‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ All Star Jinkx Monsoon on How She Almost Didn’t Play Judy Garland in Snatch Game

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Fans might still be getting used to the new non-elimination format, but that certainly didn’t stop RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 7 from heating up on Friday (May 27).

In the latest episode, the eight former winners were saddled with the classic ball challenge — featuring three fabulous looks on the runway, one of which they must make from scratch within a day. Serving Wheel of Fortune realness (alongside none other than Vanna White), the eight queens served high fashion on the runway, proving to the world why they earned their wins in the first place.

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One particular queen who struggled just a smidge this episode was season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon — not known for her sewing skills, the star managed to pull together her look at the last minute (thanks to some help from Trinity the Tuck) and serve up Greek goddess realness on the runway. This week, Billboard spoke to Jinkx about the challenge, her return to reality television, and why her star-making Snatch Game character from last week nearly never made it to our screens.

Hi, queen! It has been great watching fans react to All Stars 7 — how are you feeling now that everyone’s getting to watch the show!

I’m feeling great, like, who could complain? I think what me and all of my sister winners are feeling is that this season is hugely celebratory, and a hugely positive showcase of our talents and abilities. It’s just really exciting to see that lifting each other up and camaraderie can be just as captivating as cutthroat drama, you know?

Completely! It’s also fascinating because it’s been almost 10 years since you were last competing on the show — what do you think has changed, both for you as an artists and in the show, to make this competition so “celebratory,” as you said?

Well, I think the changes with me are mainly just me having a lot more trust in what I do, and feeling like I’ve done a lot of work on myself as a human being over the last 10 years! If you’re not willing to work on yourself, then you’re gonna stay stuck. So, I was excited to go back on after having experienced a lot of success with one of my favorite collaborators, BenDeLaCreme, and getting to showcase who I am as an artist and the kind of work I want to put out in the world.

But also, by the time we were filming, I was almost two years sober — I’m almost three years sober now! I should say, from alcohol, I’m California sober if you catch my drift. [Laughs.] But that has really caused a huge, positive change in my life, and it’s allowed me to focus back on why I’m so passionate about this work, and it’s kind of gotten certain obstacles out of the way for myself.

So I was really excited to get on the show and celebrate the art form of drag! Of course it was nerve-wracking, and of course I constantly having flashbacks to my first time doing it. I can say that season 5 felt like an isolating experience lots of the time, and there were certainly moments where I could feel that coming back this season. The difference was, anytime I felt that way, there was a room full of queens going through the same thing and having similar thoughts, and we were all bolstering each other. Without anyone getting eliminated, you knew that you were going to be able to rely on those friendly faces throughout this whole experience.

Now, Jinkx — I spoke to you earlier this year about the key to doing well in the Snatch Game, not knowing that you were literally about to deliver two of the best Snatch Game performances of all time on this season. What went into crafting these truly pitch-perfect impressions of Natasha Lyonne and Judy Garland?

Well, I knew I wanted to do Natasha pretty early on, because I’ve met her a few times, and she’s so enigmatic and she’s so effortlessly funny and captivating. When I started playing around with the voice, I was like, “Ooh, I have something here!” It was my first time doing a Snatch Game character who was actually still living, so I’m glad I got to have that experience.

With Judy, I went back and forth with her and kept saying, “I don’t know.” What really cemented it for me was when I called my friend Thirsty Burlington in Provincetown, who is a fantastic impersonator — she does a Cher show, she sings live, she’s amazing. She had sort of unlocked Judy within me, and gave me the gateway into doing her as a character. Once she gave me her blessing, it was like, “Ok, well I have to do it.” Quite literally, 3 days before I checked into the quarantine stay before the show, I called a wig designer and said, “Can you recreate this Judy Garland hair for me and send it overnight?” I had happened to pack a skirt suit that worked for it, so I kinda got lucky there. But at the last possible second, I was able to make it work!

You did much more than make it work — how has it felt seeing so many fans (including Bob the Drag Queen) immediately call Judy the best Snatch Game performance of all time?

I think “overwhelming” is probably the right word — I’m not the best at accepting praise, to be honest. I’m actually think I’m better at accepting critique than praise! Of course, it’s lovely to see the work be well received, and I’m happy that’s getting complimented, so my mindset really is just, “OK, thanks for that, glad you liked it, moving on.”

We also got to see some strategic gameplay happen in this episode when Trinity and Monét approached you about forming an alliance. You turned them down — I’m curious about what your strategy was going into that conversation?

Well, first and foremost, I was flattered. It was nice to be invited in, and there was a part of me that wondered if it was the right way to go. Like, “Is it a good idea to have two people having your back?” But, it just wasn’t a part of how I planned things — I’m a textbook overthinker, and I plotted out my whole course on All Stars before we even began filming, and that was never a part of my plan. There was a part of me that was just like, “I gotta stick to what I plan on doing, and not let this derail me from my carefully laid plans!”

What it boils down to is, you know, I have obviously been on the other end of an alliance being formed, and I don’t know that I wanted to participate in that. But I fully don’t hold it against Trinity and Monét! Like, we all have our own ways of doing this. It’s such a hugely positive, celebratory season, that it was never like it was causing big drama. But at the end of the day, I knew how I wanted to do this competition, I knew I was going to block the girls with the most stars, and an alliance wasn’t part of that plan.

This was the first episode where we got to see some struggle for you thus far, since sewing is not your area of expertise — as you said on the runway, “this is [your] one weakness!” With all of the stress that came with trying to do this challenge, how did that uplifting attitude of the season ultimately help you turn a pretty good look?

Oh, it played a huge role! I’m very realistic, no one person can be good at everything, so I knew that sewing and designing was going to be a struggle going in. I had my game plan for my dress, and I almost immediately lost sight of that. Luckily, Trinity came over and kind of talked me off the ledge, and kind of gave me the boost to just at least finish it. I was at a point where I was like, “I gotta start over,” and there was no time for starting over. So I was very thankful for Trinity just kind of keeping me going in that moment.

There are some really talented designers in our cast, and everyone has really, as drag queens, focused in on their own specific style and how to present it, so I don’t think there was ever a thought that I was going to win a ball challenge. I at least wanted to do better than my first ball challenge — I’d say I did that, so that’s as good as anything!

As we continue on this very nostalgic season of the show, looking back, do you have an all-time favorite moment in Drag Race history?

Oh, when I got to meet Kristen Johnston. I know why it stands out to me, because I loved her on 3rd Rock From the Sun, and I think she’s such a captivating actress. Even though she had critiques for me, I don’t know, I would have let her do it all day long. But I don’t know, I just really like that this show is inspiring new generations of drag queens to go back to the classics — both with my Little Edie and Judy Garland, I like that drag queens have this unspoken gift of keeping certain iconic moments in queer culture alive. I feel like I’m getting to pay it forward for the drag queens that came before me, so that’s always really big for me.

Finally, because this is Billboard, I’d love to know — is there a song or album you’ve been playing on repeat as of late?

Well, this feels like a perfect place to plug my new single “Know It All.” [Laughs.] It’s the first of a few singles I’ll be releasing, then there’ll be an EP, and then eventually we’ll be releasing a full feature album, which is a rock opera set in the future in outer space. It’s a new endeavor for me, so it’s gonna be interesting!

Ok, otherwise, an artist I always come back to is Amanda Palmer. She does this acoustic album where she revisits songs of hers called Piano Is Evil, and she redoes old songs of hers with herself and an old piano, it’s really fabulous. It resonates with me a lot, and I’ve been playing her acoustic version of “Lost” a lot lately.

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