You've heard of Sasha Velour, the versatile queen who just snatched the crown in season nine of RuPaul's Drag Race, but you might not have heard of Rosé—yet. The unruly alter-ego of Manhattan-based artist Ross McCorkell, Rosé is the latest winner of Lady Liberty, New York's largest drag competition, which wrapped its fourth season on Friday, June 30. It may not be televised on Logo—excuse us, VH1—but Lady Liberty, held at the Ace Hotel in Midtown, is no small affair. Before Rosé was crowned, 73 drag queens and kings competed for 12 weeks, and the victor herself ultimately walked off with a prize package valued at $4,000. (After already receiving, as a finalist, a shopping spree at Kryolan Makeup and multiple perks from the style, glam, and drag boutique House of La Rue, Rosé clinched $1,000 cash, two custom photoshoots, tickets to the Fire Island Pines Party, and much, much more).
But who is Rosé? Prepare yourself. This Scottish multi-talent—who beat out crowd favorites Izzy Uncut, Egypt, Zarria, and Miss Carriage in the finale—is a razor-tongued tigress with slayage in her blood. Inspired by everyone from Leigh Bowery to Angela Lansbury (sort of), she blazed into this competition with a thirst for victory and expression, and emerged as a rising drag star who, as her personal tagline promises, will “fuck you up.” We'll let her take it from here.
OUT: Whenever I encounter new queens now, I think about the title of drag photographer Magnus Hastings's 2016 book, Why Drag? Tell me why drag spoke to you, and about the birth of Rosé.
Rosé: I've always loved drag. I feared it for so long because I'd been taught and conditioned to believe that compromising my masculinity insinuated weakness. In other news, fuck that noise! I’m a drag queen now. And guess what: I’m the most masculine I have ever been. Rosé is a siren for my strength and aggressiveness. She does whatever the fuck she wants, which is what I had been yearning to do as an artist. Rosé suggestively tapped on my shoulder as I attempted to focus on acting, singing, comedy, modeling, design—I was scrambling to figure out what I was actually put on Earth to do. Drag is the only medium that marries all of my passions. It speaks to me because it not only allows me to destroy the box people try to put me in; it encourages me to construct a new box, or sphere, or glob of goo in which only I know what is good and bad, or right and wrong. To be the creative boss: this has been my dream since I was a little boy. When I saw the word “Rosé” on a wine advertisement on April 24th, I surrendered to my darkest fantasies and whispered aloud, “Get in loser, we’re going shopping.”
You entered this competition a little late in the game, after other queens had already been competing. How did that feel, how did you use it to further inspire you, and how did it affect your interactions with the other contestants?
Lady Liberty is designed to allow for new competitors to enter the contest about one month before the finale: a few weeks of preliminaries, a semi-final round to denote a finalist, and then, lather, rinse, and repeat over the course of a season. I will say that my entering late in the game made it a race. Every participating round for me was maneuvered within seven days of preparation. And when I won my semi-final round, I guffawed at the thought of what the other finalists might have had up their sleeves for months! Luckily, even though I’m sure I’ll die of a heart attack someday, I work really well under pressure. Time constraints force me to toss shitty fantasies aside and hone in on realistic possibilities. I wouldn’t say this affected my interaction with the other girls whatsoever, though. We all fucking brought our A-game, and as Angela Lansbury once said: “When the beat drops, preparation is merely a pillow for your death drop.” (Like... could you imagine if she really said that).
Every queen, or at least the most memorable ones, have specific inspirations and points of reference for their looks and personae. What are those for Rosé? Who is she?
When I was younger, I got into drag a couple of times on Halloween, and everyone, including me, was delighted with how beautiful I looked. Bitch, that is not the case now! I have a man's skull with a troll's jaw. Rosé is a handsome woman, and a lot of my aesthetic inspiration is drawn from challenging what is considered to be “beautiful” and “perfect” about the female gender. I look up to late male-identifying artists like Leigh Bowery, Prince, and Bowie—men who challenged gender stereotypes physically and did so in a very sexy manner (yes, I think Leigh Bowery is sexy). And I follow other queens who similarly, when without makeup, could be vikings. As a performer, I try to channel the electricity of singers like Celine and Beyoncé, and comedians like Jim Carrey and Rik Mayall. Half my childhood was spent in Scotland, so my sense of humor tends to reflect outrageous British physical comedy. In college I spent a lot of time concentrating on making myself hire-able as a male actor. Rosé is a refined unleashing of that energy.
Photography: Tayte Hanson
Tell me about your favorite number you performed in the competition, and describe it in detail. What extra something did you bring? How did you engage the crowd? How did they respond? Make me gag like you made them gag.
