Raja, Ooh La La

By Brandon Voss

Originally published on Advocate.com April 26 2011 2:00 PM ET

Who says a funny queen with a big personality can’t win Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race? Working the runway with a witty genderfuck style, Raja, a Los Angeles drag queen with 20 years of experience, snatched the season 3 tiara from glossy glamour-pusses with more feminine voices and curves. The morning after publicly accepting the title at the official finale celebration in New York, Raja’s alter ego Sutan Amrull, a celebrity makeup artist and his season’s oldest competitor at 36, spoke to Advocate.com about why he prefers starfuckers over sequins.

Advocate.com: Did you get any sleep after last night’s finale viewing party?
Sutan Amrull: It was one of those things where I just passed out. I might still be a little drunk, but I’m here and present.

The finale was filmed many months ago. Was it difficult to keep your victory a secret for so long?
It was really difficult. I wanted to tell so many people, but it was a fun secret to keep.

I’ve been reading spoilers about your win online for months, so some people clearly can’t keep their mouths shut.
I liked having that buzz out there, actually. I was on Perez Hilton two days in a row. What else can a new celebrity ask for?

Do you have a special someone to share this excitement with?
I’m pretty single right now, but the best part about this whole process is the starfuckers. They’ve been coming out of the woodwork, and they’re adorable.

What’s your type?
I have all kinds of types. I’m not that specific. I feed off energy most times, so I like someone who has a creative vibe and who is passionate about what they do. But if I had to pick a physical type, it would probably be someone a lot like me — tall and slender.

How will you spend your $75,000 prize money?
I’m probably going to do the responsible thing and pay off some debts. I owe money. Whatever’s left, I should probably save it.

Did you feel like you were fairly edited throughout the season? In other words, do you think the audience saw the real Raja?
I do and I don’t. There’s a side to me that’s a lot warmer than what was portrayed. I’m not as mean and bitchy as I might have seemed. I’m actually a really kind and nurturing person, but I knew going into it that my experience might make me be the bitch of the show. So be it. I’m very confident and I’m good at what I do.

Winning this competition positions you as a role model for the gay community, particularly for aspiring young drag queens. Are you prepared for that responsibility?
Absolutely. That’s something that I’ve kind of always needed to do: There’s something within me that wants to be a mentor, a teacher, and a role model. I don’t pretend to be some pristine, clean-cut role model; I’m a rebellious role model, which is fine. People should find their own voice and make themselves known, whoever they are. I’d like to work with different charities and organizations like the Trevor Project, but I’d really love to focus on art programs for gay youth — something that supports the arts and creativity.RAJA 1 X390 (LOGO) | ADVOCATE.COMHow will your reign as America’s Next Drag Superstar differ from that of previous winners BeBe Zahara Benet and Tyra Sanchez?
I’m just going to do what I do, but I do want to be more present. I don’t really get to see a lot of them, so I would like to be the one who’s really out there. I’m going to do everything in my power to stay on the radar.

BeBe Zahara Benet dropped a dance single during her reign. Does something like that interest you?
Actually, yeah, I am experimenting with music. I have a song coming out next week.

Why have I not heard about this?
Because I’m telling you now. You might actually be the first person to know. We put together a track called “Diamond Crown Queen,” which is a kitschy homage to Nine Inch Nails with a little bit of “Native Love” from Divine. We’re just having fun, throwing it out there to give people something to chew on for a minute.

If you continue to pursue a music career, with which artists would you like to collaborate?
Someone once called me the M.I.A. of drag. I’m a big fan of hers, and I’d love to meet her. I also love Sia. I’ve actually been talking about collaborating with some friends of mine like Dirty Sanchez, so we’ll see what happens.

If your “Heathers” clique got a spin-off show, what would be the premise?
It would just be about us trying to keep Carmen’s clothes on and getting Manila to shut up, because she’s really loud. That’s actually a great idea, though. When we came up with the Heathers during the show, I actually thought about us doing a Heathers tour, so maybe that’s something we can do this summer.

