Interview: ‘Drag Race All Stars 5’ queen Mariah Paris Balenciaga on her early exit and why she doesn’t need closure
The run of Mariah Paris Balenciaga on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5 lasted shorter than she, and most fans, had hoped. In an interview with Daniel Trainor and Sam Stone, the season 3 alumna reflects on her All Stars run, including a particular disagreement with Michelle Visage, how the franchise has changed and why she’s not looking for any sort of reconciliation with Shea Couleé.
AwardsWatch: Mariah Paris Balenciaga! Thank you so much for being here. We’re so happy to talk to you, but I must say we didn’t expect to be talking to you this early. How are you feeling about the whole experience?
Mariah Paris Balenciaga: The experience overall I’m very pleased with. I didn’t expect to go home as early as I did. I had so much more to give and so much more fashion, but I guess I’ll have to wait until I drop photos for that. But, I enjoyed my time there. It was short, but it was very impactful and I achieved everything I wanted to in that short period of time.
We’re glad to hear that! It’s interesting, the Maxi Challenge this week seemed to throw everyone off their axis a little bit. On “Untucked,” we heard Mayhem say it was the hardest challenge that she had ever had on the show. Was it difficult for you? As a viewer, it seemed like you all kind of struggled with it. How did the Golden Gals idea come together and what was the creative process like?
MPB: So, Shea came up with the initial “oh you know what? Let’s do something that’s nostalgic” because sometimes the queens are like “ooh if I had the money I would do like a Golden Girls kind of Bed and Breakfast,” and a couple of people that we know have actually done that. [Shea] was like “Let’s take it there. Let’s do the Golden Gals.” It’s immediately identifiable and the ladies of that show had such distinctive personalities. I was like “Shit, let’s do it.” Now the practice of it – Shea’s a great illustrator, so she kind of sketched up the space, and as we were bouncing ideas and dialogue with each other. I was coming up with some jokes, and if somebody said something, I was like “We’re doing that,” and then I kind of gave an outline for a rhythm and flow, and then of course we had to dress our room. It was fun! It really was a good time.
The runway challenge, as well, seemed to be a really high bar to meet. A three-in-one challenge – I mean it’s three looks! One is hard enough. How was that explained to you? Because it seemed like a lot of the queens interpreted the challenge differently, and it also seemed like the judges had a specific expectation for that challenge.
MPB: To me it was pretty self-explanatory. They wanted three distinct looks, and your job was to be able to transition that on one runway. And I think that was the hardest part. How can you make it seamless and effortless, but still have three different looks without looking like a quarterback, you know?
Michelle’s big critique of your look was that taking off a jacket wasn’t a transition into another look. What’s your response to that?
MPB: We’re gonna agree to disagree, because they were distinctively different looks. Completely different attitudes. That look alone is something that, like I said, this is very Suzanne Batsch, and then the second one was more cocktails, 8 o’clock, with the husband’s boss, and the other one was red carpet. So, I was like, I don’t understand how you’re not understanding it.
Something in the way that you describe your look, and then the send off that you gave when you were driving away – you have such a knowledge and appreciation of ballroom history, of queer history. When you look at the show now, how has it evolved in your eyes? It’s been three weeks and three queens from the earlier seasons have gone home. Has it been an adjustment to step into the world of “Drag Race,” which has really evolved so much over the years?
MPB: I think the biggest adjustment, probably, was for Ongina. The production value had changed drastically. Not just from season 1 to now, but from season 1 to season 2. I pretty much am a strategist. I watched all the seasons of All Stars, and I’m very aware of what’s going on. So I tweaked a couple of little things, but it’s not like I’ve been out of the loop, or had to dust the cobwebs off. I made sure that there was eye candy for the audience, you have to have content that is relevant when you do speak, and I think that I had that. Everything else is just where the cards land.
It is such a strategy-centric game, especially All Stars, and especially this new elimination format. Were you surprised with the voting? Have you had any conversations with the queens that voted you off?
MPB: I was surprised that, considering I worked so well with Shea, and Shea and I both know how much work we both put into our challenge, I was particularly surprised that Cracker was safe. But, Shea being in the bottom was also another surprise because she was such a great team captain, and I think we worked well together. So, I was exponentially surprised when she voted for me to go home. That was probably the bigger shock. Not only was it two of our members in the bottom three, but that my team captain voted for me to go home. That was a shocker.
Have you had a chance to talk that out with her at all?
MPB: Well no, I don’t really need closure. I don’t really need an explanation from anybody else. I just – it is what it is. Each queen’s reasoning for voting is their own, so unless she feels the need to explain anything to me, I don’t have a reason for it.
You mentioned that there were some looks, and so many things that you didn’t get to show us on Drag Race – what happens to those looks? Are they Instagram posts? Are we going to see them on the road? Are we going to see them in some shows?
MPB: They’re going to be in shows and in red carpets. I scheduled a shoot with a photographer right before everything got shut down, so that photoshoot got cancelled. So all of my nice things are sitting in storage. If I get a chance, I might take pictures, but if not you’ll just have to come to the shows to see them.
RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars Season 5 airs Fridays on VH1 at 8pm.
Daniel Trainor is writer, podcaster, son and friend from Los Angeles, California. Originally from Michigan, his love for all things pop culture started early, once using pancakes to bribe his way onto the Oscars red carpet bleachers with his mother. In addition to writing for AwardsWatch, he is an huge sports fan and hosts the LGBTQ sports podcast “Same Team.” One day, he hopes Jane Krakowski will win an Emmy.
Sam Stone is a writer and actor based in Brooklyn, New York. He writes humor, culture, and travel among other things, and spends his free time reading about all those things. You can find him on twitter @sam_the_stone or on Instagram @samstone000.