Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie. Vanessa Vanjie Mateo might have been the first queen eliminated from the tenth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but like Destiny’s Child before her, we’re all still saying her name. The Puerto Rican drag queen from the House of Mateo found herself in the bottom two lip-syncing for her life after a 99-cent runway challenge. While Kalorie Karbdashian Williams might have won the lip sync to Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” what came next is now gay canon: As Vanessa exited the runway, she walked backward and said her name, “Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie” — an act that has become the best pop-cultural meme this year. We hopped on the phone to talk to Vanessa Vanjie Mateo about how she got her name, what happened in the moment, and who she wants to win. Come get these cookies, baby.
Vanessa Vanjie Mateo: Alex, what’s the tea?
[Laughs] You’re a superstar, honey.
Alex, can you hear me, can you hear me, can you hear me?! I’ve always been a superstar, it just took these memes to blow up for these people to recognize a bitch is crazy.
When did you first start seeing the memes?
I saw them right after my elimination. They started to come out, little by little. But, I remember one day just opening up my social media. It was going crazy on Twitter and Instagram. I was getting tagged. And next thing I knew Miss Vanjie was everywhere like hot cakes.
What’s your favorite one?
My favorite meme is probably the one from Scream when the girl keeps calling the phone, and it’s like, “Miss Vanjie!” And she’s acting scared and it’s Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie. That one or the one where it’s The Shining and I’m looking like I busted through the door screaming, “Miss Vanjie here!” That one is hilarious! [Laughs.]
When you were leaving the runway, did you have that planned beforehand, or was that just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing?
It was definitely spur of the moment. I was so depressed that I got sent home. As you saw on my facial expression when RuPaul said, “Boo, you gotta go.” I was sad, I was depressed, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even plan on what to say or what to write on the mirror when I got kicked off. Literally, I turned around and looked at the judges and started screaming my name because I didn’t know what else to say. So I just said, “Girl, fuck it. You might as well just start screaming bloody murder and scream Miss Vanjie.”
I don’t think a lot of people know this, but can you tell us how you got your name?
Well, I got Vanessa from The Little Mermaid — when Ursula turns into a human, her name was Vanessa, and she has that dark hair and that look on her face. They told me I resembled her, so, I took that name. Miss Vanjie was because I wanted to become Banjee, like ghetto. But Alexis was like, “No, if you try to do something in pageants and stuff, they’re not going to like that.” And even when Alexis would try to say Banjee, she would say it with, like, a V, so I just kept the V and said Vanjie because it was unique. And then Mateo because Alexis is my drag mother.
Is The Little Mermaid your favorite Disney movie?
She is. I love Ariel, because when she goes to get her trade, she takes off the fins and gets her legs to go get her arm sugar daddy. I love it. That’s my favorite Disney movie.
Did you get any advice from Alexis before you went on the show?
Alexis told me to be myself because I won’t have no problems with my personality, so she knew I was good with that. And then she told me, if I needed to read somebody, just read them with a smile.
Obviously it’s hard to be the first person to be eliminated. Do you think that you should have been in the bottom?
I don’t think I should have been in the bottom. If I thought I was going to be in the bottom, I would not have worn what I wore. I thought I was one of the cute ones. I didn’t think I was going to win the 99-cent challenge, that’s not my jush but I did not think my 99 cent was the worst.
So, who do you think was the worst?
There were a couple of girls I thought did not look that cute. For me, I still don’t get the sponge dress, with the sponges, the makeup, and the hair she had on. Personally, that was not my tea. I thought she looked crazy. I wasn’t a big fan of Dusty’s runway, because her undergarments were showing and I didn’t know if that was okay, but they didn’t say nothing, so I guess that was okay. But that’s just me. Those are the things that I was taught growing up doing drag that you don’t show those kinds of things unless it was on purpose. I guess for her it was.
If you could do anything over again, what would you do differently?
Not get sent home. But since that happened already, I would have made sure my silhouette was on point. Like the critique that Michelle said. Or I would have just put two flowers on my titties and a Barbie on my puss-pop, and hit the runway. If she wants to see my body, I will give her my body.
How would you describe your drag?
I would describe my drag as Vanjie with a V, like ghetto, but still pretty, still polished — stripper pole meets Miami. I’m a little ho of all trades.
What was it like the first time you saw yourself as Miss Vanjie when you were in drag?
I looked in the mirror and I said, “Damn! I look so good!” I said, “Oh my god, there’s just all this beauty.” And then I thought, Bitch, I kinda look like my momma. Because my momma’s fierce. If you see me and my mom, we look like twins. My momma’s a badass bitch. She looks good. In our family, we like to take care of ourselves. My mom gives me a little bit of J.Lo, mixed with a little bit of Selena. She’s got the fierce body, long hair. I get it from my momma.
What’s the wildest story since you started doing drag?
This is a good one. Not too long ago, the other night, I was in L.A. I had finished doing a show, and I left the venue. I was still in drag and I was walking, maybe a block away to where I was staying, and this guy was following me with his car. But I was with a group of people. There was like ten of us. And he was following me all the way down the street! He was honking the horn, trying to tell me to “come in the car, baby! Come in the car.” And I said, “This is not Pretty Woman and I’m not jumping in, baby.” I was kind of gagged because I know how good I look, so I don’t blame him for following me.
Who do you think is going to win?
The fuck if I know! I know I should have won! I thought I was gonna win! If not, I wouldn’t have sent my ass home. So, now that I’m not there, I don’t give a fuck who wins. I needed to win Miss Congeniality, that’s what I want.
Would you come back for another season if you were invited?
Hell yeah, I would come back! I got my bags packed ready to go. If they ask me to come back and send one of those bitches home, I would gladly do it. I would do anything RuPaul asks me to do. Even jump off into a pit full of gators and maneuver my way through it. I would do it — just for RuPaul.