Thirty-six hours later, news of her Drag Race All Stars win still hasn’t sunk in for Kylie Sonique Love. The L.A.-by-way-of-Atlanta queen, who placed ninth on RuPaul’s Drag Race season two, is waiting for a pizza delivery, recovering from a performance in Austin, Texas, the night after her win. “Honestly, I haven’t even had a minute to myself,” she says. In a way, that’s how she wants it, though. In her finale speech, Kylie — one of the more visible queens to have come out as a trans woman since first appearing on Drag Race — positioned herself as a queen of the people, telling the judges, “To have that power means nothing if you’re not able to help people.” Days after her win, she’s in the same mind-set. “I just feel so grateful and blessed that I have a platform where I can use my voice to try to inspire other people to use their voice,” Kylie says.
Inspire us she did, along with delivering multiple stunning performances, hilarious acting roles (including a surprise win in the “Rumerican Horror Story: Coven Girls” challenge), and a fantastic Dolly Parton Snatch Game — somehow, Drag Race’s first ever. Vulture caught up with Kylie Sonique Love to talk about the highs of her All Stars season and how much has changed since her abbreviated season-two run.
It’s been over a decade since season two, and a lot had changed. As you were coming into this season, what was going through your mind about that gap?
I had so much knowledge, just learning who I am as a person once I liberated myself and followed through transition. I felt like this time I could really pay attention to who I am. So I had more self-awareness, and I learned how to be happy, and figure out wherever I’m at, whatever is happening, to just find the good in it. Plus, I didn’t go into it looking at it as a competition, but more so pushing myself and challenging myself. I love doing drag, and being in quarantine for so long, I was scared that I would never get to do drag again, and this was my opportunity to maybe get to do it one last time. So I wanted to give it my all and make sure that everything I did was 100 percent me, and to do things that I’m gonna be proud of a year later, watching play back on TV.
What’s been so exciting this season is seeing this growth in you and these sides we didn’t get to see on season two. For me, that started with the “Rumerican Horror Story” acting challenge. What did getting that win mean to you?
You know, a lot of girls go into these challenges, and if you’re a great singer and it’s a singing challenge, you want to win that; if you’re a great actor, you want to win that. I would much rather win something that I didn’t know I was good at it. That would mean more to me than just trying to justify something I already knew. Acting is something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve never really had an opportunity to push myself to do it.
When we were going over the different roles, Jessica seemed like the most close to home to me. Then I realized that I had the biggest part, which was a little scary, because I have short-term memory loss and I had to remember the most lines. So, it was a challenge within myself too. I was willing to go all in and not try to put boundaries on myself as to what made me feel uncomfortable or too comfortable.
After that win, you performed possibly my favorite lip sync of the whole season, to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” What was your mind-set to get into that moment?
I know that people really enjoy me doing acrobatics and things like that, [but] I had a really bad leg injury that I’m still going through now — I wasn’t able to do splits for the longest time — so every day, when I was in my hotel, I would stretch. The first time that I did a split [again] was on that stage during the lip sync. It was really cool to get to do a song that came out around the time where I was discovering my queerness and trying to figure out who I am, and I had already did an homage look to Christina a couple episodes before, so it was a full-circle moment for me. Christina Aguilera, “Dirrty,” that song gets everybody going.
One thing that a lot of people were always asking me about was, “How did you keep your top from coming up?” And I said, “Honey, it’s an old drag secret, we use spray adhesive.” That stuff was glued to these titties. I wanted the audience to think, Oh my God, we’re gonna get a nip slip. I knew it wasn’t gonna happen, but I purposefully placed my top right where you could almost see something.
One of the other moments that was exciting to see from you was the Dolly Parton Snatch Game. It had been 13 seasons of the show, six seasons of All Stars, and Dolly’s someone that nobody had touched. How did you get over the expectations for that?
I went home during Snatch Game, and it was the first Snatch Game of the whole franchise. I knew that if I came back, that is something that I could not fail at. And I just could not think about who I would actually do. When they called and asked me [to do All Stars], I was still contemplating who would I do, between Miley Cyrus and Reese Witherspoon, [and] I just kept seeing Dolly Parton everywhere. I was like, Wait a minute, no one’s ever done Dolly. I’m country as hell. Let me see what I can do. So I did all my research on Dolly, although I grew up listening to her, but I would watch interviews with her, and I was like, Oh my God, I see so much of myself in Dolly Parton. I didn’t know I had all that in me, really.
That was the first time I ever did Dolly, on that set. And it’s so funny, when I was working on the voice, my mom had called me and I was talking to her and she was like, “You sound like Dolly Parton!” [Laughs] I was like, “Oh, really!” Now, whenever I put on the Dolly Parton outfit, something comes over me and I turn so country.
I loved seeing you leaning into your country side, with Dolly and then going full country on your verse to “This Is Our Country,” or leaning into this rocker-girl side in the halftime show challenge as Steven Tyler. There’s not always as many queens representing those styles of music.
I just figured, Why not try to be something that other people aren’t expecting? People see a skinny white girl with blonde hair, they immediately thing she’s going to be all looks and all body. That is such a small part of who I am, I’m so much more interesting than those things. I am a tomboy, but I love being super-girly, you know? I wanted to embrace every part of me. Doing Steven Tyler, that was a personal challenge too — it was saying, “So what, I live my life as a female? That’s just personal life, drag is fun.” [That challenge] let me do something I never got to do. I love Steven Tyler, he was so androgynous in the ’90s, and I loved his music, and there was just something about him that was carefree. I had the nails down, the earrings, I even folded my ears ’cause his ears kind of poke out a bit, just a lot of attention to detail. I bought a DVD with all the Aerosmith music videos on it, and I would watch that every morning when I would wake up, because I wanted to get his mannerisms down. I’ve had a lot of Aerosmith fans hit me up and say, “You killed that, it was perfection.” That’s really the pat on the back that I needed, was the true fans of Aerosmith.
You were the first queen on the show to come out as trans [during the season-two reunion, in April 2010]. It feels like the show has come miles since then, and now you get to be sitting here as the first trans woman to win the show. What do you think Kylie from 11 years ago would think if she could see this now?
I’ll be honest with you: I knew I had it in me. I just needed to get to know myself a little bit better and get comfortable in my own skin. There’s nothing better than winning when you’re 100 percent authentic with yourself. When you feel fully liberated and you have no boundaries on yourself and you succeed at something, you can really embrace that. I don’t think I was ready then. Because my time was cut so short, it was a humbling experience for me as a drag performer, but there was a lot of personal things that I needed to get more comfortable with, with myself. There wasn’t a lot of resources for trans people when I came out; there was nearly nobody on TV that was trans and if they were, it wasn’t people that were being celebrated. I had to figure all that out, and I had to get out in my community and meet other trans people. I feel like that’s all changed since then, and I feel like I’m a part of that snowball effect for trans people and conversations at home and things like that. I was one of the first people to come out as trans on TV, period. But at the end of the day, me being transgender is not the most interesting thing about me. It’s a fact, that I am trans, but it’s not a factor in who I am and why I am.