This Puerto Rican pageant slayer is best known the word over as the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 8 literal comeback queen. She also happens to be one of Chicago’s fiercest performers, and is currently keeping the digital kiki alive on behalf of her hometown bar. Let’s say “Yay” for Naysha Lopez! [Cover photo: Guys & Queens]
Thotyssey: Hello, Naysha! Thanks for talking to us today! So, how is your quarantine treating you?
Naysha Lopez: Not too bad. Keeping myself busy and hanging on to my sanity! I have family who live upstairs, so I can go up there and visit… it’s not that bad.
That’s good! How is your hometown Chicago holding up during this crisis? Are people wearing their masks and social distancing like they’re supposed to?
It seems like they’ve all come around to it, but it took a minute. We have a beautiful lake view area that’s very recreational, and as soon as we had a nice day it was packed. Our mayor had to come out with the whip to make sure we stayed home and pushed an even heavier restriction. But now everyone is following it, for the most part.
Here in NYC, the queens and nightlifers have been dragging this group who had a live, in-person home circuit party and then posted and tagged videos from it. It seems that we’re all cancelling them now here in New York, but is that fair and right?
I’m not a huge fan of cancel culture; I think it’s one of the most toxic places to come from. People make mistakes, learn, and grow from them, hopefully. With this particular situation? Yes, it was very irresponsible of them. I mean, the worst part was the actual video, flaunting it in people’s faces… that just came off as really bad. I hope they’re sorry about doing it. But I’m not really for all that canceling culture shit. Just let them apologize and move on, and hope they didn’t cause anyone harm.
Cancel culture and that heavily toxic social media criticism are also pretty evident within the RuPaul’s Drag Race fanbase; it seems to just get worse and worse every year. Have you observed that since your time on the show’s eighth season, which wasn’t even that long ago?
It’s just bad, period. It’s always been there. I don’t know if it’s necessarily gotten worse, but I guess as the fanbase gets bigger, so does the [level of negativity]. It’s probably the worst part of Drag Race.
Like yourself, there have been many great Chicago queens who have graced the Drag Race stage over the seasons. And of course, the city has so many amazing local queens working the venues when they’re open. How would you describe what makes your city’s drag so great?
I think the thing about the Chicago drag scene is that it’s so diverse. You can see some queens and say “oh, that’s L.A. drag,” or “that’s such a New York girl.” But with a Chicago girl you’re like, “Oh God, where are you from?” We’re all over the map, and the diversity is really something to appreciate. I’m proud to be from Chicago, and I’m proud of the drag here.
In an Untucked segment you told a story how when you were younger, you wrote a letter to 90’s “Supermodel” era RuPaul asking if she could someday host a drag competition show. Which begs the question… are you responsible for the existence of Drag Race!?
Ha! When I was younger doing drag, I didn’t see people like myself on TV. I didn’t see a place for my artistry. So I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some show like America’s Next Top Model, but for drag queens? I had one of those—I don’t know if you remember, those teeny-bopper books? Like, for Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and it had their PO Box addresses [for fan mail]? Well, one had a PO address for RuPaul, so I sent a letter there, talking about [my idea].
I will look for your name in the producer credits next episode! You were one of the elite handful of RuGirls to return to the same season they were eliminated from (in your case, after a double elimination following your first cut), and then you got to stick around a bit. It must be such a great moment of your life when you got the call to come back… especially after how upset you were to have been eliminated.
Yeah definitely, it was a great feeling. Having to leave after such a short period of time when I was all prepared to stay much longer felt pretty hurtful, and coming back made that all better. I was very grateful.
Did the experience of being on Drag Race change your drag aesthetic or performing style in any drastic way?
No. When I got on Drag Race, I was one of the very few people who was aware of who I was and what my aesthetic is. So many people do go into Drag Race that are unsure of who they really are, but I’d been doing it for a long time. So I didn’t really change, but I did grow and get better at my craft.
Oh absolutely! I met her here in Chicago when she was visiting, and again when she competed for her preliminary over in France where I was a judge! I actually did her makeup the year she won [the Miss Continental crown].
