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During 13 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the most nominated show at this year’s Critics Choice Real TV Awards, no participant managed to combine social commentary with sartorial flair like Symone. The 26-year-old drag queen (given name Reggie Gavin) won in April on the back of his impeccable comedic timing and deftly crafted looks that incorporated materials like durags and store-bought braids. While on the road for a string of Pride Month dates, Symone chatted with THR about crafting the distinctive looks and the enduring appeal of VH1’s 19-time Emmy-winning competition.
You delivered such a consistent statement in your looks over the course of the season, celebrating Black culture in both the execution and with your materials. Has that always been a part of your drag?
It always has — but, going into the show, I definitely wanted to home in on it. It’s important, if you’re an artist, to have a point of view and to say something. I really thought about everything when it came to the runway, and I really approached it with three things in mind. I wanted to look like myself, never anybody else; I never wanted it to look like a costume; and I wanted to say something. Fashion is just another way you can explain yourself and tell a story.
It’s also a way to connect with your audience.
I’m not the biggest talker. Drag has always been a way for me to express myself. I really wanted people to connect with me through my drag because I’m not just wearing these clothes for the sake of looking pretty on the runway — which I can do, but, you know, that’s easy.
Making people think isn’t easy.
No, it’s not. It’s hard, but it’s also fun. I went through every little detail of those looks with a fine-tooth comb because it’s so important for me to have those nuances.
What’s been the most surprising opportunity since you won? I was personally surprised to hear you on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.
The NPR gig, that was one I did not see coming. I’ll be completely honest, I had to do my research on that one. And it’s a pretty big deal! You don’t really think of the divas getting an opportunity like that, but what’s great is that I don’t know how much of that audience is watching Drag Race. So maybe they got an introduction. People on Twitter were like, “You just explained drag to my dad!”
Did being on the show change your opinion of it?
This show has literally changed the world. We wouldn’t have a lot of the things we have, as gay people, without this show. It’s shifted the conversation and the movement and a lot of people’s views on gay culture. That part is kind of mind-blowing. I’m still processing the significance.
You got an enthusiastic DM from Rihanna. Any other outreach?
Ariana Grande reached out to me, so did Hayley Williams. Janet Jackson didn’t personally reach out, but I know that she watched my lip sync to “The Pleasure Principle.” It’s all amazing, but I was truly gagged by that Rihanna DM.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the June 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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