The Valentina Interview: ‘Miss Congeniality’ on Humble Beginnings, Diva Antics & Red M&M’s
Every once in a while, a queen enters the workroom of RuPaul’s Drag Race, captivating the audience while at the same time polarizing herself from fellow castmates. Perhaps in the great tradition of PhiPhi O’Hara, Valentina quickly became the name on everyone’s lips during this past season of the hit reality competition series.
First, some history: Her ascension through the challenges on Season 9 of Drag Race was swift, as she handled each challenge with aplomb. But that all came crashing down during an epic lip sync against Nina Bo’nina Brown, in which the phrase “Take that thing off your mouth,” uttered by RuPaul herself, was forever burned into the American lexicon.
Valentina attended the Season 9 reunion special with the rest of her castmates, and it quickly became clear that some of them still had an axe to grind, especially when it was revealed Valentina won the coveted “Miss Congeniality” title. They took issue with Valentina snatching the sash, Aja in particular.
I should say that my previous personal experience with Valentina was sublime, so I decided to speak with the performer personally to discuss what had been reported. We left no stone unturned during our conversation — red M&M’s and Farrah Moan included — and no questions were off-limits.
I found Valentina to be engaging; she was apprehensive at times, but ultimately she was willing to own her shortcomings and move forward with the knowledge gained as a queen and as a professional.
Valentina, so much has happened with you post-elimination.
Oh, yes it has! It’s been a crazy time.
How have you been since the show ended and the reunion and finale aired?
I’ve been extremely and incredibly busy. Work has not stopped for me, and the opportunities have not stopped either. The drama has not stopped either, for sure, but making my dreams come true has also continued. I equate the experience to riding a roller coaster: some parts of the ride are really fun, some parts are very scary, but I’m so lucky to even be on the ride at all.
You definitely will go down as one of the most controversial queens to ever hit the Drag Race workroom, and since the show aired, the off-screen drama almost rivals the on-screen! I have a few questions that many have been asking about you. First, how long have you actually been doing drag?
I’ve been doing drag technically since Aug. 12, 2013.
Many people felt that when you said that you’d been doing drag for “only 10 months” on the show, it contributed to the confusion, as you seemed so incredibly seasoned.
To be honest, I did not have access to dates to give an exact date, like I just did with you now. When we were filming, it had been around eight to nine months, but the conversation in the workroom on the show was definitely very soon after I had my official debut that I was on the show. A month or a month and a half is not going to make that much difference in experience, truly, you know?
The reunion was very tense — for some more than others, you included. Your experience with some of the ladies, specifically Farrah Moan, was volatile. Have any of those relationships improved?
You know, the funny thing is, each and every one of us is so incredibly busy. I get along with all of the ladies for the most part. I feel like American culture is very obsessed with exposing people for one thing or another, which I think is where a lot of the anger from the ladies came from. At the same time, I know that I am part of the story, part of the entertainment, part of the drama, part of it all. I have to find a way to make the experience beneficial and not let it affect my heart and know that I am entertaining people. I have to try to not take it so personally and internalize everything. It’s drag!
At the end of the day, I’m human. When I see my fellow Drag Race sisters, we talk and catch up briefly, but to be honest, we are all so incredibly busy. I have great relationships with all of them, and you see with me, I don’t post anything negative. I don’t post my options and brag about things, or why I disagree with something. I post my work, my shows and opportunities I have been given, and ‘thank yous’ to people.
To receive such backlash — when what I try to promote are positive things — is very difficult. I just have to keep going and focus on my career. I try to focus on the people who have actively been in my life, who have been part of the process and part of my journey. The ones that have been there to root for me. I love to surround myself with people who are positive.
You are most powerful when you find your tribe of people who will truly build you up and not bring you down. What I have really been doing is surrounding myself with those people, the ones that believe in my talent and me as a person. I feel like if you can’t handle criticism, you can’t handle success. I want to take all of the criticism that is coming my way and take it on as a challenge and surround myself with people that will help me process these things in a positive way.
I am just so lucky to do what I do, though.
Is it hard to see some of your Drag Race sisters come for you in a negative — sometimes passive-aggressive way — without really knowing you as a person? Some of the ladies have sent out some passive-aggressive tweets, and there were several videos where girls did everything but mention you by name.
The thing is, their expectation is of a sisterhood. There are so many of us, and we all kind of share a very similar experience. At this point, if people criticize me without getting to know me, it’s fine. If anything I am aware that I am in a position to be criticized. I don’t take these things personally, because at the end of the day, Vogue magazine is going to give me a phone call and say, “We want you.” The Emmys are going to call me and say, “We want you.” Those are the things I think about and tell myself when I am feeling down or discouraged.
