Well, it’s official. After nearly 20 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag Race: All Stars, the series that launched the international careers of more than 160 drag queens has finally crowned its first openly trans winner. After first competing on the show’s second season in 2010 (where she finished in ninth place), Kylie Sonique Love returned for All Stars 6 over a decade later, more than ready to show the world how much she had evolved as both a queen and a person.
Still, even as the Las Vegas-based queen continually impressed the judges with her gag-worthy runway fashions, sweet demeanor, and powerful story throughout the season, her crowning wasn’t always set in stone. Though she was consistently safe or near the top, Kylie didn’t secure her first challenge win until halfway through the season — a symptom some of her fellow contestants attributed to her naturally reserved personality, which could sometimes get lost in the shuffle when placed against some of her louder competitors. Nevertheless, the Albany, GA-born queen never let this stop her, opting to stay true to herself no matter the situation. By the time she delivered her Southern twang-affirming verse on RuPaul’s “This Is Our Country” in the season finale, she had done more than enough to prove herself as deserving of the crown.
Ahead of her crowning, NYLON hopped on the phone with Kylie Sonique Love to talk about what it means to be immortalized in the Drag Race Hall of Fame, the importance of competing as an out trans woman, how she prepared for her legendary Snatch Game performance as Dolly Parton (a challenge she deemed the most “nerve-wracking”), and what she would tell her younger self as she navigated military school and dealt with people who tried to erase her femininity.
You made it all the way to the very end. How does that feel?
It feels really good. We filmed this a year ago, so to watch it all back, it was just like, oh, wow. There were some things that I forgot I even said and did. But it's really fun to make it this far, especially going home so early on season two and just really feeling kind of defeated for a long time after that. But something always told me that I was going to come back to that show. I didn't know when, I didn't know why, and I didn't know where, but I knew it was going to happen and everything was going to be okay. So I just kept doing what I do, continuing to do drag, and they finally called me.
You mentioned going home early during season two. Knowing that a lot of queens competing on All Stars were runner-ups and such during their original seasons, did it ever feel intimidating for you to come back? Or were you like, I’m ready no matter what?
I didn't think about anybody else when I came. That was one thing that really helped me a lot. I minded my own business when I was there and didn't want to think about competing against other people. I wanted to make sure that I was pushing myself. Each thing that we did was me pushing myself to do the best I could do. Having a different mindset coming back really helped push me through each day. I knew there were gonna be different people from different seasons, and some may have done well. But some may have not done that well too. I just knew that we all have good days and we all have bad days and it doesn't matter what you did on your season before. It's a fresh new start and nobody should ever underestimate anybody because we all have greatness. We were all picked to be on the show. I just wanted to make sure I pushed myself.
Drag Race has had a spotty history with allowing openly trans contestants to compete on the show in the past, so having you — and fellow trans queen Jiggly Caliente — on this season is obviously a huge deal. Given that you weren’t out when you first competed, did you ever think about what you’d represent for the show coming back now?
I probably had moments where I thought, What would people say? But then I realized they're gonna always think and say what they want to, so I should just do what I fucking like and don't worry about it. Some of the best drag I’ve ever seen was done by trans women — trans women dominate the pageant circuit. Now, I'm not a pageant girl, but I’ve really enjoyed watching them. I thought they were fantastic, but something about it is not as authentic.
What Drag Race can allow you to do is be in a competition atmosphere where you can still authentically be yourself. There are so many [Drag Race girls] that are a little rough around the edges but are 100% themselves, and they shine and people celebrate them. That's one thing that I really love about Drag Race — it gives people an opportunity to not have to put on so much of a persona that you lose yourself entirely while trying to meet the expectations of what you think somebody wants to see out of you. It’s just such a great place where you can be true to yourself.
It's so funny because everybody reminds me that I'm trans, but I just stopped thinking of myself with those labels. Me being trans is a fact — it’s not a factor of who I am or why I am. I just simplify it as I'm a person that really enjoys doing drag. Me being trans is not the most unique thing about me and I wanted to show the world that. It’s good to have trans people on TV to share those queer spaces with our brothers and sisters. It's great because, in the real world, we're all working together, we're all in shows together — so why not do it on Drag Race?
You competed a very long time ago.
[laughs] So much about Drag Race has changed since then. What are some of the main differences you’ve noticed since going through this process in 2021 versus going through it back in 2010 when you were first competing on season two?
It's night and day. It's a completely different experience. Initially, when I started, Drag Race was this new thing that a lot of people — especially in the drag pageant circuit — looked down on. Now, they're all begging to be on the show! I feel like we started this thing. You know, season one and season two really laid out the format and it’s pretty much evolved into a better version of what we started.
