Warning: This interview contains spoilers for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5.
This week I was thrilled to have the chance to speak to RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 Miss Congeniality winner, Ivy Winters. Ivy was [not so] fresh from the Drag Race party at New York City’s XL nightclub on Monday night, but like the trooper she is, she graciously agreed to chat with me about America’s Next Drag Superstar, learning to be a clown and putting in her two cents on this year’s epic feud between Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese.
Vada: Hello Ivy Winters!
Ivy Winters: Hi, mister!
So, condragulations, Miss Congeniality!
Thank you so much, it was a wonderful honour!
How did it feel to win?
It was amazing for me to be able to accept Miss Congeniality – I’m just so blessed and honoured that people could see the happy, positive light of drag in me. I’m very honoured.
I’m in the UK, so I don’t get to watch the show live. There was a distinct possibility that I might have to get you to tell me who won, but I did get the chance to watch the Reunion episode this morning.
I saw a picture of the “water off a duck’s back” dress that you wore last night at the viewing party at XL in NYC – did you make that?
Oh, yes! I was so excited to be able to wear that. I was racking my brain – ‘What am I gonna make, what am I gonna make?’ I’m such a Jinkx Monsoon supporter and I just wanted to wear something that was going to feature her and show my support in hoping that she was gonna win – and she did!
Did you know she was going to win the whole time?
You never know – those three girls [the top 3 queens – Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska Thunderfuck and Roxxxy Andrews] are very talented, but I really thought Jinkx was going to take it with her personality and how amazing she is. I knew she was gonna win in my heart.
What was the crowd’s reaction like to Jinkx’s win last night?
They went wild! Oh, they went crazy! They had a bunch of security guards because people were tackling us for photos.
What time did you leave the club?
I left around 3.30am.
Well, that’s quite respectable!
[Laughs] Yeah and then the housekeeper at the hotel knocked on my door at like 8.45am and I was like “noooo!” and then I couldn’t get back to bed.
So have you spoken to Jinkx today?
I’m actually with her right now, we’re at Planet Hollywood and she’s doing a big photo op. She’s fully in drag this morning, and we’re hanging out with her best friend Kenny.
Has it hit her yet that she won?
I don’t know, I asked her that and she’s like “No it hasn’t”, but I think it’s going to hit her very soon. Yeah, she’s getting used to it!
Right, well now back to Ivy Winters! I’m curious about your circus background, but I don’t know much about it. Did you actually travel with a circus? How did you become interested in circus performing?
Well when I was a kid, I think I was about 8 years old, I saw clowns juggling and I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so I practiced for months learning how to juggle. Once I learned that, I just wanted to learn everything to do with being a clown or being in the circus. Any little circus trick fascinated me, so I practised a lot growing up. I was never actually in a circus; I did tour with a couple of entertainment agencies or like those miniature carnivals doing birthday parties and parades – and I did that for about eight and a half years. When I started doing drag I just started incorporating my circus skills in with my drag because that’s something that a lot of people like to see, and they don’t often get to see drag queens do that.
What was it that prompted you to start doing drag?
I’ve always been fascinated with makeup and putting on costumes and developing characters – especially after being a clown for so long – and I’ve always loved the theatre. I went to my first drag show when I was 18, and I thought “Oh my God, this is something that I have to do, it’d be so much fun.” So I did it once and I was addicted!
Are your family supportive of your drag career?
Yes, both my parents have been to multiple drag shows, and my mom has stayed up all night with me rhinestoning costumes with me. At first they were a little like “Ehh, why do you want to be dressing in women’s clothing?” So I told them it’s just like when I worked as a clown – putting on a costume to entertain people and have fun. As soon as they saw my first show they knew why I liked to do it.
So I know you sew a lot, and you’re a very talented seamstress. Where did you learn to make outfits and what are your inspirations when you’re designing costumes for yourself or for other people?
Thank you! Well I’m completely self-taught. When I first started doing drag, I hated seeing girls that were wearing the same costumes as other girls, and I didn’t want to have something that another girl had. I love art and I love creating things, so I went to Walmart and I bought sewing patterns and I started off with like, an easy swimsuit. Then I just practiced and practiced, and it just developed into a business for me, making costumes for people. And inspiration is everywhere for me; I find a lot of inspiration in other drag queens – Manila Luzon, she’s a big inspiration for me. I’ve made quite a few costumes for her, she’s always wanting me to make her some crazy character piece. I get a lot of inspiration from the circus and from everyday life ; I love making costumes out of weird materials like cassette tape or paper –really anything. I’m always saving things because I always think “I’ll find a way to make this into a dress somehow!” You should see my apartment, it’s full of just crap.
