Part of the mission of Rupaul’s Drag Race, and one of the show’s gifts to pop culture, has been Ru’s and the contestants’ use of the platform to expand mainstream concepts of what drag can be — and what a drag queen “should” look like.
On the show, as in life, beauty can come in the form of big-haired, be-gowned glamazons like Rupaul and Season 2 winner Tyra Sanchez, or it can walk in bald, unibrowed, and fierce like Season 9 winner Sasha Velour.
On the current season of Drag Race, contestant Monét X Change — aside from dishing up some of the most hilarious reads in her talking-head confessionals — had consistently served looks closer to Sasha Velour’s short-hair-don’t-care end of the spectrum. And the judges were not feeling it. In episode after episode, in the workroom and on the runway, Monét heard it from Rupaul, Michelle Visage, and even her fellow contestants that she needed to move past her short-haired pussycat wigs and bring more “glamour” to the stage.
But Monét, who topped her sponge-dress look with a tuft of afro, and her glitterific runway look with a shiny oil slick of close-cropped hair, stayed true to herself. Meanwhile, the judges generally praised every other aspect of Monét’s performances in acting, comedy, and musical challenges. After all, the performer did major in music education and opera performance at Westminster Choir College.
And of course, Monét killed with her on-point Maya Angelou impression in this season’s edition of “Snatch Game.” But she didn’t win that challenge, and in fact, she never was declared a main challenge winner on the show. She did, however, land in the bottom on three occasions, including in this week’s episode, where she was forced to lip-sync for her life against Kameron Michaels.
Ultimately, Monét sashayed away, bested by a contestant who’s also challenging conventional notions of feminine beauty. Yet the New York-based queen is committed to continue bringing Monét-style glamour to her fans, with warmth, wit, and — surprise — a newly released dance track, “Soak It Up,” featuring Bob the Drag Queen. Monét gave Metro Weekly the lowdown on her close friendship with Bob, her upcoming EP, and her concepts of beauty and glamour.
METRO WEEKLY: That was a tight lip-sync battle between you and Kameron. How did you feel about it?
MONÉT: Honestly, I feel like I turned it out. I feel like I embodied what Lizzo was trying to say in the song, with not just comedy, but in my overall movements, with my dancing and the song. Oftentimes we claim to do these lip syncs but they’re just going through an 8-step combination that they learned in a dance class one time. Like, oh yeah, there’s a cartwheel here, there’s a hair flip here, and there’s a boom, boom there. It becomes so formulaic. The fact that I feel like I did something beyond that, I’m really proud of what I did in the lip sync. I feel like I turned it out, but it just was the luck of the draw. It was my time to go.
MW: The judges said they wanted more glamour from you. Do you feel that you gave them Monét X Change glamour, or do you wish that you would’ve taken it further towards whatever it is that they were thinking of?
MONÉT: Yeah, obviously, maybe I should’ve done a little more glamour in their eyes, but this concept and this thing that we’re now saying that short hair can’t be beautiful and glamorous is such a weird thing to me because lots of women in my family have short hair and they’re beautiful. Halle Berry is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and she’s had short hair for much of her career and she is stunning. I don’t understand why short hair can’t be pretty or why short hair can’t be glamorous. I did give them glamour, I feel like I did a good job of changing it up a lot. Yeah, a lot of my runways weren’t the strongest look, weren’t always the best runways, but I changed it up. Ru wanted big hair, I gave him big hair. Episode four, I gave him two big wigs. Episode five, I had that big glamorous wig on, and this episode I had big hair on. I feel like I did a good job of changing it up, and I didn’t only wear short hair, but this narrative that I did is really interesting and funny to me.
MW: For a few episodes after your controversial sponge dress you were pulling sponges out of thin air. Where were you keeping all those sponges?
MONÉT: They were all under my left boob. After the first challenge, they became like a lucky token for me, and I would keep them in my bra on the left side at every runway and the first time I got to the bottom four, episode four, we were changing so fast because of the runways, I just forgot to put it in there. So, that was the first time I didn’t put it on, but the second time, episode five, we went straight from the challenge, and we just had a really quick turnaround to the runway and I forgot to put it in there again and I was at the bottom, and I was like, “Oh my god. There’s a correlation between me being in the bottom and not having my plush tokens.” So, from that point on I kept it in there until I went home.
MW: What about the sponge dress? Has it been taken apart?
MONÉT: Oh my god. People are so obsessed with the dress. I was supposed to have it on display at Dragcon, but I got altered around. But, at New York Dragcon it’s going to be on display so people can see the iconic piece of Drag Race herstory. It has manifested into people bringing me sponges, and bringing me sponges all around the country. It’s so cool! It’s so fierce to see. I’m now the Mr. Clean of drag and it’s fucking everything. I’m obsessed.
MW: From what we saw, your energy is just consistently positive, and on the show you had no fights, no meltdowns, no shade. Did you just get a good edit or is that how you walk through life?
