Last week, things got ugly for the contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race, in the best possible way. The queens were asked to recreate scenes from the oeuvre of John Waters, and the results were horrible, messy, and simply Divine.
After weighing the virtues of eating excrement and screwing the egg man, the queens showcased their ugliest ensembles for the gay filmmaker himself, who appeared as a guest judge.
For her uncanny resemblance to actress Edith Massey in Pink Flamingos, Ginger Minj won the day. But if there's one drag queen who can't go ugly, it's Miss Fame. Waters told the YouTube beauty that she needed "ugly lessons," before she lost the lipsync to Pearl.
The Advocate spoke with Fame about the power of social media, the influence of John Waters and drag legend Divine, Baltimore, and the inspiration behind her new music video, "Rubber Doll."
How did you prepare for RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I focused on my strengths going into the show. I felt I had a strong visual aesthetic for the identity of Miss Fame, and was grateful for the fact I had been on a path of evolution as a person to help me remain open to grow while presented with weekly challenges. I also took a few sewing classes and vocal classes, as I knew we would face these moments throughout the season.
Are you a fan of John Waters?
I of course loved the John Waters film Hairspray with Ricki Lake, and Divine playing both male and female parts. I respected Divine’s ability to showcase duality as an artist, and be able to take drag into the mainstream with social acceptance. I did have challenges with watching that “chicken” scene in Pink Flamingos though [a sex scene where a live chicken is crushed]. I was too young and fragile. And as a lover of all things poultry, I felt uncomfortable with that moment.
You’re known for your beauty and glamour. With that in mind, was it difficult to “go ugly” for this week’s challenge?
For me, I looked at this challenge from a fashion perspective, and all the editorials that they consider “ugly beautiful.” Many editorial models possess rare facial features that make them extraordinary specimens for the camera’s eye, as well as editorial stories where they use oversized pieces no one would wear, which makes for dramatic images. I happen to have this large dress, which was created for one of the wicked stepsisters from the Cinderella Met Opera. Knowing the character was wicked and unkind allowed me to share this vision on the main stage. Unfortunately, it missed the mark, but I actually loved the piece after all.
What was the most difficult part of working in a group with Violet and Pearl?
When working in a group, it’s either a recipe for success or it quickly devolves into a drama-fest. I felt that it was challenging to shine amongst group challenges, because it wasn’t focused on a solo art project and vision from the individual artist. But regardless, it made for great television. On a positive note, we were able to learn about each other’s history and become a drag family — something I hadn’t had before, and for which I’m truly grateful.
If you could go back in time, what would you have changed about the video?
I believe this question is about my time on Drag Race. I would have allowed myself to laugh a bit more, stay focused on my own work, and not get caught up in another’s storyline. Regarding the John Waters skit, I had a great time playing Divine and loved watching our video. It made me laugh, and I pushed myself. I am incredibly proud of my journey throughout this season. I look at these episodes and know in my heart that I was true to myself, and I can see my fans love and support being returned to me. That is such a wonderful feeling.
Divine ate shit, and it made her famous. Is fame worth the doodoo?
My focus to success is driven from my obsession with beauty and making others feel as beautiful as I see them. I aim to leave a beauty mark on the face of the planet, and keep it classy to achieve my goals.
What other lessons can we learn from Divine?
Divine was a one of a kind. She was the original queen who possessed a beauty and power that we had never known. She paved the way for every other drag artist to have visibility just by being herself. For that I am grateful for [showing the world an] artist of her caliber. She also was very brave and forward, and those qualities are assets I apply to myself to achieve my own dreams today.
Whose “ugly” look impressed you the most?
Katya was by far the winner of the ugly dress challenge. She has such a gift to be free in the midst of pressure, and make laughter out of a tense environment. I admire her humor completely, and could take a few notes from her talents.
Do you agree with John Waters’ critique that you need ugly lessons?
I actually took it as a compliment that I struggled with an ugly challenge and was criticized for looking editorial. I remained true to my core values as an artist, and the principal of being “true to you” holds a sense of self-confidence no one can touch.
There was tension between you and Pearl before the lipsync — you said she should be the one to go home, because her heart wasn’t in the competition. Do you stand by this statement?
Yes. In that moment, I stated what I felt regarding our experiences on the show. Post-Drag Race, this situation isn’t the focus for me as an artist, as I have many creative endeavors to nurture my success.
Looking back on the episode, would you have done anything else differently to avoid elimination?
I would’ve taken off my jumbo dress! [laughs]
Who is your favorite among the remaining queens this season?
I have a huge place in my heart for Violet. I admire her heart and her talents. I believe in her and will support the art she continues to create.
What do you think are the qualities and skills required to be America Next Drag Superstar?
I feel that Ru knows best for the show and sees the bigger picture — “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent,” as she says. We all possess these qualities, and this was a reason why we had the honor of representing this season of RPDR. But depending on the challenges we faced, and how well we could navigate the terrain, eliminations ensued.
What lessons have you learned from your time on RPDR?
