Every week, NYLON writer Michael Cuby will conduct an exit interview with the queen eliminated from RuPaul's Drag Race Season 13. After making it to the final four, Kandy Muse’s competitor Symone won the crown.
Throughout the season, RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 queen Kandy Muse has referred to herself as the “main character” and a “producer” — and if we’re being honest, it would be quite hard to disagree with her. A former member of the Haus of Aja and a sister to season 12’s Dahlia Sin, the Bronx-born, Afro-Dominican queen usurped much of the season’s screen time, whether she was offering her hilarious commentary through her frequent confessionals or simply keeping her fellow season 13 queens entertained by cracking jokes in the Werk Room.
And that’s exactly how she wanted it. Confident and unapologetic, Kandy’s personality was made for television and her audaciousness led to some of the season’s most memorable moments, including her now MTV Movie and TV Award-nominated fight with fellow contestant Tamisha Iman. Though her track record throughout the season was spotty — she was in the top multiple times, but had to lip-sync for her life on three different occasions — Kandy Muse powered through the ups and downs with admirable aplomb, never giving up and never failing to keep her audience wanting more. After making it “from the hood to Hollywood,” Kandy Muse left an indelible mark on the competition and, in the end, took it all the way to the top two.
Ahead of last week’s finale, NYLON hopped on the phone with the current Doll Haus member to talk about making it all the way to the end, how she feels about her fight with Tamisha Iman in retrospect, the work that still needs to be done in the Drag Race fandom in regard to queens of color, and why she never wants to think about her “Pockets” runway look ever again.
You made it to the top four. How does that feel?
Listen, it feels amazing to be here. This is a season that I will hold near and dear to my heart, obviously, because I was on it. But yeah, it's bittersweet because it’s coming to an end.
Coming into the competition, did you always picture yourself making it this far?
Before getting on Drag Race, I absolutely could picture myself being in the top four because I would always watch the show and say, “Well, I can do that.” But once I got on Drag Race, it was definitely a hard road and a fight to get to the top four. Some days, you think to yourself, Okay, it's my day. I'm not going to make it through. I'm going to get eliminated. But as a human with that fight, with that drive, the judges see that, and they keep you there. So now that I'm finally here, it feels incredible.
Throughout the season, you’ve referred to yourself as “the main character” on social media. Could you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that?
You know, I will say that my back hurts from carrying the whole season on it! [laughs] But while filming the show, there was this aura in the room where, when I would leave the room, it would be quiet because I'm just a loud bitch. I knew that my personality gets everyone going. Sure, I’m not going to be like, “It’s all about me!” But definitely, I was a big piece of the season 13 puzzle.
How has it felt seeing yourself on TV?
It's been great watching on television. Obviously, you don't know how it's going to come off to some people. I've had people despise me, I've had people love me. I've had people that disliked me at first and now love me — you just never know. It's honestly about going into Drag Race and truly being 100% yourself. When people go in and try to put on an act, one, you don't get on the show, or two, you go home super early in the season. So it feels great to watch myself.
So many of the season’s biggest moments included you. I mean, the fight with Tamisha Iman will go down in history. How did it feel to watch that particular moment back?
I will say, watching it the night that it aired, I was like, “Okay, I can see how heated I was.” I haven't watched it back since then because it just wasn't one of my prettiest moments. But this week, we did get nominated for an MTV Award for Best Fight! So making iconic TV — that's what I do. And you know what, I won’t even lie to you. I walked into Drag Race knowing that I wanted to win and get crowned. But at the same time, I wanted to win the show an Emmy Award! We're making a TV show and that's what I wanted to do.
A lot of the fanbase was split in their response to that whole altercation, which I think was even amplified since you are both queens of color. As I’m sure you know, the Drag Race fandom has a tendency to try to villainize queens of color. How did you deal with that response and do you think you’ve been somewhat misunderstood by the fans?
Absolutely. I'm glad you asked that. Drag Race preaches about love and how we all have to accept each other. And I love that the fans are so passionate about the show, but I just think that, sometimes, they take it a step too far. Like, you can root for your queen without putting another queen down. Throughout the season, the response to Kandy Muse has been very mixed, right? I knew going into Drag Race that I was going to be a polarizing character — you’re either going to like Kandy or you're not going to like Kandy. But when you don't like who I am, that has nothing to do with me. If me being 100% myself bothers you, that has everything to do with you. And there are still things we need to work on within the Drag Race fandom, such as fatphobia, racism, and even transphobia. There's still so much that we have to work on.
However, during that fight, a lot of people came to Tamisha's defense, and I was happy [to see that] because there has never really been an older, Black, pageant drag queen on Drag Race that has gotten the love that Tamisha has gotten. I was so happy to see that because, baby, she deserves her praise and her coins. But at the same time, I kind of got the shitty end of that whole fight — which I didn't even mind, because all I had to do was turn my phone off and disconnect from the world. And that’s exactly what I did that weekend, because I knew that in the following episode, me and Tamisha made up and lip-synced against each other.
I wasn't too worried. I let people say how they feel. If they feel the need to come for me, if that will make them feel better, that's okay. I don't think I need to fight back on social media with anyone. I've been through way too much in my life to let a few tweets get under my skin. But just because it doesn't get under my skin, doesn't mean that it won't get under another queen's skin. I think that, moving forward, people need to be kinder and nicer to the queens of colors. We already have it hard. We have to work ten times harder than a regular queen does.
