Joey Jay from season 13 of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' airing on VH1.
Courtesy VH1

Drag Race

Joey Jay On Getting Cut From 'RuPaul's Drag Race'

The season 13 queen on the ups and downs of her time on the show.

Every week, NYLON writer Michael Cuby will conduct an exit interview with the queen eliminated from RuPaul's Drag Race Season 13. This week, Joey Jay was asked to sashay away.

Though she’s an accomplished drag queen, the first thing you’ll probably hear about Joey Jay is her “boy” look. No, that’s not just because the Madison, Wisconsin-born, Phoenix, Arizona-residing queen has quickly amassed a cult following for her charming out-of-drag features (an attribute that has landed her the coveted title of “Trade of the Season”) — but also because she has developed a reputation for her tendency to forgo wigs while in drag, opting to sport her regular hair, which she often styles in playful colors, like pale purple and striking red.

A trained dancer who used to work a day job at a software company, Joey Jay represented an aesthetic shift for the world of Drag Race. While the show has become notorious for prizing hyper-femininity, Joey proudly referred to herself as a “lipstick lesbian” with an aesthetic that is “definitely more masculine when I’m in drag compared to when I’m out.” Her take on drag was a refreshing update for a series that could stand to expand its palette, but it didn’t take long for Joey’s dedication to short-hair glam to incite a bit of criticism from the regular panel of judges.

Nevertheless, Joey’s strengths still managed to shine through, especially in challenges like episode two’s “Phenomenon” performance, where her dance skills came into vivid play. Unfortunately, this didn’t cross over to challenges rooted in fashion. In last week’s Bag Ball Challenge, the queen struggled in matters of both taste and execution — particularly for her final of three looks, which the judges could quickly clock as a non-sewn garment held together by hot glue. In the end, Joey landed in the bottom two, where she put up a worthy fight in a spirited lip-sync battle to Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy.” Ultimately, however, though Joey’s wig was the spitting image of Iggy Azalea herself, her take on the song fell short of the effervescence exhibited by fellow bottom queen LaLa Ri and she was sent packing.

Ahead of her elimination, NYLON hopped on the phone with Joey Jay to talk about going home, why she wouldn’t personally describe herself as “the trade of the season,” being showered with attention by fellow competitor Kandy Muse, not wearing wigs on a show that demands versatility, and what it means to her to be “The Punk Rock Queen of Drag.”

In your own words, what do you think went wrong leading up to your elimination this week?

What do I think went wrong? Umm. I don’t think anything went wrong. I’m actually really proud and I wouldn’t change anything, even if I were to do it again. I remember getting my critiques. For my first look, I had syringes and an IV pole and this wet hair. I was showing versatility! I wore different wigs and I also got my boy hair in there. A lot of the things that I prepared for my looks, I didn't just pick something from a room. I didn't just have a well-known designer create everything. I really pushed my limits and tried making some of my garments. So maybe it was crafty, but I made it. Anyone can put on a garment, but not everyone can necessarily make something.

I feel that if you're showing versatility with drag that you made, you give a sickening lip-sync, and you still go home, there's nothing more that could be done. So I'm really proud of myself because I think I had a really good run. I just think that maybe when you're a fire-starter, it’s because you're different and people aren't ready for you. To be the “Punk Rock Queen of Drag” right now means being different, and if I’m being critiqued for being different, I think the fans are actually going to stand by my side and fully support it because it's art.

Speaking of, how did you settle into this punk rock, lipstick lesbian drag persona?

When it's right, it's right — that's the easiest way to put it! When I first started doing drag, I would wear wigs. Then, one day, I performed P!nk and I decided to wear my own hair because I had just gotten it freshly bleached silver, and I was like, "Oh my god, I love my hair. Maybe I can just do a beat like this?" And I lived for it! So I was like, "You know what? Maybe I don't have to just do P!nk to not wear a wig; maybe I can do other things." And then, one day, I was like, "Hold on a second. I do this because it makes me feel good. I don't do this for the show director. They booked me and they know what they get when they book me.”