Being a contestant on RPDR showed me how much passion I have for my art. I will continue to create beautiful work that I stand behind, and share it with the world. I come from humble beginnings, and have used my natural abilities, with my realist painting background, to help me make my dreams a reality. My commissioned art financed my move to New York City, with just enough money to cover my entry to NYC. I then allowed my passion for beauty to connect to the makeup industry, and that was my connection to creating Miss Fame. I worked a lot of free gigs to build my portfolio and my working relationships with photographers. Then, I asked if they would consider shooting me while dressed up as Fame. And the persona was born. I remember having a dollar in my pocket and going to 7-Eleven to get two donuts for my meal. The struggle was real. New York was and still is a tough city, but it taught me how to fight for my future. Becoming Miss Fame was the desire for me to have everything I never did. She possessed the strengths I needed to shine, and now, I’m living in my destiny.
What first attracted you to drag, and what inspired your drag name?
First off, my drag name was inspired by the idea of grandiosity — being able to see myself succeed and make it out of my struggle to [achieve] something impactful, where I could inspire others [with] my driving force. I kept envisioning myself as a kid, where I felt so alone and far from the world, insecure and fearful of how I would be able to make it. What was a turning point for me, [was] taking action and getting help where help was needed, and surrendering my power to solution. Once I began this journey, then life began to unfold and limitations lifted away slowly. But my fire was revealed. By the time I was ready to place a name on my destiny, I thought I’d meet the world where it was at, and “Fame” seemed fitting. I believed that in our society, we see success when you become visible. So I thought, what is visibility in our modern day? Becoming famous is a sense of accomplishment, but it’s not everything. To keep it simple, I wanted to attract success, so I aimed for Fame.
The Supreme Court oral arguments were this week! How do you think the judges will rule?
I feel that we are in a time of evolution and I envision a world where only love is acknowledged.
Is marriage important to you?
I am a married man to a loving partner. We will be celebrating our two-year anniversary this June. Marriage is important to me because it makes me feel equal, and it’s empowering to me celebrate this moment in life with the one I love.
How do you think the LGBT community should respond to the uprising in Baltimore?
With love. Imagine if we surrounded these heavy moments in life with love. If we practiced as a community and lead by example with love. I believe that the simple act of compassion and kindness will allow an evolution of the consciousness of others. It is not always easy, but it is possible.
You built an impressive social media following before appearing on Drag Race. Do you have advice for other drag performers who want to increase their Internet celebrity?
My suggestion is to be true to you, and learn to listen to your supporters. Opening up that line of communication has helped me to evolve artistically. Being able to hear my fans ask about makeup advice and life advice gives me the opportunity to be of service in a loving and supportive way. I am socially responsible to others, as I have chosen a public platform. It gives me such fulfillment to know that I can inspire others to be true to themselves and others, and how we can learn to be kind as a community.
Why is social media important to drag culture, or the LGBT community in general?
The world we live in has evolved to use social media as a powerful tool; it’s literally creating some of the most impactful artists of our generation. Social media can also be utilized to sharing our journey, to live our truth, and inspire others to live their dreams. I love to connect and share my passion with my supporters and have moments where I can give them the truth to live authentically to themselves.
As a gay man myself, and having grown up without a role model, I feel it’s important for the LGBT community to have more advocates to inspire others. My social media is my platform, and I use it to connect with those that relate to my story and admire my creative journey. Beyond the ego-based validation of having a large following, the real light comes from being able to give back to others in a positive way. That is my purpose as an artist and as a person.
You have a new music video, “Rubber Doll.” What inspired it?
“Rubber Doll” is my debut single of my upcoming album. I am so excited to share my artistic evolution with my fans and the world that will continue to learn about my work. “Rubber Doll” was inspired by some of the men I’ve gotten to transform into queens. They were a bit different than my drag sisters. And I then was able to learn about the cross-dressing community. I felt I was a bit of an allure to these men at times, so I began to write my discoveries down in my journal. What was originally created to be photographed as an editorial, evolved into a story, which then became the first single and video shared off my album. I love being able to share portions of my journey through the art of music. As an artist I believe it’s important to explore your canvas and all its textures and remain open for your future. You never know which direction it will take.
Could there be an Amanda Lepore influence?
I adore the gorgeous Amanda Lepore and think she is such an inspiration. I love her aesthetic and can’t deny her influence in my fashion sense. She is an icon and forever beautiful.
Will we be seeing (or listening to) more music of yours in the future?
Yes, much more! Regarding my music, I was inspired by truth and beauty. The album is an ambient pop creation. I put… in every aspect and vision and feel that it’s something completely new and original — deeply humanizing and showcasing truths others may never have known about me. I felt alive creating this album, and completely in tune with my true essence. It also includes purely fun music we can all enjoy to dance to, but I remained true to myself. I am so proud of what I was able to create and realized that we are only as big as we allow yourself to be. I can’t wait to share this album. As you can tell, I’m excited!
What’s next after RuPaul?
My goal at this point is to become the future within the modeling industry. Be the duality — model and share that beauty has no boundaries. I want the world to see my work and see the art of it beyond my gender. I would love to work with Jean Paul Gaultier and walk in one of his shows. I would be so happy in my heart to experience this, [and] also to continue to shoot editorial work and land in the pages of major fashion and beauty publications. Let’s aim for the pages of Vogue.
What should a drag queen always keep in her purse?
Lip liner, pressed powder, lash glue, and mint.
Why did the drag queen cross the road?
Because there was a chicken too afraid to do it for itself.
Watch Miss Fame's new music video, "Rubber Doll," below.