Beauty Roles: An Interview With Jinkx Monsoon

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Hey Beautylish community! We originally published this interview in March of this year, and are proud to announce that Jinkx Monsoon has taken the crown as 2013's Americas Next Drag Superstar! We can't wait to watch this talented drag sweetheart continue to grow and inspire! Congratulations Jinkx!

Fan favorite Jinkx Monsoon is serving up realness, and we don’t just mean on the runway. Though Jinkx may be the only trained actor on this season of Logo TV’s hit show RuPaul’s Drag Race, her down to earth personality is anything but phony.

If you’re like us, you’ve been racking up episodes of the drag queen-saturated show on your Tivo, for a weekly dose of gender-bending glamour. We’re loving all the looks that we’ve been seeing in the challenges each week, no matter how zany the styling. What we can’t help but wonder, however, is how it feels for these fierce queens to be the ones getting ready. Lip synching aside, it’s the look that can make or break a contestant’s chance at winning this drag competition, and it’s no secret that Drag Race is just as much about makeup and styling as it is about raw drag talent.

Talking to Jinkx, it seems Drag Race has been a lesson in personal style. Where most queens have fallen flat, Jinkx has excelled with her wit, charm, and perfect pitch– talents they can’t teach you in drag school. There’s no questioning Jinkx’s skills, but her aesthetics have been challenged ruthlessly by the judging panel, an experience that would have left us shaking in our size 10 heels.

Jinkx barely allows herself to bat an eyelash at the experience, and opens up to us about the reality of reality TV, the drama of drag makeup, coming out on top, and, not to mention, a growing line of cosmetics named after who else: herself!

First off, what inspires Jinkx Monsoon’s look?
Jinkx is big on throwback style–you know, previous fashion trends. The thing about Jinkx is, she’s never quite up to date with what’s current. She’s always doing something that may have been a hot trend last year, but that’s out today. She draws her main inspiration from Absolutely Fabulous star Edie Monsoon which means she’s basically gonna look like an over-sexed middle-aged woman and decidedly kind of unfashionable!

What is it like conveying your drag persona to a judging panel?
It was hard. It’s difficult because the judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race only get to see what I’m putting down the runway. They don’t really get to know me, nor do they understand the Jinkx Monsoon backstory. In that situation, I had to find a balance between things that I thought would really wow them on the runway, while still staying in line with my character.

How does it feel to be judged for your looks on television?
The challenge is to exceed the judges’ expectations in terms of not only styling, but personality. There were definitely times when I felt really good about my outfit, but in the end, it wasn’t a huge hit on the runway. I eventually realized there’s a trick to it. If you are going to do “you”, do you 100%. If you want to be decidedly unfashionable, be decidedly unfashionable in the most grand and glamorous way! Be tacky on an extreme level! I really think that’s what they wanted out of all of us in the end. Even if we weren’t the most fashion forward person on the runway, we needed to commit 100% to what we were doing. My biggest success was when I felt confident enough to just be me down the runway, 100% Jinkx.

What was the hardest part about being on the show?
Surprisingly, I don’t actually work with drag queens very often, so for me the hardest thing wasn’t the runway or the challenges–it was just feeling that I had my own footing in a room full of very talented people with very big personalities who are all viciously running for the same prize that I’m running for. It took the first episode for me to really trust that I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t on the same level. There was even a part of me that was worried it was almost too soon for me to be on the show. Once I put that out of my head and told myself, “You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t supposed to be here,” I was able to stop worrying and start focusing on my own contribution to the competition.

How has your drag look evolved after the show?
Since my time on Drag Race, I feel like I’ve become a lot more grounded and centered with what I want to do with my drag. My makeup has taken on a more fully realized look as well. Now, everytime I do drag I remember what I’ve been through. I remember that I was one of fourteen queens chosen this year, and I remember that whether it bugs you or not, people are gonna be judging the way you look. I definitely put a pinch more effort into my drag now–more so than I ever did before. Drag has become so important to me this year because I’ve realized just how much I can really do with it. The potential to take it to the next level is so high for me right now and I really want to meet that head on.

Originally, Jinkx was always a bangin’ brunette, or a rockin’ redhead. Does she have more fun as a blonde?
Since the taping, I’ve had time to really examine my drag styling and persona. It wasn’t until after the show that I realized if Jinkx had a set haircolor, it would be blonde. Of course Jinkx reserves the right to change her hair color at any time, but I do think blonde Jinkx has more fun. I think of it this way, and I apologize if this sounds totally convoluted and meta, but if Jinkx goes out of the house as a brunette or a redhead, that’s just Jinkx wearing a wig. When Jinkx is blonde, that’s her real hair!

The judges always seem to have something to say about your runway looks. How much work goes into creating each runway persona?
Time management is the trick. We’re so busy working on the weekly challenges, it’s easy to forget we’re being judged on our runway look too–and that can be a tie-breaking decision. It came down to finding time to assess the situation, figure out what’s important, and in the end, make the head match the body. Creating a runway look is really just the same thing that we do every day as fashion-conscious people. Everyday is a battle with our inner stylist. For me, I’m always too much or too little. Sometimes the sweet spot was hard for me to find.

