Spoiler alert: Last night, the four finalists of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10—Asia O’Hara, Aquaria, Eureka O’Hara, and Kameron Michaels—took to the stage at the Ace Hotel theater in Los Angeles. Our hometown favorite, Asia, was heart-breakingly bested by Kameron Michaels in a lip sync to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” after Asia’s dramatic monarch butterfly release fell flat. But in a hellish news cycle of a week, she proved, once again, that love is love is love—and migrant Painted Lady butterflies will thrive when set free if given a chance to warm up under the house lights.
I had the opportunity to chat with Asia while she was still filming in L.A. We talked about the best drag club in the country (The Rose Room), dating in Dallas, and the emotional impact of Ru. Then she took me for a ride.
D Magazine: You grew up Antwan Mason Lee in Grand Prairie, with two brothers and five sisters. What was that like?
Asia O’Hara: [laughs] Hectic! Grand Prairie, you know, is suburban. I had a typical suburban upbringing: spent summers at the pool, hanging out in the backyard with the dogs, diddling dolls from the girls to play with secretly. It wasn’t super exciting or super different than most people’s upbringings. It was just like the typical suburban gig.
D: When did you first become interested in drag?
Asia: Probably in the mid ’90s. I don’t know what year it was when Mariah Carey had her song “Always Be My Baby.” The music video was filmed in the park, and she was like swinging on that swing over the lake. And I remember looking at that and thinking, Oh my god, I want to be her. But then I thought, Oh, I don’t really want to be her—I just want to be singing this song, on that swing, swinging over that water. A couple years later, I realized, Oh my god, that’s drag. So, that was like my first sign.
D: You’ve described your style as Thierry Mugler meets The GAP, classic finesse with a post-apocalyptic twist. Explain.
Asia: Well, I think Thierry Mugler because he’s my favorite designer of all time, and he’s a pro at having things look still feminine but with a masculine edge, with a extraterrestrial type of viewpoint. He was so, so ahead of his time with his fashion, and I just love how everything is kind of somewhat dark and creepy at times, but very feminine.
D: And The GAP?
Asia: I like familiar silhouettes, and, you know, the shape of those T-shirts has not changed in 20 years. So although though they come out each year with new colors and new textures and new fabrics and whatnot, the base of the garment kind of stays true to what they do well. That’s the same thing with my style. I have certain silhouettes that work well with my body type, and I try to stick to those.
D: What’s been the biggest surprise about being on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Asia: I would say the biggest surprise, unfortunately, would probably be a negative one. Even though I grew up in the South, I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve never felt like I was held back because of my sexual orientation, or my lifestyle, or the color of my skin. And now that has changed for me. Being on RuPaul’s Drag Race, of course you have hundreds of thousands of more people that love you, but with that comes a lot of people that don’t, specifically for the color of your skin, or your ethnic background, or where you’re from. So although I know adversity exists, I’ve never in my 35 years had to face it head on. And I know that’s a blessing, but the biggest surprise for me is, you know, how hateful and disrespectful some people can be based solely on your ethnic background.
D: I was just re-watching Paris Is Burning, the classic documentary about New York City’s drag balls in the Big ’80s, for like the fifth time the other night. It was interesting to me to be reminded that so much of the origin of drag has to do with creating a safe space for people of color who weren’t safe or accepted anywhere. Even the Executive Realness pageants were about allowing gay black men who did not have the educational opportunities to be businessmen in real life to literally model that behavior at the ball. How have you seen the meaning of drag change? What does it mean to you now?
Asia: Well for me, for forever, drag was such an escape from reality—it was an escape from everything that was real. You could go to a club and get lost in the drag show and have a good time, forget about the issues that were going on. But now, being on a larger platform and reaching people on such a grander scale, it is still that, but it also definitely has the power to impact and change people’s views and things. RuPaul’s Drag Race has brought countless banners together. A single dad posted on Reddit asking for someone to give him a crash course in RuPaul’s Drag Race because he wanted to share it with his LGBT son, because that was the only thing that they watched together that they both enjoyed. Drag now has the power to change people’s lives and change people’s viewpoints and perceptions about other people’s lives, and so that’s what it means to me.
D: The goal of the drag balls portrayed in Paris Is Burning was to achieve “legendary” status. What does being legendary mean to you? What do you want your drag legacy to be?
Asia: I need my legacy to be of continued growth and change. I pride myself in being a queer that is always trying to take my art further and in a better direction and always trying to do better than I did yesterday, and that goes for every facet of my life. I want to give every drag queen a better design, or a better friend, a better brother, a better boyfriend. Each day I wake up and say, “What can I do to be better?” in those aspects. That’s what I want my legacy to be—that up until her last day, she was still trying to improve herself.
D: You got your start performing at The Rose Room in Dallas. How do you think it compares to drag venues nationally? It certainly has sprouted a large number of homegrown drag queens who have gone on to gain national attention: Alyssa Edwards, Kennedy Davenport, Laganja Estranja, and yourself.
