Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race were shocked when Katya sashayed away in the latest episode. She gave it her all, but her Hello Kitty creation and fla-zay-da runway look sunk the Russian ship. Katya gives Daily Xtra the tea on her character, her lip sync and her upcoming shows in Toronto.
Daily Xtra: Let’s talk about the creation of Katya. She’s Russian and a bit rough around the edges. How did she evolve?
Katya: I went to art school and studied video and performance art. I had been taking Russian language classes. Katya was born in my senior show based on my Russian language teacher. She was a nut. She was such a typical Russian. She came to class dressed as a hooker and was blunt and abrasive. So I hosted a show as her. It incorporated elements of drag and cross-dressing. From there, I started [hanging out in an] alt scene in Boston. I only performed Russian songs and spoke in a thick accent. People were always surprised that I wasn’t Russian. I basically spent five or six years only listening to Russian songs.
What was it like being cast on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Oh my god. I thought I was Skyping in to do another interview. There were a lot of hoops to jump through to be on the show. I was really nervous but I was trying my best to be a personable reality TV personality. Then they said there’s a message from Ru and I fucking flipped out. It was so cool, and one of the moments I’ll never forget. You can’t tell anybody, which is so hard because when I found out I was reaching the phone to tell everybody but then they said you can’t tell anybody.
You had to lip sync very early on in the competition; how did that feel?
I’m kind of a dramatic person and everything is so heightened when you’re there. Your whole life is the show. Nothing else is going on because you have no contact to the outside world. That day was the worst day of my life. It really was. I went there to win. I knew I was going to fuck it up (the spoken lip synching during the Glamazonian Air[ways] challenge). I thought, they are just going to send me home. It was humiliating. Then all of a sudden I’m killing this lip sync, but I thought a winner doesn’t lip sync in episode 2.
You talked pretty openly about your self-doubts, and not feeling good enough to compete on the show at times. What kind of pressure cooker is the show?
I don’t have any boundaries. I’m horny for honesty. God forbid if you go on a date with me. I like making people uncomfortable by saying honest things. There’s something about the show that brings out everything that you’re dealing with. Your shit deals with you. It’s the right condition for this to happen. It’s the isolation, number one. All you do is think about yourself. I’m not a big TV watcher so that was something I didn’t know. When we were there we found out Robin Williams died and I thought, “What? There’s an outside world?” The hardest thing was the isolation, which meant constantly thinking about yourself. I’m not really that competitive. I was so naïve, thinking I’ll just go there and have my talent shine and that will be enough. Pollyanna what are you thinking? I learned a shit ton about myself. A lot of the girls are very guarded, but girl, when I walked in there to do my interviews they had to shut me up. Some girls blame the editing but I thank the editing. I gave them so many Laganja moments, but watching the show, that’s me! That’s 100 percent who I am. If people don’t like me, that’s me! That is my character.
Do you have a favorite challenge? Favorite outfit?
The John Waters challenge. When we found that out about this challenge, I thought there is no way I’m not going to kill this. If I fuck up a John Waters challenge, I need to go home immediately. Katya is filthy and irreverent. The ugliest dress runway was also the best. I was so feeling myself that day with my dress and disgusting wig. It’s such a disappointment when people aren’t willing to be ugly. I loved Violet in this challenge too. I think she is the most visually intelligent person the show’s ever had.
I also loved the conjoined twins challenge. It was such a fun episode. It was the episode where I was like “I can’t wait to watch this.” I also think it was the best RuPaul’s Drag Race trope ever! I love that the previously eliminated girl had to fight to stay and she had to earn it. It was also the best makeover episode ever. It was a win win win win win situation! Everyone gets more screen time and the runway was hysterical.
What did you feel about the new format of Untucked?
I thought, “this is cool.” I liked it being “realer” and more behind the scenes and intimate. But I thought, throw us a bone. No gold bar? Untucked used to be like doing an entire other show and you’re still on the main stage. Watching the show is a little frustrating. I went to school for editing so some of it is strange but nothing anyone ever said to me offended me. I know what I signed up for.
You’re from Boston — what makes a Boston queen different?
I have a hard time describing Boston drag. Boston doesn’t have a big drag infrastructure. We have no pageant scene and we don’t make any money. If you’re a working drag queen, you never really make money. Boston does have a cool alt scene. Everyone’s doing weird shit, and not Whitney Houston or Britney. There’s also a big burlesque scene. In Boston, queens like myself can have a big loyal following and there I could be as weird and stupid as I wanted to be.
Any Drag Race Ru-grets?
(Long, long, long laughter) . . . No. When I got home, I was like so glad to be back. The whole experience was so intense and you’re so tired and you just go fuck somebody and then sleep for three days. Then you can’t believe that just happened. Going back to normal life was so surreal. Then you start to comb through each day and challenge. This experience is basically the genesis of a web series called Ru-grets, which details what I would have done differently.
How has your life changed since the show?
Oh my god! It’s insane. I travel around and get paid 10 times to do a fraction of what I used to do. I have big time self-esteem issues and I didn’t know if I would be liked. The fans are a lot of kids and they get it. They get my sense of humor and they are totally on board. It’s so fucking great. They call me mom. They are always saying, “Break my legs mom” or “Burn down my Bar Mitzvah mom.” I never thought it would happen. It’s so motivating. When you’re a creative person and you want to produce work, you can get lazy. Sometimes you think, what’s the point? If my YouTube videos don’t go up immediately, fans are like “where are the videos mom?” It’s nice.
Has there been a singular moment that’s made you aware of the power and reach of Drag Race?
After the scene where I confided in Miss Fame about my anxiety and issues with substance abuse, so many people were saying I inspired them. I was really uncomfortable watching that scene back, but it was really an authentic moment. The show doesn’t make you do anything you don’t want to. I got so many messages from people, saying [they] have big time anxiety and substance abuse issues. The response to that has been so great. I had to watch it in a viewing party, which was tough but I know that conversation helped.
Where do you watch the show?
I do viewing parties. Most of them are in Boston at Jacques (Cabaret). I’ve been on the road the last few weeks. I was talking to Pearl about this actually. She watches it under her covers, peeking out from a hole. I obviously have to rewatch it later. It’s nerve wracking, but I know what’s happening. It’s so great to watch with people who are rooting for you.
What’s ahead for Katya?
I’m planning a web series and a one-woman show. Of course, there will be more traveling and sweating on people in public. I’m trying to get in touch with myself, trying to get more connected to my core . . . Pilates classes.