We all know that the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race always needs to have charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, but this year’s winner had a strong sense of social activism and knew that “making people uncomfortable” sometimes, is crucial. Symone showed a flair for unique fashion, strong acting chops, and deadly lip sync capabilities, propelling her to the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar in a stunning final lip sync opposite Kandy Muse during the Drag Race Season 13 finale last night. As her Drag Race journey came to a glittering conclusion, Symone and I sat down to discuss her path to the crown, the emotions that came up during the competition, and why she remains compelled to bring forth her activism through her art.
Michael Cook: This season, you showcased high fashion, raw talent and important representation and showed people everywhere a revolutionary style of drag, which has taken you to the title of ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’ for Season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Symone: You got it.. That was the plan, the execution point, and I think I did it!
MC: How does it feel now that your Drag Race experience has ended?
S: My God, it was the most beautiful, exciting, crazy and stressful experience of my life. I got to go and live my dream and to show myself to the world, and to open myself up. It is all of those things, I can’t even put it into one word.
MC: You are the first queen to ever come from the state of Arkansas to appear on RuPaul’s Drag Race. What is drag like in Arkansas?
S: Arkansas drag was very pageant, big hair, big lashes, gowns rhinestones, all of those things. Then it got a lot more open and a was a lot more opening to other types of drag. I think now it is a little bit more well-rounded than how it first started. Let me tell you something; there are no shows like shows in Arkansas. Honestly it is a southern show; in my opinion, the best kind of drag comes from the South. There is just nothing like it around the world and in my opinion, you cannot beat it.
MC: Season 12 finalist Gigi Goode is a sister of yours and in the House of Avalon. Did Gigi give you any advice as you embarked on your own Drag Race journey?
S: Yes, it was very helpful advice. The advice that I do sometimes listen to, it was first and foremost, go in there and have fun. You will never have this specific experience again, so go in there and have fun! Also, you are the best singer, the best dancer, the best actor, and no one can tell you differently. So a healthy sense of delusion darling, that will get you through!
MC: And absolutely no one else has ever coined the phrase flag fectory which went viral this season!
S: Oh absolutely not darling; it’s the flag fectory”…
MC: Did you have any idea that that phrase would take off the way that it did?
S: I did not. I mean, I knew people would love it, but not like that. I was very surprised. When I am speaking, I just say stuff and say it how I want to say it. In the moment, I was like “Oh bitch, this is good.” I did not expect everyone to live for it. I am so happy that I did that!
MC: Celebrities have been known to show some love to their favorite Drag Race contestants during the season, but it is very rare that two global superstars share actual Lip Sync For Your Life performances on their social media. That is exactly what happened when both Ariana Grande and Janet Jackson showed you some love on their Insta-stories. How did that feel?
S: it is insane! Everyone watches the show, or someone’s stylist or makeup artist, it will get to them somehow. For them to repost it on their stories and to actually acknowledge that they have seen it, that is major. They don’t have to do that, for one. We are drag queens and we are just playing around on television. For them to acknowledge it is not only just so insane, but it is so validating and is such a rare thing to happen. I am so blessed to have had it happen to me by multiple celebrities, and it is just insane; I don’t even know how to explain it. I am just a little girl from Arkansas, so for them to see my little ass twirlin’ around is insane (laughs)!
MC: While possibly a little girl from Arkansas, you have a truly broad world view. Whether it was portraying Harriet Tubman in the Snatch Game challenge or that extremely powerful white dress you wore on the runway that was a true call to social justice, your art consistently served as a vessel for your message. Have you always been someone who demonstrated their personal perspective on the world through their art?
S: It is something that I not necessarily have always done, but something that I have always found important. It is something I wanted to do as I progressed. As I further got to know myself as a queen, it is something that is a cornerstone of my drag and it is something that is important to do, especially when you get on a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race that has millions of people watching every week. I knew what I was doing, I knew how many people were watching, I knew the kind of people that watched, and I knew where these people where that watched the show. At the time we were doing it, I just felt compelled…it is who I am.
I think it is important to speak for people who may not be able to speak for themselves or to speak when it needs to happen. We have a platform and people do look up to us and do listen to us. As much fun as drag is and while I am always up for a good time baby, it is important to say things that need to be said. You have a unique opportunity to do so. It does not always call for it, but when it does do it. When it is going to make people uncomfortable, that is right too. Things don’t happen unless people are uncomfortable.
MC: Have you always been an emotional performer and person? You were very cool, calm and collected and as the show continued, you truly were letting your emotions shine through. It almost felt like you looked around, noticed that you were quite possibly going to go all the way, and it got truly “real”. Is that fair to say?
S: That’s exactly what happened; you got it. I came out of the gate really strong, I did. It was a lot for me, in the way that I wanted to keep making people proud and I wanted people to keep rooting for me. In my head, you’re in a competition and nothing makes sense. It’s like “I’ve failed, people are going to hate me, it’s done, the Symone-train is over.”.I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and I didnt want anyone to look at me in a different way, if that makes sense. I did get very emotional about it…because I care a lot. I hated to see myself like that, and watching it again got very emotional again and cried ; I dont like to see myself like that. It was very hard for me to be vulnerable like that in front of everyone, but it was a real moment.
That is how I felt in the moment and I have always been emotional, that is why I prefer to be by myself a lot of the time, because I am so sensitive and I feel things that are around me. When that happened to me, it was just a complete and total breakdown. I felt like I had been strong the whole entire time, that I just needed to get it out. It felt like a flood almost (laughs). We are taught not to be that way back then, but the whole thing was hard. I had been feeling that way through the weeks, even after the wins. It is an emotionally charged few weeks when you are doing it so all of that was very real, I was just letting it all out. When I cry I cry…
MC: What is next for America’s Next Drag Superstar?
S: I want to do everything. I want to tour, I want to go out and see the fans. I also want to act; I feel like I tapped into something that I didn’t really know that I had, and I really enjoyed the acting challenges. In drag or out of drag, I would love to act. I just want to do everything; I want to do fashion, I want to be in fashion, I want to be in campaigns, I want to be in photo shoots, runways, and to show people everywhere that you can come from these places and you can do everything that you want in this world. When I say I want to do “everything” I want to do every-damn-thing (laughs)!
MC: As a performer and a person, you are so multi-layered. When do you feel the most authentically yourself?
S: I think for so long, I never really felt like I could be myself-ever. Drag even now, allows me to be that. I think that the lesson I needed to learn is that I have that out of drag also. I am going to be very honest, I am still trying to find myself really. For so long, I was the most happy and the most comfortable in drag, but I cannot live my life like that. I am still learning to give myself permission to be that out of drag. I am still figuring it out; maybe call me in a year and ask me this…
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