Before RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 even premiered, we were curious about Utica Queen. The cast announcement introduced her as “the wacky, wavy, inflatable-arm-tube queen,” but not even that could’ve prepared us for the level of weird Utica Queen brought to the competition. Despite losing her opening lip sync to Gottmik, she quickly reemerged as a dark horse, especially thanks to an impressive sleeping-bag dress during the Bag Ball. And forget about that first lip-sync loss — Utica also became something of a lip-sync assassin as the season went on, sending home two impressive performers, Elliott With Two T’s and Tina Burner. And she even nabbed a deserved win between it all, for coming out of her shell in a stunning B.A.P.S.–inspired look from Symone and pushing her partner with some of her signature weirdness.
But after radiating positivity throughout the series and worrying during multiple challenges about being offensive (see also: Her Bob Ross squirrel-afro for Snatch Game), Utica finally sashayed away after a roast performance that came up too mean-spirited — and even got her flipped off by RuPaul, multiple times, in a Drag Race first. Of course, none of it bothered her. “I feel like if we can have confidence when we’re definitely bombing so hard, and just enjoy the time even if it’s scary, that’s the true gift of it all,” Utica told Vulture, in an interview reflecting on her roast jokes, her UtiCan commercial, and yes, the Bob Ross wig.
During the roast, you were standing up there getting heckled by Loni Love and flipped off by RuPaul. Not many people can say that’s happened to them. What’s going through your mind at that point?
I literally felt like I could die happy. When I got flipped off by RuPaul and shaded by Loni, I literally was like, Well, I did it! [Laughs.] I did the thing.
The judges mentioned that a few of your jokes came off as mean, rather than funny. Were you rethinking it afterward?
This is my first experience with a roast and this type of joke-telling, insult humor. So I was trying to tap into that. I don’t know if it was successful. I think it’s difficult to step outside of the jokes and be like, Okay, what is appropriate and what isn’t? But we’re under such a time crunch that it’s difficult to remedy that. Like, Okay, this is what I got, let’s just go for it! And I am not, inherently, an offensive person, so when I heard that, I was like, Oh dear, I need to reevaluate. But there’s not a lot of time. I don’t want to offend anyone at all, but I did what I could.
It was a stressful challenge. You did get to go out with one big, final lip-sync performance. It was great to see you come into your own with lip-syncing and realize that that was what you enjoyed. Had you been much of a lip-sync performer before the show?
Absolutely, I love lip-syncing. It’s actually one of my favorite, favorite things to do. Some queens are scared to be in the bottom, but for me, being told you have to just show one of your top skills? Okay, I can do that. You just want me to have fun? Deal!
What was it like to have to go against Symone after you won a challenge together?
Literally amazing. [Laughs.] Of course scary, ’cause she’s just so talented. But what’s amazing about Symone is that she is so passionate about the work, and she’s so amazing when she performs, that I knew that it was going to be a stellar performance. I think we both came alive during that lip sync, and we gave a great show, and I think we made it very difficult for the judges at the end. I don’t regret anything. I feel like I left on a great, great note.
During the makeover with Symone, she put you in a B.A.P.S.–inspired outfit, and I know you were a bit nervous about that. Had you been familiar with B.A.P.S. before?
No, I’d never seen the movie B.A.P.S. at the time. I was unfamiliar with the reference, so that was my main concern when I was approached with this idea of the look. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and I think coming from a place of concern is better than just being like, “Let’s just do it!”
It was a great example of the makeover challenge bringing something different out of the queens.
We really grew as performers and humans, and I feel like it really speaks to what’s happening in the world right now, our experiences. Being so triumphant that week really showed us that we just have to come from a place of love and really see each other and grow as a community.
You also talked a bit about cultural appropriation with regard to your Bob Ross wig for Snatch Game. Of all the different things you could’ve done instead of an afro, where did the idea for the squirrels come from?
I don’t know, my brain is very bizarre. [Laughs.] It just popped in my head. I was like, I would love to do this character Bob Ross, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to just purchase an afro wig and wear it. So I was like, What can I do to push this artistically and make it cool? I went on Amazon and just searched up some little plushies and whatnot, and I found these cute little squirrels. I was like, Oh my God, they’re the same color as his hair. What if I made a whole headpiece made out of these squirrels? And oooh, fun note, if you look closely to the squirrels, they’re all praying. Each one has their hands together and they’re all praying! That’s on brand.
I love that.
I think it’s fun, it’s unique, it’s oddly fashionable. Very kooky, which is definitely what I strive for. I thought it was a very fun little nod to Bob Ross, but also a way to show his kookiness.
I couldn’t believe you said you wanted a cow for the UtiCan commercial, and then there was actually a cow. What was filming that like?
During that episode, I was pretty down on myself about my commercial. I think it’s ’cause I was told it was bad. But after seeing it on the big screen, I love it. It was like an Adult Swim commercial at 3 a.m., when you’re toasted after a crazy night and you’re just seeing this hilarious commercial. I haven’t laughed out loud at myself so hard before.
I loved it too. I was watching it, and I was like, “I would go see a Utica one-woman show of this.”
Yummy! Oh, yummy! Thank you.
You talk about being from this small town of Utica, and it’s in your name. What has the reception been there to you being on the show?
I don’t think I have the luxury of getting the reception of the town because it’s so small. It’s the level of small that we don’t have a gas station or a grocery store, it’s so tiny. It’s a farm town, so it’s just my immediate family that I will speak to. But my family has been so wonderful with this whole experience. I definitely believe that Drag Race brings families together, and that is so true with mine.