chat room

RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Phi Phi O’Hara on RuPaul: ‘We’re Just Game Pieces for Her Show’

Spoilers ahead for RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Phi Phi O’Hara’s redemption arc — sorry, Rudemption — didn’t go quite as planned on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. He entered the workroom during the premiere dressed as the Riddler, then saying, “I’m Phi Phi O’Hara, and I’m playing a villain! Get it?” What he thought was an ironic joke turned out to be a statement of things to come. Once again, Phi Phi found himself playing the villain. Throughout the season, he appeared to be undermining other contestants, strategizing, and in the most recent episode, getting into a fight with Alyssa Edwards, a fan favorite of the show. Everyone could agree on this: It wasn’t a good look.

On tonight’s episode, Phi Phi was sent packing by two of the previously eliminated queens, Tatianna and Alyssa Edwards, for their “Ruvenge.” Since the RuPaul’s Drag Race premiere, Phi Phi has declared herself done with the show, going on a tweet storm saying that the show had “broken” her and edited the episodes to make her appear like a villain. RuPaul himself unfollowed Phi Phi on Twitter. Vulture spoke with Phi Phi, whose real name is Jaremi Carey, to get his story.

I watched your music video “Play.” I was wondering why you decided not to do it in drag?
Well, I have always wanted to do music as a boy. Even when I got on Drag Race, I never wanted to do it in drag, I just felt like people would listen more because I was a drag queen from Drag Race, which is not bad, it’s just that wasn’t where my heart was. So, even when I was singing the songs I was just like, this isn’t where I want my career to go. So, I spoke to a lot of people and I was like, I really want to make an album. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it the right way for me, which is as Jaremi. Hopefully this ends up being huge and I can be a gay artist that’s not trying to hide behind anything and be proud and open about it.

Do you prefer to be called Phi Phi or Jaremi?
I prefer to be called Jaremi. I think it’s easier because more people call me Phi Phi. Although it’s been awesome to see the general audience can feel that I’m stepping away from drag for a bit. I just see like on my messages now, it’s all “Jaremi,” which I love because I’ve always said I never wanted to lose sight of Jaremi because without Jaremi there would be no Phi Phi.

How was the experience of watching yourself on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race been?
It’s like watching a completely different show. Because it’s nothing like what happened on set. So it’s been an honest letdown because never once have I ever said I never said what I said. Wow that’s long. I’ve always said what I said, but people truly don’t understand how context comes into play, and they’ll cut off something and add it to another thing and then make this whole different story. It’s really upsetting because I put so much faith in this show [that] it was going to keep it’s word on this redemption for Phi Phi, and they’ve just made me look like another backstabbing manipulative monster. So it’s hard every Thursday to watch this show and then to get all this hate from so many people that don’t even know me, and I wish the show would speak up about it and say something. I wish Ru would step up to the plate and say something and they don’t. I don’t know what they’re afraid of or why they won’t do it but it’s sad. It let me know how ugly the industry can be, and it let me know who actually has my back.

How did you decide to do All Stars? How was it pitched to you, and what made you decide to do it?
Well, I was supposed to do the first season of All Stars, but I got arrested in March for some stuff that was on my background, stuff that I didn’t take care of, so that was the reason I couldn’t do the first season — because my background check came up dirty. So we just waited and waited. I talked to the producers and we’d go out to lunch. I went through the phase where I lost a lot of weight and they were worried about me so they took me out to eat Chili’s and made sure that I ate food. I was like, No, I eat; I’m just eating a little bit less nowadays. And they would be like, No, we want to give you this, we love you. We care about you. We want to give you this redemption story. Don’t worry, your time’s coming and this that and the other, and so I believed them and then after the second DragCon they were like, We want to do this. And so I was like, Oh my gosh, totally.