You lip-synced three times and survived all three. Not many queens survive that many lip-syncs. And specifically, after your second lip-sync, Ru told you to sashay away and then decided to actually keep you. That’s never happened before, as far as I know.
Yeah. That’s definitely a Drag Race first!
What was going through your mind during that moment?
That was wild. I remember in the moment when it was me and Symone in the bottom two, I was like, Okay, they live for Symone. She’s a fierce competitor. We're going to go toe-to-toe in this lip-sync and just do what we do. And we did it. I had already prepared myself to be eliminated — I always do when I'm in the bottom two. Of course, I'm going to fight for it. But I'm going to prepare myself so that I don't let myself down. So when RuPaul was like, “Sashay away,” I was obviously sad and hurt because I wanted to make it to the end and be with the girls.
When RuPaul called my name, I swear to god, I turned around and thought she was going to be like, "Oh, Kandy. You're in my camera. Please move." But that wasn’t the case. When she told me that she didn't want me to go, it made me feel really good. It just told me, Okay, RuPaul sees something in me and I really need to bring it to the competition so I can make it super far.
One of your most emotional moments this season was telling your story about getting jumped as a kid for being gay. What inspired you to open up about that and how would you say that experience has helped to shape the person you are today?
I felt like that was definitely an important story to share because it really has shaped me as a person. I think, sometimes, people think, “Oh, well, she's always upset or angry. She's always defensive.” And it's like, well, I don't choose to be those things. I am those things because of this [experience] — this is what led me to this point. I'm working on those things and growing. But I think we live in an age where people want you to be perfect at all times. Unfortunately, that's not the case. We're human and we make mistakes. We get upset and we yell. That’s what it is. But you should be allowed to feel the way you feel. You're allowed to get upset about things. So that's why I wanted to share that story. I knew the viewers were going to think, Oh, well, this bitch is just a loud bitch who likes to fight. But it’s like, Well, no, this bitch is a loud bitch who likes to fight because of this. This is what led me to be the person that I am today.
I will say, my story has definitely connected with a lot of viewers. After that aired, a lot of people would send me messages. They felt connected to me because, growing up where they grew up and being gay, they weren't accepted and they were bullied or gay-bashed or picked on. They thought it was nice to see someone on television speaking up about those things.
On the other side, do you think growing up with a lesbian mom helped you accept yourself earlier than you would have otherwise? Did it help with your confidence?
Oh, absolutely. I always say I had the easiest upbringing as a gay man. Unfortunately, not everyone has a supportive family and not everyone has a supportive mother. I have that and I'm very fortunate to have that. I'm very lucky and blessed and it was very easy to accept myself at a very early age because of my mother.
What would it have meant for you to win?
If my name were to be called as America's Next Drag Superstar, it would mean the world to me. It would mean validation from RuPaul. It would mean so much to my community. I would be the first plus-size winner in the U.S. franchise. I would be the first Dominican winner. I would be the first girl from the Bronx. There are so many firsts that I think are needed in the Drag Race franchise right now. Drag Race is about how we can lead our community with something better and show people, “Hey! I can do it and you can do it too.” Drag Race is about so many things and love is one of those things, and I have so much love and passion for the art of drag.
What was your favorite moment from the season and what was your least favorite moment or one you’d like to do-over if given the chance?
One of my favorite moments was on the very last episode. This wasn’t shown on TV, so it’s a little exclusive. It was when RuPaul was talking to me. He looks at me and he goes, “You are really special. I would hire you in a heartbeat.” That, to me, just felt like, Okay, this woman here understands who I am and this woman gets who I am and she appreciates me, my drive, and Kandy Muse for who she is. That was amazing. Also, that one moment in Untucked when me, Tina [Burner], and Gottmik are running away from a bug outside! I was losing my mind. And I think that we can all collectively agree [the worst moment] was the “Pockets” runway. Listen, delete the entire episode! I don’t regret a lot of things from the show, but that is one thing I do. I'm sure that when I walked out onto the runway, that was the silence heard around the world.
Coming onto the show, I think a lot of people already knew of you because of your connections to Aja and Dahlia Sin, but also because of “Sitting Alone In VIP,” which was a huge meme — especially for fans of drag. How do you think being a viral sensation way before you started Drag Race impacted your run once you finally got on?
Before getting on Drag Race, I was one of the only few girls to not have been on Drag Race to be able to travel all over the world for work and do stuff for Cosmo and magazines. I just had so many opportunities that not a lot of girls get. With the meme going around, and then I had a single with Alaska, there was just so much happening. So when I went off to Drag Race, Kandy Muse was already a household name and I think people just expected so much from me. I think the queens were like, “Okay. This bitch is here and she's fierce competition. Let's see what she has.” I don't want to say it hindered me because I don't necessarily believe that. I just think there was a lot of pressure to uplift to the name that was Kandy Muse before getting on Drag Race.
Finally, I know you said you were going to use the money you earned from winning the roast to send your moms on the honeymoon they never got to take. Is that still on the table?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm actually working on that as we speak. Unfortunately, they don't have all-inclusive in the U.S. I didn't know that was a thing, but we are working on it. Trust.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.