“Live life in your truth, and love always wins,” exclaims the newly crowned Kylie Sonique Love, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 6, and the latest queen inducted into the Drag Race Hall Of Fame. In a competition all about “Ru-demption,” Kylie’s journey stands out: From being ousted fourth in the show’s second season to her first-place finish over 11 years later, the queen earns the distinction of “most improved” among the All Stars winner’s circle.
But beyond that, Kylie Sonique Love’s win is a historic one; she’s the first openly transgender woman to take the crown in a U.S. season of Drag Race. It’s a major victory in the show’s “herstory” as it continues to evolve and become a more inclusive cornerstone for LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Throughout her run, Kylie has embodied that message to “live life in your truth,” embracing her heart, her femininity, her soulfulness, her sense of humor, her strength, and even her Southern twang. She struts out the other side of All Stars 6 a more well-rounded and polished queen than when we first met her—and an undeniable champion.
A day after her groundbreaking win, The A.V. Club spoke with Kylie Sonique Love to reflect on her crowning, that jaw-dropping tumble, and what “drag daughter” Miley Cyrus texted her after her win.
The A.V. Club: Congratulations on a well-deserved win! There’s so much to get into, but the first thing I’m just dying to know is: What was going through your head during that lip-sync at the moment when you turned a trip into an elegant tumble?
Kylie Sonique Love: My god, when I tell you—everything was going so great. Because, when I first lip-synced for my legacy with Manila [Luzon], I gave a lot of acrobatics and fierceness, stuff like that. And so I told myself, “Okay, we’re not going to wear a catsuit, or a bodysuit, or whatever. We’re going to put on a gown and we’re going to go out there and give them a lip-sync performance.” It wasn’t going to be about the tricks and all that.
So, the music starts up playing, I’m getting my life, and I start to really get into it. And then—something that hardly ever happens to me on stage—my shoe hit the boa that I had, and I lost my balance. I saw myself in slow motion, like when you watch a movie and it’s almost like everything slows down. That’s exactly what happened to me. It was so weird, an out-of-body experience. But I was having this conversation with myself, in my head, like “You are falling! But you don’t have to fall on your face!” [Laughs.] Like, “You don’t have to do this—you’re a gymnast! This is what they taught you, how to roll out of a fall.” So, honey, I did my little role and I was like, “Alright now, bitch: Pose!” I landed it, I lifted my chin up, I looked at the judges, and I just served it to them.
So, yes, I fell, but I did it with style. And you could hear them gasp! I remember when I got up—and I thought I blew it, honestly. But I remember, when I was walking off the stage after the performance, I believe I heard Carson [Kressley] say, “Oh my god, she saved that!” But, listen, I was nervous to watch it back. I was like, “ This is either going to be so impressive that I saved myself, or they’re taking points off,” you know?
AVC: Watching it back in the live reaction video, you can see that feeling on your face. And then, to see such genuine surprise when Ru announces your win, it was like, “She thought she blew it!”
KSL: I did, I did. [Laughs.] The other girls—well, we didn’t get to watch each other in that final lip-sync. I told them, I said, “I failed my lip-sync. I recovered, but I don’t know how that’s going to be on TV.” So they were seeing it for the first time, too. And, you know? I was really proud of me. I fall down a lot in life, but I’ve learned how to get back up and just perfect those falls, you know? And I’m really proud of me. All those years of gymnastics paid off!
AVC: It really did make for incredible TV. And this is one of those moments that feels so thematically relevant—to your journey, to All Stars’ story of Ru-demption—it just shows what a fighter you are and how much you’ve grown. Looking back on the season as a whole, how would you say the competition has made you a better queen?
KSL: I think I’ve just gotten to learn more about myself. I think it’s super important that we don’t ignore who we are outside of drag. Sometimes we get caught up in the fabulousness of drag and kind of forget about us, you know? People want to celebrate us when we’re in drag, but, the thing is, you have to learn how to celebrate yourself when you’re not in drag, and when you’re by yourself. I’ve just gotten to know myself better.
When I first came out and started my transition, it was really hard for me to do drag. I couldn’t figure out where it stopped and where it started, you know? I felt like I had to prove to everyone that I’m the most female-female there ever is. But I also felt I needed to prove that I’m still a drag performer. It was really hard for me to find that balance. And I think, especially now, I’m just in a much better place where it’s not a game to me, and I’ve allowed myself to have fun with it again and to not let it affect who I am out of drag.
AVC: And that was so evident on the show, too. You’re such a source of wisdom and optimism for the other queens, and you just came in with this clarity of purpose. And it paid off! You got the crown in the end. There’s already been so much chatter about how historic your win is, but what does it mean to you? And what do you hope it means for the show moving forward?
