Jaida Essence Hall is the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race season 12.
Below, the Milwaukee-based drag artist spoke with The Advocate about the finale, the responsibility she feels to uplift others as a queen of color, how failure led to success in her career, and how fans can take action in a time of crisis.
Disclaimer: Hall spoke with The Advocate just prior to the finale's airing.
The Advocate: Where are you right now, and how are you holding up?
Jaida Essence Hall: I'm in Milwaukee at my home. And I'm holding up pretty good. Aside from the finale and the nerves and all of that. Everything else, I'm doing pretty well.
How are you feeling going into the finale in this whole new format?
I think it's something that's gonna be different. But at the same time, I think it'll still be very very exciting for everyone viewing. But going into the finale, I'm also so anxious [about] what's going to happen. Even for us, it'll still be exciting to see the way everything will turn out ... and hopefully, I will win!
How would you feel if you won?
Honestly, I would be over the moon if I won. When I was young and I first started watching the show, I was like "Oh my god ... I can be on that show and I can whoop them." But that's like a young, stupid, arrogant person. ... So, many years later, I've gained experience. And I gained a brain and so now, I think that to me, if I win, it would mean that dreams can come true for you and anything is possible.
And how would you feel if you lost?
You know what? If I lost, I would still feel like dreams do come true and anything is possible. ... To have made it on the show and then make it to the Top Three?
The show is so much bigger than ourselves. You think, "Oh my god, I love this opportunity." But there are so many people in the world who watch the show in different countries that probably cannot even express being gay. They can look at you on the show and find inspiration in you. So many people in my inbox send those messages. So even if I don't win, I feel like one of the objectives that I wanted to do was inspire people. I think that I've done that, so I still will feel like a winner.
How do you hope that your story inspires viewers?
My story is ... about being who you are and being true to who you are and knowing who you are. I come from a very poor background. ... Me and my brothers, we would fight over who was going to be sleeping in the bed and who would have to decide to roll a sheet on the floor.
It doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't matter what's happened to your life, it doesn't matter what your background is — you can still be successful. If I came up and was a poor Black boy that now is being seen by millions of people around the world, anything is possible for anybody. We just have to remember to believe that.
It's the American drag dream.
It seems so cliché when you talk to people about a dream. And people say, "Girl, a dream? Whatever. Win for the money." But honestly, dreams are still super important. They still should matter to so many people because there are so many people who have dreams of changing the way that they live their life. It's important for people to see that dreams can really, really, truly come true.
It's a surreal time right now in the world and drag. How would you use the platform of America's Next Drag Superstar in a time of crisis?
Just keeping people uplifted and just letting them know that they're not alone in all of this. I think as a queen of color who comes from so many different backgrounds ... I think it's my job to make sure that I'm upholding those people [from those different groups] and make sure that when there are moments when their voice is quieted, and I have a voice, I use my voice for those people and for good.
One of the highlights of the season was the election episode and seeing your brilliant satire of politics today, in which you distracted your questioners by shouting, "Look over there!" How do you hope that your voice inspires people to become more involved in the political process?
With that challenge, it was to make people laugh. But the message behind what I was saying was that, a lot in politics, there's always ways people try to deflect ... from what's important and from important topics. I think that even when people watch it and laugh ... I think that hopefully, from seeing that on the show, it'll make them maybe have their eyes a little bit more squinted, their ears a little bit more open to, "Well yeah, that feels like a 'look over there' moment, and it feels like they're probably [trying] to not give us the information that we need."
What's been the highlight of the season for you?
I had a fall from grace [in the stand-up comedy challenge]. It hurt a little bit on the ass but it felt good to be able to show people what it is that I do and that I'm not afraid to fight for my position in the competition. It's good to do well but people still want to be able to see how badly you really want it. And I think, in my lipsynch, I was like, "Girl, I need this honey. It's not about a want, it's about a need at this point."
Do you think that failing has helped make you a better performer?
Oh, absolutely. In my career sometimes, people will ask us, "Well, if you could do something different, what would you do differently?" ... I remember times when I wanted to work on a microphone and they were like, "We don't want you to host." Well, why won't they let me host? And things that happened along the way made me more confident and then when I finally did host, it was together.
I auditioned only one other time before [for RuPaul's Drag Race] and I didn't make it. To me, it felt like a failure then. But I wasn't ready. And now it's given me the strength and more time to gather hosting skills and being more sociable and learning how to communicate what I'm thinking in drag more and learning how to be myself more. Everything happens for a reason and I'm so glad that things have pointed me in this direction.
Your season aired during a really extraordinary time. Additionally, there's a protest over police brutality coming out the day of the finale. What message do you have for fans right now who might be feeling scared?
I think that people have the right to feel scared. But then I also think that when people are afraid, they need to take that fear and turn that fear into ... fire behind them to want change in the world and in the country. Right now, there's a lot that's going on with the coronavirus and if we had a different political situation right now, it most likely might have been different. And even with what's going on right now in Minneapolis, I think that people are afraid of what's going on. But we have to use our voice and let people know that some of the things in the world that are not OK that are happening, that we won't stand for it and we won't take it. There's different ways that people go about that. But I think that at the end of the day, the message needs to be that we want change. And even if we're afraid of change, we have to be advocates for that change because there are so many horrible things happening in the world right now. And it's so many different people that those things are happening to, and we have to learn how to be a voice for a lot of people who sometimes can't speak up for themselves.