At the end of the day, I pay my bills, I cook my meals, and I do [my drag] because it makes me feel good. I'm not going to pay anyone else any mind because it's for me, not for them. And so, going on Drag Race, I was there like, Okay, I have to show versatility, so let me wear these wigs for them, but it's almost like you lose yourself. I'm really happy with everything that I brought. Maybe if I were there longer, I would’ve actually lost myself. My aesthetic could’ve turned into something completely different than I wanted it to be. So I think I got out right when I needed to.

You've been widely embraced as “the trade of the season.”

[laughs] If you were to look up the definition of “trade,” my photo would definitely not be there. But I'll take what I can get! I'm a Leo and I love attention, so you could be an ex, an enemy, or a rock on the ground and I'll take a compliment. But I think that this is actually a really good example that we're progressing as a community. Forever, we’ve been putting super hyper-masculine cis men on this pedestal, [mandating] that you have to be at the gym for eight hours a day, that you have to be on steroids, that you can't have any femininity, and you can't wear any makeup — you have to have this image to be considered attractive. So I think it’s cool that we’re embracing a feminine gay boy from the Midwest who likes to wear makeup and pink and walk down the street humming Kim Petras. It's cool that we consider that “trade” right now.

Since starting the show, have you noticed an influx in messages from thirsty gays?

Yeah. The number one comment is, "Step on me." I get that one a lot. I also get, "Run me over."

On that same note, Kandy Muse made it no secret that she had a huge crush on you. Was it flattering to get that kind of attention in the Werk Room?

I love attention. I'll take it all day long. And Kandy is hilarious. Kandy is like the Tasmanian Devil of Drag. She's a force. So we're meeting everyone all together in the Werk Room and there's a lot of personalities and a lot of cameras. So when [Kandy’s attention] is directed at you, I was kind of caught off-guard. But instead of maybe trying to be like, okay, maybe I can come up with a cute little flirt back, I was like, no, let's make a whole moment and run away from this bitch.

Let's go back to the first week, when you first found out that you were going to be lip-syncing as soon as you arrived — especially since you and Kandy Muse were the first up. What was going through your head?

Well, I was already going a little crazy before I’d even filmed day one. Now I get in [to the Werk Room], and I'm like, Okay, I'm going to wear a wig because I don't want them to see this ‘no wig’ thing yet. I'm going to talk about it on the runway when the judges are in front of me. So I purposely came in with a different look to gag the girls. Then, I walk in, here’s Kandy, the TV goes off, and they're like, "You're going to lip-sync." Immediately, I'm like, Oh my god, this is not the hair I would’ve worn. These are the most uncomfortable shoes in the world. This outfit is not made for dancing. I am molting everywhere.

So I'm like, You know what? Tomorrow is a new day. Let's just get through this. And I love you, Carly Rae Jepsen, but [“Call Me Maybe”] is not my normal song. That's not in my normal wheelhouse of performances. I was like, Honey, they did us dirty with this song. But we're here to make moments — there's only one winner, so let's make a moment.

When you were sent to the Porkchop Loading Dock, were you really thinking that your time on the show was over or did you have an inkling that this was part of a bigger twist?

On Drag Race, anything can happen — they've made that very apparent. So I did think I was going home. I walked into the Porkchop Lounge and saw a picture of every first-eliminated girl and was like, Okay, maybe I'm the first eliminated. But you know what? I made it here. Let's get through this. Maybe I'm going to do a Whatcha Packin' with Porkchop!

My denial, though, was definitely like, You're not out of here yet. Where's the weird RuPaul trophy? Where's the van? Where are the cameras? I was like, I think something's up. Also, a “porkchop?” That’s new. So my denial was really kicking in. And when Denali walked in, I was like, okay, I'm a bit more confident now.

I know you used to work at a software company. Obviously, getting onto Drag Race allows queens to make drag a full-time career, so I’m curious if you’ll keep doing that?

