It can be difficult for a series to maintain its momentum as there become more and more seasons of it. RuPaul’s Drag Race is not a show that finds this difficult as it gains more popularity by the year. Drag Race has expanded into its own mini universe, the Drag Race Cinematic Universe, if you will. Not only does the series have an All-Stars version, but there are several iterations of the series in different countries, including Holland, Thailand, Italy, and the upcoming French version. The flagship series has now crowned 14 queens across 14 seasons of the show.
The most recent winner is Willow Pill. After a long season of Drag Race, Willow Pill emerged victorious and claimed the title of Next Drag Superstar. The beginning may have put Willow in an underdog position (who could forget the flip-flops?), but she worked her way up in the competition. In the finale of the show, Willow (and the other top queens) performed an original song, Willow’s being “I Hate People,” which was co-written by Leland McLaughlin and Gabe Lopez, will be submitted for Emmy consideration, which marks the first time one of the queens in competition for their season will be submitted to the Emmys.
I spoke to Willow recently where we discussed her feeling like she was being underestimated for the first few episodes, her love of heteronormative women and their influence on her drag, and her inspiration for her finale performance (both the outfit and the song!).
Tyler Doster: So I wanted to start by taking the time a little back, and I wanted to know where you were and what your experience was like when you first got the call that you made Drag Race?
Willow Pill: Where was I? I was in my bedroom. Of course, the Drag Race calls, you get a teaser for a few months and you do go through a few rounds. But the call I got, I was eating my leftover brunch because I was hungover on the floor of my bedroom, and I got a call and it was a New York number and I was like, “That’s weird.” I thought… I almost didn’t answer because I thought it was spam. And I answered and they were like, “Hey, is this Willow?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, maybe this is it.” And he was like, “We just want to congratulate you and invite you to be on Season 14.” And I just, I think all I said was, “Oh my God,” 45 times in a row.
TD: Had you ever auditioned before this season?
WP: Yes, this was my third time auditioning.
TD: You’ve said before that you’ve always been inspired by heteronormative and suburban characters, and I want to know how you inject heteronormativity into drag?
WP: Oh, I mean, I grew up in a very Christian community. I went to a Christian school, an evangelical church where my dad was the pastor. And this church, particularly, attracted a lot of middle class to wealthy Christian families. And the reason I do drag is not really because of gay people. It’s because of straight women that I’ve studied for years that have always just been so amusing and hilarious to me. I think drag is always about making a statement or making a comment about society and about how the world works. A lot of people in society who are, particularly in control, are people that are heterosexual and who are middle class or wealthy, and I think they’re just fun to make fun of.
TD: Well, I can’t disagree with you there. It is fun to make fun of straight people. Tell me about your collaboration for your finale, three-headed look with Utica. How did that come about?
WP: I knew I wanted to do a three-headed look for the finale. Then I really wanted to do a three-headed Hydra monster. And Utica just felt like the right person. She’s so crafty, she’s so very skilled with her garments. And she knew just the right person to help. And I knew someone who could do the makeup for it. So it all just fell together and became a big, big project that we were working on for like four weeks. And I really loved the idea of bringing Utica in too, because I thought it’d be beautiful to have a gown that was made by another Drag Race queen. And yeah, it’s just, it’s a real special look that I love.
TD: Yeah. It’s definitely gotten to the point where I feel like most people are searching for a reveal in those finale lip syncs. And I feel like it’s probably hard to one-up everything that’s been done before.
WP: It is. I really, I got whoever’s on this next season. If they can outdo all the seasons past, I got to give it to them. It is becoming harder and harder every year.
TD: It really is. You guys were so impressive by bringing something new to the table, even though this is the fourteenth season now. Did you have any other Snatch Game characters ready or were you always going to do Drew Barrymore?
WP: You know, I really wanted Drew Barrymore. I was going to be kind of upset if I couldn’t do her. I had some backups. I brought Marianne Williamson and I had brought, who else did I bring? Judy Garland. And I don’t think either of them would’ve been much better, to be honest (laughs)..
TD: I’ve seen the two said that the Snatch Game might not have been as bad as the edit portrayed. Was there anything about the Snatch Game that you felt like you wish would’ve made the cut?
WP: You know, obviously it’s based on your own experience. I thought that Angie and Camden were funnier than they seemed. I was just nervous in the moment and laughing at whatever, or if I’m just friends with Angie so that makes everything she says seem funnier. But yeah, I thought Camden and Angie were actually pretty good. And I think they should have gotten a little bit more praise from the judges.
TD: Was there anything from the rest of the season, in all the episodes, that didn’t make the final cut that you wished would have?
WP: I’m trying to think. Not really. They did a pretty good job of showing a pretty good snippet of what happened. I mean, an episode is in reality, like two or three days, but they’ve only got an hour and a half they can show. And a lot of what they cut is just like us talking about how we have to go to the bathroom and stuff.
TD: I’ve read that you originally asked production for a rotisserie chicken for the first time for your talent, and were rejected and you had to use spaghetti. Would your performance have been the same with the rotisserie chicken?
