Drag Race Star Bianca Del Rio: 'It's Not Necessarily True That I Won'
By Michael Musto
Tonight, the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race launches on Logo, featuring a whole new bevy of tuckers aiming for tiaras, and naturally the gays are approaching their screens as if facing Mecca.
One of the competitors is New Orleans-born Bianca Del Rio, who’s become New York City’s go-to gal for quick-witted putdowns and riotous reaming. The standup comic (a/k/a Roy Haylock—or perhaps “Lisa Lampanelli with a penis”) performs with Lady Bunny and the gang every Friday at the popular Hot Mess revue at BPM, but she’s also an attraction at loads of other boites, snappily insulting strangers and making them beg for more. And now she’s a TV star, and has done extremely well at it, especially if you believe the rumors that have been flaming for months. I asked bitchy, bewitching Bianca to do a Brazilian wax on the buzz and tell me the bare truth.
Michael Musto: Hi, Bianca. When the publicist for the show just connected us, I thought she said, “I have Beyoncé on the phone.”
Bianca Del Rio: You sound so excited.
What was the audition process for you?
It was the same as everyone. You apply online and then they send you a package of things you need to do. A lot of it is giving the look, photos, a little back history about yourself, and showing some versatility—not sexual, but that you have more than three dresses and some personality. I did it very last minute. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it because I didn’t think I was right for the show. I never saw anyone on it who wasn’t a fashion queen or 21 and saying, “I need to be famous.”
Was there a callback?
You send everything away and then you don’t hear from them for a long time. Any queen who says they were on the show and then they were off is bullshit. It’s a very well oiled machine. Can you imagine how many queens across the world are sending their shit?
Well, you were out in L.A. filming for a long time, it seemed. Obviously you won, right?
Not necessarily. That’s something you have to tune in to find out. Everybody has their opinion of what happened. If it’s on the Internet, of course it’s true. You know that. [laughs] There are rumors that are circulating. There were rumors of people who are on the show that weren’t even on.
Like [New-York-based drag performer] Epiphany.
Epiphany actually was away in Greece. It’s the one time she was being honest! [laughs]
Your humor is hilarious, but often rather, shall we say, extreme. Did they tone it down on the show?
No. It’s an interesting environment. When you’re there, you do forget the cameras are on you because the stakes are high, there’s a limited time to get things done, and you don’t know what’s next. You can’t sit back and eat bonbons. For me, it was not so much about playing up to the cameras, but getting the job done.
But did you do your usual array of, say, AIDS jokes?
God, no. We don’t have the opportunity. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to explain myself to America. So I wasn’t going to be an asshole. I sat back like a spider and waited till everyone did what they had to do, and then attacked.
But you do engage in some humor, I hope?
We have those moments. A lot of people said, “I can’t believe you said that.” I thought, “I guess you don’t know me!”
You’ve made some naughty wisecracks about RuPaul in the past. I assume you’ve taken those all back?
God, no. Ru has a great sense of humor, as Bunny does. They know what you’re doing and saying. We always make jokes about everyone and everything. It’s obvious Ru gets it. It’s never anything personal—just some random joke about anything. My mother’s not even safe. Whoever she is. [laughs]
Was there any young, perky person on the show that you particularly didn’t like?
All of them. At some point, all of them annoyed me. But I don’t like people.
Especially enthusiastic ones?
I don’t mind them if I know they’re gonna go home. Everybody’s got their own way of handling things. The one thing about drag is it’s not my identity, it’s my job. It’s going to a photo shoot and being on time, but that doesn’t mean I loved or hated everybody. Sometimes you’re kind of indifferent until you get to know them. I don’t like America.
The whole country?
Based on the “Meet The Queens” video, everybody was forming opinions and teams. A minute and a half or two minutes of something that’s edited, and everyone’s already decided what it’s going to be. That’s great for the anticipation of the show, but wait till it plays out and you get to see a different side of people.
Will the other NYC girls hate you more now because you’re on TV?
People have always hated me for something. By no means do I think I’m in a better spot because I have it, but a lot of people are questioning my skills because I’m basically a host and do standup. I haven’t done numbers, I haven’t sung. I did it in my youth—18 years ago, I did all of that shit—but I prefer to host a show. That’s the phase of my life that I’m in.
And there’s prejudice against that?
You’re called “fierce” and “fab” when you do a split and a 20-minute Beyoncé medley. Please. And it’s not like we need another Katy Perry impersonator. Make people laugh and don’t do my jokes. Try that, bitches. God knows I don’t do it to please people. The only people I ever attracted are you and Bunny!!!
Lies. You’re widely adored. By the way, fabulous NYC drag star Dallas DuBois is moving to L.A. to do theater. Do they have theater in L.A.?
I had no idea, but I’m glad they’re taking her. I’m going to go to New Mexico to do pottery. At least we know they have that.
Do drag queens ever sleep together? There was Sharon Needles and Alaska Thunderfuck.
