"RuPaul's Drag Race" is back and Season 9 may just be bigger than ever as the show again includes an Atlanta queen – Nina Bo'Nina Brown – among its contestants.
She is the latest entertainer from Atlanta to make it to the show, something we wondered about back in December. She's known for her eye-popping looks, many of which focus on impersonating celebrities and popular characters. And Brown has made plenty of appearances in Atlanta’s nightlife scene, including a run during Dragnificent at Jungle back in 2013, though her relationship with the local drag scene is a little rocky.
Brown joins 12 other contestants for Season 9 as the show is on a high. After a record-breaking ratings run for "All Stars 2" last fall, plus an Emmy win for RuPaul herself, "Drag Race" is making the move from Logo TV to VH1, where it premieres on Friday at 8 p.m. If that wasn’t enough, the show brings in bigger guest judges than ever, including Lady Gaga herself in the season premiere.
Brown joins a long list of Atlantans on "Drag Race. Atlanta native and Savannah living Dax Exclamationpoint took an early exit in episode 2 of Season 8 last year and then watched as Bob the Drag Queen – who grew up in Atlanta and offered her 'Rosebud' to local fans – took the crown. They followed Violet Chachki, who of course won Season 7. Trinity K. Bonet had an emotional journey to the ninth episode of Season 6, which was then a record for Atlanta queens.
There was also Nicole Paige Brooks (Season 2, episode 2), Sonique (Season 2, episode 4), Phoenix (Season 3, episode 2) and Mariah Paris Balenciaga (Season 3, episode 6).
Before the season premiere, we spoke with Brown about her "Drag Race" experience, her start in drag and her complicated relationship with the Atlanta drag scene.
Condragulations on making it to "RuPaul’s Drag Race!" What does it feel like to be a "Drag Race" contestant?
Honestly, it really hasn’t sinked in yet. It never really has – even being there, it was still like, “Oh, okay, I’m on this show.” But it hasn’t really hit me, you know? But…I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m just waiting for that big moment where I’ll be like, “Oh my God, I really…I did it.” And then I’ll be happy, so… (Laughs) But I am happy to be a part of it.
How many times did you audition for the show before you got on?
Well, I want to lie and say, “Oh, this was the first time I auditioned," but honestly, I know there were a couple of seasons that I skipped. I want to say maybe four or five times.
How was working with RuPaul?
It was a pleasure. She’s very smart, very quick at picking up on things. I think me and her had a little connection, I guess from her living in Atlanta. I can’t say too much, but I will say that she was surprisingly nice to me.
Do you have any special relationships with your fellow contestants?
Genuinely, honestly, I don’t know if it’s the “black sheep” in me, the “loner.” We all got along, but maybe me, Jaymes – ‘cause I always get along with the underdogs – Eureka, Valentina surprisingly, and Aja. But I’m more “close” close with Jaymes and Eureka. Those are the girls who I’m like, “what’s up?”
Lady Gaga’s already been revealed as the special guest judge for the season premiere. What was that like?
I can’t say much about everything that went on. But when she walked in, like you saw in the preview, some of us genuinely were like, “Who the hell is this?” I was kinda like, “Ugh, let me keep my bags packed, because this bitch came to bring it, whoever she is.” And when she got a little closer, we were like, “Oh, it’s you!” She’s such a nice person. Lots of wise words that she shared. It was a hectic day, I will say that. It was a very hectic shoot. Overall, though, her being there made it a pleasant surprise.
Let’s shift focus to you. How did you first get into drag?
I’ve always had this female part of me. I used to always think girls looked so beautiful, and I would draw – I would always draw females. So I always had this part where I wondered, “How would I look doing this?” And of course, at Halloween, you can get in drag. But
I draw as well. So fashion and my art kind of [merged] into this drag thing. I dressed up at home one time, and walked out and got all this attention. And I’ve always loved music and dancing. So I put it together and decided to do a show in Atlanta. I think it was at Chaparral. Like any early drag queen, I was kinda busted. (Laughs) But that’s how I got into it. It’s always been there, but actually putting it together and putting it on for the first time was a little nerve-wracking. But that’s how it all began, just throughout this female that’s always been a part of me – if that makes sense.
