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Entertainment

'RuPaul's Drag Race' Queen Jujubee On Her All Stars 5 Experience

"I went into the competition sober, so it was very different for me."

A top three finalist of both RuPaul’s Drag Race season two and the ill-fated first season of All Stars, Jujubee surely knows her way around a drag competition. One of the franchise’s foremost easy-to-love drag queens, the extremely witty Boston native has been a fan-favorite for over a decade. Still, when it came time for her to return to the competition (again), it was immediately clear that this stint would be a lot different than it had ever been before. Sure, Jujubee may have been treading familiar waters when she entered the Werk Room in a somewhat simple black dress, but as she joked, she used to work at the mall and now, she owns the mall.

As she had done in both of her previous stints on the show, Jujubee proved to be one of this season’s brightest spots — frequently offering the most hilariously quotable confessionals and even securing her very first Maxi Challenge win in a challenge where her team wasn’t even recognized as the best (a first for Drag Race). A reliable pun machine and the contestant most eliminated queens were rooting for, Jujubee would have been a shoe-in for Miss Congeniality if All Stars did such a thing. Instead, she will just be remembered as the season’s most lovable contestant. Even if she didn’t win, Jujubee’s All Stars moment is proof that, sometimes, the third time really is the charm.

Hours before the finale, NYLON hopped on the phone with Jujubee to talk about making it to the very end, why getting sober improved her competition experience, navigating the internet like her high school hallway, representing for people of Asian descent, and how it felt to secure her very first Maxi Challenge win...after three seasons.

You’re in the top three. How does it feel?

It feels so good. It feels right and it feels real. I’m very excited.

You’ve competed three times, and each of those times, you’ve made it to the top three. Does anything about this time feel different?

Oh, yes. This time actually feels really different for me, personally, because my head is a little bit more on my shoulders this time around. I feel more centered. I went into the competition sober, so it was very different for me.

How has competing sober changed your experience?

It’s allowed me to connect with the competition in a way that I couldn’t do before. I let go of my ego. There was a goal and the goal was to compete and to do my best and get to the end.

Let’s take it back to when you first got the call for All Stars 5. Were you excited? Nervous? Bags already packed?

I was so happy, I jumped up and down. I told my cats, “We’re going to do this baby!”

When you first entered the Werk Room and saw who you were competing against, who did you imagine making it to the top three with you?

Oh, it was immediately Miz Cracker and Shea Couleé. It was immediate. Every single queen that entered that Werk Room deserves to be there, of course. RuPaul wouldn’t ask if you weren’t good enough to win. Everybody is great. But for some reason, there was this energy and attraction that happened almost immediately [with Cracker and Shea]. I was like, Oh, god. It’s going to be three of us. Then it was, and it was like, We all just said that.

For this final challenge, you had to record a song and learn a dance. I know you’ve struggled with choreography in the past. Did having to learn a new routine this late in the game stress you out at all?

Oh, yes, of course. Any kind of choreography is stressful. But I will say this: Todrick Hall is a really great teacher. A lot of the dance moves that were created were very hard, but he just went and did his job. And I was thinking, I really want this crown, so I’m going to do my best.

On the other hand, you are a very talented singer, so were you excited to be able to sing for this final challenge — especially since the other music challenge was a rap?

Yeah. To sing and to be able to do it on a platform like RuPaul’s Drag Race was pretty insane. So that was something. But I also was really excited to be in yet another RuPaul song. Let me just put that out there.

One of the things I didn’t even realize was that you had never won a Maxi Challenge, despite obviously having performed extremely well in both of your previous stints on the show. This time, however, you finally won. How did it feel to finally get a win under your belt?

I was so happy. I was crying happy tears because it was finally that moment of...Yes! You know when you try for something over and over again? There comes a point where you’re like, Gosh, do I keep trying or do I just go somewhere else? I’m just glad that I never gave up and I’m glad that Ru saw that drive in me.

Did it feel weird to win during an episode where your team wasn’t considered the best?

It was very weird! I don’t even know. I guess you’d just have to ask Ru about that.

So much of All Stars is about coming back to show the world how much your drag has evolved since you originally competed. What did you want to show off the most this time around?

Well, I mean, most of all, I wanted to show off the fashion that I’ve collected. But I think that’s tied with the fact that now, I’m just Good Juju. I’m just a better version of myself and a more fully realized version of myself. I just wanted to show people that there is another way to live and I’m glad that I got to do that.

Right. I think fashion was one of the categories you struggled in most during the previous seasons. But you killed it this round. Your last two runways were my favorite looks of each respective week, and two of my favorite looks of the entire season. What do you think led to your glow-up?

I just let go of all the fears that I had with fashion. [Before], I felt that I needed to put myself in a very specific role with my drag and the way that I looked. Then, when I realized that I was in complete control of who I am and that I was in charge of showing people who I am, that’s when I allowed myself to dig deep and find things that scare me and put them out there in the world. I met some incredible designers. Like, the Freak Out look, I was so excited to make it. And I’m so happy I stuck around and got to wear it because it’s so freaky.

