Every season of Drag Race has an “antihero” and the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race is no exception. Ilona Verley came into the workroom full of opinions, only equaled by her talent. While she has now departed the competition, this Canadian rebel has plans on taking over the world! I sat down for a post-elimination chat to talk about the saboteurs she has overcome throughout her career, how she feels both she and her m vxzdrag have grown, and why she is never going to be anything but authentically Ilona.
Michael Cook: You were definitely the queen that so many were talking about on this season of Canada’s Drag Race and you certainly kept the workroom interesting!
Ilona Verley: Yeah, girl she knew that she was an antihero (laughs)!
MC: What does it feel like to be an antihero of sorts for you?
IV: You know, the thing about me is that I am just myself. I don’t tend to typecast and I know, I definitely have a bitchy side, but a very loving side as well. My life is all about balance; just being enough to make good television, but just nice enough to make sure people still love me.
MC: What is it like to be on the inaugural cast of Canada’s Drag Race!?
IV: It is so incredible to have been a part of this first season. Obviously, just being a part of the Drag Race family is such a dream come true and to have it be for the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, that is herstory making. I am just so thankful to be a part of this first group of girls and to really show the world what Canada has, because we have such incredible and diverse performers here.
MC: You were very quick to give the other girls your opinion, whether they are a legend or a newcomer, but you seemed to definitely show some respect to the ladies in the workroom who truly had made their stamp in the drag world. Do you think you always had such reverence for your fellow queens?
IV: Here’s the thing, I have gone through so many lifetimes with drag and communities, and I have grown up a lot since I first started doing drag. I was such a little shit when I first started and I was always getting into drama and hating everyone. As I’ve grown up, I have realized that it is so much more beneficial and way happier just to be happy and be a positive force in the world. As I grew to love myself, it made it really easy to love all the people around me and have respect for the people that I look up to. Not just to secretly look up to someone in private, but to really let them know, “I live for you, what you do is amazing”. Often times, we forget that it can be as simple as paying someone a compliment. It is so easy to be just around people, I think we forget to appreciate them. I am very conscious nowadays to make sure the people around me know that I appreciate them, I love them, and if you are doing something that I am living for, I’m gonna tell you I’m living for it!
MC: Everyone has to have that a-ha moment in their lives where they feel things shift to a true feeling of gratitude in their lives for what they have . When do you think your tipping point was?
IV: About three to three and a half years ago, my partner passed away. It was very unexpected, it kind of just happened and for me, that was such an eye opener at how fast things can really change. I wanted to make sure that moving forward, the people in my life knew that I loved them. I don’t think once, I ever had told my partner that I loved them. Obviously they knew that, but I never got to say it. After experiencing that and just the hardship that I went through over coping with that and dealing with that, it made me open my eyes and just understand that life is too short to be a ball of anger and a ball of negativity. It is so much more important to tell people that you love and appreciate them as opposed to just never getting the chance to do that. It was definitely something that opened my eyes to the reality of what living in the real world is like.
MC: Looking back on your Drag Race trajectory, what do you think of the entire experience? You were controversial in terms of being forthright with your competitors, that is for sure.
IV: As someone who has lived a very long life of being told to shut up, you are never going to be good enough, what I have to say does not matter, it has definitely made me into the type of person who talks a lot because I know now that what I have to say does matter. Often times, I can be aggressive in my speech pattern I guess and it can come off as overwhelming. In my friend group, that is just how I am and my friends know that and it is never to detract from someone else. Obviously on the show though, you are seeing an edited version of the situation. I would say yeah, I talk a lot and I am kind of a lot, but the things that I have gone through in my life are what has made me a lot. I am not ashamed of who I am; I am proud of who I am and at the end of the day if fans want to have an opinion on me based on a few episodes of a tv show they can go ahead and do that, I am still sleeping just fine at night.
MC: What do you think you want to do now in your post Drag Race career?
IV: I think I want to just keep creating the art that I create and really get back to the root of why I started doing drag. That is to make people feel. I feel like in the last couple years, I have gotten so wrapped up in being a beautiful drag queen, I forgot to stay true to creating think pieces and creating looks and art that make people feel things. I really can’t wait to get back onstage to be able to perform again and really just let my heart out. To let my heart shine, because that is where I can do it best; on stage. Obviously, with all of the digital drag we are doing out best to come up with digital content, but it will never be the same as the stage.
MC: What do you think will be different for you coming back to the real world post-quarantine?
IV: I think now I have a lot more confidence. As I mentioned, I struggled with the “I’m never gonna be good enough” thing. For me, being on Drag Race really showed myself that I am good enough. I am successful enough to get my ass on a show like Drag Race and to have my own back a little more. To be more proud of myself and to not listen to what other people are saying and just listen to my own instincts, and to make the most of this opportunity. To continue to make art and to continue to have important conversations and to make sure doorways are continuing to be opened for indigenous people and trans people.
Canada’s Drag Race airs on Crave & WOW Presents Plus. It also airs on Logo on Monday nights (check local listings)