Words: Alastair James; pictures BBC
RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under's Art Simone has hit back at complaints that this season's contestants were excessively cruel to each other, saying: "A lot of international people watching have been like 'you’re all mean!' and no!"
Speaking to Attitude ahead of this weekend's grand final, the star adds she was "cracked" in a "good way" by her time on the show and she has since learnt to take more care of herself.
Here, Art - who's going up against Kita Mean, Scarlet Adams and Karen from Finance - discusses coming back into the show following her early elimination in episode two, and what she'd use the crown for if she wins.
What was it like coming back to the show?
It was a whirlwind. A lot of people were upset when I left and when I came back a lot of people were happy but also confused. That aside, it’s been so exciting that I’ve got to continue doing what I do best which is showcasing Aussie drag. So, it’s been fabulous and I’m very grateful for it.
There was a lot of confusion... Was there anything you were told?
I just got a call saying ‘Ru wants you back.' That was that. Ru said on the episode she spoke with the judges, and they agreed Snatch Game wasn’t an accurate portrayal of who I was and that they saw more in me. There’s no rulebook for Drag Race and when you get asked to go back, you go back.
A lot of people have been spinning negative stuff on me as if it was my decision and my fault. Realistically that was Ru and the producers, and you never say no to an opportunity like that. You don’t often get a second chance. Making it to the end shows I wasn’t wasting that.
And what do you make of the criticism of the show as to the lack of explanation about why you were brought back and not Coco Jumbo or Jojo Zaho?
I can’t talk on that because it wasn’t my decision. For people to hold me accountable, it’s not fair. I’ve known Jojo for years and I would have loved for her to be standing there with me but unfortunately, she couldn’t be.
What did you make of your… glamorous re-entry into the werkroom?
You don’t know how long I was in that bin for! Everyone was so upset when I left. They didn’t want the secret I was coming back getting out. They had a whole code name for it – it was top secret! I was covered in rubbish and told my cue was “trash” and I jumped out. I’ve now got a letter from my physiotherapist for my bad knees.
And how does it feel being in the final?
Bloody amazing! It feels right. I will always say I represent traditional Aussie drag. I went in there unapologetically being myself and not changing anything for the audience. It’s been 13 years waiting for this opportunity. The worst thing I could have done is go on that stage and not be myself.
I’m so excited because there’s a whole bunch of people across the world who’ve learnt about Priscilla [Queen of the Desert], goon sacks, who Bindi Irwin is. People are getting to know a bit more about Down Under.
A lot of international people watching have been like “you’re all mean!” and no! We’re having fun! We’re a bunch of friends taking the piss out of each other and having a laugh. I think if people watch it again with fresh eyes and to put [out] all their ideas of other series, [they'll] understand we’re a whole different culture.
And that’s OK, it’s OK not to understand what we’re talking about. If you don’t understand something, don’t shut it down! That doesn’t help anyone! I’m so excited for people who have watched it to use it as an opportunity to explore a different culture. That’s exciting!
In terms of the werkroom and getting ready for runways etc., there did seem to be some tension between a few people. You talked about everyone joking - did you think everyone was in on that?
100%. There were also people who knew there were cameras rolling and they could play into it when in reality we were just having fun. We all knew that. We were all in it and for anyone to walk out and think that anything was meant intentionally, it wasn’t at all. We were having so much fun and it was never established that we all knew each other.
What did you learn about yourself from being on Drag Race?
I learnt how to cry. I was like a human brick that existed and didn’t feel emotion. Drag Race cracked me in a good way so now instead of bubbling things up I can feel my emotions and that was a really big gift. And in this last episode, I had a great chat with Ru and Michelle, and it was the first time I’ve had outsiders look at me and deconstruct why I am the way I am.
It was really refreshing for them to say where I could improve the way I live my life. I’m a workaholic, I’m a yes person, I will run myself into the ground to make sure everyone is happy. They said I can keep pleasing everyone, but I need to look after myself, but I’ve been doing that since I left because if I don’t look after myself, I can’t look after anyone else.
I didn’t learn anything about drag, but I learnt about myself which is the biggest gift I could have got and I’m so grateful for that.
And what would you do as the winner of Drag Race Down Under?
I would continue my mission of showcasing Australasian drag. For years I’ve been fighting to put our drag on the world stage and internally, within Australia, I’ve been bringing drag to regional places where there aren’t queer safe spaces and visibility.
By having the title and the crown I could do that on such a bigger scale and with more weight to my name to help more people. That’s what I want to do because it’s so important to have queer visibility throughout all of Australia and New Zealand. It would mean the world.
The finale of RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under airs on BBC iPlayer on Sunday 20 June 2021.
The Attitude Summer issue is out now.