RuPaul’s Drag Race’s fifth season is finally boiled down to its fiercest four — obvious frontrunner Jinkx Monsoon (who has ranked among the top performers in eight of the season’s ten challenges), deadpan comic Alyssa Thunderf*ck, the scrappy Roxxxy Andrews, and the fabulous side-eye empress Detox. Following last night’s challenge in which the queens paired up with gay marines to perform a flag routine as a “family,” the queen asked to sashay away was Coco Montrese, a.k.a. 37-year-old Martin Cooper of Las Vegas, the shade-hurling, happily melodramatic queen who proved on four specific occasions (including last night) that she is a marvelous lip-syncer. Detox outperformed her in a performance of Seduction’s “(It Takes) Two to Make It Right” (which features Michelle Visage, of course), but her legacy in diva-mimicking showwomanship is already cemented.
We caught up with Coco to discuss her feud with Alyssa, her lip-sync preparations, and what she wishes she could’ve done to stay in the competition.
AfterElton: You had a stressful season. I asked Alyssa this when I spoke to her, but is it stressful to relive and watch that drama unfold on TV?
Coco Montrese: It is. It’s very hard to watch. So many people get the wrong perception of what you are and what you’re feeling at that moment in the competition because it is so stressful. Sometimes they think you can’t take criticism well, and that’s not the case! Until you’re in that situation, you can’t judge me and say that. It’s really stressful and very hard to watch.
AE: You’ve said that the judges’ critiques don’t bother you, but were there any that ended up sticking with you?
CM: Like I said in Untucked, when it’s myself, OK, yeah, [criticism] is fine. I’m fine with that. But in this last challenge when I was with someone else and I was given the task to do something with him, I got very protective of the other person. It was my job to do it. I felt responsible and very bad that he had to stand there and hear that, and not only did he have to hear it during his first time in drag, he had to hear in front of the whole world that, basically, Coco made him look busted. So that stung more than anything else. I go into protection mode! I am one of the older contestants in the competition, so I have a motherly type of defense for other people. That was hard. That was really hard. ’
AE: All four of your lip-sync performances were flawless, including this last one against Detox. How did you strategize and plan for each lip-sync?
Coco Montrese: I’m an entertainer at heart, so for me, when it comes to lip-syncing, it has to look real. In order for it to look real, you have to know what you’re singing about. If the song is happy — “(It Takes) to Make It Right” — that’s kind of bubbly and kind of fun, you have to know what you’re talking about to make it out of sight! You know, that type of thing. Every song that I lip-synced, I put myself into the words. I don’t just lip-sync because, “Oh, I know the words.” I have to know what it’s about. With “Cold Hearted,” I had to pull the emotion of, “I’ve been wronged by this guy, and it’s awful!” to make it look real and believable. That’s something I use to perform to the best of my ability, and so that it looks real to the audience, you know? If they can feel it, I think I’ve done my job.
AE: I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that your “Cold Hearted” lip-sync is the best in the history of the show. I really figured your huge costume would be a hindrance for you, and you worked it out. The sleeve spinning? Amazing.
CM: You never go in thinking you’re going to end up lip-syncing, but with the dress, that was luck of the draw. I like to actually use to make it work all the time, and as far as the costume goes, I love to perform and I always use every inch of my body to perform. Luckily for me, the costume I had at the time was able to do that. You can’t plan for that though. You don’t want to be in the bottom!
AE: Your feud with Alyssa was a major plot point this season, but editing can often distort how much these personal dramas matter. Did this matter preoccupy you more or less than what we saw on TV?
CM: I mean, I think it was a little bit less of an issue than you saw. But I’ll be honest, it was an issue. People say, “Oh, you’re in a competition! Get over it.” It’s not that simple when friendships are real. When you haven’t talked to someone in two years, then you walk into a room and they’re there? The only difference is there were cameras there! People say, “Oh, I’m so over the feud between you two!” And I’m saying to myself, “You’re with your brothers and sisters every day!” People have those relationships and go through that all the time, and ours was just different because it was on film. People got to see it on TV. We do care about each other a lot, and we’re really good friends. That did play a role and it did throw me off in the beginning of the competition, yes.
AE: Was it really satisfying to beat her in the “Cold Hearted” lip-sync?
CM: Alyssa is a great entertainer. You cannot take that from her. She’s an amazing performer, and we’ve gone head to head many times. She’s pulled out on top sometimes, and I’ve pulled out on top sometimes. We’re both competitive and love what we do. I had no idea how it was going to go or what it was going to come down to, but I knew I had to give it my all. Giving it my all, I knew I’d be happy either way. There was a passion behind it, yes. The most passion I had in the competition was the ballet we did together and the lip-sync we did with each other. Once again here you have two entertainers who have a passion for what they do, and in the ballet, I was just trying to keep up with her because she’s such an amazing dancer. I was just happy I could keep up with her at that point in the competition. When it came to the lip-sync, I gave it my all. I was happy about that.
AE: Sometimes I can’t predict which challenges will bring out the best in the contestants, and that was definitely the case for the RuPaul roast challenge. Did you know that would be a triumph for you from the start?
CM: Not at all! I’d been down so much in the competition and still letting my friendships and feelings get the best of me. I just knew at that point, “OK, Coco. Shut everything out. Make this great.” I’ll be honest with you, when I told Ru the other night, “I feel like I was letting you down,” I’d realized Ru put me there for a reason and I really didn’t want to let him down. I didn’t want him to feel like, “Coco, what’s going on? What’s going on here?” When the roast came around, I thought, “I’ve got to remove myself from myself. I’ve got to put myself into a character.” When I put myself into a character, that’s when I do my best drag. Like when I lip-sync, if I put myself in that girl’s shoes — who ever is singing the song — I’m more of a character and I pull it off. So, I have to give a character performance. I have to get into character to pull it off. Maybe if I thought about it more during the competition, maybe I’d still be in the competition, you know?If I’d really put myself into character during the “Can I Get An Amen?” challenge, or if I put myself into a character in any of the other challenges, I might’ve excelled higher. But you live and you learn.
AE: Your Janet drag during the “Snatch Game” challenge was pretty powerful. What’s your favorite Janet song to perform?
CM: Oh my God, I love “Rhythm Nation.” It’s just such a powerful nation about unity. And that one I get to perform every night, so it’s really one of my favorite songs.
AE: And lastly: Which of the remaining queens would you throw your support behind, if you could only choose one?
CM: Oh, God! OK — I know you said only one. Based on friendship and loving and adoring her, Roxxxy. I’ve loved her since day one, we’ve known each other for years, and she’s amazing. Looking at the competition and who’s excelled so much in everything and who I’ve gotten to know and love, just everything about her, I’d have to say Jinkx. The comedy is hilarious, and being with her on set and after the competition, she’s just amazing.