Atlanta diva tells EW what went wrong with her bag dress, hijacking the stage with a grade-A lip-sync, and what it's like to be an Iman for a day.

By Joey Nolfi
February 15, 2021 at 08:00 AM EST
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Though it might sound like it, The Lala Ri Experience is not a themed attraction at Universal Studios (it should be). It's not a fleeting moment on RuPaul's Drag Race. And it's not just the euphoric feeling you get when you watch an ace drag queen hijack another's lip-sync stunt under the threat of elimination; The Lala Ri Experience is a way of life, and it will consume you.

Unfortunately still, the Atlanta-based drag queen's national spotlight has dimmed for the moment, after the Emmy-winning reality competition series' Bossy Rossy improv comedy challenge led to her untimely ousting, but the charisma powering The Experience won't keep it down for the count for long. Ahead, Ri tells EW about her time on the show, including her infamous bag look (and its current status), why she was brushing a wig before her lip-sync against Joey Jay (a potential reveal we never got to see!?), and the charged energy of filming season 13 amid a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement. The charm is real, the gag is enduring, and even though she's no longer on RuPaul's Drag Race, The Lala Ri Experience is eternal, and you never have to live without it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's always lovely talking with you, but I'm sad that I have to do it this early.

LALA RI: I know! You were supposed to talk to me in the top four! They messed up! [Laughs].

You've been such a joy, both on TV and on social media. So many people are sad to see you go. Have you made peace with the elimination?

I have! It's been six or seven months, so I'm glad I can finally rest well.

I can't until I clear something up: I have to apologize for editing your head from the snake look into Ornacia on top of Vivacious! Will you ever forgive me for that!?

[Laughs] That was amazing! Honey, it was art, darling. Art!

I don't feel bad anymore! You were so enjoyable. From the moment you stepped into the Werk Room in that Beyonce outfit, it was all divine. You lip-synced against Denali as she wore skates. How badly did she cut up those floors?

I'm pretty sure she's still paying that bill to this day because mama went crazy with those skates on that floor. Hopefully, she makes top four so she can win $100,000 because that's where the prize money is going!

After that, you quickly became a standout, you were so funny. Your confessionals were gold. You had so many professions and titles this year: Math Professor Lala Ri, you became a seamstress thanks to Utica, you were an "Iman for a Day," according to Tamisha. She told me the story of putting you in drag for the first time, and you got a booking that same day?

That same night I had two or three — multiple — bookings out of nowhere. It was fate! Like, girl, ya'll like me in this bulls----? It was funny because at the time I didn't want to do drag.  

Tamisha told me the story, but she didn't tell me what you were wearing!

I went to a store and bought some two-piece thing, and with Tamisha being a seamstress, she took the garment and dragged it out, and added extra things to it. I had a big wig and over-the-top drag makeup. She's a pageant girl, so everything had to be really big. Where are the studs, the earrings, girl, I need some buttons — I was beautiful. I was definitely an Iman! It was just too much.

You did infamously say that Tamisha likes to fight! I asked her about that last week and she laughed, she didn't have much to say. Can you explain?

I mean, I grew up around the old-school girls on the scene who know her well, and those were the stories that I heard! I've never seen her fight before, but those are the stories that I've heard. [Laughs].

Another title! You're now Journalist Lala Ri, reporting the facts from the scene!

Right! Add another title!

Your resume is so robust.

Listen. Are you guys hiring? Because I'm trying to find a job!

Something you did that put a lot of people — including the judges — into a fighting spirit, however, was your bag look! You had such amazing looks this season. That snake look, incredible! But the bag look, Miss Lala, it is iconic in how, well, strange it is. What was the original concept?

[Laughs]. The initial thought, I mean, I knew I couldn't really sew, but I was going to attempt to sew. That's when you saw Utica trying to help me. I was going to sew, but I didn't know what I was going to sew. I was just going to put fabric on the machine and hope something came out! I wanted a unicorn feel, like a pink and purple unicorn situation. The thing on my head had a unicorn texture that I took off, but once we saw that I destroyed the sewing machine, ok, let's go to the gluing girl! We did the gluing, and we clearly can't glue either, so that's what we came up with! I didn't have a plan, I was just going to go for it and see what came out, and that's what came out!