Your style of drag is visually distinctive. How did that develop?
When I first started, it was all about trying to look like a female. I do think that drag is the definition of giving a female illusion. Even when I turn into a creature, I’m still going to be padded. I’m going to be giving you an illusion, you know. But I wanted to be fishy. And then I did Phoenix’s show, Dragnificent, and one of the challenges was some kind of Disney challenge, like “Be a Disney Character.” I chose the art look, and I thought, “Oh, I didn’t know I could do this.” I’ve drawn, but I never thought about putting it on me. So it’s kind of different, taking on characters. When I did the competition, they were like, “okay.” And after that, it kind of just kept going. I thought, “If I can do that, let me try some other things.” It kind of evolved from there.
Let’s talk about your relationship with Atlanta’s drag scene. When the contestants for this season were revealed, you posted on social media that local queens did not reach out to you and called them "petty." What is the relationship like at this point?
I’m gonna try to keep it short. But honestly I feel like, I’ve been out for a while, and people were never interested in me. That’s how I felt. And the scene for me hasn’t been too inviting. I feel like when Violet and them came out, everybody was rooting for them, and posting things. But when I was given a chance, they were like, “Ooh, Nina? It should be Evah,” or whatever. And it’s like, “oh, okay.” And I used to be the one who was going to LeBuzz, because a lot of queens weren’t really doing the white scene like that, and I was going there and trying to make a name at other places. And things were…okay.
I feel like, because I don’t try to fit into a certain box, and I hate to say it, but I don’t kiss a lot of ass – which a lot of queens do in the scene, to be a part of the elite group – they kind of always just outcasted me. I was always only good enough to do a talent show, you know. I was never good enough to be a part of the cast. Or it was always, “Just hit me on Facebook if you want a booking!” I’d hit them up, and no response.
Honestly, when queens say, they go tip around at the club, they would say, “If you tipped around more, blah blah blah.” But I did a lot of tips around the club, getting in drag, trying to be seen, and talking to the girls, but it still never seemed to work. And there were times where I felt like, “Am I not talented enough?” That’s how it made me feel – that I wasn’t good enough. And I know that’s not the truth.
I really don’t want to feel like Atlanta’s not behind me, because there are people who are behind me. But from the backlash, the things that I’ve read and seen, it reflects the way they are. Nobody was really like, “Congrats, girl!” – nobody from “the scene” scene. And
I will say, you will see a little bit of that on the show. Without saying much, but I’ve had a little confession.
I just wish that they were a little more “there” from the beginning, instead of me feeling like I was never a part [of it]. And that’s fine. Atlanta may not be my scene, and maybe this might push me somewhere else.
But I will say, Friends on Ponce with Regina has always been there for me. She’s always given the small girls, the underdogs a chance. So I will say they’ve always been behind me. [Read her post.]
With the show about to air, what are your professional plans for the next few months while it airs?
I really don’t know. So far, everything’s been kind of just happening. I’m kind of just going along with the flow. I have a person to help me, but I guess that part is .. I don’t want to get too excited or too into it, and have things not work out the way I want them to happen. So I’m just letting things happen as they happen. But I am hoping this will open up the doors to other things because so far, it’s been a mixed reaction, but it’s been more positive – the love toward me. So I’m trying to figure out – should I get merch? Should I do this? I know I’ll be going on tour.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
No matter how much of an underdog you are, no matter how different you are, keep pushing through. Even when people are saying you’re not good enough or whatever, keep pushing through, because if it can happen for me, it can definitely happen for you. And to not take my situation, as in the whole Atlanta scene, as being this or that, because for you or for them, it may be completely different, and they may have a blast. Believe in themselves, and keep pushing through.