Since RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars was announced, every season had fans asking for Ongina.
As one of the most popular queens from the inaugural season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this pint-size performer has been a consistent fan favorite. While her return to the Drag Race runway was brief, it gave fans the pay homage to one of the queens that started the entire Drag Race phenomenon. I sat down for a chat with this Season One stunner where we dove in on her post-pandemic/All Stars planned and how she has become an unexpected advocate for HIV/AIDS.
Michael Cook: It was so great seeing you back on RuPaul’s Drag Race after over a decade! How was the experience returning to the workroom for All Stars 5?
Ongina: The experience overall was amazing. I am so happy that I got to go back for All Stars and be able to show everyone who I am, what my art is about and what my drag is about. I always find the best in every single situation that I am in and I had so much fun.
MC: You were part of the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1, and you and your cast mates literally paved the way for the hundred plus girls who have come through the Drag Race workroom. Was there a certain amount of respect that you felt from the other ladies towards you?
O: Yes the other girls were definitely amazing as far as their support and their respect. I have gotten nothing but love from the sisterhood; congratulations to me and thanking me for paving the way for having many seasons of Drag Race all these years later. I want to say thank you to all of my companions that were with me during Season 1. I am so happy that people are recognizing Season 1. Like I’ve said earlier, you wouldn’t have Season 5 of All Stars if you didn’t have Season 1 of Drag Race, so everyone’s fucking welcome (laughs)
MC: You’ve now walked into the workroom for the very first season of Drag Race and now for the most recent season of All Stars. What was the biggest difference for you?
O: The most different is the fact that we were no longer filming in Ru’s basement (laughs). It felt like a brand new car, it was really exciting. As you saw for me, it was very nerve-racking due to the pressure I put myself under and the pressure from the fans. Just competing with the likes of these amazing entertainers also. Having watched season after season of Drag Race, you can try to say you know what is going to happen, but ultimately you don’t. That was really the feeling; the unknown was very nerve wracking and at the same time, very exciting.
MC: We’ve seen some sprinklings of some of your Season 1 sisters here and there, but it was a treat to actually see you back in and competing. Who do you still communicate with from your season?
O: Jade I talk to every once in a while, she's just like my little sister. We have great conversations, she reaches out to me for advice, she is doing really well. Akasha once in a while, she and I will talk as well. Nina Flowers I speak to, and Tammie Brown is one of my really good friends. She and I did a show together called Tammie Brown walks Ongina in Nature in reference to Tammie’s iconic “I don’t see you walking children in nature” reunion moment. I think that is something we want to continue doing. Bebe (Zahara Benet) I have spoken to once in a while, Rebecca Glasscock and Porkchop I have not spoken to them as much, and Shannel I will comment once in a while on her social media posts, and whenever I see her I am just so happy. We all get along fine, I think as far as relationships and friendships, not all of us have a strong relationship. We do have a strong bond, being the first girls on the first season of Drag Race.
MC: The season has ended and you are back in the public eye. What do you want to do with the exposure now and where do you see your career trajectory heading?
O: I will continue to advocate for HIV and AIDS that is one of my main focuses. I will continue to advocate for being true to who you are. I think you got to see a lot of who I am on both Season 1 and on All Stars. Secondary to my drag, I am trying to think more in terms of production. I am trying to get my hands dirty in producing shows and making girls more available to the audience. I am hoping that it’s something that I can continue to do. I did one in London that was really fun to do, and I am doing one in Brazil next year which is really stressful ,but really fun to do . I am thinking that maybe I want my hands in that. I came into this from a businesswoman’s standpoint; I was a visual merchandise manager managing multiple stores and multiple people before I became a full on drag queen. I am trying to bring my business smarts into something where it can continue that expertise that I have and also showcase my drag. I really want to start producing shows.
MC: You mention HIV/AIDS and your proclamation of coming out as HIV+ during your season was revolutionary and you were a trailblazer to make that announcement. Looking back, do you look at it as a truly monumental moment for yourself or do you see it through a different lens?
O: Well the thing is, I never thought of it as being monumental. I did it because I won a challenge that was so close to home. It was a great opportunity to be a spokesperson for MAC Viva Glam. Now I have totally come to terms with the fact that people are really inspired by that. I did that truly out of my emotions and being overwhelmed with winning such an amazing prize. After doing it, it lifted a weight off my shoulders so I could be finally free of the status and the internal stigma that I had with the virus, and the fear and the shame that I was living. I am seeing that it resonated so well with people. And now people are sharing their stories with me which really inspires me to really advocate for it. Hopefully in this lifetime we will find a cure; hopefully I will be there to celebrate that.
MC: How have you managed to stay inspired and creatively fueled during this quarantine that we have been under?
O: It has been a little bit challenging, but it has been really fun to do digital shows. I have found myself to be a producer, a lighting expert, an editor, a director, & a music video vixen, I have learned so much and have so much more to learn. The digital platform has been so incredibly amazing and there are so many incredible shows out there that I have become a part of, and I am just so excited to take my artistry to a different level & still be able to perform for people. I did a one woman show via Zoom and it was very well received, and I need to do another one. On the other spectrum, I really focused on another creative outlet, where I am redoing the interior design in my home. Eventually, I would love to be able to do an interior design makeover show for people on a budget inn drag. That was a big plan for me before quarantine and I was going to start a YouTube channel for that, then the virus hit. I am still trying to blend and mesh all of what I know outside of drag, but infuse my drag into its because It’s been really fun being a drag queen! I just have to stay busy, I am a go-go-go kind of person, sitting at home was not an option-so I started doing and creating!
"RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5" airs Friday night on VH1 (check local listings). Read more about RuPaul Season 12 here.