KSL: Not only is it a new chapter in my life, but I think it’s a new chapter in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race, in a lot of ways. I mean, just to have a queen from earlier season come back and win! We’ve had a lot of girls from season two come back to try to win, and many have almost got it. And I did it, I came back and I did it.
It just made me feel like I wasn’t a “filler queen”—and I never felt like that. But, watching the show, I guess that it could come across that way. There’s a reason why every single queen is on that show: Because we are all fabulous, and sometimes we don’t get to show that. I wanted to give everybody everything I had. When I watched it back, I just felt proud of me, and I didn’t feel like there was anything left undone or unsaid. You never know when your last chance is, so give it all you’ve got every single time so no matter what happens, you can be proud.
AVC: To talk specifically about the finale, this was one of those instances where some fans felt wary about the way Drag Race embraces patriotism, particularly as we see the government continue to work against the rights and interests of the marginalized. But, with your final runway look, you make this powerful statement about reclaiming the flag. Could you tell me a bit more about what that means to you, and the message you want to get out there?
KSL: Absolutely! For me, I grew up in this country, and when I was a kid, being in America and seeing that flag made me feel good. We were taught to be proud, we would get up in the morning at school, we would place our hand over our heart, and we would pledge allegiance to the flag. And all of us, everybody in the classroom, no matter what color you were, or what race you were, we all stood up and we did that together. But, at some point, we started using the flag to represent things that made us resent it, and it made me feel really odd because this was all I know—I’ve never been anywhere else. What I’ve learned is, there’s a lot of places in this world that don’t have the freedoms that we do have.
So I think, for me, it’s just about being proud of who I am, just wanting to wrap myself in a flag and say, “You know what? I’m still here! Don’t discount me. And don’t discount the other people that are here.” Because a person like me in another country may not be alive—they may not have doctors to help them, or a community where they can share their experiences or celebrate. I just kind of want to change the perception of what people think America means now—to change that, take it back and make it represent something that we can all be proud of.
Honestly, we’re only as free as we allow ourselves to be. And I’m not going to let somebody else tell me who I am, why I am, or what I can and can’t celebrate. I think the beauty of being an American is being able to figure out how to make something work for you. We have a lot more freedoms than a lot of places, right? And I don’t always feel safe, and in every area I go to—I don’t always feel like the country has my back one-hundred percent. But, just like animals in the wild, you learn how to adapt to survive and make the best out of life. As long as I’m here, I want to have a good time, and I want to be proud of what I do and not have to hide it. And I want other people to do that, too. I think if we can do that, I think this would be a much better place.
AVC: I have to ask, have you heard from your drag daughter, Miley Cyrus, since winning?
KSL: I sure have. She just texted me yesterday—hold on, let me pull up [the text.] Where is it? Because a million people have texted me. [Laughs.]
She said, “Mama, you the winner!” [Laughs.] I said, “We’ve got to celebrate,” and she says, “Fuck to the yes! When are you in LA, my queen?” She said, “You are my mother for a reason!” She said she was watching tonight, and had not seen it yet, but she heard that I won. We’re both gigging right now, we’re both doing our gigs, but we always make time for each other.
She’s great. We got to perform a couple times together this year, and it was so fabulous. Honey, we went viral with our “American Woman” performance, which is another full circle moment. [Laughs.] And, yeah, she sent me some really cute diamond-gold earrings that spell out, “LOVE.” I wear them every day. I can’t wait to celebrate with her, I mean, I’ve literally learned so much from her since I first met her back in 2015. She’s just so hands on with everything she’s doing—she’s not a puppet at all. And, when she’s in the room with people, she acknowledges everybody, no matter whose job is what, and that’s just something that I have loved about her. The fact that hundreds of millions of people know who she is—I’m sure everybody wants a piece of her time. And the fact she takes time out of her day to see what’s going on with me, I’m like, “Okay, Kylie, answer those text messages!” [Laughs.] If Miley can take the time to message you back, you can take the time to message people back, too.
AVC: Kylie and Miley—that’s a powerful team. We hope for more collaborations in the future!
KSL: Yeah, I would love to. I would love to work on maybe some music together—I think it would be really good. I just put out a song called “Do It Like Dolly,” and a lot of people were like, “Oh my god, is Miley on that track with you?” And she isn’t, but what’s so crazy is, I never pushed myself to sing like that, but when I was a studio, [producer] John Duff was like, “No, I want you to get loud! I want you to put that country in there.” I was like, “Really?” I had never put out music like that before, but I trusted him that I had it in me. So I did it and I was like, “Oh my god, what is this?” It was. And it’s just so crazy that there are similarities there, [between Miley and me] and I’m here for it. Not a bad person to be compared to. [Laughs.] But I hope any Dolly Parton fan can appreciate it, because we made sure it was done right to every detail.