Serena ChaCha on soft sculpture and hard reality after RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6 elimination
As she relentlessly reminded her sisters back on season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race, Serena ChaCha is an artist — but she's no longer the kind of wide-eyed, overconfident post-grad with an affinity for "soft sculpture" couture fresh from art school. Now, as she proved across her one (and only) episode of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6, she's a glowed-up boss who's spent the last eight years stepping into her power as a queer creator and businesswoman.
After making a name for herself as a wigmaker, dancer, and proud performer with a flair for showing off her Latin roots, the returning queen made the most of her one-off appearance on All Stars 6. Jaws hit the floor when she entered the Werk Room in a look that put her runway offerings from season 5 to shame, though she ultimately lost her footing during a talent show performance that registered a tad too conceptual (the main stage might not be the most appropriate place for thematically experimental narratives using wig mannequins as existential metaphors). Below, ChaCha catches up with EW about her brief time back in the studio, overcoming the hard reality of online haters after her first Drag Race run, and fellow season 5 queen Coco Montrese winning the lip-sync that transferred her fate into the hands of the group vote. Read on for the full Q&A.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was so happy to see you back on this season. Alas, we had to say goodbye on episode 1. Does it feel as emotional as your season 5 elimination?
SERENA CHACHA: Anything could feel better than the way I left first! It was about having the call and showing up with everything I've got — that was the challenge, and I did it. A bitch is busy with hair orders! Everything happens for a reason, and I've got to get back to slaying these wigs. These queens aren't going to care if I'm on TV slaying or not, they want their hair!
A service to the people! It was lovely to see you back. When we did that first round of interviews a few weeks ago where I was asking you all to do superlatives for each other, almost everyone said that you were the most improved, and it was clear that a lot of the queens were surprised that you were back. Did getting that call surprise you?
No! I have a seventh sense. I knew something was coming. I've been showing up to events looking better, and I've seen reaction from people. I was telling myself I was ready. I had that feeling in DragCon in London. I kind of slayed there…. And sooner than later, it happened. The girls had the same reaction. When you come back so many years later, so improved…. It's not apples to apples in their mind, because they don't see me doing drag the same way they are, but they don't know that every day I'm [making] wigs with my own hands for all the other queens all over the world. It's a surprise for most girls!
The fandom had a specific perception of you after season 5. I imagine that might've left you with some apprehension about coming back — not to the show, but to the online discourse. How did that impact your career at the time?
It's hunted me down for eight years, and I learned to live with it. It's obvious what people thought. I've never let it bother me. I ignore that stuff. Whatever that perception was, I wasn't apprehensive to come back because I knew I had everything. Image was my biggest opportunity [for improvement], as well as my attitude and personality. I was defensive and this time it's like, girl, it's not personal. It's just drag. When you're in a drag business and you realize that working for other queens there's an array of nerves you have to deal with, you understand how to remain calm. [The fans] don't control me; my clients do!
That's a mature answer that reflects the glow-up you've had. Your talent show look was so cute, your entrance look was lovely! You've clearly invested time in your art. How long did it take that fashion evolution to get to this refined point, away from soft sculpture?
It's hard to say, because people have been talking about it for a while. I started hearing it about two years ago. I understand that after [their season], everyone tries to look better. But it's not about remaking yourself from head to toe that [allows you to] reach your maximum, but that's what happened with Serena. [Preparing for All Stars], I took everything I had. I had around four designers sewing stuff for me in addition to things I made myself. I can't even tell you how many wigs I brought!
What did you do with the infamous dress that cut off your neck from season 5?
I don't have that dress! [Laughs]. I lived with my parents back then because I graduated college and two days later I got the call for Drag Race, so I had to move back home. Everything was crammed, and getting back into adulthood after college, it involves cleaning out every now and then! I wish I had it, but the redemption look is beyond!
Was your talent show performance always your choice for that challenge once you found out you'd been cast, or did you contemplate doing other things?
I contemplated doing older content. I've always said to never come up with something new at the last minute, but the song was such a catch. It was time to do new material anyway…. It wasn't necessarily a full song yet, I was still trying to find the hook, and that's what the performance is about: That's my everyday life, I'm behind the mannequins, but then I have to get ready to be Serena ChaCha. Could I go out there and just do Serena ChaCha and Zumba? I could. But I showed technique, hip-hop, I showed Latin, and that's more powerful. We're our own worst enemies, right? You have to edit, but when you come back eight years later, you want to do it all at once!
Could you see Jan's face when she was declared safe on the runway? Was it a face crack?
I don't know, but I thought she should've won that challenge! I completely support that. I danced in college, and I've seen what that girl can do, and in my opinion, what I'd love to see at a drag show where I'm paying money to be front row, I want to see choreography and vocals!
When you were back on the main stage and you saw the curtain come up to reveal Coco Montrese — who you had a significant story line with on season 5 — was the lip-sync assassin, what were you thinking?
She's one of my best friends! I have three mothers: My drag mother, RuPaul, and Coco! She's always advising me. Right after our season, she was one of my biggest supporters. She was the only person that brought me to a tour outside of my state, anytime she came to do events in Florida, she's supported me and my business. Coco needed her redemption and I'm glad she brought it.
How did that feel for you that she won the lip-sync and had to pull your lipstick?
I know my mother didn't know my name was on there. It's a game! She has to do what she has to do for herself. I could never be mad at anybody for doing what's best for them. She needed to remind the world who Coco Montrese is, and that's what she did with that lip-sync!
I can't leave this interview without asking you to clarify: What happened with A'Keria's wig she bought from you?!
That's something I absolutely do not talk about. My sister looked stunning, as she has! She had a better wig than me — the wigmaker! That's all I have to say!
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