WP: I don’t know. The reason I wanted the rotisserie chicken is because the rotisserie chicken is more carnal and gross because of the bones and the meat. But I think in the end, the spaghetti was actually a better touch because it made it more romantic and messy. So I think that was actually probably a pretty good call on the production side to do the spaghetti meatballs rather than a nasty rotisserie chicken from the store down the street (laughs).
TD: I personally feel your finale performance of “I Hate People” was instantly iconic and will be remembered for quite some time. When you were first told that you had to create a song for the finale, was that your first go to? How did that process work for you?
WP: No, so the song was written with Leland, who does a lot of the work for Drag Race‘s writing team for music. He does love the musicals and stuff like that. And he’s amazing. And we wanted to do something that was just totally left field of what people would expect. So rather than a song about myself and what I’d done on the show, we just wanted to add another different and iconic moment because what I’m known for on the show is being surprising. So what’s more surprising than just doing a song that makes absolutely no sense?. It’s like in Eurovision when those songs make it to the end, that just are kind of irreverent and wild. We just wanted to do something like that. And “I Hate People” felt fitting because after two years of a pandemic and lots of disasters and government fuck-ups, I think what’s on a lot of people’s mind is just how frustrating it is to be alive and to be human. So we thought that would be a fun, irreverent song that is both serious and silly.
TD: How long did you have to work on that song? What was the timeline like for that?
WP: We had a couple weeks, so we just went back and forth with a few edits. And, yeah. And I wanted to have like a Deee-Lite sound to it. And so that’s why it has that nineties Deee-Lite, Lady Miss Kier musical quality to it.
TD: How much do psychedelics influence your drag?
WP: A lot. A lot, a lot. I started taking psychedelics,I would say three-ish years ago and it kinda changed my world. I mean it helped me get through a lot of trauma that I’ve been through in my life and it helped me feel happiness for the first time pretty much ever. So it changed my outlook on life and drag is just one big outtake on life. So it’s influenced it in this pretty cosmic way. In my looks and my performance and just how I view everything in the world.
TD: Was there, were you trying to achieve any sort of theme across all your runways on this show or were they just singularly each their own thing?
WP: You know, they were, of course I wanted there to be a variety. I thought about, you know, I don’t want to be one of those girls that gets read for wearing the same thing every week. But beyond that, every piece was kind of a singular art piece and that’s how I like to do it with my drag. I think my brand is just to always have some fun and some surprise in what goes on. And so we just wanted every look to feel fresh and not like I was doing the same thing over and over. And I think the through-line is just that it’s something you don’t expect usually, and that it’s always something fun and off kilter and something that kind of rests in the caves of your brain.
TD: While I’m talking about the runways, I have to ask you: what was your reaction in that first episode when Ru commented on your flip-flops?
WP: Well, what’s funny is Ru didn’t say much about my flip flops in the first episode. It wasn’t until later that she had really commented a whole lot about them. But I think it was funny. I think she was even expecting me to not be that great. She told me later in the season, she was like, “You came out in that ridiculous outfit. I didn’t really know what to think and now I get it.” And so I liked that. It took her a little bit of time through the season to understand the very first thing that I did in the season. And I think that was the case with a lot of people.
TD: Do you feel like, maybe because of that, you started out like an underdog or you were being underestimated?
WP: I was certainly being underestimated. I don’t think I was being underestimated by the judges. I think after the talent show they got me pretty well, but the other girls definitely took some time to really get my drag. And by the fourth or fifth episode, I think most of the girls understood what was going on and what my goal with drag is.
TD: What do you hope to achieve in your reign as next drag superstar of Season 14?
WP: You know, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about that, but I really want to take my drag to a gross, fun, and even kind of mean level. I want to get kind of nasty and kind of angry and feel a lot of the guttural feelings that queer and trans people have had to deal with for a long time. A lot to do with death and decay, and a lot to do with anger, and find a way to filter all of that into something beautiful and joyous and true.
TD: Well, we’re always looking for more queer and trans joy. For my last question, I just want to know what is one thing that the world might not know about Willow Pill that you want them to know?
WP: I don’t know if I want them to know anything (laughs). I think it’s… they know so much about me already and… You know what, I think they know enough and I need to keep some things secret to myself.
TD: Maybe it’s not their business.
WP: Yeah. I think maybe, yeah. It’s none of their business, like I said in the finale (laughs). No, but I mean, in all honesty, yeah. I think I’ve really shown so much of myself to the world. And I think right now some practice in self-preservation and some privacy is what is going to make me feel really wonderful and happy. And then getting to come out and do drag on my terms and fill the people with joy and laughter and community.
TD: That’s wonderful. You deserve all this privacy now. I wouldn’t know what to do with all this attention.
WP: Yes, absolutely. But I also love the attention. So keep the attention coming (laughs)…
TD: Well, I’m sure that you’ll be getting attention for a long time. You had an excellent run on Drag Race and I’m sure we’ve got much more to see from you.
WP: Oh, thank you so much.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for the song “I Hate People.”