I recently got a chance to sit down with RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio. What a delight!
Bianca got her start in theatre and stumbled into drag. “I was working at this bar, and one night they asked me, ‘Hey, could you do this?’, and I said "Sure!” Prior to that night, she had done one part in a play in drag. “I say yes to everything," she explained.
From this humble beginning, Bianca grew to be a well-known drag star in New Orleans, and she led the Pride parade there many times but never really considered the level her career could go to. "I was happy to be doing it but tried to stay realistic about longevity," she said. Had it not been for that fateful night, Del Rio added, "I had planned on retiring from drag at 40. How much further could I go?" Bianca will be 40 next year. But with age comes wisdom, and Del Rio has a Ph.D. in quick wit and street smarts. Her reign as America's Drag Super Star is a laugh in the face of the ageism that plagues our community. You can be over 25 and be beautiful, successful and even have your career suddenly, finally take off.
According to Del Rio, Drag Race wasn’t something she seriously considered. "I never had a plan. I didn't expect to do the show." But Bianca has luck smiling on her. She said, "I hadn't really thought about doing the Drag Race show. I had been hired by a promoter to host a Drag Race viewing party for a club in New York. Some of the previous contestants were there, and they were acting like they were so much better than me because they had been on this show," Del Rio explained. "I looked at them and thought, ‘If they can make it on the show, I certainly CAN!’" With that she applied for the show, and we all know how that ended. Bianca said the girls in question are now good friends of hers, adding, "You have to have humility. I know I'm not better than anyone, I'm incredibly lucky."
When asked what she thought it took to win drag race and whether there was validity to queens saying they were edited to seem a certain way, she said, "Know yourself before you go on Drag Race. You need to be aware of yourself. The show is intense. The schedule is crazy, and you have a lot of different personalities. You are only in control of yourself." So perhaps the queens who see something else on screen need to look a little harder in the mirror. "You know you said that. You know you did that," she said, and pointed out that while pressure is high and that doesn’t bring out the best in people, it also doesn’t change who they really are inside either.
I had to ask about her recent appearance on Season 7. She was summoned to tell the queens to be funny. Many thought this had been shot recently because the Season 7 queens seem to be lackluster in the funny department. Not so, said Bianca: "I actually shot that last summer and had no idea what it would be used for in the show." She had shot the clip while in LA for a weekend shooting her "Really Queen?!" videos for World of Wonder, the production company for Drag Race. (If you're a fan of those videos, there's good news! She is planning on shooting more!)
Del Rio’s fame has boosted her stand-up career. Bianca is unique in the competitive world of stand up. The closest comparison I could make would be Eddie Izard, the well-known, cross dressing British comic. Like Izzard, Del Rio’s comedy is clever, shows her wisdom, and is a bit tongue in cheek. Bianca said of her craft, "I'm a man in a dress telling jokes. Talent is talent no matter what you are wearing. It's passion and it's business. I'm not curing cancer, I'm doing comedy. I don't want people to focus on the drag, but to focus on the material. That's just how I represent my community. This is who I am and how I do comedy."
Bianca loves her craft. "Every time you walk on stage and there’s an audience, it's surreal! I've performed for as few as three people before, and thought I was lucky. To walk on stage to these huge audiences is something I'm grateful for every time." That grateful attitude guides Bianca and helps keep fame from going to her head. “I really have no reason to be rude,” Del Rio said, “even if I’m tired. Everyone has bad days but I get treated really, really well: for me to be in a huff because I have jet lag would be ridiculous. I appreciate this opportunity so much!"
Her level headed approach to the business no doubt helped her win not only the title but the hearts of millions of fans. "Before drag race, I didn't have Instagram or Twitter or anything like that. It's so fun to hear back from people when they've been to a show and really enjoyed it"
When asked whether she felt pressure from becoming an overnight idol in the worldwide drag community Del Rio said, "I try to be a good person every day and be the best me I can be. I don't feel pressure but I am aware of how I treat people." She views the spotlight Drag Race put on her as bringing with it responsibilities as a LGBT spokesperson, as well. "It's important to not be too preachy."
Bianca said that getting to meet Joan Rivers before she passed away was easily the highlight of her year. "Getting to meet Joan, traveling the world, being treated well… It's been an amazing ride. It's surreal and I'm very grateful.”
What next for Bianca besides Battle of the Seasons and Drag Stars at Sea? She be bringing her Rolodex of Hate Comedy Special to Nashville’s James K. Polk Theater on June 19, 2015, at 9:00 p.m. She'll also be hosting pride events this year in Toronto and New York.