The Advocate spoke with Katya about the drama behind the Hello Kitty–inspired main stage challenge, substance abuse, and the problem with Putin.
The Advocate: How did you prepare for RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Katya: There's not a lot of time, so my apartment became a sweatshop during the couple of weeks before I left for L.A. It had one lonely, underpaid, impoverished worker — me — and believe me, I was churning out thick black plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. I spent so much time sewing and packing and gathering stuff that I never had the chance to emotionally prepare for what was ahead of me. And boy, was that a mistake! [Laughs]
In your opinion, was the Hello Kitty episode the most bizarre challenge of the season?
It was a little strange, I suppose, especially after having just paid homage to John Waters, the king of trash and irreverence. But I wouldn't say it was bizarre. Definitely not my favorite, for obvious reasons! [Laughs]
Your Russian Hello Kitty best friend look was absolutely brilliant, though! What inspired it?
Thank you! I just wanted to do something that would showcase the roots of my character, which I hadn't done much on the show at that point. What I had planned was actually a lot more irreverent than what you saw on the screen, but I think it was a little too inappropriate for Hello Kitty's brand. My character's nickname was actually "Soviet Skank."
You mentioned you had a panic attack the night before the Hello Kitty runway. What caused it?
I was just at the end of my rope. The competition was mentally and physically exhausting, and at that point, my brain just shut down. I couldn't think of anything good to make for my costume, and it made me panic. I felt creatively drained, which was very disturbing. I just wanted to run into the Hollywood Hills! I have a tough time dealing with pressure sometimes, but that's what the competition is all about. It's a shame it all fell apart so close to the end, but c'est la vie!
Why was this challenge in particular so difficult for you?
I like to take my time when I'm designing and constructing outfits. The sewing challenges were particularly difficult — thank God there were so few of them! — because I like to work at my own pace, make a mistake, fix it, etc. Being under the gun with all new materials and equipment just really stressed me out.
Describe your Hello Kitty–inspired runway outfit in three words.
Confused, schizophrenic, bad.
If you could go back in time, what would you have changed about your runway look?
I probably would have done a Hello Kitty Russian princess dress with a fur hat and muff. Pearl actually suggested that I do this when she got a look at how bad my outfit was. She was like, "Girl, you can't go on the main stage like that!" But it was too late — there wasn't enough time to make something new.
Whose Hello Kitty look impressed you the most?
Um, Violet's, obviously! I mean, the girl is amazing. She is so talented, so visually intelligent, and so focused. She had a plan, and she worked tirelessly until it was executed flawlessly. I have the deepest, hardest, wettest, most tumescent respect and admiration for her.
Why do you think Hello Kitty is so popular worldwide?
I really have no idea. I'm not into Hello Kitty. Because little girls are crazy?
Are you surprised the brand would be a sponsor of a drag competition?
It did seem a little weird! But the brand and its products lend itself well to a bat-shit crazy sewing challenge, and of course the creation of a new character was very drag.
What was it like to finally be judged by Santino Rice?
I wish he had seen me on a different episode! I knew going into the challenge that he was going to rip my outfit apart, so that wasn't surprising. I wasn't too disappointed that he was absent this season, because I've always kind of felt that his runway critiques skewed more toward high fashion, which isn't necessarily representative of drag. I mean, most drag queens are not high-fashion models and don't aspire to that. I really loved the addition of Ross and Carson — Ross especially.
People always say “This isn’t RuPaul’s Best Friends Race.” But you did make a lot of friends in your time on Drag Race! What’s the secret to making friends in such a competitive environment?
It actually was RuPaul's Best Friend Race for me. [Laughs] I realized early on that if I didn't make friends, I would probably jump off the hotel balcony. And thank God I did, but what I didn't expect was that I would make friends with literally all of them, especially the girls in the top six and seven. It's such a cliché, but my biggest competition was myself. I was my own worst critic, and my biggest obstacle to performing well on the show was my relentless self-flagellation and lack of confidence. So thank God those whores believed in me more than I believed in myself.
