VH1’s new four-episode series, Secret Celebrity RuPaul’s Drag Race, first aired last Friday. But tonight’s episode is the one to watch, because it features two of Dallas’ most beloved drag queens — Alyssa Edwards and Asia O’Hara.
The title pretty much sums up the concept. For each episode, three former Drag Race contestants are paired with three B-list celebrities, and they compete to see who has the most spectacular and heartfelt transformation. The first episode featured comedian Jermaine Fowler and Riverdale cutie Jordan Connor, as well as the very annoying Nico Tortorella from Younger. I was skeptical at first, but RuPaul always knows how to make the formula werq. By the time the charity prize money was awarded at the end, I was tearing up along with Ross Matthews and Carson Kressley.
I chatted with Alyssa, aka Justin Johnson, earlier this week. He’s at home in Mesquite, doing a little gardening and journaling. He’d like you to know he’s doing just fine, thank you very much, with the aid of lots of journaling and the occasional video from his Beyond Belief Dance Company students. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
While you’ve been back at home in Mesquite, what’s been your favorite takeout?
Oh my gosh. Well, I’m a sucker for TexMex, so I have been rotating. I’ve been going to El Fenix, to Posados, to Mia’s on Lemmon. I do it every Friday night. I say Friday night, you treat yourself. I get my enchiladas, some beans, some salsa. Perhaps a margarita. And then I go watch drag. We’re getting a lot of drag on Friday nights.
What are you watching, besides Secret Celebrity RuPaul’s Drag Race?
So we’ve got Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, then Untucked. And then I’ll tell you what else I like to watch. I like to watch all the live videos. Like that one queen. Did you see when she fell asleep on Facebook?
I hate to say I missed that.
You didn’t see that? She went viral. She left her Facebook Live up for two hours and people sat there and watched. She woke up to about $2,000 in tips. Hilarious. She drank too much and girl just sat in a lawn chair. Her wig fell off and everything. It was hilarious. Bravo to every queen, every entertainer, and every drag illusionist around the world that is still sharing their artistry and making people smile. Wow. We need more of it.
So I have to say that I had low expectations going into the new show, but I was totally in tears by the end of the first episode. Why do you think drag is such a literal and metaphorical transformational experience for everyone who does it?
Well, I first want to tell you when Jermaine turned around and said he looked like his mom, I related to that. And then when his wife walked in and she had tears in her eyes and you could tell she really just wanted to latch onto him – that really was touching. And at the end, when Jordan won and he was like crying because of the donation to his charity? I was like, this is what it’s about.
You’ve had that same experience of looking at yourself in drag and seeing your mom?
A hundred percent. And on Dancing Queen, my grandmother, when she seen me for the first time, she said, “Justin, you look just like your mother.” I remember being a little boy and my mom playing Stevie Nicks and getting ready. And I put my finger across the eye shadow and done put it on my eye. And I said, “Mom, am I pretty?” And she said, “Justin, you’re beautiful.” Even today, when I get ready, I imagine that and it’s almost like I know she’s here with me. So that moment was so powerful for me.
In the first episode of Secret Celebrity, who did you think did the best job of mentoring: Trixie Matel, Monét X Change, or Bob the Drag Queen?
Gosh, you know what? They all three offered something really good. It’s amazing to see them in this light. Cause you know what, we’re used to walking in that room and we’re like, OK, there’s a $100,000 check out there waving at me. So I’m going to pull my Glock out of my clutch or run somebody over my car ’cause, you know, you’re there to compete. And this time around you walk in and it’s like, OK, I’m here for someone else. And I thought that they all did that.
Who’s your dream celebrity that you would want to give a makeover to?
I’m gonna go with Miss Ellen. Can you imagine her walking out and just big, blonde, bold Texas hair? I mean, that would be incredible. Right? Nails and all.
In addition to yard work, you’ve also been busy with fundraisers.
Yeah, I’m doing the bingo. So people are bored –come join me for bingo on Friday night. We’ll be giving out cash prizes and Alyssa Edwards swag bags. A hundred percent of the proceeds go to an establishment that supports the community. This week, I’ve chosen Roscoe’s Tavern of Chicago, to support their staff and our cast. About two weeks ago, I played with the varsity gay kickball league here in Dallas. And we did like our own little Facebook Live kind of rendition of Drag Race. We raised money for Woody’s, they’re a sponsor of the league, and the Resource Center. I think we raised like $7,500.
What was your strategy going into tonight’s episode?
Well, it’s definitely not a secret that I was born to be a mentor. And as much as I love being on stage, I think I fell more into the classroom teaching. I know that sounds crazy to say, but that’s really what I felt my strength is. So when I walked in, I was like, this is you just being yourself. Of course, I got a whole rack full of children. The House of Edwards is full to capacity.
But you know what — look, when I walked in, I was like, OK now, I’ve already lost twice on Drag Race. But I think I wanted a bigger win in the end, ’cause I won the hearts of the people all around the world. And that’s what this room has provided for me. So I have much respect for it. So I’m going to take all of my knowledge, and we’ll gather all of my experiences. I’m going to put them into my purse, and I’m going to share them with whoever I’m working with. And you already know everything I do — it’s gotta be Texas-sized. So I came in ready.