Exit Interview: Lady Camden On Getting Cut From 'RuPaul's Drag Race'
“Even if my looks weren't the most polished at all times, at least you were like, ‘Oh, I think I get this b*tch a bit more’ after every one.”
The Spice Girls once encouraged their fans to “spice up your life,” and as a noted fan of that legendary British quintet, Lady Camden can say she’s finally fulfilled her idols’ most popular command — as of last Friday, the UK-born, Sacramento-dwelling performer can say she made it all the way to the Top Two of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 14. And thanks to a last-minute surprise courtesy of CashApp, this queen’s second-place finish comes with a nice little financial compensation: a game-changing $50,000 check. Talk about spicing up your life!
Lady Camden’s journey has been one of the season’s most inspiring to witness. As a trained ballet dancer, the queen’s talent was apparent from the very first episode. But as she herself would be quick to tell you, her tendency to get shy and quiet around louder personalities initially paid her a disservice. But floating in the background eventually grew boring for the performer, and by the season’s second half, Lady Camden had seemingly come into her own, commanding attention from both the judges and her fellow competitors in challenges and on the runway. By the time she reached the final stretch, Lady Camden had quietly become a fan-favorite. Seeing her finish the season as a slightly-richer runner-up is an outcome everyone can celebrate.
Following last week’s lively finale, NYLON hopped on the phone with Lady Camden to talk about finishing in second place. Speaking from Oslo, where she’s currently performing on the Werq the World Tour, the newly-minted runner-up talked about the surprise $50,000 she walked away with, revealing herself through her runway looks, how losing the design challenge to Jorgeous inspired a huge pivot in her gameplay, the role ballet school played in inspiring her camp theatricality, struggling to stand out around huge personalities, and representing for the UK.
Well, you made it pretty much to the end. How does it feel to finish as this season's runner-up?
Oh, it's obviously amazing. It's a bit surreal though because the top five and I all watched it together, and then the next day, I just got on a plane to go to Europe, so my brain is absolute mush right now. I haven't really slept much. It just all feels surreal, I guess, is my short answer. It just doesn't feel real. It feels like a weird dream or something. But I just had my first show with the tour last night in Copenhagen and it was just so, so cool. So I’m definitely riding on a high.
This is something I don't usually get to ask the runner-ups, but because the rules changed this year, you got a prize as well…
Yes, I got some money.
How did it feel to hear in that final moment that, regardless of how you finished in that last lip-sync, you were going to win something? Also, how do you plan on spending the money?
Obviously I was very, very happy to learn about the new prize. It's actually so funny because my first thought was, Oh no, the girls that have come second in the past are going to be so pissed! And I'm sure they are. But I didn’t even really think about what I would do with [the money], because in that moment, I was still like, That's really cool that the second place person gets money too. However, I still want to win. And I have not had any time to think about what I'm going to do with it now. I think I’ll probably pay back all the money that I spent for the show, first and foremost. But then, I don't know. I've always dreamed of just doing an actual vacation or going on a cruise or something. I don't know when that would happen, but sometime, I’d definitely love to go to Hawaii or something. That would be the dream, to take a week and just chill.
I think every queen comes onto the show with the hopes to make it to the end, but some obviously struggle once they arrive. When you started this season, did you already have a clear vision of yourself standing at this endpoint?
Oh, that's a weird [question to answer] because I feel like you see really talented people in the competition get sent home so soon, and you see it happen time and time again. It's just that everyone who is cast in the competition is talented, so there's no one that is brought in that shouldn't make it all the way. It's just how the competition rolls, it's how things stack up against each other.
So there's obviously a fear of not making it all the way, but I just remember thinking that the one thing I wanted to do to prepare for the show was to make sure that every single runway look was something that would [reveal something] about me and not be something generic. There are a lot of amazing drag queens that have amazing designer looks and stuff like that, but I think the ones that do it the best are the ones that make sure [their looks] say something about them. And I think that even if my looks weren't the most polished at all times, at least you were like, "Oh, I think I get this bitch a bit more" after every one.
Going off that, I feel like, at the beginning of the competition, you were kind of floating in the middle of the pack. You were never doing bad, but you weren’t necessarily dominating either.
Right, I was just doing okay. Yeah.
But then, there seemed to be this moment where things started to shift.
Why do you think it took you some time to warm up? What do you think had to change in your head to get you from being consistently safe to being consistently in the top?
Like you said, I was doing okay. But then, I feel like I got close to a win and didn't get it, and it felt like, Okay, yeah, I could have gotten that.
Can you talk about that almost-win?
It was when Jorgeous won the design challenge. I think that [experience] taught me that it's not really about being the A+ student, you know what I mean? Even though I did really well and a lot of people were like, "You should have won," I was like, I understand why you think that but the difference was that she sparked in a way that was very her and it made the judges fall in love with her. It wasn't even about the quantity of work or anything. It wasn't about “getting the most points.” It was about bringing something that's so you that people fall in love with it.
So I was like, Oh, I need to just take more of a risk and do something that's going to make me feel proud and not keep just doing something in the hopes of being successful. I wanted to do something that [made me feel like] even if it bombed, I'd still be like, Yeah, I fucking did that. I think that's why I wanted to do the trip and fall [stunt for my Freddie Mercury look]. All that kind of stuff just made me go, “My friends at home are going to be like, 'Yeah!'” versus people being like, "Okay, good job."
So once that happened, and when I felt like it was a success and was received well, it just literally taught me firsthand, Okay, yeah, if you take risks and do something that's very you, that's just the way forward in general. You're also going to have more fun. It's actually easier in some ways because you're not trying to “do well.” You're just kind of being yourself. So I just learned a big lesson with that and I think that was where the shift happened.
I'd love to talk about your finale performance, which was impressive for a number of reasons. First off, I loved how distinctly British it all felt. Was showing off your British identity something that was important for you to do throughout this entire competition?
I mean, yes and no. I think it's always nice. I'm very nostalgic as a person, so I definitely love to draw inspiration from childhood things. I think that's where a lot of my camp, theatrical sense comes from, just because I went to ballet school and always dreamt of performing at the [Royal] Opera House in Covent Garden. And that, I guess, comes from being British.
But I don't know if it was important for me to let everyone know that I was British [specifically], because I'm kind of both. I'm from the UK, but my mom is American and I've had a lot of American influences in my life too. I think it was just more important for me to show who I am, which is a bit of both — and if where you come from has influenced your drag, then it's important to show that.
You’re such a skilled dancer, and I think your finale performance really showcased that too. How did it feel to really get to go all-out on such a huge stage, in Las Vegas no less?
I mean, the fact that this was the first time we were in front of people in two years for a finale was just exciting for everyone involved — not just for the queens, but I could tell backstage that it was also exciting for producers, stage crew, etc. Everyone was just so pumped and the audience was so excited because they haven't had a chance to watch a finale in so long. Also, there's something about being in Vegas that just makes it feel extra camp and extra showgirly.
In previous finales, we've had more of the focus be on a ball. Like, with Symoné’s season, they presented three different looks and it was more about the fashion. And I don't know, but I'm imagining that it was because their season was very strong with the fashion and looks. So I was just really excited that we got to focus more on performing, just because, for me, personally, that's really fun. I don't know, it just felt like an exciting way to enter into a finale. It was less about looking perfect and more about just dancing the shit out of it. So I just honestly was like, I’m going to have fun with this. I mean, of course you're going to be nervous for a finale, but I remember thinking, Even if I bomb somehow, I'm going to enjoy it. So that was cool.
This has been a very long season. What would you say was the hardest part?
I think the hardest part for me in the beginning was just being nervous, being shy, finding it hard to speak up and stand up for myself in a room full of big personalities. I knew that was going to be a challenge going into it, just because I know I don't feel my strongest when I'm just sitting in a room full of big personalities. I feel strongest when I'm on stage by myself. So I knew that was coming. If I could go back in time, I would just loosen up and have more fun from day one.
What would you say was your proudest moment?
I think my proudest moment was probably just the last episode. Once we wrapped filming, we were all still in a weird headspace because we take a break between that [final episode] and filming the finale. But I remember wrapping and then just dancing around in the parking lot in my gown, just screaming, "I made it to the finale!" I just couldn't believe it. It didn't feel real, again. I remember Bosco and I both couldn't get over the fact that we made it to the finale. We were just delirious and dancing. That was definitely the coolest moment. That's something I’ll never forget.
Now that you’ve finished as the runner-up on Drag Race, your life is about to change. In fact, that’s already happening — you said you’ve already started the Werq The World Tour. What else are you looking forward to in your new career as an official Ru-Girl?
I don't know. I'm excited to mostly just travel. For the last three years, we've been in a place where we haven't been able to do anything outside of our immediate space, so I'm excited to travel the world and just perform. Honestly, I’ll also say that, after this really crazy journey with Drag Race, I'm excited to do the same thing every day for awhile, just waking up and putting on the same outfit and performing in it. I'm excited to enjoy that sort of routine again. And I'm also excited to see what other opportunities come up, honestly. I've always really wanted to do more acting, so I'm hoping that I get some chances to do some more acting and stuff like that.
After your challenge-winning performance in The Daytona Wind, I would love to see it!
Oh my god, I know! Everything I do is going to have to have farts in it now though. I can add those in myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.