The homestretch of RuPaul’s Drag Race is giving a massive edge to Jinkx Monsoon, who won her second challenge on Monday with her hilarious, tear-streaked, deeply crazy telenovela performance. Even if guest actor Wilmer Valderrama looked perplexed by the whole exercise, Jinkx was an obvious and polished standout.
The less-than-polished queens this week included season-long nemeses Coco Montrese, who lip-synced for her life yet again last night, and Alyssa Edwards (a.k.a. Justin Johnson of Mesquite, TX), who has made a habit of redeeming herself with stellar lip-syncing work. After perhaps the greatest, most dynamic lip-sync battle in the history of the show (set to Paula Abdul‘s still fabulous “Cold Hearted”), Coco stayed and Alyssa was ordered to sashay away.
We caught up with Alyssa to discuss her battle with Coco, Jinkx’s streak of great performances, and his secret shyness.
AfterElton: Alyssa! You were engaged in some intense verbal drama this season. Is it exhausting to watch it back on TV?
Alyssa Edwards: It definitely is. My life isn’t really centered much around it, because I’m around children 90% of my life. Being in that intense situation, [drama] comes along with the territory of being a queen and entertainer. Watching it from the watch parties, I’m like, “Oh my gosh! I need me a Tylenol PM! I need to take me a nap!” But it’s a competition and the opportunity to be the next drag superstar. There are 14 talented entertainers — some of the finest in the industry of female impersonation.
AfterElton: You won the RuPaul ballet challenge, but struggled in the more acting-based, dialogue-heavy challenges. Was there a dream challenge you were waiting for?
Alyssa Edwards: I won’t say that acting wasn’t my favorite because I enjoyed those experiences. I gave my all, but there were five or six people who were better. I went into this experience with the mentality, “Just be your best in every situation you’re placed in.” Leaving the competition, I found my most rewarding challenges were the ones where I stepped outside my comfort zone, the things I probably would’ve never done. Those have inspired me to refresh and revamp my gig. This is an opportunity for me to travel state to state, stage to stage and let fans see a different sides of Alyssa Edwards. As for a dream challenge? Anything athletic, I probably would’ve won! [Laughs.] I’m being funny with you. And I’m not that funny. I probably would’ve been good at this next challenge coming up, the drag transformation. I was doing my best with the whole acting thing, and the crazy thing is, I was little boy growing up who was a geeky theater nerd — like theater tech. I was begging to be onstage! I didn’t care if I was just in the chorus because I really couldn’t sing. Maybe I could just dance! So for me, I was really honestly, I was trying in the acting challenges, but I was getting beat down a little bit because I’m very competitive and I wasn’t excelling as much as the other girls.
AfterElton: I didn’t realize until I looked at the stats, but Jinkx has ranked in the top for every challenge since episode three. Lately you’d been ranking near the bottom. Does it wear on you, trying to reverse a streak of bad weeks?
Alyssa Edwards: Not really. I’m in a competition every day of my life. That’s the name of the game. I think Jinkx is phenomenal. She embodies what a drag superstar should be. She is someone that has mastered the act of being onstage. I appreciate and applaud that. I’ve seen her as a frontrunner since the beginning. Maybe not day one, but from the very first challenge. She’s broken down all the barriers, all the walls. Maybe I still have walls up. What people kind of don’t know about me is — and this sounds kind of silly — I’m shy! Justin is shy! There are some things I haven’t gotten in tune with. With being a great actor, you have got to be able to embody a character and allow those walls to be broken down. And laugh at yourself! And have fun with it. I started to taking [myself] seriously after the perfume commercial challenge. I needed to laugh with it! Have fun with it! That’s something I’ve learned from the Drag Race experience.
AfterElton: In the ongoing war between you and Coco, you were definitely the more likable half. Is it validating to know that?
Alyssa Edwards: I mean, Miss Gay America was a dream of mine. But really, I just didn’t really work out. I wasn’t a good fit. I felt like at some point I thought, “I’ve already moved on.” Six months later, I’d won another pageant. It was kind of like, “Let’s get away from this situation. We’re both here competing. I’m done with it” I think he was holding onto some things because he felt like it’d affected his reign. But there are some things I look back on that situation and say, “Why did you say that, Justin? That was kind of ridiculous.” There are things I would’ve redone differently, but I don’t think it’s more validating to feel like I came out on top because it was a win-win situation for the both of us. I might not have won that night, but he was a good representative. I didn’t even put too much thought into it afterward, to be honest with you.
AfterElton: That final lip-sync was downright incredible. You and Coco were both astounding. On Untucked, we saw that Detox might be in the bottom with you. In retrospect, do you wish you’d competed in that lip-sync against her?
Alyssa Edwards: No. If I’m going to go home — I mean, at this point, all the girls are good. I was very OK with it in the end. I was a little surprised because backstage, Detox went through a lot getting ready for the runway look. We all assumed or thought — well, we all thought I’d be in the bottom [laughs] — but we assumed Detox was too. They’re both fierce entertainers. I was never disappointed that I was in the bottom. I did make that comment and I hold true to it; I wanted America to see what I can do and what I’m good at. And all they’re seeing is that I was sucking at everything! I was giving my all, but they were better! So when “Cold Hearted Snake” happened, I gave it my best, but I knew that I would come up short next to Jinkx, who’s brilliant, and Alaska, who’s hysterical. I knew that. So between Roxxy, Coco, Detox, and I — two of us are going to be there. I wanted to be strategic. That’s my competitive side. But I was OK that it was Coco, and I applaud her for coming out on top. Do I wish I’d [won]? Absolutely.
AfterElton: Do you think you would’ve fared better in, say, season two when someone like Tyra Sanchez won the competition thanks to her stage presence, looks, and ability to endear the judges?
Alyssa Edwards: I want to say this first: I don’t believe in stereotypes. I think it’s just drag, it’s not personal. And art is subjective. I don’t want to be placed into just a pageant queen stereotype because demographically here in Texas, that’s all I knew! If I wanted to get onstage and grab the spotlight, I had to do pageants. It was what I was born and bred to do here. I’ll tell you this, I said in the elimination lunch today that when I’m on the show, but my jokes are funny to me! I don’t want to be just a pageant queen, because I’m also a performer. I was born to be onstage. The “pageant” thing, a lot of that comes with having to be poised. But looks? That’s kind of not me at all. But if the shoe fits, wear it. And my shoe is sparkly and rhinestoned. That said, I am the definition of a Texas beauty queen, but at heart, I’m a comedy queen. I am the actress. But the judges didn’t see it that way.
As for the seasons, I would rather lose or be a runner-up to a bunch of sickening, fabulous entertainers and drag queens than take the easy route. I think every season has been relevant to its time. If anything, drag has evolved.
AfterElton: Finally, if you could only throw your support behind one remaining queen, who would you choose?
Alyssa Edwards: Jinkx Monsoon. I think he’s mastered the art. His craft is so wide-ranged. And the b*tch is funny. I would pay to go watch him on Saturday night, and I would sit in my cocktail dress, hold my clutch, and beat the wall. I would get tipsy and have a good time. That’s how I’m looking at it. I think Alaska is a very sweet person and I really enjoy him. Roxxy is a friend of mine. Detox is hysterical. Coco is actually a very good performer. But Jinkx Monsoon is leading the pack for being so wide-ranged. I can give credit where it’s due. I can give my curtsy, my little bow. I hope it’s him. He’s so deserving.