From the moment she stepped into the werkroom in a dress made entirely out of Polaroids of herself, season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race was Symone’s to lose. The Ebony Enchantress was one of those rare queens that doesn’t come along every day, the C.U.N.T. T.P. (T.P. for “total package,” and well, you know the rest). Armed with a preternatural beauty and sense of herself, Symone continued to raise the bar on the runway (the du-rag train, the boxer getup, the beads) and prove her talents as a performer in the commercial and acting challenges. We’re just saying, it do take nerve to do Harriet Tubman for Snatch Game.
On Friday, Symone rightfully took her place on the throne, and balance was restored to the Drag Race universe. We spoke to her before the finale and her crowning to talk furries, fan art, and how to pronounce fec’try.
Did you think you were going to get to tape a big, live finale at a theater, or were you expecting something like season 12’s at-home finale?
I honestly had no idea. As things were starting to get better as the show was going on, I was like, There’s still a chance. It won’t be like the other finales, but hopefully we’d get to do it live, and see people in person. I had a little bit of a feeling, since we got to film the show, but you never know.
This season, you displayed RuPaul’s single favorite topic, which is the “inner saboteur,” and that whole struggle. What advice do you have for your fellow perfectionists and Capricorns?
You read me there. I would say that the world is not going to fall apart if something goes wrong. In your head, you feel like, Oh my God, it’s going to completely fall apart, and nothing is going to be right, and everyone’s going to hate me. It’s very end-of-the-world vibes in your head. But everything is going to be okay, and people make mistakes, and it’s okay to be human, because that’s what people relate to. As much as we like to think that it’s the perfection, I think what I was really taught — when I had my moment of vulnerability and falling off the pedestal, people were like, Oh, I see her. So perfection is a guard. It’s a way to not let people see you. So just calm down, everything is gonna be okay, and it is not that serious, diva. It is just drag. Or whatever you’re doing in your life.
What is the inspiration behind that comedic voice you pull out, that very in-character Symone persona? The one that redefined how to pronounce the word “fec’try”?
As a kid, my mom was — she was doing it out of the love in her heart — but she was very, very on us about how we spoke: enunciation, say your words correctly. So when I found drag, it was my way of rebelling against that and speaking however the hell I wanted to. Specifically, when I was saying that word, I was thinking of Whitley Gilbert from A Different World. It’s just my way of saying “eff you” to it all. I love twisting, I love playing with the English language. I love saying words in a different way, in my own way. And so in that moment it was literally just me trying to bring Symone into the character. It just comes from wanting to say and do whatever I wanted. Eff you to all this, I can say whatever I want, how I want to.
Some of those scripted acting challenges are known to be rough. What’s so impressive is how you were able to make it funny.
What people need to understand is you can say what’s written for you, you just have to make it your own. And that’s what I did throughout the entire competition, really. You have to find ways of making it your being, your essence. They’re not asking you to be anyone other than yourself. That’s the true magic of it all. That’s where the sweet spot is.
It must be super-validating to present yourself in that way, and to receive so much love.
Absolutely. Especially being a person of color, going into this being the queen of color, I’ve seen this. You just never know, going through this experience. For people to love me and to really give me so much love and support has meant the world to me. I come from a small town in a small state. So just to open up to the world and to have them give back so much love to me has been so beautiful.
You’re probably one of the best runway queens ever on the show, so we need to talk about some of your looks. First, what was the creative process behind the dress with the gunshot wound and the “Say Their Names” headpiece? That was so powerful, especially considering when this season was filmed.
For that look, I knew we were going to be filming at a very important moment in our history. And I knew when this aired, it would still be a very important moment. That was one of the easier things for me to actualize. I knew the silhouette. I knew I wanted to be covered, completely, head-to-toe, even my hands. I wanted it to look very angelic. I wanted people to see the beauty and the gorgeousness, then I wanted to turn around and be very striking. Because that’s the reality that we face, Black people in general. That was very important to me, to have that specific runway. I didn’t know specifically which runway it would be for, because we don’t get the package until later, but that was a moment that I had to have. And when they said “fascinators,” I was like, This is the moment. I really wanted to speak on it, because I knew how many eyes would be on it. It was before the election that we did this. So, whichever way the election went, I wanted people to not be lulled into a false sense of security. I still wanted there to be commentary, and I knew it also had to strike a fine balance. It had to be all-encompassing.
And then, on the extremely opposite end of the spectrum, with that Foxy look for the Beast runway, to what degree did you know about furries, and the furry fandom online?
I made a joke about the furry thing, but actually it was meant to be more of an actualized cartoon. When I did it, I was like, They’re gonna lose their shit, I know it. But it was all me. That was another point with the runway, I wanted to make sure that it didn’t look like a costume, like when you saw it you’d be like, Oh, of course that’s what Symone would wear, if she was putting on a beast outfit. I knew people from that community, the furry community, would just love it. Which I love, because I knew people would never think I would do something like that. This was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. I was just so happy it went off very well, because that was one of my top-three favorites I brought to the show. I love all my babies, but that was definitely up there for me.
That one might have broke the internet. What’s the weirdest piece of fan art you’ve seen of yourself?
Ohhhh my God. When people distort my face in a way that I have never in my life seen, I don’t know how to explain it. There will be these surrealist drawings of me and they’ll stretch my face and my body and do weird things I’ve never seen before. It’s always so weird to me, because I would have never thought to do that. But weird in a good way. They bend and contort me into these crazy, crazy shapes. And I’m like, Huh. These are oddly stunning things! I would have never done this, but okay!
Thanks again for one of the best, and certainly the longest, runs on Drag Race ever. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next and where your career goes.
Look out, because I’m trying to take over, honey!