"It's OK to fall down," observed drag queen Latrice Royale in a much-quoted moment from Season 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race. "Get up, look sickening, and make them eat it."
Unlikely words of inspiration, perhaps, but they come from an unlikely source — a plus-size 6-foot-4 diva who has recovered from a few falls of her own. (Notably, her career was derailed by an 18-month prison sentence on drug charges.) After scoring a slot on RuPaul's show, the Florida resident proved her own adage true by becoming one of reality TV's most beloved breakout stars.
Royale's undeniable generosity and warmth made her a standout on a season whose drama level made The Real Housewives of Atlanta look like The Andy Griffith Show. Though she was cut from the final four, viewers fell in love with her impassioned lip-sync performances, infectious roar of a laugh, and repertoire of sacrilegious yet folksy catchphrases, such as "Jesus is a biscuit — let him sop you up."
All this makes Royale the rare reality TV personality whose rise to fame is actually inspiring. In the succeeding months, the new star (real identity: Timothy Wilcots) has only gotten brighter, keeping busy with projects like follow-up show RuPaul's All Stars Drag Race, an iTunes single and constant touring.
On New Year's Eve, Royale brings her act to Play — expect an unforgettable, Aretha-channeling performance, as well as sickening amounts of lamé. In anticipation of her appearance, the Scene spoke with Royale by phone.
How's the tour going?
Oh, my word. Busy, busy busy busy. I'm still loving it, because I'm getting to meet all my fans, and I'm meeting amazing people, and amazing girls from across the country who I wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to meet.
You have talked about being inspired by a recent visit to Cape Town. You said your next project is going to involve helping queens in South Africa. Can you say more about that?
Right now I'm in the "getting the information that I need to get it all going" phase. Basically, what I encountered when I went over there is these girls who are so brilliant and their light is so bright, and they are doing the best that they can with the tools that they have. You know what I mean? But I keep saying, they can't build a house without tools.
So to get them to the next level, they just need access to the tools that we're afforded here in the United States at the push of a button, and we have it. You can have it overnighted the next morning from China, you know what I mean? It's crazy. That's the way we have it here, and it's very expensive over there, and the girls that are entertaining, they are not in the best financial situation to where they can afford that. So we need to help them out a little bit.
When will we hear more about that? Is there going to be an official launch?
Yeah, we're looking at maybe sometime in June, hopefully. We're going to have an official launch. And you know, try to get a lot of sponsors in place, a lot of people to come out and really lend a hand and make it all happen. It's going to take a village, but it can be done.
You have performed in Nashville before. What did you think of it?
Well I was shocked to know that Nashville had it goin' on like that. I didn't know they partied like that. I thought, you know, the "Boot Scootin' Boogie," baby, but no! Y'all showed me a good time, honey, and that's what it's all about.
Do you have any favorite things to do or places to eat in Nashville?
Um ... where do I go? Monell's. You heard off Monell's? ... Well let me tell you, it's a Southern cuisine, cookin' place. You go and it's like a house. You sit down at this table with people you don't know. And they just bring you everything they cooked that day. Oh my God! You need a wheelbarrow to get out, but baby, I tell you, it's so worth it.
What are your favorite Southern foods? Are you a fan of Southern cuisine?
Oh, baby, honey, I get real Southern and ghetto with it. I love my collard greens, cornbread, hog jaw, fried chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, candied yams, cornbread — I'm sorry, I could go on all day. Yes, honey. I love Southern food. And I can cook, too.
Are Southern drag audiences different than ones up north or on the West Coast?
You know what? I do notice there is a different demographic in the way people respond, I guess you could say. And it's kind of funny because, whatever etiquette used to be, like they say New York people don't tip, well, I never had that problem, so — ha! So it's kind of like all the molds have been broken wherever I've gone. "They never do this" — well, they're doing it. I love that people are getting outside themselves and really embracing the art.
Do know any of the Nashville queens? Do you have a favorite?
Ha! No, ma'am, I ain't falling for that one.
Maybe not a favorite, but some that you've seen that you like.
Who's all — that's where the girls are, like Aurora and Deranged, and ... that's where all those girls are, right?Those are the girls, honey. I live [for them], and they are all lovely.
What can fans who come out to the show expect?
Always know that there's going to be something new that they haven't seen. I'm high-energy, so you're going to go on a journey. Whatever that journey is, is whatever I'll be feeling that day, or that evening, or that week. You're going to go on it with me, and be happy that you went. I never disappoint, I try not to disappoint, so you know that it's going to be a good show, no matter what.
What was your experience like on RuPaul's All Stars Drag Race?