Oh wow! Do you know what the pageant producers are going to do about Miss Continental this year, with the coronavirus disruption?
We have four divisions: Miss Continental Plus and Miss Continental Elite should have happened Easter weekend, but will now happen on Labor Day Weekend if the city allows it (if we meet all the regulations criteria), and Miss Continental and Mr. Continental have been pushed to next year.
Have you been watching the current season of Drag Race?
So, thanks to all these new streaming services, I have turned into a binge watcher. I just finished watching How To Get Away With Murder. I have not watched any of this season yet, but I’m going to start watching it all tonight to prepare for the finale.
That’s probably a great way to watch it, actually.
Yeah. Everyone thinks that [filming] the competition lasts two months, but it’s actually must shorter. Every two days is one episode. So, it’s kind of fun to watch it that way.
Yes, it better reflects the experience of the contestants! I hope this isn’t a spoiler for you, but the finale is going to be done remotely and digitally, so in the finale contestants will be doing their final lip syncs from their homes.
Having experienced the live finale [in my season], I feel bad for them having to do this. There’s a real magic to being at the theater for a packed house–coming out on that runway with everyone living for you, and giving you the love they felt for you all season long. Then they’re cheering you on when you do your lip sync, and RuPaul is there deliberating in front of everyone—there’s a real magic to that. The fact that they’re not going to experience that really does suck. But in the end there has to be a winner, and I don’t think that person will care much if they’re in front of an audience or not… as long as they win!
Every quarantined drag queen from top to bottom and beyond has now had to resort to digital drag, with very mixed results! How are you liking it?
It’s very challenging. For one thing, it’s hard to perform digitally with no live audience. And now when [digital event producers] want it pre-recorded—of course you want to send something professional and creative. So there’s the digital background with green screen, and there’s editing… it’s so much work. I’m the kind of person that wants things done right now, so I just downloaded all this software and I’m learning how to do all these things myself! At the end, though, you feel pretty accomplished.
You’re Drag Spielberg! Currently you’re hosting the intro segments to the live weekly “Quarantkiki” on behalf of your home bar in Chicago, Hydrate. It’s every Saturday night, all night (including afters). You can register to join the Zoom party on Hydrate’s website, and it features some amazing DJs from around the word plus some pop-up drag performances. How have you been enjoying this?
It’s been an amazing experience; I’m so grateful to get to be a part of it. After the first time we did it together, I phoned the owner of Hydrate and said I had to keep being a part of this as long as they were doing it, because it really was magical. Everyone in the Zoom party danced and got dressed up, and there was that sense of normalcy [like it was a live, in-person party]. It was really gratifying to see everyone so happy during this tough time.
This Saturday you’ll be back at the Quarankiki, and one of our popular New York based parties is going to tie into it: the sexy RAM! You’ll be performing for that night’s Pre-Kiki.
Yes, the Pre-Kiki is where we talk to the DJs who will be featured the following week [for the main event]. It’s a great way to get to know these DJs on a different level. Normally you’re just dancing all night long and you hear these DJs playing, but you don’t really get to know things about them like where they’re from or what they do when they’re not DJing. So it’s a great way to get to know them on a personal level. It’s a pretty cool format that we have.
Hydrate in Chicago is where you do your weekly gigs, when nightlife is “normal.”
I host a show there called “Beauties & Beaus” every Friday and Saturday, with my schedule permitting. It consists of our beauties—which are the drag queens—and our beaus, the dancers. It’s a great, fun, interactive show.
That’s a must see for anyone coming tto hrough Chi-Town! Okay, so in closing: are you excited for Gaga’s new album at all?
I’m excited! Before Drag Race, I was an okay fan—not religiously. But then when I saw her sing “The Sound of Music” at the Oscars that year, I was amazed. I think that was the same year she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. And I thought, “if you didn’t put so much gimmicks and pageantry into everything you did, people would know that you had so much talent.” I had no idea of her range; she’s ridiculously talented!
As are you! Thank you, Naysha!