There have been other queens who I have admired or who I have looked up to, and they may have had a negative opinion of me. At the end of the day, though, I know that maybe this queen doesn’t know me personally. I can only say how I feel about my interactions with other people, so I’m not going to base my impression of someone off of hearsay.
The perfect example would be Phi Phi O’Hara. She had a very challenging experience on both Season 4 and on her All Stars season, and she has developed a reputation with the show and with RuPaul, and there has been just so much drama surrounding her.
Now, even though there may be a negative cloud that surrounds her, I have heard from other “Ru-Girls” and promoters that she is absolutely lovely, and that reputation is not who she is at all. I want to give myself the opportunity to meet PhiPhi O’Hara and not base my opinion off of what I’ve heard. I want to meet people myself and make my own opinions of them.
For example, I’ve had wonderful experiences with Bianca Del Rio, and she’s been very supportive of my career. At the end of the day, [comments Del Rio made onstage] hurt, but she has a show to put on, and I totally understand that.
I also look at it this way: RuPaul historically has made a point of not addressing drama like that, so why should I? If I want to reach that level of success eventually, I need to start practicing now.
Where do you think the rumors of your unprofessionalism stem from?
I think they’ve come from other queens, to be honest. I do, however, take some of the responsibility myself, though. As an artist, I do have a few requests when I perform at a venue. Red M&M’s, however, are not something I request, and I don’t know where it came from. I also do not request champagne on a rider, but if someone asks me what I would like to drink, I will request champagne or maybe a shot of tequila. I don’t really drink that much, but if I’m having a celebratory night, that’s what I will request.
One thing that I will confess, though: I do request that the meet-and-greet be held before I perform. I have noticed that this can cause issues with certain venues, as certain venues run a certain way. [It can] change the way the entire show works, in terms of the lineup, timing, et cetera, and now everything has to be changed in a way, which can be a challenge.
I do my meet-and-greets prior to my performance for a variety of reasons. One, I’m able to look fresh in all of the pictures that are taken. Two, I have the most energy when I first arrive at a venue. I am able to give that back to my fans, and talk to them and hug them and really interact. Also, in the beginning of the evening, people are actually still sober. I’m able to meet people, hear their stories, make eye contact with them, and they are ready to have fun with me.
It’s also somewhat of an artistic reward to be able to look out into the audience when I perform and see people that I have just met a little while before and gotten to connect with. It’s not a group of strangers; there are faces that I can look at and stories I can remember. That is a real treat for me as an artist.
I also was attacked in West Hollywood a little while back, so if people run at me drunk, I can get a little apprehensive. I will gladly accept a hug, though, from a sweet fan that’s all love. Trust me, there is no drag queen that wants to get a hug that feels like they are going to have their wig pulled off. [Laughs]
I will also say, I am always running fashionably late, and that is something that I am working on. My mother even yells at me for being late all the time. I used to always get yelled at when we were going to church because I would make everyone else late. [Laughs] For the last few weeks, though, I have been on time for everything.
Many would say you’re an easy target as you just appeared on a very well-received season of Drag Race and were one of the most polarizing contestants. Is it hard to see infighting in a community that, already as small as it is, should be showing more love?
It is. You know, I don’t feel very embraced with the success I have had since the show. I think the perfect example is that I am like this “Valentina Piñata” with this big smile. I have many people taking whacks at me, and every person wants to be the one to take that one hit and make all the candy fall out.
The thing is, though, I am so well-built that the piñata is going to just keep getting hit, and at the end of the day, it will have a smile on its face. People want to see me fall, people want to see me crash, but even when I fall, I’m going to find a beautiful way to get back up. People sometimes want to see you fall down, but do you understand how amazing it feels to be down and have the crowd cheer you as you get back up?
If you could give a message to your fans — those who have seen you and those who will — what would it be?
That behind what I do is lots of love and lots of passion. I connect my costumes — which are custom-made to my body and covered in crystals — I connect them to a song that has such depth and history behind it with a beautiful arrangement. I connect everything to that song. All of my energy goes into my performances. Everything I do is for the love of my culture.
The requests that I have are all to contribute to a better experience for my fans. I am only human; people always expect me to be at the very top of my A-game and see me as someone who needs to be at the very top. I can only ask that people be patient with me.
This is all new to me; I am still growing, and I am still learning. I am applying the things that I am learning, and I am getting better. People need to know that this is a process, and I am doing this on my own. I may have some missteps, but I am looking at every one of them as a learning experience. I am looking forward to [a time when] people don’t think I am “evil.”
I am a diva with a heart, but I absolutely care so very much.