I do drag full-time now and I’m absolutely loving it! I had my software job before because that’s what allowed me to do drag. I could afford to get new looks. I could have insurance. It kept me disciplined. I would wake up every morning at 7:00am for my meetings. I would only perform once a week because I didn't like performing on weekdays because I had work in the morning. It kept me grounded. I was able to make ends meet and still have disposable income that I could use to work on my craft. But now, drag is my full-time gig — though I am happy that I have this corporate America experience on my résumé because you never know what's going to happen. In fact, my LinkedIn is blowing up. I talked about working at a software company on Drag Race and LinkedIn responded like, "You better work!"

You're based in Arizona right now, but you're originally from Milwaukee, where I read that, at one point, you were living in the same apartment complex as Jaida Essence Hall, Trixie Mattel, and Jaymes Mansfield.

Jaida never lived in the building. I heard that Jaymes did, but it wouldn't have been at the same time — and recently, I found out that she didn't. But we did have a lot of drag queens who lived on the first floor of the building, though I don't think they still live there now.

When I moved into the building, I didn't do drag yet. Trixie and I have a mutual best friend and a mutual former roommate. So when she moved to West Hollywood to keep pursuing her drag, they needed a roommate and I moved in. Now we have this joke in Milwaukee that [the complex] is called the “Lake Drive Drag Academy.” If you move into this building, suddenly you're going to be a drag queen because this building pops out drag queens. It's cursed.

It's either a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective.

I would say it’s a curse. But I'm having a lot of fun with it.

When you came in, you referred to yourself as a “filler queen” as this tongue-in-cheek joke, but it became a whole thing. How do you feel about that in retrospect?

“Filler queen” is an inside joke in the drag community, basically meaning that you got cast on Drag Race just to be eliminated early. I thought it would be funny to be relatable — and I think I made a funny moment! I haven't heard anyone really talking about anyone else's Werk Room entrance. I just keep hearing “Filler Queen” over and over again. So, congratulations! We made a moment, Joey! Plus, if you do get eliminated early, it’s like, okay, I wasn't lying. But if I win the competition, then it’s, "You motherfuckers just got played by a filler queen!" It’s a win-win.

You filmed this during a pandemic. You're now watching this air during a pandemic. How has that been for you — particularly since, for most Drag Race contestants, the period during a currently-airing season is such a huge moment for promo and hosting gigs?

I'm very grateful because I have been able to do some viewings out in public spaces. Obviously, we can't do it like we used to do it, but I'm just so grateful that I’m able to celebrate being on television with friends and family while following CDC guidelines and doing it in a healthy way. I really feel for the girls of last season because they never had that opportunity. So I'm just taking any opportunity that I can get because you don't know how long it's going to last. I'm just very grateful that, even during a pandemic, we can still create magic like this.

Now that you're gone from the competition, who are you rooting for to win?

Gottmik is changing the game of drag. I think Mik is a fire-starter and so unique. Symone is breathtaking. Symone is really taking her Black culture and showing herself in this beautiful way. It's gorgeous to watch and I'm so happy that she has this platform to show that. Kandy Muse, too! This is just such a diverse cast and I love that some of the biggest personalities on this show aren't just “another queen.” Everyone comes from a different place and it's just such a good cast. Like, Kahmora Hall is a legend and she was the first out — and when a legend goes home first, you know it's a sickening group of girls. So it could be anyone's game.

Right now, you're doing drag in Phoenix, Arizona, which I think is a city that's been very underrepresented on Drag Race in the past.

It's never been represented! I'm the first one!

Exactly. Are there any Phoenix queens that you’d like to see on the show in the future?

Oh my god. Yes. So many queens who live here have said, "Thank you so much for doing this because, now, I'm putting my tape in." I'm so proud of them and I'm so excited for them. But, like, Luna Love St. James is a beautiful trans woman covered in tattoos. She’s platinum blond and stunning. She would be perfect. She's actually [Drag Race season 2 contestant] Sonique's daughter. She’s an icon and should be on there. Alisha Wynters is gorgeous. Gigi DeMilo. We have The Dahli from Dragula. We have Adriana Galliano, who's this beautiful firecracker Latin queen. We have so much talent here in Phoenix and I'm so happy that it’s finally getting the spotlight that it deserves.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.