“They Call This Queen…Mariah”. With those words, RuPaul cemented Mariah Balenciaga into Drag Race history as one of the most breathlessly stunning dolls to hit the runway. As she returned for RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 5, fans were eager to see how her style had changed (it has only grown) and what this doll could bring to the competition. Not only did Mariah bring her signature “race horse legs” and stunning fashion, but she showed quite clearly, that this queen has plenty more to show the world. Mariah and I sat down and immediately went deep on the ballroom world, racial inequality in the world of drag, and what her All-Stars experience meant to her.
Michael Cook: It was fantastic to see the queen we all know as the stunning Mariah return to the RuPaul’s Drag Race runway on All-Stars 5. How do you look at the whole experience?
Mariah Balenciaga: It felt good, it felt like a reunion. I know a lot of the girls and I have worked with a lot of the girls. Walking in and seeing the caliber of competition, I felt great about that. I only want to compete against the best, and if I lose, I only want to lose to the best. I felt really great about the girls that were there with me in the workroom. I am very happy with how everything went. Of course, I wish I could have gone a little bit further, but I think I executed everything that I set out to.
MC: You were gone for quite some time and many girls have come through the doors of that workroom since you left; is there anyone that you were shocked not to see?
MB: You know, I thought that Kameron Michaels was gonna be there. I was surprised she wasn’t there, I was really anticipating her.
MC: You went from the ballroom to RuPaul’s Drag Race. How did you make the change from the ballroom to Drag Race?
MB: For me, it was not that hard. I think the hardest thing was that in ballroom, I am such a hardcore strategist about who is going to be showing up to the ball, what their style is, what gives them the edge, and how can I package this particular category to slay whoever might be there. I am so razor sharp focused on competition, and that did not translate well to my experience on Drag Race during Season 3. I was so hard on myself, so focused, and so intense, I did not give myself a chance to actually enjoy the experience.
MC: You were part of the Season 3 cast of Drag Race, and during that time away, the ballroom culture has seen itself get a cultural renaissance, between shows like Pose and Legendary. What was it like coming back to the workroom with what could be a new appreciation for where you come from?
MB: I didn’t perform in clubs at all before Drag Race. I had to learn and catch up quick, which I am pretty effective at doing (laughs). I think people now have a better idea of what ballroom culture is like. For years, people would say things like “oh you’re a ballroom dancer”?. I had to correct them and explain that it was the ballroom “scene” and then you have to go through and explain that. It is great that shows like Pose and Legendary are giving people a little bit more insight and a little bit more visuals for where I come from.
MC: One of your Drag Race sisters is also featured on Pose, as Jiggly Caliente has the recurring role of Veronica.
MB: I KNOW! I love it, I am so proud of her too!
MC: You are a founding member of The House Of Balenciaga, and there is so much about the ballroom culture that many people are now aware of. What do you want people to know about the culture that you come from that they may not see on television?
MB: There are so many more categories than voguing. I think voguing and runways might be the sensationalized categories, but there is so much more creativity in the ballroom scene. You have face, the sex siren, body, and bizarre categories that happen. The fashion, the fashion categories; designers and stylists, they used to and still do come to the balls to “get inspiration”. I am glad that the ballroom scene is getting the recognition for the creativity that they inspire and create.
MC: We got to see another layer of Mariah during the talent show performance, which was very moving and extremely timely. Tell me about what made you want to express your views in that way during the talent show?
MB: I think a lot of times when people have a platform or an opportunity to say something, when they open their mouth, nothing comes out. I wanted to really use my voice; and keep In mind this is a year ago before everything went crazy. I just felt that that message still had to get out, it still had not been addressed on that stage and that platform. It was just high time for it to happen and it was time for someone to say something about it. If it needs to be packaged in an entertainment setting, let’s do it. It’s a message that needed to be said.
MC: The messages in our country are trickling down into the nightlife scene, with discussions on racial inequality popping up in cities like Chicago and New York City. Do you think that the time has come where you are going to start to see changes for racial equality in nightlife when we all are able to go back out to our nightlife spaces?
MB: Absolutely. It has been beyond time for an antiquated mindset to be abolished out of our safe spaces. Unfortunately, since people don’t take it upon themselves to evolve, you have to make the change for them, whether they like it or not. I think unfortunately, it takes people being uncomfortable and people losing money to see that something is wrong with their behavior. People finally are knowing what they are worth. When you are generations and generations in of people telling you that you are worthless and people telling you that you have no worth and no value, other than a side piece that no one wants to talk about or take home to mom, no. We have value and we have worth and we have coins to spend. If you are not going to treat us with respect at the bare minimum, we can easily take our money elsewhere or do what we have always done and create our own. What do you want to do?-Do you want to get some shit right or go somewhere else? There’s no more riding the fence.
MC: With All-Stars in the rearview mirror, what is coming up for Mariah?
MB: I would just love to do some more television, and some more production work if those experiences come my way. Of course get back on the road, get back to my international traveling and get some coins. I would definitely love to do some more production work and casting auditions, things like that and just see where it goes.
MC: How have you been staying inspired during quarantine and staying creative?
MB: Oh nothing honey, I am letting my mind rest. Nothing. Most of my drag, except what I need for some virtual things is in storage. I have been letting my mind rest; when you let your mind rest you let those creative juices build back up so that when you do create something, it is just an explosion. I want to come out of this refreshed. Mentally we have been getting pummeled during quarantine; I was not going to burden my mind feeling like I had to do something else along with everything else that you have to mentally to to stay happy and sane under the circumstances. So yeah I gave myself a big break.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 5” airs Friday nights on VH1 (check local listings)