The Phenomenal Jinkx Monsoon

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Jinkx Monsoon is a kooky, wicked drag queen who won the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race last week. He towered above his competitors with strange one-liners, ruled “Snatch Game” with a dead-on performance as Grey Gardens’ Little Edie Beale, and showed an outrageous commitment to bizarre onstage characterizations. Now that she’s taken the crown, what next? Find out below as we quiz Monsoon, a.k.a. 25-year-old Jerick Hoffer, about Roxxxy Andrews‘ inane comments, being one of the maturer queens in the competition, and a love for Anna Nicole Smith.

The Backlot: You were billed as something of a niche queen, but Drag Race fans overwhelmingly loved you. Did that surprise you? 

Jinkx Monsoon: It was very, very surprising to me, actually. You know, drag has evolved so much from its origins. You can date drag back probably however far back you want; men used to perform as women in Shakespeare, you know? It’s evolved so much. Mainstream drag has centered around the more glamorous beauty queens, the supermodel queens. Never before has a campy, decidedly kooky comedy queen made it to the top three [in RuPaul's Drag Race], let alone won the competition… but I faced a lot of criticism out there. Roxxxy Andrews isn’t the only one who thinks drag is serious and more about look and presentation than anything else. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash from certain sects of the drag community. What powers me through all of this is that, even without the fan vote and Ru asking everyone to chime in, RuPaul and the judges ranked me in the top three for at least four [challenges] in a row. I consistently performed well in the talent challenges. When I was asked to adapt and be a little more glamorous, I could succeed at that. I not only had the support of the fans, but I had the support of the judging panel as well, and that’s what really makes me proud about this victory. I evolved and matured in a way that could’ve only happened going on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I feel like it’s not so much about changing your look when you evolve; it’s about taking your look to the next level.

TB: It could be argued that among the Drag Race champions, you relate to RuPaul the least; Bebe and Tyra were full-on glamor queens — and Ru loves glamor — while Raja and Sharon were provocateurs in a very Ru way. Did you ever feel you had to relate to Ru in order to get him on your side? Were you compulsive about establishing a connection? 

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JM: Absolutely not. I actually feel like I do relate to him quite a bit. Maybe not so much in the glamorous supermodel aspect, but if you look at RuPaul’s career, she’s been a singer, she’s been a dancer, she’s been an icon, she’s been an actress, she’s appeared in many, many movies and not just in drag. If you look at RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is heavily her sense of humor, it’s very campy. RuPaul is one of the most brilliant pun artists I’ve ever met. Even though RuPaul might be very glamorous and a supermodel, she’s quite quirky and unique. I related to her in that respect.

TB: That’s what upset me about the “Comedy queens vs. beauty queens” debate this season. Beauty queens like Roxxxy argued that looks were more important than material, yet Ru is all about her material! Do you feel the “beauty queen” argument insults what RuPaul stands for?

JM: Yeah. I mean, totally! When you look at the way the challenges were set up, they were all reflections on things RuPaul had to do in her own career, and she said that time and time again. Even in the mini-challenges — that time we had to do makeup in the dark? She related that to her own career. The thing that was most shocking to me about Roxxxy Andrews’ whole stew about how I could never be America’s next drag superstar because all I do is sing and tell jokes and do things that require a large talent — I don’t know! — it seemed to me she was discrediting the fact that challenges were based on finding the next person who can do everything RuPaul can do. I do admit that being able to sew, creating your own outfits, or being a magnificent stylist is a huge, wonderful talent, and it’s something I’ve had to… evolve, in order to be more on Roxxxy’s level when it comes to hair, makeup, styling, sewing, creating looks, and all that kind of stuff. But it takes many talents to be America’s next drag superstar.

TB: There’s no other way to put it: Roxxxy picked on you. When she hammered you about relying on comedy, were you ever mad that people like Alaska didn’t help to defend you more?

JM: You know, Alaska and I were in competition just as much as Roxxxy and I. It wasn’t Alaska’s job to back me up. When push came to shove, especially as you saw in the Top 3 episode, Alaska did not let Roxxxy get away with some of the comments she was making. She called her out. But it was not Alaska’s job to stick up for me. There were moments when I absolutely felt it was necessary for me to fight back and stand up for myself — I absolutely did — but I’m the kind of person who can take a lot, you can throw a lot at me, and I don’t feel the need to come back for you. It wasn’t until later that I even felt the need to respond to those foolish comments.