MONÉT: That’s how I walk through life. There is so much negative shit in the world and that has happened to me, but when negative things happen to me I don’t feel the need to project onto others because it’s no one else’s problem but my own. So, I’m not one who is typically involved in drama. I don’t have a lot of fights. I’m always jolly and have a very upbeat attitude, and a lot of that is because I do have a very real way of looking at life. When things happen, I have the ability to step outside myself and see what is going on, and then I know how to react. For example, me going home [on this episode], I had the ability to look outside of that and be like, “Okay, this happened, and yeah you’re going home, but there are all these other great and positive things happening from you just being on Rupaul’s Drag Race.” So yeah, you didn’t win but now you possibly have the chance to hopefully get on an All Stars, and be the first black All Stars winner, which would be so much fucking cooler and fiercer than just winning a regular season. You know what I mean? So, hopefully more great things happen from me going home this episode.
MW: Speaking of other great things, I’m enjoying your song, “Soak it Up.”
MONÉT: Oh, thank you! Right? It’s so lit!
MW: It’s a collaboration with Bob the Drag Queen. How did you two first meet?
MONÉT: I met Bob the Drag Queen, and now SpongeBob the Drag Queen, at a bar in New York City called The Ritz and she was doing a pageant called Our Lady of Saliva, and she did this number called Beetlejuice. It was to a Nicki Minaj song, and Bob had this coat on, and I can’t explain it, but she did this optical illusion where the coat went up but it made it look like her head fell off, and so she put it back on, and I was like, “Oh, this queen.” It was like this really fierce thing and I was like, “Oh my gosh. She’s amazing. She’s great.” That was seven years ago, and now here we are.
I love Bob a lot, and Bob is someone who has really turned my life upside down and shown me what being a good friend really is. And Bob hates the sponge dress, and I was like, “First of all, A, you’re doing my [Soak It Up] video, and B, you’re wearing a sponge something.” And he was like, “No, I’m not.” I was like, “Yes, you are.” He was completely against it, but now that he wore it and he sees the video, now he’s obsessed with it.
MW: There are a lot of New York queens on the show, and some weeks it seems like there was camaraderie, some weeks it seems it was competitive. How would you characterize the vibe between you and Aquaria, Cracker, Dusty and Yuhua?
MONÉT: I think that we all had a good rapport with each other. Sometimes it seemed like there was drama, especially week three with Yuhua and the whole ugly sisters thing and her not taking the note to be ugly, but that’s just kind of how New Yorkers are. Sometimes we’re very catty with each other, but it’s so cheesy and so corny to say but it really all comes out of love. Yeah, Yuhua didn’t follow the directions on that day, but after, I still would’ve taken a bullet for her. If they judged us as a group and we were on stage, I would’ve still taken a bullet for her because I’ve known Yuhua for a very a long time, and we have that New York City sisterly camaraderie that even though she fucked up and she was a goddamn mess, I was still like, that’s my sister. I can make fun of her but you can’t, Eureka. You know? That kind of thing.
MW: You also released a cover of “Strange Fruit,” which was sort of out of left field. What does that song mean to you and why did you record that?
MONÉT: Doing that video and that song has been something I wanted to do for two years now, but I just didn’t have the resources to do it before, and I got inspired to do it the day after the Philando Castile shooting happened. When Philando Castile got shot for literally complying with the law and showing the officer the license he had for a gun, and he got shot and killed in front of his fiancé and his daughter, that really inspired that for me. Also, I have many trans friends in New York City, and hearing how trans women are awfully victimized and brutalized — trans women of color, specifically — I wanted to do something to bring attention to that and to show people that, yeah, it’s not being talked about as much in the media, but it’s still very much a huge problem. I wanted to use this new platform that I have to make people think about it and to raise people’s awareness of the consumption of black pain by white folks.
MW: You mentioned on the show that you were classically trained as a vocalist. Where did you study?
MONÉT: I went to Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, New Jersey. That was a launching point for me getting into drag because at Westminster, we did a drag ball, and it was kind of a thing where they would bring a drag entertainer in, and the freshmen and the sophomores would get dressed up and do a pageant, and the entertainer was Peppermint. Peppermint used to come and do this drag ball at the school. That was my first intro to drag, and I was like, “That’s so weird. Why does she have to dress up as that? Why does a guy do that?” Cut to, here I am on season 10 of Rupaul’s Drag Race.
MW: How does your personality change making the transformation from Kevin Bertin into Monet?
MONÉT: Oh, my personality is exactly the same. I’m still loud, I’m still jolly, I’m still pretty brash. It’s literally the same exact person, just a little more eyeliner.
MW: There are a number of Drag Race queens with songs out. What’s the plan so that fans hear “Soak it Up?”
MONÉT: Well, there are lots of Rupaul’s girls with songs on, but I am actually legitimately singing in mine. That’s number one. Number two, my song is a dance track, but it’s very inspired by the disco sound and that vibe of being carefree and having a good time up in the club. And also, I do have my EP coming up. My EP is going to be not a regular one where the songs are the same genre, same theme, my EP is literally going to have disco, is going to have pop on it, it’s going to have so many different genres and so many styles of music that it’s going to set me apart, and hopefully open Drag Race fans into hearing music in a different way and not just those typical terrible songs like “Purse First” and “Yet Another Dig” by Bob the Drag Queen.
MW: Not that you’re making fun of Bob.
MONÉT: No, I would never. [Laughs.]
MW: Finally, does a drag queen have to wear big hair?
MONÉT: You know, a drag queen should wear whatever hair you are lucky to get that night. After working four nights out of the week, on night five, if I want to come out with a fucking cotton ball on my head, you better fucking like it.
Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 10 airs Thursdays at 8pm on VH1. It returns with a new episode June 7.