How difficult is it to focus on your glamming yourself up in drag in the middle of a room full of drama?
Oh trust me, there were plenty of things to get distracted by in that workroom. Drag queens will always find things to fight about, especially when the stakes are that high. I learned quickly that if you’re not directly involved in the argument, the best idea is to keep your eyes on your own makeup station. Once I realized there was never gonna be a calm day, I stopped letting the white noise bug me, and just focused on my own work. Alaska’s makeup station was right next to mine, and to be quite honest, it was nice having another comedian next to me just to remind myself that I wasn’t going insane. Through the drama, I made some connections with girls on the show that have since blossomed into real life friendships. I can’t promised I never got phased by the arguments, but luckily, I’m from Seattle so I’m able to let rain fall off my back.

Readers may agree that it’s one of their worst fears to appear on national television mid-makeup. What’s that like?
I think it’s fun for people who don’t know the whole process of drag to see just how many steps go into the makeup. Even if we are going for a natural look, we still have to go through steps to turn a man’s face into a woman’s. Of course, seeing myself on TV period was surreal, because even if I hadn’t been cast on this season, I would still be addictively watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s mind-blowing that my favorite TV show is on, and that I have a starring role in it. Though I must say, one blogger compared how I look mid-makeup to one of the Firegang Dancers from Labyrinth because of my red hair and my contouring. I’m actually pretty okay with that.

You’ve received a fair amount of criticism for your characteristic styling. How do you deal with people’s judgements?
When I was in art school getting my BFA in Theater, we constantly had to present our work to the class who would then critique it. There were definitely times when the comments on my acting work were harsh, and sometimes even rude. Over time, I’ve learned to develop a thick skin because in the end, the critique is about the work and not the person. If someone is making an unwarranted comment about me as a person however, that would hurt my feelings ten times more than, say, Michelle Visage telling me my nose looks prosthetic because of the way I was contouring. I can handle a comment like that because it was about something that I could change with my makeup skills. It was a critique about something she saw onstage. It was a critique on my styling, not a critique about who I am as a person. As long as I would remind myself that I was being judged on my work, the critiques didn’t really phase me. Instead they reminded me of what I needed to work on. Nobody is ever done working on their art form. If you think you have nothing more to learn from your art, then what a sad life for you. I’m not gonna say I never let people’s opinions pierce my shell, but in the end, you have to hold back your feelings in order to let someone help you take your drag to the next level.

Thanks to our latest obsession Atomic Cosmetics, you now have your own makeup palette and lipstick shade. What got you started with the brand?
Dr. Bad Jen is actually my neighbor here in Seattle! What I love about Dr. Jen’s products is that she manages to eliminate the need for toxic ingredients in her products while retaining all the things it needs to be stage and drag-worthy. In the beginning I was actually really resistant to the idea of using makeup that is 100% natural. As a drag queen, I’m used to loading on the glitter and grease paint and screw the consequences. I need to have the extreme pigments, the glamour face. However, once I realized how well Jen’s products worked, I really wanted to get behind them. I’m a hippy northwesterner at heart, so if I can find a natural way to do things, I like to do them. We launched the Jinkx Makeup palette after I returned home from shooting Drag Race. It’s fun to have makeup inspired by your persona. It feels very ritzy! We’re hoping to do a blush soon to go along the lipstick and eyeshadow shades. Jen has even launched a foundation suitable for drag queens. My assistant Kenny also works in the Atomic Cosmetics lab which is great because he’s bringing his knowledge of what a drag queen needs out of makeup to help Jen create non toxic products that perform. I pretty much use a full face of Atomic Cosmetics now, or rather, a full face and a full chest!

Now that filming is over, what did you take away from the show?
I like to refer to my experience on drag race as a sort of cocoon period. Not to say that I wasn’t a caterpillar when I entered. I think that, in a good way, I was hardened by the experience. It made me stronger. I learned so much by being in a room full of other professional drag queens. I think I found the drive to really polish myself and my character. I’ve gone through so many phases with drag. I’ve been through a Victorian wind-up doll drag phase, then I went through my Seattle hipster drag queen period. Today I’ve made it through my cocoon period and I’ve entered into a phase of my life I like to call my National Butterfly Period. I feel much more like a butterfly now than I ever did before.

So, what’s next for Jinkx?
Since the show I’ve been trying to stay active in theater which I always try to keep balanced with my drag career. Recently there was a collision between the two when I starred in a local production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch. My hope is to find more projects like that—whether I’m playing a gender bending role, or simply playing a female character. I don’t think people are often given the chance to play characters of the opposite sex without a tongue-in-cheek aspect about it. My goal as an actor and as a drag artist is to one day be able to play any role regardless of the sex of the character, to destroy the gender cage we live in. In the meantime, I’m working toward becoming the first drag queen to host Saturday Night Live!

Photos by Jose A. Guzman Colon
Styling by Dallas Coulter
Makeup by Jinkx Monsoon