Few stories in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory feel more resonant than the plight of Jinkx Monsoon during season five. A smart queen with a quick wit, undeniable acting skills, and a professionally-trained singing voice, the Portland-born performer proved a natural threat throughout her entire run. Unfortunately, when it came to aesthetic matters (makeup, hair, styling), both the judges and her fellow competitors found the queen’s talents lacking, thus opening her up to relentless taunting from some of her season’s more fashion-forward contestants. Jinkx would go on to have the last laugh when she was announced as the season’s winner. But with such an arduous climb to the top, who’s to say how celebratory it all felt?
Thankfully, that’s all changed now. Almost a decade after becoming America’s Next Drag Superstar, Jinkx Monsoon has returned to the famous Werk Room to take a stab at winning a second crown in the franchise’s first-ever all-winners edition of All Stars. Armed with the same skills that marched her to the gold back in 2013, Monsoon also wanted to use this opportunity to show how much she’s grown in other areas of her drag, as well. Which she has, by turning out a series of gorgeous looks that even the most cynical fashion critic wouldn’t dare take issue with. It’s all working well for her: Just four weeks into the competition, Jinkx has already placed in the top two on two separate occasions — and judging by the “block” she received from another competitor in the season’s third episode, it’s clear that other contestants are taking notice.
Shortly after this season’s ball challenge, NYLON hopped on the phone with Jinkx Monsoon to talk about returning to the Drag Race fold in 2022, her (very valid) excuse for still not knowing how to sew, why she felt pressure to do well in Snatch Game, what prevented her from joining an alliance, and how she feels about the whole Rolaskatox drama a decade down the line.
The show premiered a few weeks ago. How has the experience been?
It's been a whirlwind. It's been quite a while since I experienced this, so it's been an adjustment. But a good one.
It’s been almost a decade since you last went through this experience in 2013 for season five. Back then, Drag Race was an entirely different beast than it is now, at least in terms of viewership and spotlight. Do you feel that difference in any real way?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was just plucked from obscurity last time. But this time, I have an aesthetic and a style that people have come to expect from me. And I feel like through the whole season, I stayed true to who I am and what I believe in. So, no regrets.
I spoke to you while you were in town doing press ahead of the season premiere, and then, you mentioned that the most exciting part of this entire experience was getting the chance to show the world the difference between 24-year-old Jinkx and 34-year-old Jinkx. How would you say your drag has evolved the most in these past years?
Well, the biggest thing is that, after Drag Race the first time, I was so focused on what I thought everyone wanted to see from me or what everyone wanted to see from a winner. I spent a lot of my time post-Drag Race trying to be what I thought everyone wanted me to be. But what I found in the last handful of years is that when I focus in on why I started doing drag in the first place and why I chose this artform as my medium with which to share my talents and my passions — when I focus on why I like to do this and what I do this for — the more I resonate with my audience. I think audiences can sense the genuine authenticity of what I do now versus someone who might have been trying to be the “idea” of a RuPaul's Drag Race winner.
You famously can’t sew. What was going through your mind when you found out, in the third week of the competition, that you would have to design something for a ball?
Well, I mean, just coming off a win and [considering] the whole blocking element, of course I was thinking, If I don't win this, I might be the number one person to block, which is a tough place to be in. I wish I could say I've been working on [my sewing skills] through the years, but the downside to being super busy creating all the shows and working as hard as I've worked over the past decade is that there hasn't been a lot of extra time to acquire new skills. So I would say that my sewing skills haven't improved drastically since my last time.
I always had a strategy for if I ever had to design something again though: just go for something you can pull off. But when you're in a room with these other queens… I mean, Raja, Shea, Jaida, and Trinity are all known for their design and styling skills. So at a certain point, I just had to accept that this might not be my challenge to win. I thought, If I get blocked, then I just have to work that much harder, which, at least, I could wrap my head around. That became a very clear goal.
