Exit Interview: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Queen Jan On Going Home
"I can do a variety of different numbers and deliver it in a fun way. I just don’t think the judges understood that."
Every week, NYLON writer Michael Cuby will conduct an exit interview with the queen eliminated from RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12. This week, queen Jan was asked to sashay away.
While many queens that sashay into the RuPaul’s Drag Race Werk Room pride themselves on being “comedy queens,” “look queens,” or “musical theater queens,” Jan (née Sport) fancied herself a hybrid of all three. A former musical theater student, the queen is both an accomplished singer and dancer (as evidenced by her appearance on America’s Got Talent as a member of the drag queen girl group Stephanie’s Child) and entered the competition determined to put her MFA-approved performance skills to use. As a self-described superfan of the show, the New Jersey native (who currently lives in New York) was “just excited to be there,” but throughout the first weeks of the competition, she also proved herself to be a real threat.
Combined with her enthusiasm about the show itself, Jan’s multi-purpose skillset kept the queen consistently safe and out of the bottom for six consecutive weeks. Unfortunately, during last week’s “Droop” product challenge, the combination may have proven lethal. Charged with creating a funny commercial for a ridiculously unnecessary product, Jan settled on “Sure, Jan,” a fragrance with the power to imbue all spritzers with the frenetic exuberance of its titular queen. But as she sunk deeper into the lingering disappointment from her failure to secure a win during last week’s Madonna Rusical, the queen struggled to imbue her commercial with any nuance, resulting in a clip that was attention-getting in all the wrong ways. In the end, she was forced to lip-sync Chaka Khan’s “This is My Night” against Widow Von Du, a Chaka stan who just so happened to be riding high on some words of encouragement from The Queen of Funk herself. While both queens brought the fire to the Main Stage, Widow performed as if Chaka had taken over her entire spirit, and ultimately, it was the superfan Jan who was sent packing.
Ahead of her elimination, NYLON hopped on the phone with Jan to talk about doing “too much” in the competition, the story behind her longtime closer-than-close friendship with fellow competitor Brita, and why she felt more comfortable blaming her tears last week on Brita’s departure than admitting that she was really disappointed about not winning the Rusical.
What do you think went wrong in this week’s challenge?
The thing that was worst for me was not winning this previous week’s challenge. Ultimately, as somebody who grew up in theater, studied musical theater, and considers themselves to, I would say, probably be one of the stronger singers and dancers of our season, I was kind of thrown that I not only lost one musical challenge but that I lost this Rusical as well. In my mind, I was like, Well, if I can’t win either of these, then what am I doing here? Although I did say I was super upset that Brita had left, that was only partially true. I didn’t want to show this to the girls, but I was more upset that I did not win because I was definitely worried about my place in the competition. I think that I was just like, Well, obviously the judges are not liking anything I’ve thrown at them. I’ve gotten good critiques but I still don’t win the challenges, so I have to just throw everything in the kitchen sink at them. I think that not being a little more nuanced in my performance for this week’s challenge was my ultimate downfall.
You’re a Drag Race superfan who was super excited to be on this show — not just as a competitor, but also as a regular person getting to experience this moment. Do you think this enthusiasm, which the judges sometimes classified as “too much,” came back to bite?
I think it was more a misunderstanding of what my drag is. My drag is “too much.” When somebody comes to see my two-hour show that I was doing in New York before Drag Race, they would see me do all of those things for two hours straight. And I built that night to be one of the most successful nights at the bar that I was at, if not the most successful night. That’s just who I am and I think that’s everything I’ve always been praised for as an entertainer — that I can do a variety of different numbers and deliver it in a fun way. I just don’t think the judges understood that.
You come from New York where there is so much competition for bookings, almost necessitating a desire to be the most liveliest queen of the bunch. Do you think that coming from a place where that was necessary played to your disadvantage?
In ways, yes, because obviously my critiques in the beginning were that I was doing a little too much. But ultimately, I think that’s what prepared me for having a pretty consistent run. While I wasn’t always high, I think this week’s challenge was the first time that I actually did not do a good job and landed in the bottom. So I do think that the versatility and variety that I have to bring to those audience members here set me up overall for succeeding in the other weeks. But obviously, I wish they would have understood my point of view about where I’m coming from.
You haven’t been in the bottom. But for a long time, you were just safe, which I know affected you negatively because you wanted to be critiqued by the judges and couldn’t.
