As one of the most famed (and popular) queens to emerge from the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise, Raven has become of the most stunning elder stateswomen around. Revered by fellow Drag Race competitors, her sublime makeup skills caught the eye of RuPaul herself, who Raven is now privileged to do makeup for (and has snagged an Emmy for doing, to boot)! Now, Raven is grabbing her brushes and branching out into her own reality competition show on WOW Presents Plus, Painted With Raven. The competitors all competed from home, creating a unique experience for both the competitors and the viewers. I caught up with Raven to talk about helming her own reality series, advice she has received from Mama Ru herself, and we reflected on the girl that Drag Race Season 2 Raven was, and the woman she has emerged as now.
Michael Cook: Congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment, Painted With Raven is a monumental career achievement. Surreal must not begin to explain how it feels to be hosting your own competition program that showcases such a passion of yours like makeup.
Raven: The perfect word is surreal. I would have never guessed, thought, expected or dreamed that I would be sitting here talking about about this, twelve years later.
MC: So many Drag Race girls go on to various successes on their own, but to have your own show on WOW Presents Plus must give you a multitude of feelings. What is the one facet of the experience that you have found you are enjoying the most?
R: I would say, that the beauty industry, the corner in the world where all of the beauty lies, is now coming to the forefront. People are taking a minute for themselves and saying that they could present themselves to the world by putting on a bit of blush of mascara. Whether through Drag U or working at the makeup counter, I have spoken to many people over the years, mostly women. They felt down on themselves & you could tell that they didn’t feel as confident as they should. I remember several of the women saying “I just don’t want to spend time” as they stood in front of me talking to me about makeup! I always said, “you can literally spend five minutes”.
To now see that people are spending hours, people are literally going to work at any different type of profession in the world with a full face of makeup, lashes and lipstick. To also see that men, it is now being “normalized” for men in the world to wear makeup. When I first started putting on makeup, I would put it on in my house, I would use a one-time use camera to take some pics, and then take it off; no one saw the other end of it. Going out and doing drag was weird for me, to actually walk out of the house in makeup. For it to be celebrated the way that it has, and now for there to be a competition reality where these amazing artists are competing from home to win $25,000…
MC:As you got to see the contestants initially and get to know them, did you see any flashes of the Raven just starting out in the world of makeup that you just mentioned?
R: Absolutely. The thing is, every one of them is completely different than the other one, everyone is unique in their own way, There are times that people fall into different types of artistry, there are the goth kids, the jock kids, etc. Across the board each of these artists are different, but as I spoke to them I totally could see that I was “there” a few years ago or I was “that” a few minutes ago. I definitely see that in everyone; it is funny when you can look at someone and see a mirror at times. It’s really crazy when you can see that same mirror and think “wow I can be a jerk sometimes”.
MC: RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 2 was so many seasons ago, but some real talent has emerged from your season. Other than yourself, artists like Shangela & Kylie Sonique Love, true entertainment legends have emerged from that season of Drag Race. At that time, did you look around at the workroom and see the volume of talent at that time?
R: Looking around I already thought “wow this is a good group of queens”. I only ever walked into it to compete in a drag competition; that was my goal. Of course, I wanted to win but I didn’t look at it as a launching pad. It wasn’t anything for me other than competing in a drag competition, so I never looked at it like that. Obviously I know who makes it to the top on Drag Race, I don’t know who is going to win, They film all of the different endings; that is the one surprise I get. Watching it, and seeing Kylie win, I remember getting choked up. It was wonderful seeing this queen come back from Season 2, twelve years ago, and win triumphantly, deservingly. It made my heart happy to see her in that capacity. Back then, a lot of us were like “what are we doing, I dont understand this”? Even Kylie will tell you, back then she was very usnsure of herself. She had not started to transition, she was just figuring out how she felt about herself, so I think her coming back as her true self, she was able to cast her net. and really show “this is what I do”. And it was wonderful to watch.
MC: Looking back at earlier seasons of Drag Race or Drag Race All Stars, seeing you fighting with Tatianna for example, must be akin to having things you did in high school brought up now perhaps. Is that fair to say?
R: Yes. That is another one I look at, I see what Tatianna has done and I’m like “fuck that bitch is fierce”! I’ve seen and worked with her over the years; I love working with Tatianna. Every single time we work together we have a blast and enjoy each other. What happened back then was like you said, stupid high school crap. It was just that stupid thing that goes on with people that are jealous-I was very jealous of her-and I have admitted to that. I was seeing all of these wonderful accolades and these cheers that she was getting from the judges and it was like “gosh”. We have spoken since then and I have apologized to her. She’s another one that I look like and I am like “damn this bitch is doin’ it”.
I look at RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 2 as the place where a lot of queens that came in were doing drag for so long that they loved doing drag and were putting their heart and soul into everything that they did when they walked on stage. Not that no one does now, but a lot of people were doing drag for ten years, I had been doing drag for eight years before the show had even started. When we came in, it was like “we’re doing drag” and they had to kind of say “this is a television show, let’s do a television show; but you’re still drag queens”. I think that is why so many of us have succeeded.
MC: From the runway to doing makeup for RuPaul herself to now Painted With Raven, advice from people has to have been a crucial part of your journey. What is the one piece of advice that RuPaul has given you about business or simply life in general that stays with you?
R: Ru is one of the easiest people to speak with. We speak about many many things in the dressing room. We also know that we can speak to each other without offending each other. When people are getting upset about something online or about something that they are perceiving that the intention behind something is not anything that they are saying it was, he just laughs and says “you know what, who cares? These people are just looking for a reason to be mad about something. You need to look at what is going on right now. What you’re doing, what your intention is, and where you are headed. Don’t worry about that, it starts to cloud your vision”. I remember saying “yeah you’re right” and Ru said “let’s not talk about it anymore”. He let me know we were moving on from this; he will check you and he has checked me.
When I first started doing this show and was asking Ru for advice on eliminating someone, he said “that is not the best part of the job. When it happens you realize shit just got real. No one wants to do it, but you have to do it, it’s your job. So pull up your panties and do your job”. It sucks but it was in that moment that I realized what he must have gone through. I’m sure now he knows now that this is the gig, but I am sure that the first couple of seasons it was hard for him to do that. You can tell that his heart doesn’t want to have to do that.
MC: What is the one makeup technique that you see anyone do that you truly wish that they would not do?
R: When they only line their bottom eyelid. When they take that black liner and do a black line right along the bottom, whether in the waterline or along the lash line and they dont do anything else. I can’t stand it, it just makes your eyes look droopy and it doesn’t do anything for the shape of your eye no matter your eye shape. That is probably my least favorite makeup “trend”.
MC: If you looked at the Raven that walked into the RuPaul’s Drag Race and came up short and didn’t win the crown that year, what would the Raven of today say to that performer?
R: You know what, you may have not won this challenge and it’s okay. There are bigger things for you than what is going on right here. Rub some dirt in those wounds, hike up your skirt and just wait a few years, things will come to you. Don’t dwell too much on the past; everything as they say happens for a reason. I do believe that; everything that happens molds you into the person that you are, that you will become, and that you are right now and that you will be tomorrow.
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Painted With Raven premieres on Wow Presents PLUS today