My favorite number I created was for the semifinals. Again, having only a week to prepare, I got real with myself and was like, OK, bitch—you don’t have time. Either learn new material and keep it cute, or build on what you already know and add production. I chose my favorite—and inherently memorized—Beyoncé song, scanned its text, and put a twist on it. I performed “Grown Woman” as an old-ass, grown-ass woman. I wore an authentic granny dress from L Train Vintage; bore full-on old-age makeup; and gave a totally ham, cane-supported lip sync as a tired, frustrated, and proud older woman. I spliced the music with audio samples of strong, mature women in pop culture like Patti Lupone and Hillary Clinton, and as the song progressed, my personality grew more defiant and youthful. My body assumed a full, 22-year-old dancer status, and then three gorgeous Broadway-caliber female dancers joined me onstage, one by one. The audience was screaming. Then I beckoned two men to enter from each side of the stage, too. That dance break was everything! Then I pulled out a can of Reddi-wip and creamily made out with a few of the audience members. I’ve been visualizing production numbers like this since I was a kid. It was a dream come true.
You're the fourth winner of the Lady Liberty competition. What do you know about the previous three winners, Jan Sport, Avant Garbage, and Hibiscus? What sort of interactions have you had with them, and what insights might they have offered about their experiences?
I have three very different relationships with the former winners! I don’t know Hibiscus too well. We just met at the finale, in fact, but we were living for each other and kiki-ing backstage. I’m excited to get to know her more and hopefully work together in the near future. Avant Garbage and I actually chatted on Grindr months ago—scream!—but never got to the point of meeting. When we both showed up to the finale in full geesh, we died. [Laughs] I love Avant’s aesthetic and performance style, and we've since spoken about finally “grabbing that coffee” and collaborating. Jan Sport is my sister. I was so inspired the first time I saw her perform. I sat there, mouth agape, thinking, Ross...what are you waiting for? I look up to Jan’s ferocious drive and talent, and I actually reached out to her to find out how I might snatch a spot to compete in Lady Liberty in the first place. She's been a massive help and guide in Rosé’s journey thus far, and when I thought I didn’t have enough steam to reach the end, she said “It’s all worth it, mama. Keep pushing!”
If Rosé were stranded on a desert island, what three things would she absolutely need to have with her and why?
Oh, that’s easy! A wine fermentation tank, a hairbrush, and Donald Trump! My service to the world would be stranding our president alongside me. But girl—I’m gonna need to be pretty fucked up to deal with him. The hairbrush is for him. I’m sweet.
You have a background in musical theater, and you're currently in Washington, D.C. acting in a queer play as part of the Capital Fringe Festival. Tell me about that.
My performing arts background has shaped nearly everything about who and what I am today, but I rarely audition for work in theatre anymore. When it beckons me, though, I respond. I will always be an actor. Last Ditch Playlist stars me and Brad Baron, who actually wrote the piece, which is based on the most pivotal romantic relationship he's experienced in his life. A cast of four paints the story of a young gay couple briskly falling in love, enduring a long distance romance amid individual self-discovery, and finally reaching a breaking point where personal growth outweighs mutual support. It’s a beautiful, realistic work. The scenes play out of order, like a playlist on shuffle. It's exhausting, yet extremely rewarding. We play at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C. with the Capital Fringe Festival through Wednesday, July 12, then pick up again for a short run at Theatrelab in New York City from August 17 to 20. We wrap her up—for the time being—at the FringeArts Festival in Philadelphia, where we play September 12 to 15.
It's clear that drag is just one part of your goals as an artist. You've talked a lot about Rosé, but what does Ross want, across the board, in the long term?
Rosé is an extension of me. I've been creating fleshed-out characters through which to express myself since I learned to speak. I do not see drag as a temporary fixture, but more as a vessel in which I may finally say I what I have to say, void of censorship, and be heard. I see drag queens tearing down walls in the entertainment industry, and my dream is to do just that: tear down walls and let the fucking sun shine in. I am inspired by the power of drag to break down norms, expectations, and traditions. I believe drag can lend a massive hand in reshaping the embarrassingly outdated “liberating” Western culture, and Ross wants to be a part of that. That is all Ross has ever wanted to do. Who knows what it will entail, precisely... my god, life is exciting.
Who are your personal mentors and your inspirations, and how have they helped you nurture your creativity and motivate yourself?
My personal mentors and inspirations are those closest to me. I love having a lot of friends, but what keeps me abreast and alive is the family I was given, along with the family I have chosen (or that's chosen me, perhaps). My mum, dad, brother, and sister are collectively my rock and endless support system. The small group of friends who have VIP passes in the McCorkell home are some of the most talented, hilarious, and twisted motherfuckers I know. We bounce ideas off of each other to create ourselves and our “work,” whatever that may be. When one of us is down, the rest pedal harder. I don’t have a drag mother as of yet, nor do I belong to a drag house, but damn, baby, I have a tribe, and they’re fierce as hell.
It's always important to make a strong entrance, but exits are crucial too. Give me Rosé's best exit line. Go!
You’re on PrEP, right?