Queenstion Time #9: Aquaria
With the new series of RuPaul’s Drag Race beginning tonight, Andrew Nicholls talks to the reigning queen, Aquaria.
Tonight sees the 11th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race air in the US on VH1 – and it should be on UK Netflix by the time we wake in the morning – as we begin another search for America’s next drag superstar.
But what of America’s current drag superstar, Aquaria?
Born Giovanni Palandrani in Pennsylvania in 1996, Aquaria took her name from her zodiac sign (Aquarius), and in what is probably a first for the show’s alumni, it was Drag Race itself that inspired her to become involved in drag. She was just 13 years old when the show began broadcasting on LOGO TV. “I caught the tail end of season one,” she tells me. “From there I just started doing make-up and creating looks in my mind. It all snowballed from there.”
“I think, just like drag in mainstream, it was made more accessible from me viewing the show and realising I had an intrigue in it.”
RuPaul said on the show that he had been hearing Aquaria’s name all over New York, and it’s true that she had built up am enviable reputation. Like Mama Ru herself, she came to the attention of Susanne Bartsch – the legendary New York club promoter, who recently appeared in an episode of All Stars 4. “Susanne gave me some of my first bookings,” Aquaria says. “She is the epitome of style and fierceness”.
But the influence of Bartsch is superseded by that of her drag mother; an icon among Drag Race fans, season four winner Sharon Needles. Aquaria was a fan of Sharon’s impossibly creative aesthetic immediately; “I always just respected her style. When she was announced on season four, I immediately posted my allegiance.
“Then from there she said she would always keep an eye on me, which she has done.”
It wasn’t long before Drag Race came calling, but some tensions from the New York scene flared up on camera with fellow contestant Miz Cracker.
According to Cracker, these went deeper for her than merely similar drag styles. She explained in episode two of their season; “Once upon a time, Aquaria and I were close friends. I learned makeup skills from her when she did my face for a photoshoot that was about us being twins.” But since then, Aquaria accused Miz Cracker of essentially stealing her looks.
The arguments continued into Untucked, where Aquaria claimed that Miz Cracker not only once copied a latex yellow dress with a chest cut-out, but she also accused her of mimicking her doll-like makeup on the first episode’s runway. Cracker maintained that the looks were her own, summarising that “I wanna win with my face, not with Aquaria’s“.
This storyline was prevalent in the early episodes of the show, with much open argument and passive aggressive bitching. But it all seemed to just reach a dead end, and was never mentioned again. It seemed odd to us that this would be the case, but Aquaria confirmed to us that they did, in fact, speak off camera; “Look, at the end of the day we are all sisters and should support one another. Drag Race is a show and like any show they will hope for some tension. Cracker and I decided that we did not want that to be our journey.”
But throughout her time on the show, aside from snatching the crown itself, what sticks out most to Aquaria? “I think winning Snatch Game. I was not expecting that one.”
Indeed, Aquaria’s turn on Snatch Game seemed to surprise everybody. Before her season, her popularity on Instagram made many fans that she was nothing more than a beauty queen, especially when compared to Miz Cracker, whose arsenal appeared to include so much more comedy.
And yet her portrayal of Melania Trump was one of the highlights of the entire season. She referred to RuPaul as “Barrack”, handed Ru a secret “Help me” message, and her name tag read “Michelle Obama” – a clear reference to the speech that was allegedly plagiarised from the previous First Lady.
The audience knew she could turn a stunning look – but they didn’t know she could be so deliriously funny. She ended up being on the show what we all assumed her old friend and sometimes adversary Miz Cracker was lined up to be, and you could probably argue that it was this moment that set her on her way to the crown.
The last 12 months, though, haven’t been without controversy – even in this city.
There was an incident back in November where Aquaria was refused entry into Victoria Street’s Heaven, tweeting; “Change of schedule tonight… was headed with friends to Heaven in LIVERPOOL and was EXTREMELY HARASSED and humiliated by the HEINOUS security dude for even attempting to come into the venue wearing my everyday Adidas “trackies” which he insisted was against the dress code at the Pathetic establishment.
“Which basically translates to me that anyone wearing any sportswear (which is usually minority driven) is not allowed entrance regardless to the amount of money they wish to spend at the venue.
“I was told by many people from this city that if I was a complacent little person and “sincerely apologized” that I would be let in but even after apologizing to the horrendous staff they continued to insist that my adidas joggers were completely atrocious to wear in their pathetic venue.”
The outburst gained widespread attention in the local LGBTQ+ scene, and Aquaria apologised the next day- though “clarified” may be the best description.
In regards to my tweets from last evening… pic.twitter.com/zzqNtLnrJF
— Aquaria (@aquariaofficial) November 12, 2018
However, if there is one thing that the incident seems to show, it is how someone thrust into the spotlight on a word wide scale can be caught out in a moment of frustration. After all, who among us haven’t had some kind of run-in with rude door staff and vented our frustration. Except, for us, that frustration passes without incident.
She seems to agree. “With social media, it makes everyone accessible. I think sometimes people read into things differently than what was intended.”
Aquaria’s reign might come to an end with the new season, but her story is far from over. In May, she will be back in the UK for Werq The World – the official RuPaul’s Drag Race tour – alongside Asia O’Hara, Detox, Eureka O’Hara, Kameron Michaels, Kim Chi, Monét X Change, Naomi Smalls, Sharon Needles and Violet Chachki, as well as Drag Race judge Michelle Visage. When we ask her what we can expect from the tour, she responds with the tantalising exclamation; “Drag queens saving the galaxy!”
She also has numerous exciting projects coming up, though she seems to be keeping tight lipped at present, confirming only that “the pipe-line is definitely pumping”.
Aquaria takes part in the Werq The World Tour this summer, stopping at Manchester’s O2 Apollo on Thursday 9th May 2019. Tickets are available now.