‘Drag Race’ queen Denali on why she held back in her final lip sync and what people get wrong about figure skating
Denali glided into Season 13 of Drag Race with all the fire and furor of a triple axel, but ultimately wasn’t able to stick the landing.
The figure skating queen was forced to lip sync for her life almost immediately, impressing fans and judges alike with her performance that sent Kahmora Hall packing, and eventually rose in the ranks to become a favorite in the eyes of the judges.
However, it was Makeover Week that did her in. Paired with Olivia Lux, the duo failed to successfully evoke one another, forcing the team to battle it out. In conversation with Daniel Trainor and Sam Stone, Denali talks about why she held back in that final lip sync, the frustration of being judged for Olivia’s mistakes and what people don’t understand about figure skating.
Daniel Trainor: Hi Denali!
Trainor: Thanks for taking some time with us. Let’s talk about the Makeover Challenge. What was the most difficult part of helping Olivia transform into Denali?
Denali: Olivia is beautiful. There was nothing that was difficult in terms of the canvas I was working with. The time factor was definitely hard. It was really difficult to do in a rush. It was a tough challenge. The thing about Olivia and myself together is that we had the least amount of drag experience. I think that was also something that hindered us. Between the two of us, we only have three-and-a-half years of drag experience.
Sam Stone: Wow!
Denali: They say that the Makeover Challenge is what separates the women from the girls. We were very much two young girls doing a major challenge together. It was really tough. I think we did really well considering those factors.
Stone: World-renowned medium Char Margolis paired you and Olivia together. When world-renowned medium Char Margolis did that, were you thinking that you would have rather have been set up with somebody else?
Denali: I really loved the experience of getting close to Olivia, so I wouldn’t say that I regret anything. Sometimes on “Drag Race,” you’ll get a Mini Challenge beforehand that determines your team. Considering we were paired together by energy, we went with it. At the end of the day, I’m really happy I was able to have the experience of becoming really, really close with Olivia. I’ve had my moments with Rosé, I was getting close with Gottmik. But I had never had the chance with Olivia. It has made us really close sisters. Now, if I would have had a celebrity makeup artist as my partner instead of Olivia…
Trainor: Uh oh!
Denali: But I’m very proud of what Olivia and I did.
Trainor: There were two levels of judging going on, right?
Trainor: It was both the way you interpreted Olivia, and the way you transformed Olivia into yourself. Do you think you landed in the bottom because of your decision-making or Olivia’s, and was it frustrating maybe being there based on the decisions of somebody else?
Denali: (sighs) Whew! Yes. Drag Race can do whatever it wants. I am very proud of what I did. I am fully, fully aware that it could have been executed so much better. I am fully aware that I could have adapted to the challenge so much better. At the end of the day, I take responsibility for not adapting better. Did I receive any negative critiques on the runway? I don’t recall, I don’t remember. But I do remember Olivia’s being a little bit more intense. I’ll admit, it was a very, very difficult pill to swallow. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Stone: You guys were knocked by the judges for not giving you more trademark Olivia Lux hair. Was there any discussion about putting you in a different wig?
Denali: There wasn’t. She brought the idea to me. She said “I’m a pageant winner, I’m this divalicious diva.” She wanted to do something really elegant and elevated. I was totally on board, because I get a lot of that from Olivia’s drag. Like that yellow runway dress she wore was stunning. I loved it. I will say, I understand where the critiques were coming from. She had shown this youthful image, this big-haired disco diva image. We went with one of the images that they hadn’t seen very much. But Olivia has so much to her drag. She does very diverse drag. When you’re a younger queen, like the both of us, we’re still in the process of establishing our brands. I don’t really feel like putting me in bigger hair would have made too much of a difference.
Trainor: Was there any consideration given to the fact that, if you had to lip sync in that evening gown, it was probably going to be very difficult?
Denali: Definitely. I considered that factor. When I found out I was lip syncing for my life against Olivia Lux to this gospel song in a gown, I knew the song was about trying to overcome the pressures of life and praising God, even through the difficulties of life. Is that the song that you want to strip down to? To flip and kick and split and do everything that you’ve already shown the judges? Or do you want to give them something a little different? Can we serve power, can we serve emotion, can we give them your heart on a plate? I was like “are you going to be Kenya or are you going to be Latrice?” That was running through my mind. Even if you go home tonight, do you want to be that girl flopping and flailing and dancing and bucking and kicking all over the stage to a song that’s talking about taking shackles off of your feet? It was really, really hard to know which direction I should go in. I will put this out here in writing. The dress had the ability to be taken down. I had the ability to take the skirt off.
Trainor: Oh wow, okay.
Denali: But doing that didn’t even come to my mind because of the song choice. I thought it would be inappropriate, I thought it would be awkward, I thought it would be weird. So I decided to hike up my skirt like I was at church, praise God, do a little dance. Shake and shine. I’m sure Olivia was able to move a little bit more. The song probably suited her a little bit better. Sometimes song choice can be a big factor in all of it. I’m telling you, if Kahmora Hall had done “Shackles” against me, she probably would have beat me, too. It’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.
Trainor: That’s interesting. To close things out, I want to ask about figure skating. You have been instrumental in bringing it back to the mainstream. People haven’t been talking about figure skating this much since Nancy and Tonya. What is the biggest misconception people have about the world of figure skating?
Denali: The biggest misconception is that it’s not a real sport, that it’s just art. That it’s about playing around on the ice and looking pretty. Figure skating is one of the most physically taxing things you can do. If you fall on the ice doing a triple jump, you fall with seven-times the inertia of the body. You’re supposed to land those jumps on one ankle that is secured in a boot on top of a metal blade on solid ice. It’s debilitating for your body. It’s a really, really difficult sport. I think that sense of physical toughness really translated to my drag.
Stone: We were so happy to watch you this season, Denali. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
Denali: Thank you guys so much.