TV

Symone: I Set Out to Show “You Can Be Black and Gay and Love Yourself”

"But don't get it twisted — I came there to win."

Is your blood sugar low? If so, then Symone has just the thing to satisfy your Sweet Toof.

The Arkansas-born, Los Angeles-based queen was never afraid to make a statement when sashaying down the RuPaul’s Drag Race runway. A frontrunner from the beginning, Symone won the first two maxi-challenges back-to-back. She would go onto win four maxi-challenges but land in the bottom two twice, for the Rusical and Nice Girl Roast episodes.

Symone turned it up to 11 during the acting challenges, but she also brought it with her fashion. Her outfits highlighted Black culture and mixed couture with political commentary, including her du-rag train look and her Fascinating Fascinators look with bloody bullet holes on her back and “Say Their Names” etched on the back of her headdress.

Symone spoke with NewNowNext about making it to the final four of Drag Race Season 13, if her good friend Gigi Goode had any advice for her going into the finale, and how seeing RuPaul on Sabrina the Teenage Witch inspired her drag journey.
 

Hi, Symone! First off, your runway looks were so beautiful, and they were also political. Why was it important to you to celebrate Black culture on the runway?

Well, it was important because there have been other queens before me and they’ve paved the way for me, for sure. I wanted to celebrate it in a way that I’d never seen before, and I think it was a way for me to send the love out to all of the kids who felt like I did growing up, who felt bad about being Black and gay. There’s kind of a connotation with it, especially in our own community — I’m just going to be real. So it was really important for me to show people, specifically queer Black people, that you can be Black and gay and love yourself and have fun, and be gorgeous, and stunning, and also say something with how you present yourself. I had three points I wanted to hit on the runway. I wanted to have fun; I wanted people to be like, “That’s a Symone look,” I didn’t want to ever look like anyone else; and I also wanted to say something. People need a little hope, a little love, and a little encouragement everything’s going to be okay, especially in the times we’re in right now. So I kind of just wanted to blend all of that together.

Were your runway looks always going to be political, or did last summer’s protests influence that?

Oh no, it would have always been that way. I’ve always been that type of person. I don’t want to just be a pretty thing. I think if anything, it made it more important to me to do it because how you look and how you express yourself is very important. It’s drag; it’s a visual art form. As much as it is comedy and things, it is also a visual thing, and it’s important to be yourself. I’ve always been that way, and I just think that’s the purpose of art, to challenge the times and reflect on it.

When you said queens that paved the way, are there one or two queens that come to mind who really inspire you?

Shea [Couleé]. I think her being on the show. And imagine, I auditioned for her season and I wish I could show you the audition tape — you would have been like, “No. Send her home first, now.” [Laughs] I think for me, she was very pinnacle because she very much opened the door for me. And Naomi [Smalls], being able to infuse fashion and drag in the way that she did, she’s very big up there for me, too.

Seeing RuPaul getting choked up talking about how proud he is of you…we don’t see that very often as viewers. What was that moment like for you?

It was amazing because if anything, it’s just like, oh my God, thank you so much. I love you. You were a huge influence in my life. Seeing you on Sabrina the Teenage Witch — it’s insane, just snapping your fingers and becoming this gorgeous Glamazonian woman, I was just like, oh, my God! And now, for you to give that love back to me for showing myself on the show, you cannot buy that. It was beautiful for me and I think, in a way, beautiful for everyone to see. I could probably cry now thinking about it.

You’re standing up on stage, and the most famous drag queen in the world is saying that they’re proud of you.

It was what you strive for … I mean, of course, you strive for the [Drag Race] crown, but it’s kind of what you want when you go on the show. You want to impress RuPaul and to get that kind of love and adoration. You can say whatever you want, but that’s what you want when you go on the show. And I got that, so yay for me. Yay for Symone!

So what was it like preparing for the finale?

Preparing for the finale was fun and very stressful, as you can probably imagine, because I wanted to … as much as I’d shown of myself, I felt like, okay, I can give them more, I can give them another side of me. So that was really important to me and kind of nerve-racking in the sense that you never know what’s going to happen. But then when we actually started filming and we were getting ready and whatnot, there was a certain sense of calm that washed over me because it was like, you’ve made it to the top four, so now just show who you are and just further prove to them why you deserve to be crowned. I know I did what I needed to do, and I know that I have an impact. Those are all the things I wanted, regardless of what happened. But don’t get it twisted — I came there to win, I said it. But I know I did what I needed to do and I’m very proud of everything. It was all a lot of fun, a lot of nerves, but overall just a beautiful experience.

And you four, the final four, you all seem so close.

Yeah. I’m literally getting messages now from them. We talk every day. We have a group chat. Before we got busy, busy, we would call each other every day on FaceTime. We’re really, really close. We root for each other. We’re all so different but it’s love, and we were even filming the finale being like, “You all bitches, we made it here.” It was really lovely.
 

I know Gigi’s finale was a little different, but did Gigi have any advice for you going into the finale?

It was kind of the same advice that she had going into the competition, which was, “Have fun with it and really bask in it because it’s almost over, so just enjoy it.” I had a tendency to be a little crazy person when I was filming, so they were just like, “Bitch, you made it to the top four, so just literally enjoy yourself. These looks are stunning. You’re going to be great. It’s fine.”

What was your favorite look that you wore this season?

People ask me this and I’m like, it is so hard. They’re just all so beautiful.

I know.

They’re like my babies. Well, the one that is the closest to my heart is my du-rag look because that came from seeing my cousins, my uncles, and my brothers. When I look at that look, I think of them, and it’s such a sweet place in my heart. It just warms me every time I see it, and I think it’s so important. And it was a strong look at the beginning. We don’t know the runway until we know, so I did that one for me.

When you think back to filming Drag Race, do you have a favorite moment or a moment that just encapsulates your time there?

Not a specific moment. I think of it all as one big journey. I think the runways and seeing RuPaul light up and the judges light up and everyone just getting it immediately. All the runways and the times with Mother Ru and the judges with them giving advice, those are my favorite moments. There are so many things I enjoyed about filming. I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of, and it was just all so great. I don’t really have a specific moment, although I will say getting to talk with Ru and Michelle [during the Tic-Tac lunch], that was pretty major.

Well, I mean, Ru was right. You walked out on that stage, and we knew instantly, “Oh, she’s a star.”

There she is! Oop!

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