Critics of Drag Race have complained in the past that humor and personality take a backseat to feminine realness and glamour, but you bucked that trend by having it all. Do you feel that your humorous genderfuck style was key to your victory?
It was definitely key to my victory. All I really wanted to do was to represent all different types of drag and drag influences I’ve seen in my life. I understand that drag isn’t just about hip pads, sequins, and pageantry all the time. There’s a lot more to drag that’s important, and that should be embraced.

Does a plus-size girl really have a chance of winning Drag Race?
Totally. This isn’t America’s Next Top Model. This is about finding America’s next drag superstar, and that has nothing to do with size. It has everything to do with how strong you are, how much confidence you have, and how much you believe in yourself. Stacy Layne Matthews and I text message each other every day, and I tell her I love her as many times as I can. She’s my girl. We shared a bucket of chicken last night before I went onstage and had a great time.

Speaking of Top Model, you were a makeup artist on six cycles of the show. Who was easier to work with – Ru or Tyra Banks?
[Laughs] Probably Ru.RAJA 2 X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COMDid you learn anything from your Top Model experience that helped you on Drag Race?
Being on another reality show really made me aware of cameras, which definitely helped, but from Tyra I learned that you have to keep doing what you do no matter what. I was there in Australia the day Tyra was photographed in that bathing suit that caused so much controversy. The day it happened, we went online and saw the articles and people calling her fat. There are so many haters out there, and being around Tyra just taught me that you just have to ignore all that, do what you do, and do it well.

Did you hear from Tyra after you imitated her during the “Snatch Game” challenge?
No, I haven’t, but I got a lot of support from Miss J. He text messaged me the day he saw the episode, and he was just losing his mind. He was like, “Oh, bitch, that was the most hysterical thing I’ve ever seen. Wait till Tyra sees this.”

You’ve also worked as Adam Lambert’s makeup artist. What have you learned from him as a performer?
I’ve also learned from his example of how he deals with haters. You have to keep making your art and being who you are. That’s really the greatest lesson I’ve learned from friends who are more famous than I am.

Let’s talk about those haters. Perez Hilton has led the argument that you shouldn’t have been allowed to compete because you’ve been friends with Ru for 15 years. How do you respond to that controversy?
All I have to say about that is that I’ve been a professional within the fashion and entertainment industry for many years. I started doing makeup when I was 19, I’ve built my own reputation and body of work within the industry, so it’s inevitable that we’re all going to be aware of each other. We may not all be friends, but we’re definitely aware of each other, and that’s true of anyone I’ve ever come across in the industry. Ru has lived in L.A. before, and she’s obviously a big fan of the drag community, so we’ve met each other many times, but it’s not like I was calling her on the phone to talk about my boy problems. I’m not from Back Swamp, and I’m not new to all this, so she was just aware of my presence.RAJA 3 X390 (LOGO) | ADVOCATE.COMHow will your win affect your day job as a makeup artist?
At this point I’ve been kept really busy as Raja, and it’s kind of a relief. At some point you just get a little tired of your job. I hope that it elaborates on my business in the long run, but right now I’m enjoying just doing the drag stuff. I’m having a blast.

Let’s play a game of “screw, marry, kill” with your fellow competitors. OK, go.
Screw Carmen Carrera, marry Delta Work, and kill Shangela.

That’s not much of a surprise considering how much you and Shangela butt heads this season. How is your relationship now that the competition is over?
Shangela and I are friends. I wouldn’t say that we’re good friends, just because our schedules are so different and we don’t get to hang out very much, but we are friends. I saw her last night and things were fine between us. What you saw on TV is all about us flexing our muscles in the confines of a competition. It’s nothing personal. I think Shangela is hysterical and brilliant.

Shangela’s “Halleloo” was the catchphrase of the season. In fact, if Raja lacked anything, it was a good catchphrase.
Shangela was smart because she really made people aware of “Halleloo.” I say “Sorry about it” a lot. “Whatever, girl, sorry about it.” That’s kind of my tagline right now, but there will be many more to come.

Years from now, when RuPaul’s Drag Race is in its umpteenth season, what will the drunken gay viewers who get together on Monday nights remember most about Raja?
I hope people remember me as being that edgy queen who really introduced the idea of genderfuck to the competition, and I hope that brings more of those types of queens onto the show. I hope the show does last a really long time, because one day I’d like to be a judge.