TB: Your Little Edie tribute during the “Snatch Game” episode was a big hit. I loved your knowledge of old-school camp icons. Were you considering any others?

JM: Oh yeah. Originally, my plan was to do Anna Nicole Smith. I do a stellar Anna Nicole Smith. But I felt it was very sad when Anna Nicole passed away, and I was sad because she’d become this kind of clown character, and we were kind of discrediting what her life had looked like. To do a big joke about being the eccentric mess she was, it’d just be poking fun at someone who recently passed away due to her eccentric lifestyle. It felt like it was too soon. But these other answers are less think-y. I was almost going to do Maggie Smith. I was almost going to Helena Bonham Carter. She’s such a huge icon to me. I see everything she’s in. I love her body of work. I think she’s a brilliant actress and so transformational. She’s kind of what I aspire to be as an actor, able to do anything. Really, basically I wanted to do something with an eccentric voice. I have a thing for capturing what’s unique about a person’s voice. That’s why I thinking about someone with an accent, a lot of British people. I also thought of Edina Monsoon from Ab Fab, which is actually where my namesake comes from, but I thought it’d be weird to do a fictional character, so I left it alone.

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TB: I asked Honey Mahogany this as well, but was it isolating to be waaaay more mature than your competition? Whenever you, Alaska, or Honey did confessionals, I thought, “Phew. There are grownups here.”

JM: Well, I think it’s relative. There were certain things I was much more knowledgeable about, but there were also certain things the other girls were much more knowledgeable about. It’s isolating, but it’s also kind of reassuring. You can kind of pat yourself on the back when you’re able to keep  your head together in these moments of stress and not resort to childish antics or temper-tantrum behavior. It’s hard to do. Looking back on my experience, I was happy that I could keep my cool through much of the stressful moments. I don’t think anyone on my season should regret anything, because we were absolutely being true to ourselves and true to our own ways of doing things. I do know some of the girls watched back their moments and cringed, but I have my own cringe-y moments, so it’s all kind of relative.

TB: Your crush on Ivy Winters seemed short-lived. When you’re living in a weird environment for a long enough time, I’m sure it’s comforting to pick a crush on the closest available heartbeat. Is that what happened?

JM: It was kind of like that. When you’re separated from your hometown and your friends and family, you start to feel really lonely. Ivy was — and Honey as well, but Honey left so soon that our friendship got cut short — but Ivy became very close from the ballet challenge forward. Ivy and I became our own two-person support team for one another. We’re very similar people, and in those moments of isolation, it was easy to confuse my friendship feelings for romantic feelings. I hadn’t seen any attractive men for quite some time at that moment! But my true crush on RuPaul’s Drag Race — one that’s not circumstantial and based on isolation — is my crush on Santino, which was only barely touched on. I don’t think anything would or should ever happen with me and Santino, but I’d love to take him as my date to a red carpet event sometime. There’s something about a man in a turban that I’m crazy about.

TB: Last question: Did you dread the Gold Room, where you received video messages and other surprises? There were some heavy moments in that ridiculous space, including that video greeting from Alyssa’s father.

JM: Yeah! It was kind of always like, there were occasionally funny, crazy, out-of-the-blue things like the Jessica Wild message. But then 50% of the time, someone would get a life-changing message, and it normally had to do with family. Drag Race has this ability to bring families together. It’s a complicated relationship when you come out to your family. My family was very accepting and very embracing of me being the unique individual I am, and I never had to hide the fact that I was gay or a drag queen. There were other challenging aspects to me going out and wanting to be a performer, and it was hard to leave my little brothers, but I want the same for them. I hope that I could take my blessings and experiences from this year, turn around and give the same kinds of opportunities to my little brothers. That’s why I plan on giving some of my prize money to my youngest brother for college, a high-interest college fund for Jacob in the next five years. My other brother is about to have a baby, so I plan on spoiling my niece rotten with it.

Jinkx Monsoon fans, vote for your girl in the The Ultimate Queens Tournament! Round 2 voting this week.

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