Aquaria should have an Emmy Award.
This past summer, the 22-year-old New York City-based drag queen won the 10th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which recently snagged five Emmys, including Outstanding Reality-Competition Program for the first time (take that, The Voice). So it only makes sense that Aquaria would walk away with a crown and a trophy, right?
“No! Where the fuck is my fucking Emmy?” she jokes, pointing out that the producers and creators of the show are the real honorees. “I know tons of the girls on the cast love to consider it a personal Emmy for themselves. At least in the upcoming year, I don’t necessarily see myself finding another Emmy, so for now I’ll hold on to this one.”
When asked where she’d put the award if she got one, without missing a beat Aquaria responds, “Wherever anyone wanted me to put it.”
This is the type of irreverent humor fans love about the stars of Drag Race, which brings its Werq the World Tour to Cincinnati on Thursday, Oct. 18. Since its debut in 2009, the series has evolved from a subversive reality show to a bonafide juggernaut, catapulting countless queens to mainstream success and influencing a new generation of artists and performers. But even though she’s been watching Drag Race for nearly half her life, Aquaria brought her own unique experiences onto the show, including a background in dance, theater and fashion design.
The mononymous performer, who even has a chic real name (Giovanni Palandrani), is known for her high-fashion conceptual looks, which have landed her in the pages of Vogue Italia, and her social media savviness. But she proved herself to be more than a pretty face as she slayed multiple challenges on Drag Race.
But for Aquaria, Drag Race is greater than the sum of its wigs, catchphrases and musical parodies. Rather, it’s a series that validates LGBTQ art forms and lends drag queens a space in the entertainment world.
Her biggest takeaway from RuPaul? "One hundred thousand dollars," she muses. “He always talks about not listening to the negative thoughts in your head — which he loves to call your ‘inner saboteur’ — and just forcing yourself to try new things and be comfortable in uncomfortable scenarios,” she says. “I think at his core he’s trying to make us become better people and more exciting entertainers and for our viewers to also apply that same type of mentality to their real-life situations.”
Since the show wrapped, it’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Aquaria, between drag conventions and joining the Werq the World Tour. During the Cincinnati stop of Werq, fellow Drag Race alums Asia O’Hara, Eureka O’Hara, Kameron Michaels, Kim Chi, Violet Chachki and host Bob the Drag Queen will join her. Werq the World is an over-the-top eleganza extravaganza — as Ru would say — featuring lip-sync performances, spectacular costumes, comedy, song and dance, with big screens to give it a concert feel.
The rigorous touring itinerary brings Aquaria to a new city nearly every day.
“It’s very cool, but it’s kind of weird and a little disorienting,” she says. “You never know where you are, what time zone it is, if there’s cell service, which can be very stressful. But it gives you an opportunity to bond with lots of different types of performers and fans all across the world.”
Understandably, she doesn’t get much time to unwind and be Giovanni. “Especially with touring now, I’ve definitely found that when I want to have my switch turned off, I want it to be turned off,” she says. “I want to be my out-of-drag persona. I don’t want to think about eyelashes or hair. So I think a mental departure from drag is also kind of nice. It lets me breathe, harvest my thoughts and feelings and focus more on my human self — just long enough to get re-inspired with drag.”
The grueling schedule is worth it, she says, to travel the world, evolve her craft and meet fans: “As drag queens we either really hate ourselves or really love ourselves, so we’re always looking for someone to love us more than we love ourselves; being able to every night meet 100, 150 people that love us is just very surreal.”
Aquaria performs in the Werq the World Tour at the Aronoff Center on Oct. 18. More info/tickets: cincinnatiarts.org.