- Aquaria is the winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 10.
- As the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered bars and performance spaces around the world, drag queens have had to adapt to a new virtual world.
- The continued support of fans has been incredibly meaningful for drag queens, particularly those on the currently airing season of “Drag Race.”
- Aquaria noted that the current competitors are already missing out on opportunities to perform and make money — and said that postponing the current season’s finale would be more beneficial for the current crop of queens.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Aquaria, the first Gen Z winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” is in her house.
For a drag queen, that’s unusual. Many queens derive their primary income from performing at bars and stages all over the world — and from the fans who show up to tip them.
But, like millions around the world, drag queens are sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve really had no other option than to resort to going back to the old days,” Aquaria told Business Insider, “where a lot of us started being little internet queens, and just doing our makeup and honing our craft at home.”
Drag shows around the world have moved online. As Rolling Stone reported, queens have taken to platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and even Instagram Live to keep the party going — and attempt to recoup some lost income.
“I have a lot of privilege and a lot less stress — in theory — when it comes to putting these things together, and getting my [Instagram] Lives and my streams publicized,” Aquaria said.
But she noted that that’s not necessarily the case for local entertainers. Many may have huge followings in their hometowns, but translating that to a global audience — and recouping the tips they would have received from local fans — is a difficult task.
Aquaria, along with a roster of fellow “Drag Race” stars, has been competing in “Werq The World Battle Royale.” It’s a livestream of the self-described “largest drag show on the planet” — and, according to its website, all funds raised go to “displaced local drag entertainers around the globe.” The queens go head to head in runway themes chosen by fans. On May 2, Aquaria will showcase her best interpretation of “Human Touch.”
Battle Royale features one competitor from the current season of “Drag Race” — fan-favorite and frontrunner Gigi Goode. And that reflects a major difference in how season 12’s queens will experience life post-“Drag Race.”
A season disrupted: Queens in the currently-airing season of “Drag Race” will lose out on major publicity and revenue opportunities
As a season of “Drag Race” airs, queens competing in that season often host viewing parties at gay bars. Fans get to watch the queen offer meta-commentary alongside an episode they compete in, and the queens get a chance to perform in front of excited fans.
“Drag Race” also crowns a winner live; while the finale is prerecorded, every finalist films a segment of them winning. The actual ending is aired in real time, and queens learn their fate alongside the audience — one famous example is a reaction video of Sasha Velour watching herself win season 9.
“Those [viewing parties] were very special moments for me,” Aquaria said. “Getting to share my experiences on ‘Drag Race’ with a group of happy-go-lucky LGBTQ people in a safe space.”
But the queens currently competing on season 12, which began airing weekly on February 28, won’t get any of those experiences because of coronavirus shutdowns.
They also won’t get the post-season visibility — and monetary opportunities — that other competitors have benefited from.
“I was lucky enough to have an unnecessary amount of work while my season was airing and once I’d won,” Aquaria said. “So, that was something that I was extremely grateful for back in the day. And it’s really hard to see that the season 12 girls are not able to really do much as far as work, no matter how hard they want to try.”
But she said that fans have stepped up to try and (virtually) fill that void as much as they can for the current competitors.
“I don’t know if it’s just ’cause I’m online, but I think every day I see so many posts and things shared that are just trying to uplift these girls,” Aquaria said. “Because if they can’t build their fan base and their notoriety on the stage, and in person at the club, we might as well make them internet superstars for the time being.”
And this season — which has already had to contend with the disqualification of contestant Sherry Pie following explosive catfishing allegations — now faces an uncertain finale. Finale episodes are generally recorded a few weeks before airing, which means that, in a non-coronavirus world, a live studio audience would be packing the seats at an LA venue relatively soon.
The show hasn’t made any announcement yet about how the finale will be handled; Aquaria personally believes “some sort of digital version of that would not be acceptable.” She said that potentially delaying the finale — and keeping everyone “on the edge of our seats” — would be a preferable alternative.
“I think the show and the queens and the fans and the world would reap a lot more benefit if we were able to celebrate in the future than if we were supposed to, you know, cheer for 20 minutes sometime next month and then move on from there,” Aquaria said.
For now, drag queens all over the world are still figuring out what their art looks like during this pandemic, from Zoom to Houseparty. But throughout it all, there’s been one constant.
“It’s wild to see people who will grab a cocktail, tune in at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night, and make believe that they’re at a drag show. It’s certainly an extremely surreal time,” Aquaria said. “I know I can definitely speak for any drag entertainer who’s been trying to make do with this to say how challenging it’s been, how interesting it’s been to see how we all adapt and how it is really pushing us to work in a different creative way. And, most importantly, how extremely grateful we all are for the fans who are out there, paying to see these live streams, tipping constantly, and always showing their support.”