Bianca Del Rio is not afraid to speak her mind.
The legendary New York drag queen has quickly become the frontrunner to win the current and sixth season of Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. As a top four contestant, Del Rio has won over legions of fans with her brazen and unfiltered opinions, sharp humor, and sickening runway looks.
Leading up to tonight’s reveal of the top three finalists, Del Rio and I chatted about her drag origins, all the ins-and-outs of season six, her Real Housewives tagline, and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: What inspired you to pursue drag as your fulltime career?
BIANCA DEL RIO: Well, I have a full time job outside of this … or I did up until I did Drag Race. I worked for a Broadway costume company. They make costumes for opera and theater in New York, and then I did drag at night. So I have a full time life. But since Drag Race, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. I took a leave of absence from my day job to focus on all of this, so that like right now, I can do interviews in the middle of the afternoon.
Where does the name Bianca Del Rio come from?
Nothing too crazy, actually. I was at a bar with a friend of mine and she said that I needed a name and mentioned that she had a good friend named Bianca, so I said “OK,” and then Del Rio came out of nowhere. We got drunk in New Orleans – which is kind of redundant – but that’s where everything started.
To you, what are the qualities that make up (no pun intended) a perfect drag queen?
Well I don’t think there is such a thing as a “perfect drag queen” because everybody offers something different. I have some friends who are pageant girls, some friends who, like me, are comedy queens – so I think figuring out what works for you makes for the best type of drag queen. Usually when you have a different personality than someone else, you have people saying, “You should be more like this,” and that can limit you from finding and reaching the best of your abilities. Where I was when I started out versus where I’m at now is a completely different level. I think that by growing, you learn more about yourself and how to handle yourself in a professional way. If you want to work, professionalism is the ideal quality for a drag queen to have. Whatever your look is, whatever your style is, and whatever your talents might be are something completely different – but I think being a professional makes for the best, so do the best that you can!
Absolutely! You’ve worn so many incredible outfits on the show – how much luggage did you have when you left to start filming?
Well you’re actually only allowed a certain amount of luggage. I don’t know if I can tell you all of this information, but we’re only allowed a certain amount and a certain weight. So you’ve got to pack well and figure out how to pack big things into small spaces! I don’t know if they put all the specifics out there, but yeah, everybody has the same amount of luggage. It’s crazy when you think about it. But there is also a lot of stuff that we create when we’re there for the challenges.
Is there a specific look from the show that you’re most proud of?
You know, as I’m watching it, it’s hard because I think to myself, “I should have done this” or “I should have done that.” As an audience member, you’re watching it week to week, but for us, it was a much quicker process to film. We don’t have that much time in between (episodes), so there are some things that I would have done differently that I didn’t like. But looking back, I think the one that was most fun for me was probably the animal kingdom thing we did because it’s not my usual look. I mean, the dress I would normally wear, but the hair and makeup was a little out there for me, which I really enjoyed doing.
Which episodes did you find to be both the most fun and the most challenging to film?
They’re all challenging on different levels. Whether it’s a task that you know how to do or a task that you don’t really normally do, it’s still overwhelming because you never know how the judges are going to respond to it. So either you’re blamed because you don’t have the ability to do it, or you’re blamed because your ability is too good and you didn’t deliver. All of the challenges were challenging for me in their own ways. They all required a lot of effort, and if you thought for a moment that you had it in the bag, you’d need to check yourself because you can never know what the response is going to be. And for someone like me, at my age and having done what I’ve done for so long, it was tough. But my favorite and most fun one was the rap challenge. I loved it, I thought it was a hoot. It was something new for me because I don’t make up raps ever, so I thought that was a really fun task.
If you were judging this season of Drag Race instead of competing on it, which already eliminated contestant would you have liked to keep around longer and why?
I thought Trinity was amazing. I would have liked to see her continue going on the path that she’s on. I thought she made an amazing turnaround and it was great to see. She’s young but she’s greatly polished, has a great look about her, and is determined to make things happen, which is genius and I’m very happy for her.
For sure. I thought that the relationship you two had on the show was so heartwarming.
I remember being young and people brought stuff out of me. It wasn’t necessarily with the approach of “oh, I’m going to help you.” Him as a girl is very polished and very together for her age. She really knows how to entertain and she’s a brilliant performer, but one thing that she felt she was slacking in the competition was her confidence when it came to speaking – which is something I do all the time. So my approach was just to set the bar to set an example. It’s something I feel comfortable doing and something that she was unsure of, so I thought it was such a great dynamic to work with her on that level and to help bring that out in her – without being preachy or demanding. You know, when I was younger, I had people around me who shaped my life and influenced me in many ways. You don’t always get those opportunities so it’s good when they do happen.