When you first competed on season two of Drag Race, did you ever imagine that the franchise would become the global behemoth that it is today?

Oh, I always knew that Drag Race was magic. I always knew that it was going to go do huge things and I’m glad I’m getting to see it happen. When I was a kid, though, I didn’t know that I would be doing drag and I definitely didn’t know that I’d be doing it at this capacity.

What are some of the biggest differences between each of your three times competing? Particularly since each occurred in such a different Drag Race era: season two was very early, All Stars 1 was right as it was getting popular, and All Stars 5 is a phenomenon.

I mean, All Stars 5 is definitely the hardest out of all the seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and I thought All Stars 1 was incredibly hard! And that was already harder than season two! Throughout the years, it just gets harder and harder and harder. The competition gets harder, yes, but also, the expectations grow. You’ve got to show up and show out because if you don’t, you’re clearly not an All Star, are you? You have to fight for this. There’s just a lot more at stake.

I think it’s safe to say that you’ve always been one of the most likable contestants in Drag Race herstory. But this time, I think you’ve had your biggest fan response yet, partially just because the show is being watched by more fans in general. Have you felt the difference?

You’re so right. The fanbase is huge and it reaches a lot more homes. You know, I’m taking it one day at a time. I know that Drag Race fans are incredibly passionate and I appreciate them so much. I’m taking it a little bit at a time because it’s really exciting. But I’m also really good at centering myself, so I try to stay offline as much as possible, if that makes any sense. But the connection that we’re able to have with our fans on Twitter or Instagram is pretty cool. I love retweeting people and just chatting with people. There’s a good little community. I always tell the fans that we just need to spread love. I think that’s really important to say.

Speaking of, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, which has prevented all of the competing queens from participating in the usual press circuit with world tours and viewing parties. I think most queens have adapted to that by getting more involved online. How are you reckoning with this new reality while also trying to stay offline as much as possible?

I plan all of the things that I need to do. Then, I put these posts out — just things that I know people are going to giggle about. I try to make people laugh. I try to navigate the internet kind of like my high school hallway — just move right through it to get to the next class and then come back out to say hi again. I mean, there are some great people but there are also some moments with a lot of negativity, and I think that just putting out positivity and light and fun cat pictures really does change some people’s days.

Do you feel like you’re missing out on a crucial piece of the experience by not being able to have that public-facing moment?

You know, it’s just a different experience. I’m lucky because I’ve already gotten to experience it twice before. So, for me to do this now, I actually appreciate that I get to watch [live] now. I never got to really watch [live] before. I always had to do it afterwards. Now, watching it while everyone else is seeing it is pretty cool.

I’d love to talk about your finale look, which I know was inspired by the Hindi Buddha statue. If I’m not mistaken, the only other person of Asian descent to win Drag Race is Raja Gemini from season three, which was almost a decade ago. During a time like right now, where Asians are being targeted for racist attacks because of people blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic, how does it feel to be competing as an Asian queen and getting opportunities like the finale to show off your heritage in such a grand way?

You know, I believe that representation is so important. I am so happy to be a part of a network in RuPaul’s Drag Race because it is such a diverse group of girls, right? To be Laotian and American and standing up there competing, I am just full. My heart is full because when I grew up, I never had anyone who looked like me. Now, I have people reaching out to me just to say, “Thank you for the representation.” Seeing a brown, left-handed, Laotian man living his feminine fantasy and being proud of it has meant a lot to them.

What was your proudest or most rewarding moment of this season?

I’m just really happy that I got to go back to compete. I think the most rewarding thing is the family that we chose or the family that chose us. The girls, we really do love each other, and getting to spend a race-load of time with Miz Cracker and Shea Couleé has been really rewarding because those two are great drag queens, great competitors, and just great people. I think just getting to know the girls on a deeper level has been the most rewarding.

What would you say was your lowest point of the season?

Well, I was going to walk into the Werk Room and say, “Hey, it’s the blouse from Laos!” That’s what I was going to say. And then I was going to suggest that they cut to me in an interview being like, “A blouse is a feminine top!” I think that’s what I’m most ashamed about, not doing that. I wish I did do it. But something told me to say, “Third time’s the charm” and I’m glad I said that. But it’s like, Gosh, “the blouse from Laos” sounds really nice.

What would it have meant for you to win?

It would mean the universe to me. It’s something I’ve longed for for so long and I think I’ve shown that I deserve it. I’ve competed and I’ve shown the growth that I have in the past ten years. I do think I did a really good job. For me, it would mean that it is possible for somebody like me to get this and to win this — to see me represent for people who look like me and also people out there who are still suffering. I want them to know that there’s hope. There’s hope and I’m proof of it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.