Winner Takes All
By Noah Michelson
Nea Marshall Kudi grew up in the Republic of Cameroon on the West African Coast. He began his show biz career working as a male model until he was asked to trade genders at a Paris runway show due to a missing female model, and it was there and then Bebe Zahara Benet was born. A featured showgirl at The Gay '90s' La Femme Show lounge in Minneapolis, last night Benet was crowned the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race and will spend the summer crisscrossing the country on the RuPaul's Drag Race ABSOLUT' "Real Fruit' tour.
Out caught up with Bebe just hours before she claimed her tiara to find out what she gained from participating in the reality competition, what she learned from RuPaul, and how her brand of drag separates her from the rest of the girls.
Out:The show was obviously about proving yourself as the world's greatest drag queen, but it also must have been a huge learning experience. What did you take away from it?
Bebe Zahara Benet: First of all, always be true to yourself. I think it was a reiteration that what you're doing, bring yourself. And I think that's what really paid off for me. And you have to remember for as much passion as you have for your craft, other people probably have more passion, so you always have to look at yourself and make sure you're giving the best you can and giving only yourself.
Drag is all about illusion -- about being this person other than yourself -- and yet you say you have to be completely true to yourself. How do you combine the two? How do you make sure that your personality shines through the illusion?
When you talk about 'illusion,' are you talking about impersonating women?
Yes -- that -- the hair, the makeup, the clothing -- it's such a fantasy. So how can you be bigger than the fantasy and make sure that you're still presenting yourself?
I think it helps if you actually know who you are and who your character is, what she's all about, what is she trying to do, what is she trying to achieve, what is she trying to put out there? And it's up to you to make sure that that is portrayed to other people. Because it's in your mind -- to make the audience watching you gets your picture -- to take it out of here [motions to head] and put it out here [motions to the room.] It comes with really, truly knowing who your character is.
So who would you say your character is? In one sentence what is Bebe Zahara Benet about?
One word, even. You don't even need a sentence.
[Laughs] International. There you go. But 'international' comes with a lot of things behind it -- remember that. [Laughs] I don't know if one word can describe everybody, but I'll give you that.
What did you learn from RuPaul?
The passion. The passion that goes with the craft and the respect she has for drag is very, very important. And also reiterating to each one of us that we can do this. No matter what people say, if this is what you want to do, you can do it and you can be successful at it, and you can take it to whatever level you want to take it to. And she's just such a lady! I would say a lady-in-waiting because the ladies-in-waiting are always very proper. [Laughs]
I talked to Ru right before the show premiered and she said one of her goals when she signed on to do this was to lift more drag performers up to her level. She remarked that drag really wasn't allowed to flourish during the Bush administration and that she was very hopeful that with Obama in office it there would be a resurgence. So with that in mind, and seeing as this year is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, do you personally consider drag a political act?
To some extent it is a political thing for me, not only here in America, but also where I come from [Cameroon]. Where I come from drag is unheard of -- it's just not possible. Do you know how many little boys and girls are sitting there and want to artistically express themselves and don't have the opportunity to just because the culture says 'A is A and B is B,' -- No! A can be A minus, or whatever. It's just letting people know this is a wake up call and what I do doesn't make me less of who I really am. This is what I do. This what I know I will be successful at and everybody has a different path. This is how my path is destined and I am following my destiny.