I thank the show for getting my name out there, but it’s not like it gave me this huge fandom, basically because people hated me from season four. I had to work by traveling myself and doing gigs for next to nothing just to prove to people I’m not this mean person. And then I started “365 Days of Drag,” which just catapulted me. But I did it also because I want to show people that I’m not who they think I am, which has worked. The people that have hated me, they were never going to like me to begin with. And that’s just what it was. But I think what they didn’t expect with this edit is that so many people would be on my side because they’ve met me — I’ve been able to travel the world for four years before this even came out so they know what’s real and what’s not real.

Can you give me some examples of how what we saw was different from what happened?
Totally. For instance, on last [week’s] episode where the mirror clicks on and then you see all the girls. If you notice the way the girls walked in after doing their lip sync, generally the winners are in the front or they’re closer to the front. I remember this time I was standing next to Alaska and we were ready to walk in the doors, and the producer came in and she was like, No, no, Phi Phi, we’re going to have you come over here and you’re going to just enter in last. And then they positioned us where we were and it didn’t dawn on me that I’m dead smack in the middle of the mirror and they’d be like, We’ll let you know when to talk. Then I was like, Okay, and that’s why I stayed quiet. Then Alaska and the girls talk and the producers are like, Okay, Phi Phi tell us who you picked, and so I was like Alyssa, and they’re like, Okay, so now tell us about this and tell us about that. I kept getting questions asked — that’s what actually happened.

Now, from a viewer’s standpoint, it looks like I just went on a ten-minute rant of talking crap. Which never happened. So I was really happy that Roxxxy and Alaska went to the Chicago viewing party and said out loud that’s not how it went down.

I remember when the lights kicked on and I kept telling the girls backstage, I’m telling you right now they’re bringing Alyssa back. I’m telling you, because we had to wait backstage for an incredibly long period of time, which had given them time to set up behind the mirror. And as soon as that thing clicked on I was like, I told you, I told you guys they’re bringing her back! And that was my face. I just remember being yelled at by producers to stop talking, and I was like, this is it, and then they bring the girls in one by one.

They cut out Roxxxy and Detox defending me, because that wouldn’t make any sense with Roxxxy saying, “If you know when you get caught on that three-way call.” So it’s funny how they cut out all that to just make it look like Alyssa and I. And at that point I’m not doing it for that camera or that camera or that camera. I’m not here for that, that’s not what I signed up for, and I can see how you’re acting for the cameras, and I just won’t do it. I remember Roxxxy grabbing my hand being like, Don’t worry about it, just don’t give into it because that’s what they want you to do.

You did get very upset. I’m wondering if you felt like you could have pulled out of it at any point?
I was more mad because I already knew what the producers did to me, but this is what pisses me off — I never said that I fixed how I talk to people. I said on the show many times to the producers that I still have anger, everybody’s mad. I was like, We’re just working on how to handle it. And they never show that on-camera. Because if they showed something like that then it would be like, Oh here she is. She’s still working on it, she’s still having that hard time. She’s in the moment right now. They would never show that because I felt like they were trying to make me look almost crazy. So it made me feel upset because the things Alyssa was saying — she said on-camera, We will see who people believe because I have more followers than you — I was just like, What? And then she said, Yeah, your tone seems very pointed right now. I don’t know if all that was shown in there, I doubt it. And I was like, Way to go. girl, stealing someone else’s line. It pissed me off because the producers are just laughing, they’re eating it up, and I feel like this is like, Let’s pick on Phi Phi, and let’s just get this on-camera. I sound like LaGanja, but I felt attacked, and I felt like this wasn’t fair. So I end up getting into an argument with producers this episode, and I said I didn’t want to be there anymore. I said either I leave or kick me off, I’m done.