The win you were just coming off of was for Snatch Game, which you completely killed as Natasha Lyonne and Judy Garland. Your original season Snatch Game, where you played Little Edie, was also great — widely considered one of the best Snatch Game performances in the history of the franchise. Did you feel pressure to live up to your past performance this go-round? Or were you confident, knowing that you’ve killed before?
Oh, no. No. Confidence is not my motivating factor for almost anything I do. Most of what I do is driven by anxiety, high standards, and pressure that I put on myself — so having won one Snatch Game only made me that much more anxious about doing really well. Thankfully, I made some good calls for my Snatch Game, but I’m not the only Snatch Game assassin in our cast. I knew that I would have to live up to my own expectations for myself, but I also had to be ready to throw down against all the other really talented Snatch Game performers. But thankfully, the spirit of Judy was on my side and Natasha was with me in spirit as well.
In the episode, you mention not wanting to do Judy until you had the blessing of a friend who used to do the character all the time. Has that person seen the performance yet?
Oh yes, that’s Thirsty Burlington in Provincetown, and, yes, she has [seen it]. She's a fantastic impersonation queen, and she says I'm absolutely insane and that she loves me.
Occasionally, I would do my Liza for her and she would talk to me as Judy. I had always loved Judy, of course. But basically, sometimes, I need a gateway into a new character, because it takes someone showing you for the first time what’s so enigmatic about that person, and then, that unlocks your own way into that impersonation. So when Thirsty, as Judy, used to have these impromptu conversations with me, as Liza, I was like, Oh, that's what's so funny about Judy. I found that I could do a similar Judy impression with my voice, and then I started making it my own. But it really felt like I needed her blessing to be able to fully go for it, and getting her blessing was also just a nice motivator before going into the competition.
I’m very interested in this alliance that seems to be bubbling up. You were the first person to suspect that something was up, all the way back in the first episode. But since then, the two main co-conspirators, Monet X Change and Trinity The Tuck, have tried to recruit you. Why did you end up turning down their offer?
I think, for me, it was just that I have past experiences going up against an alliance and I just didn't want anything to throw me off the course that I had laid out for myself. I'm an overthinker and I put a lot of thought into how I was going to tackle this All Stars season. Nowhere in my plans was there an alliance. Even though it was tempting to have a couple of queens to have your back, it just wasn't what I planned for myself. I didn't have any qualms with how anyone else chose to play the game, but for me, I think I was better sticking to my laid-out path.
When you mention your “past experiences going up against an alliance,” I’m assuming you’re referring to the drama you had to endure with Rolaskatox during season five. Given how defining that dynamic was — by the end, it was literally just you and those three queens (Roxxxy Andrews, Alaska, and Detox) — would you say there was any part of you that feared coming back into the competition, just in case that happened again? And on the opposite side of that, do you feel relieved that so much of this season is about respect and camaraderie amongst all the competing queens, rather than cattiness?
Absolutely. There's a huge difference. I feel like taking the pressure off of being eliminated allowed us to relax in a certain way that hasn't ever happened on Drag Race before. Again, I don't have any qualms about having gone up against an alliance before — other than the fact that it just made my job harder. But I thrive under pressure. I thrive under extenuating circumstances. So going into this, I kind of felt like, even if there was anything like that again, we saw how that worked out the first time. [Ed. note: she won.] So I wasn't too fearful. But I was really glad that this season felt like we were competing with each other rather than against each other. We all came in to win the prize, but we all were resolved to enjoy the ride along the way too.
Looking over what we’ve seen so far and what is still to come down the line, would you say that you had the chance to successfully show off the evolution of Jinkx Monsoon?
I think by episode one, I had already shown off that evolution. My biggest criticisms from my first time on the show was that I had the talents and the performance capabilities, but not a lot of the polish that you would want from a highfalutin drag queen. But now, I feel very confident with my makeup and styling skills and with the way that I've progressed as a drag performer when it comes to my aesthetics and my look. You can always expect me to stay true to who I am as an artist, but I've upped my game when it comes to the presentation aspects of drag, for sure.
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars premiere every Friday on Paramount Plus.