LaLa Ri Was “Absolutely Not” Ready for “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

"But, hey, that's all a part of 'Drag Race.' It prepares you."

“Oh, whatcha say, whatcha say. LaLa Ri is here to slay!”

And slay, she did! When the Atlanta-based dancing queen strutted her way onto RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13, she had only been doing drag professionally for three years — but you would never know it seeing how she held her own against the other legends in the cast. LaLa Ri served luscious looks on the runway, lip-synced the house down, and crafted one of the most memorable fashion moments to ever hit the Drag Race mainstage.

LaLa Ri spoke with NewNowNext about competing against her drag mother, Tamisha Iman; her favorite moment from the Drag Race set; and if she kept any of those bags from her Bag Ball couture dress.

First off, you were so good on this season — congrats on getting so far! You should be proud.

Thank you. Thank you.

I’m sure other people have asked you about this, but Tamisha is your drag mother. When you saw Tamisha walk into the workroom, what went through your head?

Oh, it was amazing to see Tamisha because we had not seen or spoken to each other in years prior to filming Drag Race. So, it was a reunion for us. I’m like, “Out of all the girls in Atlanta, you picked us two?” So, it meant something.

Had you just not seen each other because you were too booked and busy, or was there a falling out?

I wouldn’t say a falling out. We just kind of went our separate ways. There was no bad blood or anything between each other. There’s still no bad blood.

Speaking of Tamisha, I have to ask about her fight with Kandy Muse on Untucked. What were you thinking when that was going on?

I had to be prepared for the lip-sync, so I wasn’t thinking about nothing but my lip-sync. I had to go rehearse, honey! “You girls can do what y’all need to do over there. I’m a do what I need to do over here.”

There was so much going on in the world last summer when you were filming Drag Race. Do you think that played into why there was high tension on set sometimes?

It probably was. I know, for me, for example, I had a lot of things in the back of my head about my family in regards to the whole Rayshard Brooks thing because it happened so close to my home, and that area was in pain when I left. So, not being able to communicate with my family like I usually would be was affecting me, personally. It’s a possibility that things going on in the outside world could have been the cause of some tension.

But, your family was safe?

Yeah. My family was safe. My brother and my sister actually got COVID while I was gone, but thankfully, they’re okay now.

In one episode, the queens were talking about Black Lives Matter, and I was reading how you said that episode was hard to watch. Could you talk more about that? I know you said it hit close to home.

Yeah, I still can feel those same feelings that I felt that day talking about that. It’s just hard to talk about and to watch. It’s just heartbreaking just to know all that we as Black people have to go through living in this world. I still get emotional talking about it.

Switching gears, I want to talk about what might be one of the most iconic looks on a runway: your bag look. Honestly, I feel you brought a lot of joy with that look. I saw you retweet Nicole Byer, who said she was still thinking about the dress and it made her smile. What are your thoughts about that look now, and did you save any of the bags?

That lip-sync destroyed the entire bag look. I no longer have the bags, but I do have the little headpiece, but I don’t have the actual outfit. Watching it back, it was hilarious. It was funny. I had fun with it. I was like, “Whatever I do end up making, I’m going to have fun with it. I’m going to sell it to the best of my ability.” And, if I so happen to end up in the bottom, she’s going to do what she do best, and that’s perform.

Is sewing something you would have practiced when preparing for the show? Or is that just not something you’re interested in?

I’m really not interested in it, but if I had time, I would have learned how to sew before the show. I did take one sewing lesson right before I left, but I really wasn’t paying attention at all, clearly.

That’s what I would do too. I would at least try to cram in one lesson.


You weren’t doing drag for that long before you auditioned, right?

It was three years at that time? Yeah. Three years, because then, four years this year. It was three at that time.

Do you wish that you had waited to audition to be a little bit more experienced?

I was actually going to audition for Season 12, but I was like, “Girl, they would never pick you, girl. Don’t waste your time.” But my friends were the ones that told me, “You should audition for 13.” I said, “Girl, they would never pick me, girl.” But, they obviously pushed me to audition for this show. I always wanted to get on Drag Race, but I was going to wait like years down the line when she got some stuff under her belt. But, I auditioned and the good people [at World of Wonder] called me to do Season 13. I said, “What? Is this a prank call?” I was really overjoyed. Do I feel like I was ready? Absolutely not. But, hey. That’s all a part of Drag Race. It prepares you, I feel like.

Going back to the lip-syncs — when I’ve talked to other girls and asked them about the lip-syncs, they’re usually like, “Oh, the other girl just disappears. I’m just focusing on me and the judges.” But, when I’m watching you, it seems like you do kind of play with the other girl. What was going through your mind when you were doing those lip-syncs?

Oh, honestly, I don’t think when I’m doing the lip-syncs. Everything that happens when I’m put on stage, it naturally just happens. It’s like out of nowhere. I think being with Elliott With Two Ts — that, I think, for us, both being dancers, that moment was just do your thing and go down at the same time. I think that was the natural dance moment for the both of us. But when I’m on stage, I’m in a whole other world. Usually, I don’t even remember what I have done when I’m on stage.

Is Kelly Clarkson usually in your lip-sync rotation?

No. Yeah, actually that was my first time performing Iggy [Azalea] and Kelly Clarkson, and even the Pussycat Dolls. I’m more of a Beyoncé girl. Or Megan Thee Stallion.

What’s your go-to Beyoncé album?

My go-to Beyoncé album? Oh, let me take it there. My go-to Beyoncé album will be B’Day because I love “Deja Vu.” Oh my God. I love that song.

Do you have a favorite memory from the Drag Race set?

Meeting my sisters. Getting to know so many different queens from around the country with different styles of drag. We genuinely love each other. Yeah, just meeting them. That was just my best memory.

I bet you’re all excited to perform together once everything opens back up, huh?

Oh, yes. Oh, it’s going to be a good tour. It’s going to be a really good tour.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 airs Fridays at 8/7c on VH1.

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