RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Jaymes Mansfield on Who the One to Beat Is and Lady Gaga’s Advice for Him

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It’s never easy to be the first to go, but someone has to do it. RuPaul’s Drag Race eliminated the YouTuber from Milwaukee, Jaymes Mansfield, in the second episode after RuPaul granted all of the queens a stay of execution in the premiere. Early on in the episode, Jaymes Mansfield suffered from confidence problems when one of the queens said he was an “underdog” while they were picking teams. Jaymes never seemed to find his footing after that, stumbling in the cheerleading challenge. Vulture spoke on the phone with Jaymes about the devastation of going home first, meeting Lady Gaga, and lip-syncing “Love Shack” for the B-52’s.

Lip-syncing for your life on the first challenge must be really nerve-racking — especially if you’re doing it for the B-52’s. How did you feel about your performance?
To be honest, the B-52’s were really wonderful and it was an honor to perform for them. You know, I really had secretly hoped I got “Rome” instead of “Love Shack,” but still, going into it, I was very confident that I’d at least know the lyrics. Having worked in department stores my whole life, I basically know that song like the back of my hand. It wasn’t something I necessarily would choose for my own catalogue, but, you know, we all make mistakes. I felt like things I had planned hadn’t quite gone the way I hoped they would, but when you’re doing something on the spot and you have literally five minutes to rehearse it, there’s always going to be room for error. At that point, you’re so in your own mind that you’re nit-picking. I just decided at the end of it, no matter what went wrong, to have fun with and embrace whatever the disaster is.

Do you think that you deserved to go home?
To be quite honest, I didn’t feel like I had really done poorly in the challenge. I really felt like I’d given my all. And sometimes your all just isn’t enough.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
I probably would have slept through the whole cheerleading routine. Like, the minute they said, “Go,” I would have just laid on the floor and took a nap. They wanted more character, and I could have used it.

That would have been a good gag!
And I love me a good gag. That’s my only regret. I should have just slept in. I am really dedicated to method acting.

When they were picking teams, it seemed like your confidence was shaken by the comments that you were an underdog. Did you feel thrown in that moment?
It threw me for the fact that I didn’t believe it, and it kind of shook me that people thought that about me. But you break it all down in your mind: Being a sane person you realize, oh wait, these people don’t actually know you. So this is actually your first impression. I guess I’m just so comfortable with people that I don’t really realize they’re making these preconceived judgements of me.

But the minute I got handed the script, I was really happy with what we were doing because I’ve always loved the idea of cheerleading, and I thought I could have rose to the occasion as far as being optimistic, bubbly, and campy. It’s something that I felt like I had all the tools to make a success.

You’re known for doing YouTube videos. Was it hard to adjust to the medium of reality TV?
As a YouTuber, you have so much control. You’re the producer, you’re the director, you’re editor. I even do the sound most of the time. So having to relinquish a lot of that control was very weird for me. Because YouTubers are all control freaks. We all do everything, and we pride ourselves in being able to do everything.

As far as [the show] goes, I probably could have peacocked more — turned on the YouTube persona. But when I’m in drag that’s where I truly shine. Whenever I’m out of drag, I’ve always been a little more shy, a little more reserved. And that show, you’re so seldom in drag. It really focuses a lot on being able to shine as a man as well as being able to shine as a drag queen.

Nothing can really prepare you. I came in there with a pretty steady mindset from watching the show and knowing people. And it’s completely out the window the minute you get there and realize where you are.

What do you feel like was the most difficult thing?
The most difficult thing was being cut off. You don’t really get to talk to anyone. You see a girl so seldomly. You don’t get to research anything. You’re basically left to your own devices. And sometimes the scary thing as a creative person, especially drag queens who are such a community-based art form, is that we love to push ideas off each other and spitball things. And we just didn’t get a whole lot of opportunity to do that.

Lady Gaga gave all of you individual critiques. Did anything she say resonate with you?
With Gaga, she told me at first, “Try not to go for the joke.” And immediately, as a comedian, you get really offended. Like, “How dare you tell me that?” But I knew where she was coming from and I understood the critique. They didn’t show it, but basically she said she loved the structuring of my dress and she could tell it took a lot of time to make it, which it did. I stayed up until 4 a.m. every night, making little appliques for the whole dress. And she complimented the fact that the dress itself didn’t actually exist. And she thought that was very cool that I’d actually made it come to life. She was lovely. I loved her.

Did you know it was Lady Gaga when she first walked in?
I didn’t because I’m blind. So I was far enough away where she looked like a beautiful blur. And the minute she got closer, I was like, “Okay, this is a little too convincing for a drag queen.” Because usually you can spot the flaws and you can spot the cracking where you can tell, okay, that’s not the real deal. The minute you heard that voice it’s like, okay. This is good.

Who do you think is the one to beat?
Who do I think is the one to beat? RuPaul. As far as it goes in the competition? I have my heartstrings out on Peppermint, but that’s because I came in there as a huge fan of Peppermint. Doing drag history on my YouTube channel, I’ve talked about her before and I know her history. I know what she’s capable of.

How did you feel when you were eliminated?
Well, of course you feel like the whole world is crashing down around you. This has been your dream for years, and all of a sudden you’re the first one out. It really rocks you. I was a big ol’ mess. I was ugly crying and everything. Basically at the end of the day, when you’re alone in that hotel room, you realize, it’s just you. And you either let it destroy you or you realize, you know what? It happened. Grow up and move on.

I learned that no matter how big the experience is, it’s never bigger than you. And no matter how horrible something may seem at the time, you can always pull your way through it. Because getting eliminated first does a huge blow to your confidence and your whole mindset as a performer and as a creative artist. I will say, I was really proud of myself, knowing that I was able to convince myself, “This isn’t the end of you. This is a television show. There are so many bigger things in the world to be upset about.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Jaymes Mansfield on Lady Gaga’s Advice