That’s the only drag couple I knew of, and they broke up. I’m suspicious of a bitch if she’s interested in me because that means she just wants her hands on my clothes. I’m going down like King Tut and taking it all with me. I’m gonna live in New Orleans.
You’ll eventually be buried with a suitcase?
With a closet! It’s gonna look like Narnia.
Photo by Joan Marcus
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER CRY
Drag queens might not sleep together, but married Italian-American farm-based women and roving male photographers certainly do. That brings us to Broadway’s The Bridges of Madison County, which takes the Brief Encounter-style affair of the book and movie and makes it younger, drops the flashback framing device, has the townspeople moving scenery around, and adds lots and lots of Jason Robert Brown music. Some of it is lush, some of it isn’t (the opening number and a self-accompanied guitar tune for the photog’s ex-wife don’t click), but at least the attempt at artistry, as directed by Bartlett Sher, takes things above the romance-novel possibilities.
Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale are good as the frustrated lady and the lensman who asks her for directions and ends up driving straight into her heart. It’s too bad they have to sing so much, too often about how wildly, crazily in love they are.
The funny this is, when the O’Hara character’s family comes home and startles her out of her reverie, there’s a long stretch with just dialogue, and it’s dramatically riveting. I was rapt, seeing how the situation was going to unfurl, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. What’s more, when the show erupted into a few more songs towards the end, they were a notch above, coming off pure and haunting. So you might want to cross Bridges for the wallop it ultimately packs, despite the dullish road bumps on the way.
HOW I GOT STRITCH MARKS
You really want some road bumps? Well, last week’s event where I interviewed Broadway legend Elaine Stritch onstage at the 92nd Street Y was not exactly a piece of cake (or even of Mahler’s). I got there an hour early, but four minutes before showtime, Stritch was still at the hairdresser’s, being shepherded into a car to come uptown. The site’s rep was frantically calling Elaine’s people and saying the star had to get there pronto because a packed, paying crowd was waiting.
She arrived at 7:16 and I knew she had done so because when I was in the green room, I heard her yelping about the adjacent elevator, “Oh, no! I’m not going in there!” Someone very brave must have assuaged the woman in, but it clearly wasn’t fun; Stritch was screaming as she emerged from the ride, “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through!” (Scarier than Merman?) The 89-year-old star was in a wheelchair, having hurt herself, but she was bedecked in a fur coat and brimming with diva-tude. “Miss Stritch, they can hear you in the audience,” the rep advised about the bellowing. “I don’t give a shit!” was her feisty reply. Someone tried to take off Stritch’s fur coat for her, and she balked, “Don’t take a fucking stitch of clothing off of me!” as the person froze like a caught criminal. As onlookers nervously laughed, the rep served a couple of compliments about Stritch’s hair (which calmed her down a bit) and we shared a quick photo op, then rolled onstage.
I was already in a panic, wondering where the love between us had gone. Just a few days earlier, Stritch and I had shared a funny and affectionate phone interview for this column, in which she praised my humor and said I was quickly becoming one of the faves in her “lair.” But now, in front of an audience, I guess she had to use her decades of stagecraft to establish dominance.
After complimenting her entrance, I started to ask her if there’s any onus to being someone everyone expects to entertain them all the time. She cut me off and said, “No, you’re not getting the first…!”
The first what? Question? Well, as I was the interviewer, I felt it only right. But more likely, she meant the first bit of attention. In any case, she answered with a monologue that was hazy, but moved in and out of crisp hilarity before hazing it up again. At another point, she impishly told me, “Would you be quiet!” But I was merely trying to keep things lively, considering the fact that she sometimes blanks out over questions.
Fortunately, by time Stritch realized I was on her team and was there to celebrate her legend and her new documentary, she lightened up and stopped refusing to answer certain queries. She held my hand at one point and also made me repeat things I said that she thought were funny. She even remarked that we should have lunch because we were clearly a great team. “It’s not going to work,” I deadpanned, though I pointed out that I’m available every day for the rest of the year. And I certainly do understand how the biz, age, and infirmity have taken their toll.
Anyway, some of her comments from the night were quite illuminating:
-Stritch loved Merman, but did she learn a lot from her? “Well…” (making a face)
-“Two bums on Broadway” happen to do bad versions of “The Ladies Who Lunch.” She wouldn’t elaborate as to who those two bums are, leaving me on a crazy google hunt.
-Why didn’t she ever get a prompter for her cabaret shows, so she wouldn’t drop lines? “And lose the laughs?”
-When I remarked that I was surprised to see that Stritch was in a Matthew Barney film (River of Fundament), she answered, “Why was it a surprise? Don’t you think I read books?”
-She broke down crying when asked about James Gandolfini and moaned, “I wish it hadn’t happened.”
-Stritch also got very emotional admitting that her life could have been way better, and she had no one but herself to blame for it. “But why flagellate yourself?” I interjected. “I’m not flagellating myself,” she responded. “That’s over.”
She said she’s even learned to like herself and in fact has become rather hooked on Elaine Stritch. I gamely stood up and joined in the love. In fact, I hope she wins on Drag Race next year.