Alyssa Edwards tackles ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ again, this time as an All Star. And she’s more prepared than eve
By J. DENTON BRICKER AND ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
When Alyssa Edwards walked onto the set of RuPaul’s Drag Race for Season 5, she was shocked to see her longtime rival Coco Montrese among the queens she’d be competing with. The drama made for delicious television, but probably threw Edwards off her game — she finished in the Top 6, but failed to be declared America’s Next Drag Superstar.
So when she was asked to join the cast for the second incarnation of Drag Race All Stars — which begins airing on Aug. 25 on Logo — she decided to play a smarter mental game. She didn’t ask past All Stars for advice. She didn’t worry about who would or would not be her competition. She went all Zen on those bitches’ asses.
“I told myself don’t overly coach — go in there and be you,” Edwards says. “Don’t get inside your head. You need to do this like you do every single day of your life — whether you’re in the studio teaching, or onstage performing, you’re tackling the challenges you’re faced with. You should avoid letting it becoming a mental battle.”
That was certainly good preparation, because once filming began, it was a free-for-all. First up was the discovery that the rules had changed.
“[This season is] borderline Big Brother, because Ru doesn’t make the decisions this time,” she says. “We found that out on Day One. We had no clue! And you’ll see how cracked out we are. All of your dreams have been crushed because guess what? [We were told,] ‘You are going to be sending yourselves home.’ And I’m just like oh-my-gosh.”
This surprise definitely changed dynamics among the contestants, because even though the competition has always been cutthroat, this development took it to another level of intensity.
“I was looking around the room like, ‘Well OK, I’m glad I’m kind of friends with everyone almost.’ Luckily, I do have a good rapport with the girls. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to send you home, honey, because you’re a threat or you’re the possibility that could get in the way of cashing that check.”
One of the girls in the room, it so happened, was Coco Montrese … again. And three other queens from Season 5, making it a reunion of sorts (though not necessarily the good kind).
“I was a little shocked [that] five of the 10 girls came from [my] season. I thought there would have been two, maybe three of us. But we all knew each other — you know somebody and you know when they’re having a bad day or moment, and therefore not overanalyze things that they say,” says Edwards.
That pressure was modulated by other rule changes … including the ultimate reward.
“The stakes are a little different this time around. I’m talking about the coin, the dollar,” Edwards says. “I think everyone that watches the first episode is going to be in for a treat because they totally ru-vamped the idea [of the show]. ‘Coming for you’ is a nice way of putting it.”
But Edwards was prepared this time. Before, she was a pageant queen with a long list of titles. Now, she has not only one season of RPDR under her belt, but the web-based series Alyssa’s Secret and a work ethic rivaled by no one. She went in a stronger queen than ever before, but also a wiser one: She has a solid grasp of her strengths and weaknesses — as well as those of her competitors …. and where they would best be served.
“We are all good in one thing [or another],” she says. “I would never want to step foot on a runway or a photoshoot [to challenge] Violet Chachki, but we can lip sync [against each other] all day. I don’t ever want to get into a Snatch Game battle with Chad Michaels. And why on God’s green earth would I ever ponder a comedy challenge against Bianca Del Rio?”
But Edwards — aka Mesquite native Justin Johnson — also knows something about showmanship. She worked with former Dallasite Rey Ortiz — a fashion designer and himself a former Project Runway contestant — to come up with her smashing debut look, a dazzling ruby gown with a majestic collar.
“I told Rey, I’m OK with doing something fashionista. I don’t consider myself a fashion girl and I don’t think I have the body to model. But I wanted something avant garde, something sexy with my platform heels. I wanted something that just speaks royalty — like she’s the queen. It has a touch of regalness to it but a touch of okurrrr. He was like, that’s a lot of inspiration.”
That costume may have contributed to her secret weapon: Attitude.
“This time I presented myself to be open, confident … and not to tell myself ‘no.’ Just like I teach my kids every day: ‘Can’t never could.’ You better get up there to sing and sew,” she says. “Alaska said it very well: When you’re in Drag Race it’s kind of like a constant fight-or-flight mentality.”
Her newfound calm even informs how she wants fans to watch All Stars this time out.
“I hope the fans watch it this time from a different angle. Drag Race is such a sport — we all get caught up in it, so involved. Just watch it this time: laugh, giggle, have fun with it. Ride it like a rollercoaster; let the ups and downs be equally exciting. Support all the girls, all the queens. It is so difficult when there is a platform and you’re under a microscope. Remove that microscope and live for what it is. Cheers to that.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.