Well, it was definitely different. Very different from what I did on Season 4. We were not prepared to be partnered up. Because of the partners aspect, it was very shocking. The fact that they pulled me, literally, off my tour schedule, I had to cancel dates, I had to pull out of gigs to go and do it.
So I came in at a disadvantage, coming off of my season and then actually being on the road the entire time, and I never got a chance to go home. But to have done what I did, and the relationship that came out between Manila [Luzon] and I, is ... so awesome, and we got a good song out of the deal, so it's all good.
So you have an iTunes single with Manila, "The Chop." How did that come about?
Well, we got the chop, girl! [Laughs.] Yeah, Manila called me up, and she's like, girl, we should do a song. And it should be about, it should release right when we get eliminated. And I was like, that's a brilliant idea, and we were brainstorming what the song would be about, and came up with the title, and she wrote it. And we recorded separately, but we came together for the video, obviously — for the All Stars [premiere], and that's when we filmed the video. It was a wham-bam-boozle —real quick.
But that's what happened. I learned so much, and I'm so thankful for her, because she knows a lot of things about how to market, and brand, and that's what it's all about. We both are really maximizing our strengths right now. We were the team to beat, and we're still kind of a team right now. We still have this little bond that's not going to go away. We're going to do more projects together.
RuPaul's Drag Race Season 5 is coming up. What do you think of the contestants?
It'll be interesting, They're all very pretty. They got goddesses for their theme, and that's accurate. They're all goddesses, and it's going to be a battle of the goddesses to see who's going to be the strongest bitch. Cause they're all pretty. But what can you do besides that? We see pretty. We get it. So now what? You know what I mean?
But we have to wait to see what happens, because I don't know. You'll never have another Season 4. I'm not saying like that, but Season 4 was very diverse — we had a lot of heart, a lot of story. So I just don't know how that's going to work for Season 5.
How has your style changed since the show?
Now that I can afford clothes and fabrics and materials that I need to have fabulous garments, I'm doing things at a level that I would like to have always achieved. As I was coming up in my career, I always wanted to do it this way. I'm actually living out my dream. So it's great, kind of a fairy tale for me. I get to play dress-up, and I love playing dress-up.
You've said that the first time you did drag, it was a hot mess. What has been your worst drag fashion disaster?
Recently, like three years ago, I was running for a pageant, and I had this dress designed. And it was so beautiful on paper. Oh, it was gorgeous on paper. The designer, he didn't get my dress to me until the night I was due for the pageant. And it was a disaster. It was a goof. Oh, it was so horrible.
And I had no other dress, so I had to go out there and wear that dress. It was so embarrassing. Cause I knew better. I had no choice. It was either that or — oh, it was so bad. So I wish I could change that. I'm not mentioning no names, but he know who he is, and he did me so wrong.
Do you have any style tips for the big and tall women out there?
The biggest thing for the big and tall women, what we fail to do is get our body right, like our foundation. Support it. So like, if you need a girdle, put on a girdle. Strap that shit back, push that shit up where it's supposed to be. And then, when you get that silhouette right, when you put on the clothes, you gonna be like, "Damn, bitch, you lookin' good." It's gonna be sexy, and it's gonna be right, it's gonna be attractive. That's what it's all about. You can be big and sexy, or you can be big and sloppy. And there's no choice for me. I'm always going to be big sexy.
What music are you listening to right now?
I'm an old-school girl, so I don't do, like, Top 40. But everything that I do does have a message, and so that's what my whole gimmick is, like every song has a message. You should listen to the words of the song. Whether it's sexual with me being a slut, or if, you know, [it talks] about positivity and movin' on up to the good life.
Most of my music inspiration comes from gospel music. That's what I listen to the most. Donald Lawrence is my favorite gospel artist, so I listen to a lot of that. Because during my darkest days, those were the songs that motivated me, and spoke to me, and I was really able to — I could listen to it 30 times in a row, and it was just like drilling the message into my head. And so that's what kinda got me to the point I'm at right now.
And so I want to meet him, because now I kind of understand how people can have an effect over your life that you don't even know. 'Cause I get that so much — people are like, you've changed my life, you inspired me to do this, and I'm like, I don't get it, I really don't. But this is one of those instances where he has really affected my life. ... I really want to get a chance to tell him that.
If Jesus is a biscuit, what kind of biscuit is he?
[Laughs.] He is a, you know, the big, country, fluffy, flaky buttermilk biscuits, with the layers, that you can peel it, and sop up with it. You peel it, and — you see what I'm saying? That's the kind. The Hungry Jack kind. He's a Hungry Jack.
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