While I am a superfan of the show, I definitely was able to put it all aside to just know that, regardless of Drag Race, drag and performing and connecting to and entertaining people is my ultimate. There’s nothing better than me entertaining and doing drag. So I wanted critiques, just to know how I can improve. It goes back to even something as simple as the judges telling Crystal to improve her makeup and refining the talent that she so obviously has. I wish that I could’ve gotten some of that from the judges during that time. What was helping was that a lot of the girls (during the challenges, after, and even on the runway) would see my look, see me getting ready for the runway, and say, “I think this is a really good week for you. Hopefully you’re in the top” or, “I love what you’re doing. I can’t believe that they’re not seeing what we all see.” That boosted me up to think that I was doing a good job; it gave me that validity. I was just like, “Y’all see it in the Werk Room and see it in the challenges. I just don’t understand why the judges aren’t.” And that was frustrating.
This week in Untucked, there’s the conversation where all the queens are talking about their biggest competition and your name never came up. How did that feel?
Well, I think that after the Rusical, with everybody seeing that I wasn’t going to ultimately get that praise, I think the writing was on the wall. Just seeing the commercials on the stage and seeing where everybody was, I think that everybody was like, “Well, this might be Jan’s time to go.” I don’t think anybody was really considering me for Best Leading Actress that night.
On the Main Stage, Ru asks the girls who should go home and everyone says Widow’s name, except Widow, who says you. Did knowing that the other queens thought Widow did worse than you give you an added boost of confidence going into the lip-sync?
Ummm, yes and no. I knew that Widow idolizes Chaka Khan, so Widow didn’t need any of the girl’s validation — she had Chaka’s, and she had Ru’s too, who really appreciated her and thought she was an amazing queen. It made me feel good to know that none of the girls thought it was my time. But I had heard about how good Widow was in her first week lip-sync against Gigi. I wasn’t there, obviously, but I was like, I don’t think there’s a chance I’m going to beat her, so I’m just hoping that I do my very best and the judges can see the passion that I have and keep us both.
It’s interesting to hear that you went onto stage already assuming that it wasn’t going to work in your favor, because I think you did such a great job.
Gigi and Sherry were the other ones that got negative critiques, and at that point, we were the only ones in the competition that had never gotten negative critiques. And out of all four of us in that precarious situation, I was the only one who didn’t have a win. So I was like, I know I’m lip-syncing. So I came on with the veil and the dress and was like, I’m ready for battle. But I’m a superfan of the show and I was like, I know they’re not sending Widow home tonight, so I gotta hope and pray that they keep both of us.
I know you were really emotional about Brita leaving because you were such close friends outside the show. How did it feel to be able to compete alongside a good friend?
Brita was my very first cheerleader in New York City. She and I competed in a competition when I first started doing drag. It was my very first performance in New York. I had a soundcheck, and Brita was the one in the audience hearing when I was hitting my high notes. She was like, “Hey, you’re new at this but you’re really good. If you ever need help or if you’re nervous tonight, just know that you are such a star and are so talented.” She made me feel this comfort in the first two minutes of meeting her and I had no idea who she was. That is Brita. When I think of Brita, I think of that first moment. We’re very close and we grew up doing drag together. We saw each other reaching the highest heights in New York City. But I also know that Brita and I are vastly different, and to me, I was like, Four of us are making it to the end. Brita is so different from me and I knew that the judges would hopefully see that, so I hoped that we’d both make it and could help each other along that journey. To kind of see someone who you care about not do as well as they had hoped and just really not have the best run was very disheartening to see. I definitely was upset that she left, but I was ultimately masking how upset I was that I kind of knew that if I couldn’t win that challenge, I wasn’t going to win any other challenge, and ultimately, I wasn’t going to win the competition. Obviously, I was upset about Brita, but the real sadness came from me realizing my fate in the competition.
Aside from not making it to the finale, as a superfan, do you think your experience on Drag Race was everything you hoped it would be in the end?
Oh my god. It was more than I thought it would be. Especially going home a lot sooner than I wanted to, I was hoping that I didn’t fade into the background. I know that I was safe for a lot of weeks and I didn’t want to be one of those queens that you never saw or heard from on the show. But watching it and seeing the fans’ response, I’m really proud of the work that I did. I’m proud of the runways that I brought and the package that I presented. I was just hoping that everybody got to see that. It was a dream come true. Being on that show, regardless of in what capacity, I’m so happy with it and I’m so happy and honored to be part of a cast that I think is one of the most talented that has ever been on the show, period. I feel like I had a moment every episode that fans were talking about and reacting to. To just know that people were on my side and could see those things made me really, really happy.
I know you’re the drag daughter of season nine queen Alexis Michelle. Do you think she would be proud of the work you’ve been able to do on the show?
Totally. I know she’s proud. She’s such a great mom and will drop anything at the drop of a hat to help me out. Every single week, every single runway that she’s seen, every challenge, she always texts me and says, “I’m so proud of you. You did such a good job.” So I’m happy to make mama proud.