Did you say that when you were eliminated this episode?
I haven’t seen it, but I went around in the room to fix all the problems because when Coco and I are paired together she just wasn’t focused on us for some reason. I just thought maybe she still had problems with Roxxxy for kicking her off. Then I was like, well, why don’t we just talk this out, let’s just all have good juju in the room. I went to bring Roxxxy to talk to Coco to fix the problem, and they seemed cool. I went to Alyssa to go fix that problem and we hugged it out, but she kept saying, “Why couldn’t you tell me what you said in the mirror,” and I was like, “I couldn’t, girl, because I was told I could not tell you,” and she was like, What do you mean? And like I can’t sit there and say, well, producers told me not to talk, and she kept going. When the camera cut off, one of the producers ran into me and just started cussing me out and she was like, Don’t ever fucking say that I put words in your fucking mouth. And I was like, What? I never said that. I’m trying to talk about this and she’s going off so I literally broke down crying on set, and I was like, This is fucking ridiculous. You guys are trying to push me back into this dark place, and I don’t want to be here anymore. Adore was the smartest person for leaving.

They brought everybody in, like all the executives, and then took me outside and I was like, I don’t want to be here anymore, this isn’t fun for me, I see what you guys are doing, I’m going to go home. But I knew I was going home so I didn’t care, I guess you could say? I just shut down. I was ready to go home. Even when I left I was like, Okay, fine, I want to just go see my boyfriend. I didn’t hug Alyssa because I didn’t want to cry, and I wrote that on the board, but I don’t think that they show that this episode. I’m a very emotional person, and I felt like if she hugged me the tears would come out — I just saw how fake she was — and I didn’t want that to be what I ended on. I don’t know if they showed this either, but I said when I exit, “It’s never too late for a second chance.” But this whole experience has been a letdown.

I’m sorry.
It’s hard from my standpoint because fans will see this persona of somebody else, which is not real, and I’ve worked so hard to prove to the people that what you see on TV is not real, and then they just slapped me in the face. I’m like, Are you kidding? What did I do to y’all to deserve this? Because I’ve never done anything, I’ve done the free gigs that they’ve asked me to do, I’ve popped up when I had no sleep to show up for a TV show when nobody else would. I don’t understand it.

Would you have done anything differently?
To be honest with you, I probably would have walked off with Adore if I knew going into it it was going to be like this. Adore is the smartest person in the world to leave, because they can’t manipulate what you don’t give them. But I even felt bad for Adore because I felt they made Adore look like a quitter on TV, and that wasn’t the case. She was so broken by what the show did to her. I remember in the confessionals my producer was like, Don’t you think that’s ridiculous that she left? I told the producer, No, it’s going to look bad for you guys.

I saw that Ru unfollowed you on Twitter and you tweeted about that.
I remember watching Ru as a kid thinking, she’s like this life-size Barbie doll basically. I wanted to meet her and I just wanted to see who this person was that was so comfortable in their own skin. So watching her on set and seeing how she ignores everybody and she doesn’t talk to the contestants, I was like, What, this is weird, why won’t she say hi to me? Part of me just left it as, Oh well she’s not allowed to talk to the contestants because what if people say she has favoritism. Didn’t think anything of it. But then after [season five], when everything is said and done, she doesn’t talk to us. She doesn’t do anything with us. If we’re at an event it’s, Hi. Bye. I was like, Okay, this is weird, and then when I went into All Stars I remember she walked on the set on the very first day when she said that Raven-Symoné was going to be a judge. One of the girls did a Jaidynn Diore Fierce joke and Ru didn’t even know who that was, and I was like, What do you mean you don’t know? She literally just walked out the door. I’m confused how you don’t know who these girls are, which then let me know we’re just — how do I say it; this is going to sound really harsh — but I felt like we’re not people to her. We’re just game pieces for her show and she didn’t care enough to know who we were. So when I saw that she unfollowed me, which is cool, whatever, but then put that little snarky cosplay Jessica Rabbit comment, I’ve completely lost all my respect for RuPaul. Because she has the power to stand up and say, “You know what, this show is only for entertainment purposes. The edit for Phi Phi is not authentic to who Phi Phi is, and I wish you guys would just sit there and see that.” Instead, she keeps her mouth closed when she sees someone visibly hurting and crying about a situation that she can control. Like her Emmy that she won, I just felt like her speech was a lie. If this show is really about family coming together and standing, bringing this community together, then why won’t you speak out on it?

Phi Phi on RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Edit and RuPaul