By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com April 11 2014 2:55 PM ET
This week, fans were treated to a double dose of RuPaul's Drag Race. Two episodes were aired back-to-back, but surprisingly, there was only one elimination.
In the first episode, which tasked the contestants with creating commercials for RuPaul's new line of makeup, it seemed as if Ben De La Creme would be the one to face elimination. In a twist, RuPaul gave Ben a momentary stay, but Laganja Estranja did not have the same luck. In the following episode, the queens had to perform a stand-up comedy routine in front of an audience of LGBT seniors, many of whom were residents of the nearby Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing facility in Hollywood. Taking the stage in a cotton-candy pink wig, Estranja had the comedic look down pat, but many of the jokes fell flat, forcing one of the series's strongest dancers to sashay away.
The Advocate talked with Laganja about comedy, the challenges of the latest episode, and the fierce criticism he faced from his competitiors backstage before the elimination.
How did you prepare for RuPaul’s Drag Race?
We had a very limited amount of time to prepare for RuPaul's Drag Race. In fact, I was only given about a week's notice to get my looks together, so a lot of time was spent with my designer [and] team making the individual looks for each runway. From nails to makeup looks, I had a full binder to keep me organized, so I could be able to do any of my looks at the drop of a hat. I also practiced my "Snatch Game." However I ended up switching characters last-minute, so that preparation was minimal and on the fly.
In this back-to-back set of episodes, we saw you excel in the makeup challenge, which you won alongside Adore Delano, and struggle in the comedy challenge. What are the difficulties of writing and performing comedy, particularly for an older audience?
I honestly had no difficulty writing my sketch. I actually had "too much material" according to our guest judge. I just think my humor didn't translate, especially with an older crowd. That's where the performance difficulties came in. While I want to be, and think I am versatile, my background and training does not really include stand-up comedy. This is what I struggled with most! I forgot half of my stand up because I let the nerves take over. But I still stand by my routine and think it was highlarious!
What comedians inspire you?
I am inspired by Ellen DeGeneres, because she is so funny without being nasty. I think that's a true talent. I also love Lisa Lampanelli, Margaret Cho, and Kathy Griffin for the opposite reason, because they are not afraid to get down and dirty!
Why did the drag queen cross the road?
To get to RuPaul's Drag Race and slay the children, hunty!
Do you think the judges’ critiques of your performance this episode were fair? Michelle Visage said, “I got zero funny from you… I want to see you strip down the… façade.”
This is a loaded question... We would have to sit down and really talk this one out! I have a lot of feelings about Michelle, but at the end of the day, she loves me, and I love her, and that's all that matters. Even if we don't see eye-to-eye, we respect each other's work, and that's what being an artist is all about.
Looking back on the episode, would you have done anything differently to avoid elimination?
Absolutely not! I believe everything happens for a reason and I am proud of the way I went. It was classy, sassy, and a little bit nasty!
Was there another contestant from this episode that you thought should have gone home first?
I don't believe in throwing anyone under the bus. If the judges felt I was the weakest link, then so be it.
Who are your favorites among the remaining queens this season?
I love all the girls, but I am definitely rooting for my sister Adore Delano. She represents the young queens like me, and I want her to bring home the crown for us!
A lot of the other contestants (fairly aggressively) offered their own critique of you and your voice during Untucked. Courtney Act said your voice doesn’t feel genuine. Joslyn Fox said it was something you were hiding behind and “a cry for attention.” And Bianca... among other things, she said you “came in with an act.” How would you respond to all this?
I left everything on the floor in that moment and you saw it all. I really don't have much more fuel to add to the fire. We all have opinions and the right to express them, but that's definitely not how I encourage my friends. That said, I believe I can always learn from what others say, as long as I remember that it is my responsibility to receive criticism with a filter that still allows me to be who I am.
Were you hurt that Adore joined in the criticism? Did this experience affect your friendship?
Of course it hurt and affected our friendship! But we were all under extreme pressure and I respect her opinion, even if I don't agree with it.
After hearing those comments, some of which you said you had never heard before, have you changed your approach to voice, performance, or drag? And overall, what have you learned from your RuPaul’s Drag Race experience?
I have learned to continue to be myself and own my stardom. The only change I have made is trying to grow some tougher skin, because clearly that will be necessary if I am to achieve what I want to do in the entertainment business. I have learned competition [in] reality TV is not for me, and I do best when surrounded by those who love and appreciate my talents for what they are, and not for what someone thinks they should be, okcurrr! I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I am going to find another atmosphere or venue where that is not an issue. But I may want to add some bullet-proofing to my heart, and this experience has helped me to move in that direction. I hope I can always take in criticism, review it, learn from it, and make myself a better person and performer as a result.
After having all that thrown at you, your lip-sync was very impressive. You were fierce. As a performer, how did you pull it together so quickly? Did it help that you had recently heard an inspiring message from your drag mother, Alyssa Edwards?
I could lip-sync and dance in my sleep. In fact sometimes I do! But of course, my drag mother's message was inspiring. Alyssa Edwards, a.k.a. Justin Johnson, totally understands me. We speak in tongue pops, yes gawds, and mammas, and knowing he had my back before I went down was everything to me! And in the end, I am a professional and do my best to put that out there.
Bianca drama aside… it was heartwarming to see the surprise message of support from your parents. Has your relationship with them improved since then?
My relationship with my parents is amazing! RuPaul really does bring families together. And crown or not, I am a winner for having my parents' full support, that, yes, I did wait 24 years for!
What first attracted you to drag, and what inspired your drag name?
After graduating from college with a BFA in dance and choreography, it was very hard to get a job as a dancer in Los Angeles. I don't know if it was my slender frame, neon-red hair, or flamboyant style, but no one was hiring me. Then I thought to myself, the gay community would most likely appreciate my talents and over-the-top attitude. So I decided to put on a dress and do the same thing. My name was inspired from my belief that our country should legalize marijuana usage. I knew that this would be a great way to call attention to the issue. Every interviewer asks, "How did you get your name?" So I wanted something that would stand out, be worth fighting for, and show others how fearless I am!
What should a drag queen always keep in her purse?
A joint, some nail glue, and lip gloss!
Who is your role model?
My sister is my biggest role model. She is not only my number-one supporter, but she also has taught me to be the unique individual that I am today. When we were growing up, we didn't really get along with each other, even though we were both gay and interested in dating outside of our race. She was the typical big sister who couldn't be bothered by her annoying little brother. But as I got older and she also matured more, our relationship began to change and a real bond was formed. We began to understand that, while our experiences of how our parents responded to our being gay [differed], we both had similar issues and desires. I'll never forget the first time I dressed up in women's clothing and went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with her. I had to be barely 14, but somehow, she got me in, and we had the time of our lives. Since then, we have been there for each other and always make each other laugh. I really love her beyond what words on a page can express, and am so thankful to have someone as amazing as her in my life.
What’s next after RuPaul?
As I said in my "Meet the Queens," I want to do it all! I want to choreograph for Broadway, create and direct my own Cirque Du Soleil show, develop a spin-off show that follows me and my daily life as I try to create a dance company in Los Angeles, model on runways across the world, be on the cover of Vogue, act in movies and television — no small tasks, but all things that interest and excite me, and tap into various aspects of my personality and talents.
Thanks, Laganja! RuPaul's Drag Race airs Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Logo. And watch a recent performance by Laganja at Hamburger Mary's below.