Kennedy is such an amazing stage performer. Were you intimidated by lip-synching against her? How did you prepare?
I wasn't intimidated at all. [Laughs] Yes, of course I was. Well, not really intimidated, but rather, I just knew what was going to happen, and I would try my best. That was actually the calmest I felt that day, because it was one of the very few times I knew what was going to happen, and I was OK with it. I knew she would beat me and that I would go home, but it was my time, so I was not bitter. I mean, I really just wanted to watch her twirl, because at that point I knew what she could do, but hadn't seen it yet.
Your lip-synch with Kennedy was epic, and it will easily go down in Drag Race herstory as among the best. Did you plan that synchronized split with Kennedy, or did it just happen in the moment?
Thanks! She really deserves all the credit, but I did my small part. I didn't plan that — I think that point in the song just called for it. It was my last little moment to make an impression, so that's what I did. I'm glad I didn't jump off the stage. I probably would have broken my pelvis.
Looking back on the episode, would you have done anything else differently to avoid elimination?
I wouldn't have worn that goddamn wig. But my vision and judgment were clouded by a thick fog of stress and delusion. If I had been in the right state of mind, who knows, maybe I would have made better choices. But I'm so happy with the outcome and all the support I've received. So I'm cool!
No other contestant has been so open about having a past substance addiction, even though these are huge issues in the LGBT community. What are you hoping your time on Drag Race will show to people who were in your shoes — or could be in your shoes?
From the response I've already gotten, people have been majorly inspired by my experiences, which is really wonderful. There are two things that I hope people can take away from my experience. One, that if you suffer from addiction, there is a way out. And two, that life in sobriety is not boring, and that creativity is not enhanced by drugs, alcohol, or pain. In the two years I've been sober, I'm more fun, insane, and productive than I've ever been.
What advice would you have for those with a drug or alcohol addiction?
Ask for help.
Was it hard to watch yourself discuss these issues?
Yeah, it was a little embarrassing, but I think it helped and inspired people, so that's more important than what I feel about it.
Why did you choose to have a Russian drag persona, even when you yourself are not Russian?
It was just kind of random. I had learned French and wanted to learn another language that was in a different family. So I chose Russian, fell in love with the language, culture, and history, and then decided to do the character. I tend to latch on to things pretty obsessively for awhile. I listened to Russian pop music exclusively for almost five years. It's weird.
Do you hope to make a political statement or raise awareness about the anti-LGBT laws passed in Russia with your drag?
No way. I have no political aspirations with my drag, and my political views are not sophisticated enough for me to make any kind of confident statements about policy or legislation. Listen, of course it's awful that any country would pass this kind of legislation, but Russia is not the only one. All I want to do is make people laugh.
What would you say to Putin if he were in the same room with you?
Can I have Alla Pugacheva's phone number, please?
What was your favorite main challenge of the season, and why?
The John Waters challenge. I had so much fun. I did really well, and it was my favorite runway category: ugliest dress. Plus he's a hero, and to have him there was a dream come true.
What was the most challenging part of being on Drag Race?
The isolation and self-doubt.
The most rewarding?
Meeting all the girls. They're going to be lifelong friends, whether they like it or not.
Who is your favorite among the remaining queens this season?
Ugh, that's a tough one. Ginger is just everything to me. She murdered the
performance challenges, and she's just so funny and amazing. But watching the show has made me fall in love with Violet. I wouldn't be mad if any one of the remaining girls won. They're just awesome.
What is the most important lesson you learned from your time on RPDR?
I am my own worst enema. [sic]
What first attracted you to drag, and what inspired your drag name?
I’ve always been a gay, gay, gay cross-dressing sissy boy. And I love Russian gymnasts, so I chose a name that people wouldn't be able to spell or pronounce because I like to make things difficult.
What’s next after RuPaul?
Lots of touring, more videos, and a one-woman show.
What should a drag queen always keep in her purse?
A compass, a rosary, and a $5 bill.
Why did the drag queen cross the road?
To welcome the sweet embrace of death, like an old friend.
Thanks, Katya! See her "RuFlections" on the elimination below.