In terms of winning dolls from "RuPaul's Drag Race," Jaida Essence Hall truly stands in a class of her own.
Being the only winner to be crowned in the midst of a global pandemic, this dynamic midwestern stunner has returned for RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 7 and is more than ready to show her fellow winning queens what she can do. I sat down to chat with Jaida about her return to the competition (alongside all fellow winners on All Stars 7), she looks back on that now-remarkable Season 11, and why "Jaida 2.0" might be her best iteration yet.
Michael Cook: After winning Season 11 of RuPaul's Drag Race (during the height of a global pandemic) and now seeing you return for RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 7 certainly brings your journey full circle. From appearing on the Las Vegas stage and getting to tour the world, you certainly have had a journey like almost no other winner, do you think that is fair to say?
Jaida Essence Hall: My journey has been like a journey of wishing you could be part of the Drag Race family, making it into the family, and then almost having the whole thing grabbed right from underneath you. One of the things that helped me get through that time though, was that understanding that everybody was going through the same thing at the same time. Obviously looking back at the show from the first episode, understanding and knowing that, it obviously affected me more during the pandemic than I even knew that it had.
MC: What did it feel like to be so well received, not just by the fans but by your Drag Race sisters? You obviously were emotional being so well received, by being so warmly welcomed by them.
JEH: I think it is one of those things were growing up, I really didn't have the most amazing experience making friends. Even when you first go into any new competition, or a new job where you are in the break room and you don't know what these people are gonna give, it's like that. Knowing that everyone has won and is so talented, you obviously have nerves and those are nerves that all of us have felt during the competition. But being there and having everyone in the room talk to me about how they were feeling about their experiences as a winner, and the great things that they have achieved. We also talked about some of the moments that we talked about where it may not have been the most amazing things from the show. We got to discuss being at home and not having the opportunity to tour and work and talk to the other winners and contestants and see where their head is and where they feel.
Sometimes you feel alone and like you could have done more as a winner, or this opportunity was weird. Just talking to them and having them open up, cleared up a lot for me in my head and I don't feel like I'm by myself in this. It's that we've experienced the last year or so was not something in my head, you know?
MC: For you, you got to have a glorious press experience with your All Stars sisters doing press, getting to go on The View and hitting the Empire State Building. You didn't get to have those experiences during your season due to the pandemic; is it hard to not feel cheated out of that?
JEH: I think that being there or winning during the pandemic, I didn't feel cheated out of an opportunity. I had this weird mindset that I won during the same time as these tragic circumstances. It is like, unfortunately this has happened. As long as I continue to work really hard and take the opportunity of what the show is, which anyone should do, take the opportunity of what the show presents for you and you work hard off of that, then hopefully later on those opportunities will come to you. I just had to keep in my mind that everything happens for a reason.
One of the main things for me was remembering and knowing that this is very hard on you right now. and right now you are having these odd circumstances of something that is amazing that you wished for in your life that may not be happening in the best way that it could be happening. But I had to remember that there are also people who are graduating from school right now who may not graduate or people who were getting promotions who aren't able to work, or small Mom & Pop businesses that have lost their way. So although it happened to me, everyone else in the world was feeling a lot of hurts. We all had to just hold on together and ride it out the best way that we could.
MC: To walk back in the workroom and look around at all of these winners that came before you must have been absolutely surreal. Is there one former winner that walked in that you absolutely were thrilled to see and had wanted to work with for quite some time already?
JEH: I would definitely have to say The Vivienne. I have called myself The Essence Of Beauty after getting that coined to me one time, hearing it from one person once. The Vivienne is such a professional, so talented, so funny, and she has great style. At the same time, she is The Essence of Beauty because she is drop-dead gorgeous. It was like, I want to see how smooth that canvas is in person, and damn, it is that great (laughs)! Even getting to know her, with her being so far away from America, the amount that we had in common with the distance, kind of shook me a little bit. I had no idea we would have so many things in common, get so close, and connect so much.
MC: After winning your season, was there any concern that you would taint your experience on Drag Race when you returned to All Stars? What did you want to prove?
JEH: Coming back this time, I felt like more than anyone else in the world, I wanted to prove to myself that could go and do the competition, have a great time, and not be hung up in my head and not get to this place of being a perfectionist. My whole life, all through school, I strived to be the "A" student. Oftentimes, it led me to miss out on other things in my life. When I started out in drag, I was so focused and the end goal had to be “this."
This time, I wanted to go back to Drag Race and as a service to myself, have the best time, enjoy the experience the best way that I can, and also know that the talent is already inside me; I don't have to worry about dragging it along. I can just open up while I am there and not stress out as much as I had in the past. I think I did that this time. Even coming back, I feel much more confident in who I am as a person, and if I make mistake now, it's like, "Girls you fumble, you move on, it's not that serious." Doing this last season of All Stars, I learned so much more about myself and became so much more confident about myself. I can't wait for the world to see what Jaida 2.0 it's going to be doing.
MC: What does Summer 2022 have in store for you?
JEH: Summer is going to be crazy! I am so excited to have some Pride gigs, I am going to Paris for Paris Pride. I also get to go home to Milwaukee and do Pride at home with all the people that I love the most, miss so much and haven't seen in a while. I also get to tour the North American leg of the Werq The World Tour, right now we are in Europe, but I get to go to Canada and all over America. I am also super excited to continue working on my podcast with Heidi N Closet, Hall & Closet. It is one of my favorite things that I have ever done. I am loving being able to pour myself into the podcast for more people to listen to it and get a better feel of Heidi and myself. I am just excited about what everything this year is going to bring for me.
MC: Speaking of Paris, I remember Nicky Doll telling me that the biggest difference between Parisian drag shows and American drag shows is that Parisian drag fans tip with coins and not dollars.
JEH: True! Heidi and I talked about this on the podcast, and the question she asked me was would you be upset if people threw coins at you at the show. I said that before Drag Race people would throw coins at me, and I will continue to collect them (laughs)!
MC: It is Pride Month; what is making Jaida Essence Hall the proudest right now?
JEH: Right now, I am the proudest of the fact that I have set out on dreams in my life and I have chased them down. I am at a place where I am happy with myself and my successes. I am happy that I get to be who I am authentically every single day. By doing that, I hope that I can make a difference in people's lives. By doing that, I hope I can spread the love and then they can make a difference to somebody else!
Follow Jaida Essence Hall on Instagram @jaidaehall.
Read about the other contestants on the homepage.