Phi Phi O’Hara has been a lightning rod for controversy on this season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” both on the show and unfortunately, online. Since she departed the show, rumors have swirled of Twitter feuds with fellow co-stars, internet bullies making unsolicited threats toward her, and even a potential retirement rom drag altogether!
The man behind Phi Phi, Jaremi Carey is a wickedly talented performer, both as Phi Phi O’Hara and as himself. His new album “Fever Heart” drops October 14th, and if the first single “Play” is any indication, we are in for a sultry and sexy collection of tracks. Jaremi took a press break after his elimination from “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2”, but was gracious enough to chat with me exclusively.
We talked about his thoughts on both the show and RuPaul, making music, and his hopes for the LGBT community as a whole. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is without a doubt, part of Jaremi Carey’s story; but it definitely is not the last chapter.
Jaremi, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me, as I know you have done very little press since your departure from “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2”. Let’s get right into it; when you look back on your time on both “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” what has the experience on the whole meant to you?
For me, it has been truly life-changing. It has opened doors and been a completely amazing experience. I am totally grateful for everything that it has done. The same thing with “All Stars” and everything that this season has done, in terms of the exposure I received after four years from my original season (Phi Phi O’Hara was a finalist on Season Four). I encourage everyone to continue to watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and be a part of it. I just hope that in the future, “Drag Race” moves in a more positive way, supporting the girls and in more authentic storylines.
Reality television is notorious for pitting people against each other, and with social media now being so prevalent, “All Stars” received a whole different level of attention. For example, RuPaul unfollowed you on Twitter, and something that was a personal and small interaction between the two of you was noticed and blown up by followers of the show, bloggers, and the internet in general.
(Background: following Phi Phi’s public comments on the show, RuPaul posted a meme of Jessica Rabbit’s famous line “I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way” with her own comment of “Oh, ok”).
Is it mind boggling to you that things can get so blown out of proportion?
I think nowadays, it’s so vain on social media, it’s how many followers you have, who follows you, all those things, I think it’s just the times really. For me, when RuPaul unfollowed me, I have a program that when we get verified on Twitter, it shows me who follows and unfollows me. When it happened, and RuPaul tweeted the meme of Jessica Rabbit, I said to myself “Okay, I see how it is”. I just thought it was kind of childish and immature.
It seems like every season there is someone that is deemed the “villain,” be it Roxxxy Andrews on Season Five or yourself on Season Four. Do you think that reality competition shows have to have that kind of antagonism between the contestants to be successful?
Just from speaking to each other in the reality show world, they all say the same thing that the drama is amped up. I totally understand that, especially for ratings. For “Drag Race” though, the formula is already there; you have a bunch of gay men dressed in drag, the drama is going to happen! (laughs). I just feel that if they just naturally let the cameras roll, it would have showcased that. Especially with the LGBT community, there is so much hate within our own community. That hate is the reason I feel our community cannot get farther and cannot achieve some of the goals we are looking to achieve. I don’t feel like the show is fighting the stereotype, I feel they are just adding to it. I don’t understand why they would do that, and I think for me, it’s just a bit of a letdown. “Drag Race” fans have so much faith in the show and look up to the show as being uplifting and it’s kind of doing the opposite, especially on “All Stars”. It’s not just me that they have been doing it to, I think “All Stars” is opening a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that they don’t need this all the time.
What is your best memory from “All Stars 2”?
The very first episode was my favorite episode. I wasn’t even in the top on that one either. I loved it because it showed all of us how we really are. How we all have fun together as drag queens and read each other. The reads were not from an “I hate you, die” place. They were from a place of “I love you girl,” and it was fun and people loved it. I think the first episode was so good because the formula was completely different; we weren’t trying to fight each other; we were just having fun. That really was how it was on the set also. Watching it this time around, I was like “what the hell”?
One of the biggest things that you can take from “Drag Race” is that on the “Battle of the Seasons” tour, you and your finance Mikhael got engaged on stage.
We did! I never thought in a million years I would be engaged. I still say my boyfriend to everyone, but he definitely corrects me (laughs).
Is Jaremi Carey ready to say he’s married?
I think I feel better saying “husband” because we are somewhere stuck in the middle; “boyfriend” and “husband” are so official.
Onto your music; The video for your lead single “Play” off of “Fever Heart” is incredible. The question is, does your fiancée Mikhael find it as fantastic? The video is uber-sexual!
He does (laughs). I was sending him pictures of the video as we were shooting, so he definitely knew what was going on. I knew that he wouldn’t want to get naked in the video, he wouldn’t want to do that. So now, the model, Stevie-Ray Vance is going to be the boyfriend in all of the videos. That way all of the videos tell a story together.
Your voice has grown and changed since season four, and people got to see a hint of how your voice has changed during the first challenge on “All Stars.” How would you describe not just “Play,” but the whole album “Fever Heart” in general?
It’s a little R&B and soul, which I love. There is a decent amount of real chill type music, which I love. It’s not just all dance music. I wanted it to be more like something that was more me, and what I grew up listening to.
Many of the girls that have competed on “Drag Race” put out singles or full albums, to varying degrees of success. Some have found long-term success, while others have flamed out. Do you think that doing your music as Jaremi and taking your time putting out this music sets you apart from the others?
I definitely hope so, that’s the plan. So far, it’s been doing well. I feel a lot more people are looking at it that way too. I’m not competing with the “Drag Race” girls now, I am just kind of doing my own thing. It’s cool, since I would definitely rather do my own thing.
Can we expect to see “Fever Heart” get a proper club tour so we can see you perform the music live?
Right now we are talking about doing it for the “Battle of the Seasons” tour and how we would work that out. I want to do half the show as Phi Phi and the other half as Jaremi, so I want to play with it and do stuff like that. We are working on a club tour right now also, to see if we can make that half and half kind of thing happen. Some places are definitely doing it; we want to do one big tour instead of a spot here and then a drag show there, we want to do one big tour.
So much has been made of you “quitting drag” and “leaving Phi Phi behind.” Do you think it will be difficult for you to step into the forefront as Jaremi and let Phi Phi take a breather?
The people that hated Phi Phi love Jaremi. Which works for me right now, it’s cool. I think I have shown enough with my work that Jaremi is really important to me, so I don’t think it’s going to be a big surprise. Even right now, people see me and stop me on the street and address me as “Jaremi” as opposed to “Phi Phi” so I think that’s cool.
Now that the music has hit, are you getting lots of love from “Drag Race” fans who are loving your music and not just as Phi Phi?
Totally! Even today at Comic Con in New York City they were saying that, which is crazy; I love it. Everyone is telling me that they can’t wait for the album, and the fact that people are saying that is a dream. All I have ever wanted to do is sing and the fact that people are buying it, and love it and want more, it makes me feel appreciated and valued. I feel like I’m doing the right thing by doing this.
You were a victim on this season of “All Stars” of some pretty vile internet bullying. After the Pulse Orlando tragedy, you would think that the LGBT community would be trying to exhibit some more kindness towards each other within the community. Is it disheartening to you?
You know, it’s sad to me, especially with the show, that this happens. Especially with the show, I mean, we could change that! We’re still playing this team thing; how many wake up calls do we need? It’s a little bit of a letdown. Our community could get so much farther in this world if we would just stop with the stupid snake emojis and hating each other.
You know, what’s actually sad, is that watching the show, if younger kids hated me or talked crap, they were young so I took it as they didn’t get it. I get the hate the most from grown adult men and women, which I really don’t understand. I feel that that generation should be setting the example for the younger kids and they are not.
It’s been a crazy year for Jaremi and for Phi Phi, and 2017 is going to start for you on a very positive note. In terms of pride, what gives you “pride”?
You know, it’s going to sound so cheesy but it’s true - the fans. Knowing that they look to me as their strength and their backbone. When I had a really dark moment and it was not good, I realized my fans are the ones that brought me out of that. I realized that I need them as much as they need me. I could not be where I am without my fans. I have so much pride in them just for wanting to see the best in me and pushing me to succeed.
So have we seen the last of Phi Phi O’Hara?
No, she’s not going anywhere. Jiggly is actually sitting next to me and she said “I’ll be damned if she goes anywhere”! Especially with the 365 I am doing on Facebook
(Phi Phi is posting a picture a day on her social media for the year, hence the 365. The pictures are some of her most elaborate and creative creations).
I’ll be honest though, I can’t wait to sleep after my 365 is done. (laughs). Next year I am still doing drag, Phi Phi isn’t going anywhere. I definitely want to focus on my music as Jaremi right now and hopefully see that take off.