But the difference is that, [in the beginning], we would just go back home to work in our local bars and maybe go to another state and do some gigs there. But now, what Drag Race has done is made people household names and stars on a mainstream level. It’s really given opportunities to queer people where there were no opportunities before. Now, people are begging us to wear their clothes, support their brands, and be the voice of their company. I’m just really proud to have been a part of the beginning of it and also to get to come back and enjoy what it's become.
It’s safe to say that you were impressing everyone from the beginning of this season, but I think some of your fellow competitors thought you were also a little quieter than some of the louder personalities in the room. But by the time we reached the “Coven Girls” challenge, it seemed like you had hit a stride that everyone could see. Was there something particular about that challenge that helped bring out another side of you?
For me, I don't really remember being super meek or shy or anything like that, but maybe that was just my perception. The thing is, I just like being 100% myself. When it's time for me to do [more], I’ll do it, but I don't do things that are unnecessary. I do them when they're relevant. So maybe it was time for me to raise my voice a little bit more, and I was there for it. Honey, I wasn't scared. I wanted people to know I was there and that's what they needed.
What I’ve been watching on the show is that there’s this journey, and it's so interesting to see it from a different perspective — to see it from the outside looking in. The thing is, you don't ever know what to expect out of me. People might think one thing about me based on what little bit they know of me, so it's just so cool to see the audience be like, “Oh, my god” every week. It's incredible. I get thousands of messages all the time from people being shocked every week that I'm doing and saying things that they didn't expect to see me doing — and it’s changing their lives! It feels really cool to be able to come back and do that and use my voice.
Speaking of doing things people didn’t expect you to do: You competed on the first edition of Snatch Game, where you performed as Lady Gaga and ultimately were sent home. Given that history, were you at all nervous to re-participate in that challenge?
Yeah, actually it was one of the things that was most nerve-wracking for me. I didn't fully understand [Snatch Game] the first time I did it. So I knew that when I came back, it was one of the things where I was like, I have to do this thing and I have to do it well. And I needed to make sure that I didn’t just try to fly by the seat of my pants — that I actually studied how to do this. But then I realized: it's just talking. It's a conversation! Like, what the hell?
So, basically, I just tried not to overthink it. I tried to simplify it to make it also fun for me. Once I realized it was just a conversation, I would watch interviews that Dolly Parton would do with talk show hosts and stuff like that, and I just picked up on how she communicated back and forth and the cadence in her voice and things like that. I was like, I already have this Southern charm to me, so I'm just going to tap into that and do it like Dolly — which is also the name of my new single!
Now that we’ve reached the end, what would you say was your proudest moment from this season? And what is something you’d want to redo if you were ever given the chance?
Well, like Madonna said, absolutely no regrets. I stand by everything that I did and everything that I said. I'm proud of everything. And honestly, my proudest moment was every morning that I woke up and got to go on set. I was just proud to be there because I thought I would never get to do drag again since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I hadn’t touched a stage in so long. I know so many queens who were out of work — so many people who were out of work — so every moment that I was there, I was super proud. I can’t think of anything I'm more proud of.
If RuPaul were to announce your name as the winner, what would that mean to you?
Oh my goodness. Well RuPaul, first of all, is somebody who I've looked up to, who was someone who let me know as a kid that no matter what people say, you can still do it your way and be fabulous and fierce and celebrated. [Because of RuPaul], I knew that I existed in the world, even though I grew up in a small town where I didn't get to see that in person. But as I got older and stuck through the craziness of my childhood and finally got out of that small town to start experiencing life, I realized that anything is possible. So for RuPaul to tell me that I’m the next RuPaul’s Drag Race All Star, it would just fulfill so many goals and dreams that I've had.
To be able to share my story with the world on a huge platform, and to not only do things that I've always dreamed of doing, but be able to be an inspiration for other people, it would just mean the world to me and it would just be the pat on the back I need. I'd be so grateful and I’d do it with such grace and honor. I'm already doing that now, so I'm just gonna keep that energy going.
In the “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent Monologues” challenge, you opened up about your past in military school and how you had to fight against people who wanted to stifle your femininity. Looking back now and seeing how far you’ve come in your journey since that point, what would you say to that younger version of yourself?
Well, to be honest, that was the reason why I left military school early, is because I did not allow people to try to take that away from me. I was just too fabulous to be there. I stopped listening to people for a while and stopped trying to apologize for being myself. So I would just tell myself, "Baby, keep doing what you're doing and follow your heart. You’ve got it in you, so don't let anybody else tell you differently. You don't need permission from anyone to be yourself, so keep going out and experiencing life and meeting new people and trying everything that your heart desires. Follow your heart but take your brain with you.” That’s what I would tell myself.