TV

How Asttina Mandella’s Lip-Syncs Are a “Pokémon Evolution Form of Drag”

"I love making people gag and goop."

Another episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. means another shocking elimination.

After Joe Black and Cherry Valentine were sent packin’, it was Asttina Mandella’s turn this week. The London-based, video game-inspired queen turned heads with her fierce fashion on the mainstage, but after this week’s “Who Wore It Best?” design challenge, Asttina was placed in the bottom two along with Tia Kofi. The two queens battled it out Street Fighter-style in a lip-sync to Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” but Asttina was eventually asked to sashay away. Her departure left the remaining girls gooped for a third week in a row.

Asttina spoke with NewNowNext about lip-syncing against Tia, why she finally feels proud of herself, and what other video game-inspired looks she didn’t get to show on Drag Race.
 

Hey, Asttina! How’s it going today?

Good. Long day. Been very, very long. … It’s been really wonderful to hear everyone’s reactions and to just have a little chat. It’s just nice to talk.

I want to talk about the shocking eliminations of the season so far because it’s been week after week. What was the mood in the workroom after Joe Black went home, and after Cherry went home? What were all the girls feeling?

Just gag. I remember when we did the first episode, all of us were like, “Wait a minute. Joe’s gone?” All of us, straight away, we thought Joe was just going to make it to the end. We know Joe as an icon here in the U.K. She’s just incredible, and then, well she went home Episode 1. I think for every season there’s ever been, that first initial elimination, you’re just like, “Crap, this is really real,” and anyone can go. It doesn’t matter who it is. and it flips everyone’s script in their head.

The queens are so strong this season, I feel it’s like splitting hairs.

Everyone’s been like, “I’m just want to pull my hair out every episode.” And I’m just like, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry we’re doing this to you, but imagine how we feel! We filmed this all the way back in March last year. We have no hair left.”

When Ru told Tia Kofi, “Shantay, you stay,” she looked genuinely shocked. How did you feel in that moment? Were you shocked? All the girls looked it.

I was scrolling through just reading all the messages, and then there’s a photo of us on the stage. And I look at all the girls at the back, and everyone’s faces are just like, “Uhhh.” I think everyone was shocked. I think as well, it’s just a shock to see me go home — to see Tia be in a lip-sync, to see strong people against each other. Yeah, it’s just a gag, and it’s just great TV.

When I’ve asked other girls about the lip-syncs, they say that the other queen disappears, and they’re just concentrating on their performance and the judges. But you and Tia were playing off each other, weren’t you?

Yeah, but then I was like, I don’t even remember seeing Tia or what she did. I always, whenever I do any kind of performance, I’m in that Super Saiyan, Pokémon evolution form of drag. I kind of lose myself in it. The outside world just becomes nonexistent to me. I don’t see it. It’s like blindness. I don’t know what’s going on because… I’m there. I’m just out of this element of control, and I just let the powerful drag and art do its thing. So when you kind of tap back into it after you’ve finished the lip-sync, we hug each other, and I’m just like, “Okay. I’m back in the room”. You don’t even know what’s happened. You don’t even know what went on because you just put your heart and your soul into it, and you’re just unaware. But it was so nice to watch the episode. I was like, “Oh. That’s what happened.”

Are you a Dua Lipa fan?

I am, just not of that song. It’s just that one song I wasn’t that fond of. The one she did that I like is “Hallucinate.” I love that one. I wish it was that. That’s a banger. And the one with Miley Cyrus, “Prisoner.” That’s another good one. I live for that one as well.

I was going to ask you if you were team “Levitating” or team “Hallucinate,” but I guess you’re team “Hallucinate.”

Team “Hallucinate,” I think. You know what? I’m team “Levinate.” Hallucivating. I’m hallucivating!

After your elimination in the workroom, you were saying how it had taken a while for you to feel proud of yourself. I was wondering why you felt that way?

I look back and I’m like, “Why did I even say that?” It was filmed so long ago. It was filmed all the way back in March last year. It was just before the pandemic and lockdown hit — lockdown here in the U.K. especially. So, how I was feeling just in general at my current state of life … I was just in a place of, “I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I’m doing. Is this really right for me? Am I happy doing what I’m doing?” I was going through all of these questions in my head, and the great thing looking back at it now is that’s what Drag Race has done for me. During the whole process… I was able to just strip myself down. I was able to understand what I want and who I am. All of these things that you do in life just happened within a month, and I had to delve into it and delve into myself. And I was just like, “Am I proud of myself? Have I made myself proud? Because if I’m not making myself proud and my family proud, then what is the point of doing anything?” And I was like, “No. I have.” I’m so proud of what I achieved, and I didn’t mean just on this show, I actually meant like, “I’m so proud of what I achieved in my life and who I am as a person and that’s where it all came from.” Hence why I was crying on the stage, and then Tia and Ginny were crying.

I love your video game-inspired looks. I saw a Chun Li outfit on your Instagram. Did you have other gaymer inspired looks ready for Drag Race that we didn’t see?

Did I? No. Mileena [from Mortal Kombat] was the only game, cosplay kind of one I had prepared. And then the outfit I went home [wearing] on Episode 3 just kind of happened. I was watching that whole time period, especially March, April, and May, and June. I was just living for anime girl and anime films and cosplaying. I was just living for that whole aesthetic, the whole vibe. When it was the design challenge, I was like, “Oh my God. I can be my own little anime girl!” It just changes. That’s how I view myself. I see myself as this anime, cosplay, powerful character, and that’s why it was quite weird when I was on the runway and Ru was mentioning my shoulders. I was just thinking about the aesthetic — if I’m going for an anime character, it’s all about muscles. It’s all about definition. It stays in my brain a bit, but I understand where they were coming from, what they were really meaning.

Is there an anime character whom you would love to dress up as that you haven’t yet?

I really want to do Diane from Seven Deadly Sins. It’s really simple but actually great. I really want to do Rin Tohsaka from Fate/stay night, too. Love that. And my next game-fighting character I want to do is Ivy from Soul Calibur.

Have you been playing any games during lockdown?

I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart, actually, which has been really fun. Mario Party as well, because I share it with my roommate. So we play it together, just bring the house together. Also, obviously, Mortal Kombat. Also I’ve been playing and Sims because it’s on my laptop, and I just play it all the time. Just checking on the family, make sure they’re doing well.

I love it. That sounds fun. Asttina, well, I loved you on the show. Like I said, I was shocked that you went home, but I’ve been shocked every week so far. I loved talking with you, and I can’t wait to see your upcoming gaymer-inspired looks.

Aw, thank you! Thank you for having me. Honestly, it’s such a gag, but I love giving gags. I love making people gag and goop.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer