Much has been said about who gets made out to be the “villain” on reality TV shows, but few reality stars have managed to subvert the label as gracefully and graciously as Ra’Jah O’Hara. After finishing in ninth place on season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Dallas-born queen found herself in the rather unfavorable position of having to stave off cruel fans who unfairly decided that she was the source of much of the season’s early drama. But rather than lash out, Ra’Jah took all the criticism in stride until she could return for season six of All Stars, where she arrived fully ready to redeem her reputation by showing viewers the real, “authentic” version of herself.
And it paid off in spades. Whether she was impressing the judges on the runway with her uniformly stunning looks (every single one of which she designed herself, several of which were sewn in her trademark color of purple) or providing viewers with endless laughs thanks to the quick wit she consistently displayed in confessionals, Ra’Jah more than outdid herself on her second time on the show — and her performance took her all the way to top four. While she didn’t take home the crown this time, the finalist is leaving All Stars 6 in much better spirits than she left season 11. From a self-described “villain” to an undeniable fan favorite? Not too shabby!
Ahead of the All Stars 6 finale, NYLON hopped on the phone with Ra’Jah O’Hara to talk about making it to the top four, why she thinks she was perceived as a villain her first time on the show, how she managed to redeem herself, using her platform to speak out about being Black in America, her mixed feelings about sharing personal family matters on television for all the world to see, and what she learned from her season 11 “power bottom” experience.
You made it to the finale of All Stars 6. How does that feel?
Well, I'm in relatively high spirits first off because I woke up this morning, okay? That was already a blessing. But I'm feeling double and triple-blessed because I did make it to the top four. Now we are really celebrating! I'm on top of the world. I can't complain.
When you first found out that you were going to be on All Stars, were you immediately expecting to make it this far or were there any things you were nervous about?
When I came onto season 11, actually, I was like, "Girl, this is your title. This is what you’re here for.” But then, of course, that dream got cut very short. Some harsh realities happened. But coming back for All Stars 6, I told myself, girl, just have fun. I already knew that I had everything it took to be RuPaul's Drag Race’s Next Drag Superstar because I have that unique mix of charisma and talent, okay?
I know that's right!
But I also knew that, coming back for All Stars 6, I had to absolutely show what I'm capable of as a queen and who I am as a person. But I most definitely needed to remember to have fun. I feel like I did all of that and I think that's what enabled me to be in this position that I am in right now.
After being eliminated in ninth place on season 11, was All Stars something you were immediately thinking about? Or did it take a while for you to come back around to the idea?
First off, when you say I left in ninth place...damn! You didn't have to slap me like that, Michael! [laughs] But I knew leaving season 11 that I had a polarizing personality. I also knew that I made great TV. I know that I had fun for the most part, and I enjoyed watching myself. Of course, there were some things I had to learn and relearn about myself or discover about myself from watching the season, but I wasn't jaded about my experience at all, so I knew if I ever got a phone call to come back to RuPaul's Drag Race, I had to take that opportunity because how many opportunities am I going to get? How many times are they going to call you? I figured that if they called me and said they wanted me to come, that meant they actually wanted me.
So I was going to show up and show out and do what I do. But I also had to remind myself, Girl, don't get up in that room and start acting a fool and getting all up in your feelings. Girl, just go up there and have fun. Show them who you are and just do what you do at the house, okay? If you get in your feelings, girl, go in that corner and twerk it out, okay?
You said you already knew that you might be polarizing. Given that the fan response you received the first time wasn't so great, are you saying you weren't surprised at all by that? Were you expecting that?
It's kind of weird because it’s a double-edged sword. In season 11, I made great TV. I was on a lot of the show that season. I had a lot of screentime. I was in the confessional doing my thing, so I knew that I was going to be able to shine and be bright and do well in the aspects of, like, commentary because, you know, I always have something crazy or funny or shady to say. I feel like we all do, but sometimes, if it ain't funny, it ain't funny — and some of them girls ain't funny!
So this time, I knew I had an opportunity for people to actually get to know me and actually love me and see me. But it was all about what I wanted you to see, and I feel like what I wanted you to see was myself and who I am and how I walk through life authentically. I didn't want to come in and put on. I didn't get an opportunity to see myself doing well on TV the first time, so that's what I wanted to actually do — is come on TV this time and do well. That was my goal. But I knew that I was going to be TV gold because I was TV gold the first time, okay? I was TV platinum the first time, so coming back, I knew I was going to be TV gold.
Well, it’s interesting, because as we saw this season with Silky Nutmeg Ganache, people who didn’t have good fan responses their first time can sometimes get so in their head about changing perceptions on All Stars that they lose what initially made them so endearing to the people that did like them. How did you find the balance between trying to correct the narrative about who you are but still bringing your trademark charisma?
I think with me, especially because I was already considered a villain, that means I had already received the bulk of all the hate. So coming back, there was no more that could be said that would’ve been any worse than what was already said. So I was like, I can't really worry about these people and how they’re going to perceive me. I have to go in that room and make sure that I'm present in that room. That's what I had to do. I couldn't focus on the outside factors that I have no control over. I can't control how people perceive me, but I can control how I react and how I show up to the room.
What I wanted to do was show up being myself. I had to give myself plenty of pep-talks. I had to talk myself off the ledge plenty of times. I had to go take a breath, woo-sah, and say, Girl, you know what? This ain't your moment right now. But baby, you still got another opportunity, okay? You might not have killed it in that acting challenge, but bitch, you’re about to walk down this runway and serve it, so get your head back in the game.
I had to hype myself back up because, a lot of times when we’re in a situation where we've been praised and then we come back and get negative critiques, we get back in our feelings. But I had already gotten all the negative critiques. The judges didn't get to see me thriving at my best on season 11, and when you're already at the bottom, you can't go anywhere but up. That's what I took from my season 11 bottom experience — my power bottom experience. I said, “You know what? Soldier up, girl. Let's go! There is power in those bottoms, okay?"
Do you think some of the initial negative responses to you in season 11 had anything to do with you being Black? That factor has been known to have an impact on how certain queens are perceived on this show.
I don't know that me being considered a villain had anything to do with me being Black. I think it had everything to do with how I was reacting in the moment and what I gave my energy to in season 11. Because that's what [producers] often do, is ask us questions about how we feel about the situation. If my reaction to a certain situation is negative, of course there isn’t going to be a positive answer [to air]. I guess you could turn a negative into a positive, but that's what I showed. That's what I gave my energy to — being sour, being salty, being in my feelings, and being very insecure.
So what I had to do is take that energy and direct it somewhere else. I had to tell myself, Girl, you're good. You're great. You're worthy. You're an All Star. They called you to be here. They wanted some good TV, so they called you back. That's why you're here. Do your thing.
The final challenge called for you to make a song about being an American and you used your verse to speak up about the state of being Black in America right now. Was it important for you to use your platform to talk about racial injustice?
It's crazy. It's something that I've never really been conscious of. I can even admit that, even during the midst of 2020 with all the social injustices that we were going through, I never saw myself as a person that was like a super activist. I never considered myself one of those people that showed up in the room like, "Yeah, we’ve got to do this! We’ve got to create change!” But what I realized throughout the pandemic and throughout all the social injustices was that, as a queen, I really don't have any other choice but to use my voice. Even if my voice is just me walking in the room and being seen, that's enough. I'm doing my part just by showing up.
I have no other choice but to stand up, use my voice, and use this platform to stand up for what's right — and not just what's right for me, but for what's right for everybody. I don't feel like I walk through the world saying, "Oh, I'm a proud Black man!" But guess what? I'm a proud Black man, and I'm not going to apologize for showing up in the room with my melanated skin. I'm just going to show up and show out as a human being, as a person, as a queen, as an entertainer. And oh, yeah, by the way, she’s Black, too. Oh, and by the way, she's also sickening. And, oh, by the way, she's self-sufficient. And, oh, by the way, that's my homegirl!
One of the things you were praised for most this season was your fashion. You had me gagged every single time you stepped foot on the runway — which makes it an even bigger deal that you actually made everything you wore. How did you even manage that?
Oooh, when I tell you I locked myself in my living room! My house, first and foremost, was a mess. I got the list [of runway themes] and I was literally at the sewing machine every single day. I would wake up, get me something to eat, get on the phone to holler at my homegirls and kiki, and all you would hear is [makes a sound effect] the sewing machine in the background. Most queens have resources and all of that good stuff, but I didn’t. I left season 11 as a villain, so nobody wanted to work with me. People didn't even want to have me in their shows, let alone come to a meet-and-greet, and let alone become my friend so I could say, "Hey, girl. Y'all got some free designs y'all could send to your homegirl because I’m going to be on TV?" Nuh-uh.
So I knew that if I was going to come back, I had to represent and show what I could do for myself because those were the only options that I had. I didn't have designers that I could pull from or $10,000-$20,000 to take out in a loan for fashion for Drag Race. I was a broke queen, so all I had was my $600, a sewing machine, some thread, and my two fingers. I had to make it happen.
During the Pink Table Talk, you opened up about the relationship with your mom, which I could tell was a hard thing for you to do. What prompted you to share that information and be that vulnerable on TV for everyone to see?
I actually didn’t want to share that. It just happened. I actually felt like I said a little bit too much and that's why you saw me, in that moment, crying afterwards, because I felt like I had shared too much. I don’t know. The way I was raised is what happens in this house, stays in this house. We don't talk about family business outside of the family, you know?
So I think it was just the conversations that we were having and Scarlet opening up about how she had two loving parents. It just really opened me up. I think my teammates helped me reach that moment of being vulnerable enough to actually talk about my situation with my mother. Since that moment, I've had so many people tell me how much it helped them, how it's made them want to reach out or continue to work on their relationships with their parents that they may not be so close or connected to. So I feel great that I was able to really be vulnerable in that moment and let my guard down. Regardless of how it played out or whatever, I'm glad that it was shown and that I was able to have that moment because that was a real moment.
That's actually what I was afraid of on season 11. I was so afraid of being vulnerable or being shown as being weak. I didn’t want to be seen crying on TV. It was kind of like, oh, girl, I didn't realize I was such a big crybaby! So I was like, Dang, girl! You going to cry like this at home?
What are you most proud of from this season and what is your biggest regret?
I am just grateful for this experience. I don't really go through life with any real regrets. I feel like what I did and what I've shown has been great. I'm glad that I didn't give them the opportunity to catch me in a negative headspace because I really wasn't in a negative headspace at all. Even when I found myself in those negative headspaces, I had to literally just snap myself out of it. Like I said, I had to feel my feelings, have my moment, and then throw it away because we can't let hurt, disappointment, and all those negative things ruin our day — especially when there's more days to be had. If there's still light at the end of the tunnel, girl, follow the light!
What would it have meant for you to win?
Oh my god. It would mean that RuPaul saw me for who I am. I am the poster child of what it takes to reclaim your redemption. I am the perfect poster child to represent this battle, this moment. That would have been the most validating thing.