What is the drag scene like in New York City?
It’s very over-the-top, it’s very big. We have a big mixture of drag queens – we have the so-called pageant girls, we have the clowny girls, we have camp – a lot of camp, everything’s about the big hair and the character. It’s like a mixed bag of nuts!
What is your style of drag, if you had to define it?
I don’t know how I’d place myself. I mean, I grew up doing pageants in Michigan, so I have the pageant aspect, but I also love being over-the-top and crazy. I’m kind of like a mixture of all of it, I like to change it up and not really stick to one certain look. I guess I’d say I’m more of a character drag queen.
You’re a well-rounded queen, which is a good thing.
Thank you! [Laughs] Are you callin’ me fat?!
Definitely not! How could I ever? So was this the first time you’d auditioned for Drag Race?
Yeah, my very first time.
Wow, so what motivated you to apply?
I’ve watched the show religiously from day one, and I guess auditioning had never hit me, like “Oh, I could audition for this show.” Then I thought about it and it scared the crap out of me! Just like, being put out there in the world and having people edit you in whatever way they could – it freaked me out. My roommate was like “Just audition, I’ll help you with the video – wonderful things will come of it.” And she was right, and I’m so happy I auditioned.
So, there’s a particular way that RuPaul says your name. How do you feel about the fact that people will be calling you “Ivyyyyy Winteeeeers” for years to come?
They’re going to be saying my name like that forever![Laughs] I’m just honoured that she found a little fun way to say my name.
Which of the challenges was your favourite and which was your least favourite?
I loved the ballet challenge. I’m not really a dancer, but working with Jinkx was great – that was kind of where we made really good friends. And the choreography was fun and I loved portraying Lady Bunny because she’s a friend of mine so it was fun to be able to do that. My least favourite would probably be the Roast…[Laughs] because trying to come up with jokes was not my forte! I was super stressed out that day – I don’t think I had any fingernails left!
We learned during the “Can I Get an Amen?” challenge that you’re a fantastic singer – do you ever sing live during your drag shows?
I grew up singing, doing musical theatre, and I love choir, I was in a show choir for years, and I love classical music. I really really do enjoy singing, but in Michigan if you don’t have a girlish voice then people didn’t really care for the singing live- people didn’t really get into it. So, for years living in Michigan I was kind of trained to not sing in drag. Drag Race has really opened me up to think “Why don’t I sing in drag?!” So I’m going to start singing live.
Amazing. Many of the Drag Race girls have released their own songs – is it something you’d ever consider doing yourself?
Oh, definitely. I’ve watched and helped Manila do a couple of songs and the process is super fun.
Were there any talents you wish you could have showed off on Drag Race that you didn’t? For example, I’ve seen you juggling knives on YouTube, which was very impressive!
I wish I’d been able to juggle on the show. I had my juggling stuff but I never had the opportunity to do that.
Had you met any of the Season 5 queens before the competition?
I had only heard of Alyssa Edwards before the show, nobody else.
How well-known is Alyssa in the drag world? I got the impression that most of the queens knew who she was when she walked in.
Yeah, she is quite well known. I remember seeing her years ago and thinking she was stunningly beautiful so then when I walked into the workroom I was like “Oh God I have to compete against this lady!”
Well, Miss Congeniality, everybody liked you – but which of the queens would you really not want to piss off?
Oh, Coco. I was scared of her! [Laughs].
How much did the Coco/Alyssa drama affect you all in the workroom?
I tried to stay out of it and stay out of the drama and the craziness. It was very never-ending with those two. Being kicked off in the eighth episode I was like “Yay! I don’t have to hear it anymore!”
It was very intense to watch sometimes.
Yeah, and it was intense being there!
Has being on RuPaul’s Drag Race changed your life, and would you do it again if you had the chance (I’m thinking All Stars 2.0!)?
Oh definitely! Drag Race has completely spun my life around and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
What’s next for Ivy Winters?
I am going to be working on my costume business, sewing a lot more and I’m definitely going to have to work on a single.
Yes! I will definitely be buying your single!
Yay, werk honey! Thank you!
So what are your plans for the rest of today?
Hanging out and relaxing! [Laughs] And not shaving my face today…
And just one last thing before I let you go, Ivy.
Both: IVYYYYYYYYY WINTERRRRRRRRS!!
Many thanks to Lauren Kenyon at Rogers & Cowan for helping me arrange this interview.
You can see more of Ivy at her official website, missivywinters.com