Do you stand by it, though? Because it's now iconic!

Yes! I am the Queen of the Worst Look in Drag Race History. I got a crown for something!

Where is that dress? Did you keep parts of it?  

Oh, I think it's still on the Drag Race stage! That dress was completely destroyed after that lip-sync. You guys didn't see them trying to tape me up between takes. That dress was completely gone. It didn't make it off that stage!

Monét X Change kept some of her sponge look as a good luck charm. You didn't even keep a little piece!?

I think I actually kept one bag that made it through and the little headpiece. But other than that…

Even though you were in the bottom, that episode ended well for you. I don't usually make noise during lip-syncs, but when you picked up those dollars, I was screaming. Did you know Joey was going to throw the dollars and you'd planned to hijack her stunt?

That was improvised. I didn't know she was going to throw that money! The drag queen in me saw money. Whether it's real or fake, all I saw was money. Girl, I need my coins, so I'm going to pick them up!

That was The Lala Ri Experience, you are such an incredible performer. But on Willam and Alaska's Race Chaser podcast, they pointed out that backstage you were brushing a wig in front of the mirror, and Utica was messing with one of the bags before the lip-sync. Did you plan a wig reveal stunt that ended up not working?

[Laughs]. For the life of me, I can't remember why I was brushing that wig. I think I was trying to be nosy, because there was drama going on! I was just trying to be nosy and I did something random. You know like a person that hears the neighbors arguing outside, so they go outside and act like they're sweeping the porch? That was one of those moments.  

I really thought you were going to stuff it into the bag and pull it out.

That might've been why, but I can't remember!

Let's talk about what happened this week during the improv challenge! You seemed a bit timid. You're so naturally funny, and you did so well earlier in the episode when you got to be the star of your impromptu episode of Maury and you ran across the Werk Room. Why do you think you're so naturally comedic in some scenarios, but when it came time to perform in front of a camera, you clammed up a bit?

When I get on a set, I automatically go into work mode and have to be perfect and I forget to be my natural self and have fun. When I'm my natural self not thinking about it, I go crazy. In the competition, I want to be perfect. I'm a Virgo, and we always want to be perfect. Especially being in a group with two other powerhouses, in my head it was about perfection and I forgot to be myself.

I don't think you did poorly. You did alright! But we could sense you were nervous, but the performance isn't bad. I do want to go back to Maury though: We established that the father was not Tina, but do we know who the father is?

It's you, Joey! Okay? [Laughs].

There's a conflict of interest now. We have to shut the interview down! You kill me! Let's go to the runway this week, you looked great as always, but Michelle pointed out a rip on the side of the look. What's the story?

Right before I went on stage, that rip happened! When I was walking from stage to stage, the beads were really heavy, and I could feel it tearing as I was walking. Right before I went on stage, I felt it completely rip. And you know Miss Michelle and them damned glasses, child. She sees everything with them glasses!

It was a good look! You received critiques throughout the season for some around-the-edges things. Did the criticism change your approach to drag?

Definitely! Drag Race opened my eyes to a lot of things about myself as a performer and what I'm capable of doing. Now I live free, let go, and have fun. I'm so detailed when it comes to my garments, now!

Switching gears, you made a big impression when you talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, you broke down and had a very real moment. You guys filmed this amid all of the protests going on last summer. Can you explain what it felt like, in the moment, of having so much going on in the country at that moment, from Black Lives Matter to the pandemic, and what kind of charged energy and effect that might've had on your emotions during production?

It definitely had an effect on me. It was always playing in the back of my mind, what was happening in the outside world. In particular, the Rayshard Brooks situation happened five minutes from my house in my neighborhood. When I left, my neighborhood was in shambles. My family and friends live in that same neighborhood, so not knowing what was happening with my family at the time was playing in the back of my head. It gave me a charge to make great TV and hopefully have people forget about everything that's going on for a little bit, so hopefully, I made people feel good!

Where does The Lala Ri Experience go from here?

She actually released a song on all streaming services called "Bad Bitch Tip." She's going to release more content on social media, and once the world opens up, she's going to travel the world and give people The Personal Lala Ri Experience!

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