May I call you Jiggly? Back in season four of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, Jiggly Caliente immediately became a fan-favorite thanks to her quick wit and bubbly personality. Alas, the same can’t be said about her runways, which routinely received negative critiques from the judges and have since developed long afterlives as memes for less-than-complimentary reasons. Born in the Philippines and raised in New York, the self-described “Plus-Sized Barbie” was a clear delight to be around, but her consistent struggle with a sewing machine ultimately proved to be her downfall when she competed a decade ago.
Since leaving the show, however, Jiggly has stepped it up. Now living her truth as a proud trans woman, Jiggly Caliente is a bona fide Hollywood actress with the IMDb credits to prove it, appearing in shows like Search Party, Broad City, and most prominently, Ryan Murphy’s Emmy-winning ballroom series Pose. Armed with the confidence that comes from being “the only Ru-Girl that can say she's had a recurring role on a scripted series,” Jiggly Caliente returned for All Stars 6 ready to dominate the competition by any means necessary.
Unfortunately, the queen was thrown for a loop when RuPaul decided to move the annual ball challenge up by several weeks — all the way to episode two. Still a novice with a sewing machine, Jiggly once again struggled to create an impressive garment, settling instead for a simple party dress that Michelle Visage thought was “not enough for All Stars” and Carson Kressley said was “just not up to the level of some of the other girls.” In the end, it wasn’t surprising when RuPaul called her name as being in the bottom, where she landed next to last week’s winner Yara Sofia. After breaking down, Jiggly did fight to plead her case to her fellow competitors, but it quickly became clear that most queens would have a hard time sending home someone who had just come off a first-episode win. After this week’s winner Ra’Jah O’Hara tied with lip-sync assassin Brooke Lynn Hytes, Jiggly Caliente was eliminated twice.
Ahead of last week’s elimination, NYLON hopped on the phone with Jiggly Caliente to talk about going home, the importance of trans representation, how she thought she could get away with still not knowing how to sew, the difference between her work on Pose and her work on Drag Race, and why she’s sad that she didn’t get to truly redeem herself in the fashion department.
In your own words, what do you think went wrong leading up to your elimination?
What went wrong is that my stupid ass doesn't know how to sew! That was my ultimate demise, is the fact that I don't know how to do that shit.
You struggled with design challenges during your original Drag Race season. Did you come onto All Stars already begrudging this particular challenge?
Well, I mean, usually in All Stars, the ball challenge is at the end of the season. So I figured that I would have already won a couple of challenges [by the time I had to sew]. I would have won at least one of the acting or comedy challenges, so I thought I would've been fine. But no! RuPaul said, "You know what, bitch? You're going to make something in the second episode."
When you were doing your makeup and getting ready, you said you were proud of the garment you made — that you wanted to make a cute little easy-access party dress. In retrospect, knowing that it got you sent home, is it still something you’re proud of?
For me, at the end of the day, I don’t care what anybody says, but that is not as ugly as the fucking “Baked Potato Couture.” That is an upgrade! My whole theme on All Stars is “Upgrade.” Yes, it may be a simple, basic dress. But at least it’s better than an ugly ass dress! I wanted to showcase my legs! I have great legs and I wanted to showcase them, by any means. So, I was okay with that.
In Untucked, you kind of broke down because of the defeat you felt not just being in the bottom, but because your fate was left in the hands of your competitors and not in your own. Can you tell me a bit more about what was going on in your head at that moment?
I think it was just an accumulating amount of frustration because, in All Stars, you don't get to fight for yourself. In regular Drag Race, you can lip-sync for your life, but here, you don't get a chance to do that. I just felt defeated because my fate was in these crossdressers’ hands and not in mine.
Well, sorry. 10 crossdressers and [fellow trans queen] Kylie [Sonique Love].
Speaking of that, Drag Race has been on a long journey to now, where they’re finally letting openly trans queens compete on the show. You weren’t out as trans when you originally competed on season four. How important was it for you to go back on the show and reintroduce yourself to the world as the out and proud trans woman you are today?
Representation was super important for me coming back this time around. That was the main thing because, like I said in my Meet The Queens, this is beyond me — the representation that I carry as a trans queen isn't just about me. This is for all the little trans kids out there that can see themselves in me, [as well as] all the little brown and Filipino kids out there in the world that are told, "No, you're not good enough." Also, for any chubby kid out there in the world that was told they aren’t worthy because of their size. I want them to see that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, that you can make something of yourself, and that any kind of “no” that you get is bullshit because you make your own way in this world. You can make your own path and you can be successful and you can thrive. That's what felt most important to me this time.
I think it was also amazing to see multiple trans queens. As you’ve already pointed out, Kylie Sonique Love was also there. Did you feel comforted going back into that space and being able to look around and see other queens that can relate to your experience?