On that note, I love that this season has sort of become Bianca del Rio’s school for drag queens. Did you go into filming expecting to take so many contestants under your wing?
Not necessarily. There are two things that are happening – it’s a reality show and it’s a competition. But for years, I’ve been doing what I do on stage, and people have said to me, “You’re being motherly,” but that’s just how I am. And there have never been cameras filming me each day of my life to watch everything that I do, and very rarely am I in a room with that many queens doing something. Usually it’s a professional gig and everyone goes in and then goes out. But when you are doing something together, it’s always been within my nature if I know about it to say, “I’ll help you” or “I’ll show you,” as other people have helped me. It’s probably a subconscious thing; it’s just kind of the way I’ve always been. If one of my friends asks me, “How do you do this?” then I’ll show them if it’s something that I know. But I’ve had the same issue with some people that I know – I’ve been like, “Can you show me this?” or “Can you show me what’s going on with this iPhone because I don’t know what the fuck is going on with this.” So it’s not that I know everything, it’s just what I know about, I’m willing to share, and what I don’t, I want to listen to. And that was the humbling and nice thing about the competition – being in a room with other people like that and being able to absorb and soak in all this other knowledge that I didn’t have prior to going in there.
Do you feel like the show has done a good job of representing Bianca? In other words, are there sides of you that we haven’t seen on TV yet?
Everyone’s been asking me this question and what I say is that I signed up for a reality competition on a TV show and I knew what I was getting myself into. And I know that some people in the past – and some people currently – complain about editing and that’s always an excuse, I think. If you didn’t say those things, they wouldn’t have that footage. I take full responsibility for everything I said, but I also knew that before it happened. When you’re filming a 12-14 hour day, all of that is not going to make it into one episode. So instead of blaming them, I should edit myself and think, “Don’t say that because you don’t know how it’s going to come across” or “that could be questionable.” No one ever complains about the editing when they look good. It is what it is, and I can’t deny anything because I can watch it. Whether I said it in the context of it being used, that’s what I signed up for, so it’d be very hypocritical of me to say “oh no, they switched things around.” I mean, the only reason why we’re having this conversation now is because I was on that show so it comes with the territory. But as far as the other queens, we don’t see what they’re recording in their confessionals and their interviews ever. I don’t hear any of that. So there are certainly details you’re not privy to until you’re actually watching the show yourself.
Who became your closest friend on set?
Prior to the show, I knew Courtney. Courtney and I had a distant friendship because we both have mutual respect for each other. We’re very different but we’re both over 30 and so it’s great because I never considered her threatening and she never considered me threatening. Adore and I also became really good friends. I kind of had moments with everybody – not all of them on camera. But with the majority of the queens, I got to know everybody that I could while I was there.
Which queen from previous seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race has inspired you the most?
Inspired me? To be honest with you a lot of the previous queens have shown me what I don’t want to do. I think a lot of them are brilliant performers and they’ve done well for themselves. The show is an amazing platform to do what you want so I’m always impressed by the people that have been able to do what they came for – Sharon, Jinx, Latrice and the other people determined to make things happen. I’ve always adored Chad Michaels. So for different reasons, obviously, each person. Being a person of my age, I’m able to realize that this is an opportunity that doesn’t happen often. To be in the company of Ru and to realize all the things that Ru has done, it’s pretty fascinating. There has never an opportunity like this prior to the show, so this whole experience has just been amazing for me.
If you were to win this season, what’s the first purchase you’d make with that $100,000 prize?
You know, as an adult, I want an apartment. I live in New York. I’m not a frivolous person. I don’t need Louis Vuitton luggage, I don’t need a car. I like to work. To win would be an amazing thing. To not win, it’d still be all good. It’s been an amazing journey. When you get to my age, you’ve got bills to pay, so instead of foolish dreams about a vacation, an apartment would be magical – if you’ve ever lived in New York, you can relate to what I’m saying. Not that I could buy an apartment for $100,000, but to put down money for one would be an amazing thing.
Lately, you’ve been making guest appearances onWatch What Happens Live. If you were one of the Real Housewives, what would your tagline be?
Oh my god, let me think … If you like to stir shit, come near me, I’m a big pot.
What can you tease that fans can look forward to during the final episodes of this season?
Well as you saw last season, anything goes. It’s a very twist-and-turny year, there are definitely some different paths that they’re taking than usual. And that’s part of it. The show’s been on for a while now, and the majority of super fans assume that they know the pattern, the protocol, and what’s to come, but there are definitely some twist and turns. As you saw with last week’s episode, many people were overwhelmed by Ben de la Crème getting eliminated. It’s kind of crazy, but I have to be very vague about it – but there will definitely be some surprises, so stay tuned!