Valentina | Drag Me To Filth!
If Rupaul’s Drag Race functions as the queer world series—a shared interest that we can all just talk about when we see each other out, sort of like the weather—then Valentina is the Dodgers: a hometown hero for LA’s gay community and an icon, in particular, for the Latinx, queer, and nonbinary children of the Eastside she represents. Devotees of the 27-year-old are as fiercely loyal as Dodgers fans, too. After Valentina’s elimination on the Season 9 reunion episode, fellow queens Alexis Michelle and Nina Bo’Nina Brown claimed her fans doused them with social media hate and even death threats, furious that Valentina did nothing to stop it.
Perhaps her fans are so bitter because Valentina—despite being one of the boldest, most versatile and gorgeous divas to ever sashay down Ru’s runway—has never managed to snatch the crown. Even she admits the elimination in Season 9 was iconic, so maybe it’s fine she lost. “I’d like to keep it on, please,” she told Ru, when asked to remove a scarlet mask strategically positioned to obscure her mouth’s inability to mimic the words to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy” in a fateful lip-sync-for-her-life.
Valentina’s elimination this January from RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 4 was less deserved. Following a challenge that instructed contestants to host and design their own nightclub, she and Naomi Smalls ended up in the bottom, after their ’90s fashion party, Club 96, failed to entertain judge Michelle Visage. Whereas the winning queens’ club felt more like a tightly conceived children’s birthday party, Club 96 brought together camp and glamour in a way that qualifies drag as an art form.Valentina served a sadistically coked-out grimace while Naomi repeated “Club 96” in an ASMR whisper. As guests drank from absurdly long glassware, the so-bad-it’s-good tagline, “We’re tall; we’re skinny; high fashion,” encapsulated their comical delusions. “Club 96 is everything...a masterpiece,” Valentina says in the defense of the project, over the phone this March. “That challenge was a mess, because we didn’t know what they were judging or criticizing on.”
In the end, it seemed like Valentina’s seasonmates on All Stars were all too happy to watch Valentina—or Villaintina, to some—go down. She was a threat for sure, but for some, it’s her self-obsessed grandeur that made her an easy target. As she puts it herself in an All Stars confessional, epitomizing the post-truth era but also the essence of drag, “When I feel the fantasy, it is my reality, and nobody can change that.” No one can stop her either. These days, Valentina has a bright horizon as a Latinx pop-star, with a starring role as Angel in Fox’s live edition of RENT; the recently released single “A Prueba de Todo,” teasing an eventual, full-length, disco-inspired album; and her live variety show All About Valentina, which debuted in LA. She’s ready to spill the tea.
What is Valentina doing today?
Well, I just left a vocal lesson. I’m currently working on recording a new song. I did some music videos with [legendary Mexican singer] Gloria Trevi, and she gifted me a song, so it’s kind of a very special, very intimate gift that she wrote herself. I don’t want to give away too much information, but it is a ballad, so that’s kind of fun.
So you’re really dedicated to working on your vocals and making this music transition pop off?
Yeah. Right now, I’m really getting to work on my voice and continuing to discover my sound because music has always been such a big part of my life...The experience of being discovered as a vocalist with RENT has given me some reassurance that I do have a sound. It’s something that I worked really hard at.
Were you happy with your vocals in RENT?
Was I happy with how my vocals were in RENT? I feel like what happened in RENT was, they aired our dress rehearsal because one of our lead actors injured his leg. None of us were under the impression that they were going to air a rehearsal of ours. At the time I was sick and not under the best conditions vocally, nor was I aware that our recording of our rehearsal was going to be aired nationally for the world to see and criticize.
That sucks. I’m sorry that that happened.
I know, me too—because I’m actually a quietly insecure singer and I’ve had nervousness about singing for a very, very long time and I feel like I’m facing those fears.
Are you giving something different in your lip syncing performance than in your live vocals? How do the two inform each other? Or do you keep them separate?
So, it’s not that I’m trying to separate those elements, I’m honestly just evolving into an artist that can be more connected with all the aspects of performing: whether it be singing, lip syncing, dancing, hosting, or storytelling. Right after RENT, I went straight into rehearsals for my show that I just created, All About Valentina in Los Angeles. It gave you the “Club Valentina” lip sync drag. It gave you more of a lyrical, dance, full-body, emotive performance. Then it turned into this señora lip sync, old-lady-ballad kind of thing. In the end, I came out in this beautiful gown with a live band, and I sang songs live.
Are there certain places in LA or Hollywood that you like to go to that make you connect with the style of old Hollywood glamor that you show in your drag?
Well, I still like Echo Park Lake itself. It was a place where I would go to when I was really sad and felt really lonely. I would go in the middle of the night and just sit there for hours and write in a book or listen to music and go running. Before auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race, and before my whole life changed for me, I remember going to that park and gathering my thoughts and sometimes crying on a bench and wishing upon a fucking star that things could change for me, you know?
Where else in LA is special for you? Where do you go out?
As of right now, one of my quick getaways is going to Cobra on Thursday nights in North Hollywood because it’s trans night. It’s been a beautiful community that has embraced me ever since I came out as non-binary.Whenever I’m around my trans community I always feel really safe, so I have fun there. There’s also this really, really awesome authentic Mexican cowboy kind of gay club that makes you feel like you’re in a time warp. It’s called Club Tempo, which I really love.
Yes! I love it there. They have drag there as well.
They do. And some of it is terrible, and I love it.
But you never did a drag show there?
I did. I actually did my first drag debut for my mom. I invited all my tías, and we reserved a table, and they all wore red. It was very ceremonious of them to be amongst Maritza, who’s this Latina drag queen that’s the queen of Tempo since I-don’t-know-when. She’s very warm and made my family feel very welcome. It was really awesome. It just holds a special place in my heart.
I feel like you should have a Club Tempo takeover one day.
Oh my god. I would fucking love that. That would be hilarious.
How do you feel like LA has changed since you grew up?
It’s obviously been gentrified and has gotten super expensive. For example, close to where I live, there was this Mexican market called La Guadalupana, and it was the place where you could get your regular produce, what you need to make some good, bomb Mexican food. And now that’s closed down, all that’s available to me is Lassens, a health-food store [across the street]. It’s great if I’m trying to be healthy, but if I’m trying to make a bomb-ass enchilada or something, I’m definitely not going to be buying those tortillas from no Lassens, girl.
Now that you’ve done two seasons of Drag Race, do you feel like that door is closed? Or are you open to other Drag Race things?
Oh no, it’s not closed for me. If anything, the door is open. I’m grateful for working on RuPaul’s Drag Race always and forever. Like, that’s where I come from, you know? Down the line I might want to go and do that shit again. It’s a lot of work, but it’s kinda fun to have to create all those runway looks and shit. I live for drag, I live for glamor, I live for attention and for art.
It seems like the show needs more ways to keep some of the favorite queens engaged beyond just the season and one All Stars.
Yeah. Pretty soon they’re gonna start running out of good drag queens. There’s plenty of drag out in the world. But good drag? I don’t think so, Mary.