little leotard that a drag queen can dance in. They can dance in more than that.
There was a controversy after that episode with Jeff Goldblum and how he asked you about gay rights in the Middle East, but on TV it looked like you had maybe agreed with him or had also voiced a similar sentiment about being gay in that culture. Can you clarify that conversation?
There's a difference between an oppressive religious government or a government that oppresses people in the name of religion versus personal freedom of expression of culture and religion. This is a country founded on the principle of the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Earlier in the season, I talked about how the Iranian government is anti-LGBT people, but the Iranian people — certainly the ones I know in my life — are not that way. And there are queer people in that group who are underrepresented who don’t have that voice, and there are practicing queer Muslims. I am not one of them, but I’m here to represent them and my own interpretation of the Islamic faith — my own version of which I grew up with. Perhaps for Jeff and the audience, they hadn’t thought of those things as separate before, or hadn’t thought through that all those complicated feelings can exist at the same time in one person. It’s not as simple as, well, I don’t agree with what the Iranian government says, therefore I don’t support any part of my history or culture or what my family does or doesn’t believe.
It reminded me of past seasons when queens talk about their experience being raised in a Christian or Catholic background. What was your interpretation of the reaction to what he’d said in that moment?
I don’t want to take away from anyone’s reaction to those questions and for anyone’s feelings of how that affected them. It illustrates how we can approach the same question from a different point of view. There's this feeling that so much of Western media has portrayed us as terrorists, as these negative connotations... I know for so many people in our community, it’s always a little disheartening that those are the first things people think of. Hopefully, this will be a conversation for people to learn more.
You were also open about your struggles with your mother, so I’m wondering if things have gotten better with her since the show has aired?
I’m excited for you to see the reunion next week! There will be a resolution on that part of my story. My dad has seen the show and loves it!
You tried so hard this episode and I don’t think you did a bad job, so how much did you practice to get those dance moves to go from daddy realness to how good they looked in the performance?
It was a day! We ran it a million times! Whatever sells tickets! [Laughs]
I was also surprised when you pushed some buttons reading everyone for their Snatch Game performances. Why was it so frustrating in that moment to you? Because you've been preparing your Snatch Game for ages as a Lisa Rinna impersonator!
Untucked is such an interesting experiment in human psyche, right? In real life in these stressful situations, the last thing any of us do is ask other people what they did or didn’t do, but that’s our job in Untucked. That was just on my mind, because we came off of an acting challenge where Ru was so impressed with us as a group, and to go into Snatch Game, the overall feeling was that Ru was disappointed in us. So, that was on my mind. Our job on a reality TV competition is to share what’s on our mind! In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to add insult to injury for the other queens!
You were saying what everybody was thinking. Did you hear from Lisa after the Snatch Game? Did she have any feedback?
She posted about it on her Instagram story, I felt very honored! Being Lisa Rinna, she’s a good hustler, so of course, she used it as a chance to sell more of her duster, so I have to admire that hustle!
It’s no secret that, for many reasons, season 12 had many hurdles to overcome, but what do you think about the way the show handled the finale and the reunion in the coronavirus pandemic, and how the cast is navigating making money and a name for themselves?
For the reunion and finale, we, as drag queens, are certainly able to weather a storm, and I’m excited to see what ends up on screen, but it was unique and different, and it will be unlike any reunion or finale that we’ve had before. In terms of the industry, this has given all of us a chance to rethink how to be creative. For me, I had all of these grand plans of what I could do now that I had a chance in the spotlight, and some things have been squashed, but I can still do others! I’m dropping a new single called “You Wish!” and I worked on it with a co-writer and a producer, and we all were in different locations and able to put it together. I worked with a videographer who put together a cool lyric video, so we did it in a safe, remote way. Drag will adapt. We, as queer people, certainly are not strangers to struggle and strife, so we will find a way to prevail as a community and as artists, so it’s important for everyone to keep supporting your local queer artists. Even if you don’t have the financial needs, comment on their posts, give them hearts and likes, because that’s going to keep us together as a community so those entertainers are still there for you when this is over!