Not only was season nine of RuPaul's Drag Race the most watched in the show's herstory, and not only did it expand the kinds of drag (and subjects) the show tackled, but it was also the first in which four queens made it to the finale instead of three. On top of that, this season's winner wasn't determined based on their performances throughout the season—for the first time, each of the final four queens competed in a face-off lip sync battle to determine the ultimate winner.
That honor would go to Sasha Velour, the cerebral and idiosyncratic queen who had slayed all season—a winner perfectly on beat with this extra-activist, extra-alt drag season.
But the finale was far from a bore. First, Trinity the "Tuck" Taylor and Peppermint squared off to Britney Spears's "Stronger," both whipping off their skirts mid-performance to reveal different outfits underneath. Then Sasha gave an absolutely epic performance against her ally Shea Couleé to Whitney Houston's "So Emotional," with rose petals exploding from Sasha's gloves and wig. She won that round, only to face Peppermint in the finals and take home the title of America's Next Drag Superstar. Here, Sasha opens up about how she planned her amazing performance, the tricks she had up her sleeve in case she ended up having to perform to a different song, and exactly why everyone was so darn mean at the reunion.
VICE: We need to talk about that epic first lip-sync in the finale. How did you keep those roses under your wig and get them to fall out like that?
Sasha Velour: I was concerned that I would get so sweaty that they would stick and become like a big lump under my wig. I practiced it in my hotel room a bunch, picking the rose petals off the floor and putting them back under my wig, and I found this way to fill it with tons of roses so that no matter what they would fall out, and I'd shake it to create the best effect.
It was challenging—that was something I never did before in a performance. It was a new invention thanks to last-minute stress and determination.
It seems so perfect with "So Emotional," but you didn't know what song you would be doing beforehand. Do you think it would have worked as well with another song?
I actually had a different performance prepared if I drew "Stronger." I had a pair of scissors strapped to my thigh, and I was going to cut my wig until I was bald. I even found a way of removing that wig without the petals, so no one would have know that I had rose petals under there.
You were close with Shea Couleé all season. When Trinity and Peppermint were the first duo to lip-sync, you and Shea went backstage together. What did you talk about in that moment?
We both were kind of in tears when we stepped backstage. Just having to face each other so soon in the sudden death throwdown. We hoped that we would get to do the final showdown, and we would have two chances to perform. To face off so quickly was heartbreaking, and I know we really believed in each other and wanted each other to succeed and to take down the other in order to win.
We had our moment of holding hands and crying and just preparing for the performance. We were watching what was happening with Peppermint and Trinity, they were fabulous performances. When Trinity was sent home, it became very real that we were going to lose our chance at competing for the crown together, and our hearts fell to the pit of our stomach.
What do you think of the format change, with this finale's lip-sync face-off?
I love it. I think the judges needed more information this season to determine which of the four of us had that extra, winning bit. The challenge wins and the competitions throughout the season brought us to the top, and they wanted a little extra.
I really love it because it's a return to what drag is at its essence, which isn't about how well you can perform on television—it's about speaking and performing in a way that can captivate people and uplift them and make them feel strong and emotional. I think that's the essence of drag.
One thing the fans love about the show is how many skills queens have to master: comedy, acting, makeup, outfits. Do you think it's fair that ultimately it came down to just that one skill in this finale, lip-syncing?
In reality, it's so much more than lip-syncing. It's about your ability to produce yourself and a performance. No matter what you're doing, whether it's a makeup tutorial or an interview or a lip sync, performance is the essence of drag. It is gender performance. Being able to produce a performance is what a superstar has to do.
Many people have said that this was a "weak season." What do you think of that?
People will never be satisfied. I don't read the reviews. If that's true, it may be because the format of the show was so familiar to the audience that they thought they could predict what was going to happen, and that is what made the competition feel stale.
I think that's why this finale twist really reinvigorates everything. Just like in life and in drag, you can't predict what could happen next. It comes down to passion and dedication and strength, and I think it's kinda cool that we got to play with those expectations.
There was a lot of negativity at the reunion, especially toward Valentina and Nina Bo'Nina Brown. What was that all about? Do you think things got too dark?
I don't think it felt very dark in person. We all have a relationship with each other, and drag queens love to speak very openly with each other. That's why people love watching them interact.
I think it was important to hold each other accountable because the fan response this season had taken such a dark turn. The scale of the show keeps getting larger, and the scale of the darkness and the violence in the language fans were using went to unprecedented levels. It became clear that we weren't on the same page about some things, and that's why tensions arose. I think it was one of the most real and emotionally honest moments of the season. There were a lot of hurt feelings, but I think it was healing for us. I think our relationships improved.
These days, the queens from Drag Race usually go on to long and lucrative careers after the show. Do you think some of the fighting was about queens trying to make themselves appear in the best light?
It's hard to say. I can only speak for myself and my intentions, and I just wanted to have real conversations with the queens that weren't about producing a narrative for a television show. I don't think everyone was completely honest about who they were during the season, and we needed to work that out.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter.