On Friday night, artistic polymath Sasha Velour was crowned the winner of Season 9 of RuPaul's Drag Race. Before a packed auditorium in LA, Velour lip synched her way to the title of America's Next Drag Superstar with a pair of elaborate performances of classic Whitney Houston songs.
The whip-smart New York queen is known for her intellectual, avant-garde approach to drag (she toyed with imitating third-wave feminist icon Judith Butler for "Snatch Game," the recurring game show challenge on Drag Race), and Velour's performance at the finale was no exception. She snatched her own wig, releasing a cascade of rose petals, during Houston's "So Emotional," and unmasked herself, performing a facial striptease, to a club mix of "It's Not Right but It's Okay." In her floor-length white gown and platform boots, she looked like a Versace-inspired dominatrix bride.
Pride Weekend 2017 is sure to be one for the books for Velour. In addition to winning Drag Race, the artist celebrated her 30th birthday with a performance and party at Lot45 in Bushwick, where she was joined by fellow Brooklyn queens Chris of Hur, Francesca, K James, Olive D'Nightlife, and Untitled Queen, as well as Drag Race Season 1 contestant Ongina and Season 9 runner-up Peppermint.
Hundreds lined up outside the venue hours before the performance began, clamoring to get in. Taking the stage with Velour, Peppermint remarked on the size of the crowd, comparing it to a packed concert. In a purple gown and a towering crown, Velour performed "My Way" by Shirley Bassey, a nod to her individualistic, genre-defying style of drag.
Winning Drag Race affords Velour the audience and capital—the title comes with a cash prize of $100,000—to further her artistic practice, which includes visual art and a drag magazine, in addition to performance. Velour also plans to use her platform to spotlight other LGBTQ+ artists across America.
"I just want to be able to get kings and queens and nonbinary performers working together and having discussions about what drag is currently, what it has been, and where we can move it to that is truly new," she told NPR. "I think if we work together and have a conversation, we can really advance the art form."
It's a sentiment Velour repeated at her birthday party and on the Drag Race finale. "Is there anything you'd like to say?" RuPaul asked, as she crowned her newly-reigning monarch.
"Let's change shit up. Let's get inspired by all this beauty," Velour replied, gesturing to the cheering crowd. "All this beauty. And change the motherfucking world!"
Velour's words get to the heart of why Drag Race is so vitally important in this day and age. It offers hope that bigotry and corruption aren't the only future American possibilities. Our world can also be one in which queer narratives are represented on mainstream TV, albeit inside an incredibly entertaining reality show package.
As RuPaul invited Velour to prance the runway, she closed the show the way she always does, with her trademark mantra: "Now remember, if you can't love yourself how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen up in here?" RuPaul asked.
Amen, the audience roared.
To learn more about Sasha Velour, click here.