By Christopher Rudolph
Nina West has been auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race for the past decade, and she finally sashayed into the workroom for Season 11. She made it far, but this week RuPaul asked the Columbus queen to pack her bags after a lackluster lip sync. Nina spoke with MTV News about Ru’s reaction to her “No Scrubs” performance, her connection with tweens, and how filming Drag Race is like a Disney movie.
MTV News: I’m going to start off with a hard-hitting question: How was Disney World?!
Nina West: Um, you know I’m obsessed, so it was obviously amazing. It was kind of the perfect time for me to go, because I knew [my elimination episode] was coming and I was like, I need a day of just magic and suspension of disbelief — just allowing myself to have that. It was great. I needed it.
MTV News: What’s your favorite ride at Disney World?
West: Oh my — this is the best interview ever! Are you kidding me? [Laughs]
MTV News: I’m asking the real important questions here.
West: Hello — obviously! This is the dirt you’ve been looking for! [Laughs] I’m a Haunted Mansion fan through and through. I think it’s the best ride in the world.
MTV News: Speaking of rides, let’s talk about Drag Race. How are you feeling today?
West: I’ve been really kind of dreading this. And then something sort of happened over the past week where I’ve been like, you know, I can’t change this. I was with Raja [O’Hara] in Orlando, actually. I was talking with her and I was like, girl, what do I prepare for? And she was like, “You’ll be okay.” And then the episode aired, and this sort of calm came over me. I was lucky enough to be in Columbus when it happened for the viewing party — surrounded by people who’ve supported me for the last 18 years — and it was a really amazing, full-circle moment. I remember for the first episode, I did the viewing party in Columbus, and it was really emotional. I was so proud. I felt like I’d done it. I’ve done it for Columbus, and I’m here.
Being in that same space last night with pretty much the same people, I was just overcome with so much pride. It was just amazing. I, of course, wish I was still in the competition. Getting so close [to the end], that’s also kind of bittersweet. But I think the fan reactions and where I’m sitting today is pretty beautiful. People connect to me, and you know, I wasn’t sure that they would. I’m not your most likely candidate for a tween or 14-year-old connection. You know what I mean? I don’t think I ever really anticipated [having] a connection with the fans. Because I’m older, and I’m a big man. [Laughs] I’m not your Aquaria. I’m not your Miz Cracker, even. I’m not small and thin and turning around fashion-forward looks. And I am thrilled that I connected with people. I’m thrilled that my drag was shown on such a huge, huge stage — the stage for drag.
MTV News: You auditioned nine times, right?
West: Girl! Nine times.
MTV News: Were you just going to keep on auditioning until you made it, or did you ever think of giving up?
West: I think I was going to not audition once I was put into a nursing home. [Laughs] I’d be like, all right, I’ll give up on this dream. No, I’ll be honest with you: It just kind of became part of my routine — my habit, my ritual. I’d be like, okay, I need to write this show or go into rehearsals this spring; I also need to do my Drag Race audition tape. It just became part of my schedule. I think I became kind of resigned to the fact that they didn’t want me. And I think it was Detox who was like, “Girl, you want this. Do this one more time.” And I was like, oh God, I don’t know if I have it in me. But I did it, and I didn’t expect the call. But I got the call. And that was really, really surprising. Like, oh my God! It was proof — like, if you don’t knock on the door, nobody’s gonna answer. I’m just thrilled that I get to live my dream. I mean, how many people say they get to live their dreams? It’s kind of remarkable.
MTV News: What surprised you the most about filming Drag Race? Since you auditioned nine times, you must know the show really well.
West: Oh my God — it’s like, you know everything and you know nothing! [Laughs] I’m like, oh, I know there’s going to be acting challenges; I know there’s going to be this and that. But, girl, it’s so different when you’re in the pressure cooker of Drag Race and expected to perform. Holy hell. I mean, it is absolutely different being there because the stakes are so much higher. The cameras are rolling. It’s hot. You’re tired. You’re hungry. People around you are bitching about hair being stolen. There’s so much going on, and you’re on sensory overload. I’m sure people watching at home are like, “Oh, that’s easy, I could do that.” But — girl. You get there, and holy shit. You’re like, this is not at all what I expected. Because she is a machine, and she moves fast. Once you hit “start” on that workroom entrance, you’re on, and you don’t hit “stop” until you’re gone. I’m someone who’s used to a tough schedule, to working all the time, to doing strange things, and I thought I had all the skills. At the end of it all, I was really honestly surprised that I, too, have some things to learn.
MTV News: I’m assuming we’ll see that rainbow pride runway outfit during Pride this year?
West: You know it! I’m the Grand Marshal of the Columbus Pride Parade this year! It’s a huge honor. People don’t know – Columbus has one of the largest Prides in the country. And the fact that my hometown, my home city, is honoring me in this way is really overwhelming. It’s humbling, it’s the best. Of course you’re going to see that rainbow pride outfit. Hello?!
MTV News: At the end of the lip sync for your life, when Ru was like, “Meh,” what did you think about her reaction?
West: Well, what did you think about that? [Laughs] For me, it was a gut punch. First of all, at that moment, I hadn’t lip synced yet. It was my first lip sync. I know I’m a better performer than what we saw on TV last night, and I know that I got emotionally caught off-guard. I’d just won the last challenge and was like, what’s happening? The kids say shook. I was shook! And hearing Ru — the world’s biggest drag queen, the mother of all drag — say “meh”... It was a gut punch. I didn’t do my best, and then hearing that, I was like, oh my God. You’ve got to be kidding me. You have one of the best lip syncs ever and maybe one of the worst lip syncs ever in the same season.
MTV News: You were saying on Untucked that you were sad this was the end of your Drag Race journey. Would you come back for All Stars?
West: Are you kidding me?! I would never say no. You don’t say no to RuPaul. I wanted this opportunity and this platform, and they gave it to me. I need to be grateful. Hell yes, I would go back. I haven’t watched Untucked because I don’t know if I’m actually ready to watch it yet. I know I was tremendously emotional in the moment. I was sobbing. I was a blubbering mess. You know, it’s crazy because of course, it’s the end of my journey. But it was momentous especially for me. It’s been almost a decade of my life poured into this, and it ended in a way that wasn’t how I saw it. On the other side of things, I’m like, okay, this isn’t so bad! I made it 11 episodes. On Season 11! Girl, it’s like fate. You know? I’m so grateful. Of course I wanted to be there until the end. But I feel grateful. I feel seen. I feel heard.
MTV News: Bringing it back to Disney: If you had to compare your experience on Drag Race to a Disney movie or character, how would you compare it?
West: It’s like part Rapunzel in Tangled — a shut-in, frantic, absorbing this whole new world, not having any exposure to anything and then being like, oh my God, oh my God, sensory overload! — and then maybe a little bit Bing Bong from Inside Out. There’s a kind of playfulness to this, a bittersweetness to this all. I mean, he cries candy tears. I want to cry candy tears! And [like Nina] he’s this colorful, crazy character who’s sort of imaginary and getting to live in this world of beautiful make-believe. It’s kind of bittersweet, and I had to let it go.
RuPaul's Drag Race airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on VH1.