Yeah. It felt beautiful. It felt amazing to see that. And because I know Kylie, I just felt a sense of safety and a sense of comfort in that. Plus, there's safety in numbers!
On a similar note, I know going through this competition can be hard. But one of the advantages of All Stars is the chance that you might end up back with someone you’ve become really close to, which I know is the case for you and Ginger Minj. Particularly in this episode, when you landed in the bottom, how did it feel to have someone you could rely on to comfort you when things got overwhelming?
It felt nice because at least Ginger was there to try to comfort me because she saw that I was literally breaking. Again, it’s that sense of comfort and safety — it means a lot. Sometimes the competition is what it is, but sometimes, there's still family involved in this situation. It may not be for voting, but at least in the sense of having to comfort each other. Yes, it's a competition. Yes, we're out there for $100,000. Yes, we're out there for the crown. But we're all still coworkers. We're all still family. So, when you're at a low point, you have to comfort each other. Ginger definitely made me feel like, "Girl, it will be okay." I love Ginger. We continue to work together. We have season two of our cooking show [Wigs In a Blanket] coming out soon!
You competed close to a decade ago. Was All Stars always on your mind?
All Stars was not on my radar for so long. I didn't want to come back. Honestly, I don't think I'm a competition kind of girl. I'm good for TV, but not for a competition show. I'm good for, like, Real Housewives — that's where I belong. All Stars kind of just fell into my lap because it happened to come at the right moment. We were on hiatus from Pose. I wasn't working and was off at the height of the pandemic. So, I was like, "Ooh, why not? Let's see. I want to show the fandom the real person that should have competed 10 years ago.” It sadly was short-lived, but at least I feel like I competed as my full self with little to no baggage. Well, I mean, everybody has baggage. But this time, my baggage was just a carry-on.
I feel like most queens come back onto All Stars with at least one specific thing that they want to do — whether that’s redeeming themselves personality-wise, style-wise, or just to reintroduce themselves after a drastic change. Do you think you had time to fulfill your goal?
Well, it was so short-lived because [I was only on] two episodes. But I wanted them to see the actual fashions that I brought. I wanted them to see the Ryan Murphy money that I've made, to see that I could afford all these beautiful things for these runways. I feel like that's the one thing I didn't get to do on my season — I didn't get to showcase my actual fashion knowledge and the references that I have.
Granted, people who know fashion would get that I was wearing Yves Saint Laurent in my entrance look and that my little black dress was inspired by Versace. They’d see that my promo look was an Oscar de la Renta-inspired gown with Filipino terno sleeves. People who actually know fashion will get my references. But that's the one thing I feel like I didn't get to do. But I'm going to post the looks that people didn't get to see and they'll see the robbery that happened because they never saw my wardrobe. I had some good shit!
You mentioned your “Ryan Murphy money,” which is obviously a reference to your role on Pose. When you look back at where you were in 2011-2012, competing on Drag Race season 4, how do you feel to now be on this groundbreaking critically-acclaimed TV show — particularly one that centers the perspectives of trans women of color?
I have felt truly blessed as an actress to be part of an ensemble like that because it's so important. It's our stories being told by us. It wasn't some cis person playing a trans person on television. It's trans women playing trans women, and specifically, [telling] the stories of people of color in the ballroom community — stories that have been, for so long, misrepresented by the media.
It’s even been misrepresented by some of the [Drag Race] queens. You know, they call it a “death drop” or whatever — it’s a dip, god damnit! That's why it felt so good to be part of that cast. It's also very empowering that our stories are finally being told through our own lenses and through our own voices.
Plus, I'm the only Ru-Girl that can say she's had a recurring role on a scripted series. There's no other queen that can say that. Out of 190 Ru-Girls, I'm the only bitch that can say that! We've all had guest spots, but nobody has had a recurring role except me.
How would you compare your experience competing on Drag Race to your experience filming on Pose?
Okay, so on Pose, we are treated like goddesses. I had my own trailer! I didn't have to do my own hair and makeup! I damn near didn't have to dress myself! So, it was completely different. I literally left Pose so spoiled. So to come back to Drag Race and have to fend for myself, I was like, "Ugh, what is this shit!"
What challenge are you upset that you didn't get to compete in and why?
I’m upset that I didn't get to do any comedy challenges. Like, definitely Snatch Game, because my Snatch Game this time was so good. I'm so upset I didn't get to do it. But maybe we'll get to see it at a different time.
Now that you're gone, who are you rooting for to win and why?
None of them hoes, because none of them are going to do anything good with that crown! And bitch, it wouldn't even look as good. [laughs] But all joking aside, whoever takes the crown, I just hope they’ll do the same thing that I had planned for the crown. I want them to make it about more than themself. I want it to be about something beyond them — to represent for the plus-size community or for the trans community or for people of color. I want them to make the crown beyond them. So that's who I'm going to be rooting for, somebody who's going to take the crown home and make it about something beyond just personal gain.