Asia: The Rose Room is by far the best venue in the country for drag. We are very fortunate—not just with our club, but with our parent company. They put a lot of money and effort into our venue, making sure the entertainers have the tools they need to be successful. We also have one of the best crowds. We are packed wall to wall every night that we’re open, and that’s a blessing.
D: You also have your own costume company, Helen of Seven, in the Design District. What types of designs do you produce?
Asia: Well, right now I do a lot of drag queen costumes, and I make everything that I wear. But I also do high school dance teams, ice skating, color guard, ballroom, burlesque—any type of performance attire.
D: Is it true that you toured for three years with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps?
Asia: OK, that’s not true. That’s on my Wikipedia page which I’ve been trying to get off. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get stuff like that off of Wikipedia.
D: So were you involved in your high school color guard or anything like that?
Asia: Yes, I’ve taught high school color guard all across the Metroplex. I’ve taught in Crowley, Waxahachie, Coppell, Southlake, DeSoto, pretty much every corner. Mesquite is a corner of the Metroplex. I did that from when I first graduated high school up until about 2008 or 2009.
D: What were your biggest tips for your students?
Asia: To approach everything with an open mind. Color guard is not something that kids do at a young age; it’s not like dance or gymnastics, or even like playing an instrument where you start taking lessons at 4 or 5 or 6. It’s something that most kids don’t even see or have available to them until they are in high school. So at that point, kids are normally like “I can do this” or “I cannot do this.” It’s kind of hard to get them out of that mindset. My biggest tip is to approach everything with an open mind, and not be afraid to try new things, and not be afraid to have a couple times where you’re failing at something until you have the strength to make it better.
D: So, how would you describe Asia as different from Antwan?
Asia: You know, Asia is very—she’s definitely a little bit more crass, and a little bit more opinionated. Out of drag, I’m very a “let people live their lives” type of person, mind. I’m all about whatever makes you happy as long as you don’t infringe on someone else’s life or beliefs. Asia is more prone to stand up and give advice or give people information or say how I feel about something.
D: At one point during Episode 9, it looked like RuPaul almost made you cry when she was talking to you before the “Breastworld” challenge and told you to basically just be yourself and do you. Was that actually an emotional moment for you?
Asia: You know, it was an emotional moment, not because of what she said but how she said it and how she looked at me. I remember watching his interview with Oprah, and just being in awe of everything that he said. And so throughout the course of the competition, I’m trying to figure out where that’s coming from and what that is. My parents are deceased, and in that moment when he said that, I realized that Ru was the first black male that I have looked up to in a long time. And when she said that to me, I didn’t feel like he was the host of a reality competition telling a contestant to do better. I really felt like he was my father telling me, you know, “remember who you are.” That was an emotional moment for me because in that moment, when he said that, it all made sense and it clicked, and I was like “Oh, this is why I’m here.”
D: Who’s your closest friend on the show?
Asia: Ooh, that changes every day. I would say right now it’s probably Monet X Change. She’s the one I talk to on a regular basis. I talk to a lot of them on a regular basis, but she’s the one of the few that I feel I can really confide in. She really gets me, and she’s given me a lot of advice. We’ve talked through a lot of things together. We share some of the same challenges, so we have definitely become the best friends.
D: During one episode, you talked about the challenges of dating as a drag queen. What’s your take on the Dallas dating scene?
Asia: This is gonna make me sound like such a mean person. Dallas, as we know, is a very pretentious city. It always has been, and it will be for a very long time. A large part of that is because Dallas is so far removed from other cities, so that all of the people from small towns that always dream about a better life for themselves move to Dallas. They think they are better than everyone they grew up around because now they live in the city. So everybody here is seeking perfection, and a drag queen is not something they have on the top of their list as far as they want to date. It’s easier in other cities. I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful boyfriend who I love very much, but would say probably 98 percent of drag queens here are single, and if you ask most of them, it’s because they do drag.
D: On Episode 8, there was a bitch slap heard round the gay world when RuPaul was supposed to pretend to hit you but he actually smacked you for real on the ear. Your joking response was priceless: “It’s about to be Asia O’Hara’s Drag Race! I’m about to own this whole building!” So I want to know, what’s your version of the show going to be like?
Asia: My version of the show will be quite similar. I am probably going to have more alumni, like previous winners and girls from the season. Hopefully we’ll have the budget to do some challenges outside of the studio.
D: Wait, you mean you actually are going to have a show? When will it air?
Asia: April Fool’s Day, but we’re not going to be on VH1. We’re going to be on Animal Planet. It’s going to be filmed in Dallas, probably at The Rose Room. They’ll let me do what I want to do over there.
Editor’s note: I had to follow up with Asia’s publicist to see whether Asia was kidding about having her own show. Score one for the queen. It was a total joke. Not a joke: when in town, Asia O’Hara appears Thursday through Sunday at The Rose Room. She appears tonight, June 29, for Metroball 2018. Click here for a full schedule.