Trixie Mattel on Kacey Musgraves and why she’s “still scared of RuPaul”

Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images, Graphic: Rebecca Fassola.
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A country music-loving drag queen who’s been a perennial favorite of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Trixie Mattel finally got her just deserts earlier this spring when she (spoiler alert!) won All Stars season three. Though the win has been controversial among Shangela stans, it was well-deserved, as Mattel has not only risen through the chaff of former Drag Race contestants to host her own TV show, The Trixie & Katya Show, on Viceland, but also just released her second full-length country LP. (That record, One Stone, quickly rocketed up the iTunes charts to No. 1.) She’ll be touring the country in support of One Stone starting April 20 in Fort Lauderdale, but she’ll also be making several appearances at RuPaul’s DragCon in Los Angeles the weekend of May 11. The A.V. Club talked to the native Midwesterner about what she’s got planned for the con, as well as how Trixie Mattel came into existence.

The A.V. Club: How has the character of Trixie developed from your first time doing drag?

Trixie Mattel: I never got a call back for my group interview at Forever 21, and I needed to pay those bills.

I think as drag queens, it’s such a weird, vast, involved art form that’s so specific and strange, and so when you start doing drag, you’re sort of just throwing darts, you know? And then when it starts to stick the way you like, then you get closer and closer to your bullseye.

I’ve been doing drag, like, 10 years. Originally I was kind of trying all different things, but I always had this idea of Barbie. I love Barbie. And so when I started pushing that Barbie thing, then I started doing the makeup bigger and the hair bigger, and then I started combining my real sense of humor, which is really too much, too bad, horrible, not PC, going straight to hell, dark, deep, dry, Midwestern sarcastic cynical. And I started realizing this Barbie image with this negative outlook was actually a fun combination. And that’s when a lightbulb turned on. That was right around the time I did Drag Race.

So then I was doing stand-up as this sort of Malibu Barbie character, and when I started combining my other love, which is folk music, I started aiming Trixie a little bit more towards, like, a Coachella or Woodstock sort of Barbie, so I could combine my music into my stand-up.

If figuring out that I could do comedy was a light bulb turning on, figuring out that I could add music [to my show] was like the strip in Vegas turning on all at once. It was like, “Oh my god, this is what I should’ve been doing the whole time.” But I think as drag queens, we’re all always just inching towards something different. I’m sure every drag queen will tell you, once you’ve worn something or done something, we’re over it. We’re always trying new things, because we’re bored. We’re fickle. You know what I mean? Like, you wear something once and then the magic of that is dead—that’s kind of what it feels like for drag, too.

AVC: Who, musically, are you into? You’ve said Kasey Musgraves, whose album just came out. 

TM: Love her. She’s great.

I mean, I’m sort of like an old man. I love John Denver. Townes Van Zandt is one of my all-time favorites. Jason Isbell, so great. Aimee Mann, who just won the Grammy for folk album last year. John Prine…

Dolly Parton, love. Loretta Lynn, love. June Carter Cash is probably my all-time favorite member of the Carter Family. She’s Johnny Cash’s wife. She played autoharp, too, like I do. And she was a fabulous songwriter. She actually wrote “Ring Of Fire.” Nobody knows that.

AVC: “Jackson” is one of the all-time best songs.

TM: Totally. She’s amazing. Her music’s so smart because—I mean, think of “Ring Of Fire.” It’s a fun, bouncy little song that compares being in love to being on fire. That’s amazing.

AVC: Have you ever met Dolly Parton?

TM: I haven’t met Dolly Parton. I would have a heart attack. I’m still scared of RuPaul when I see him, so…

AVC: And you arguably know RuPaul. I’ve interviewed Dolly Parton and it was so hard, because I know everything about Dolly Parton, so coming up with questions that weren’t just about, like, her and [her best friend and long-rumored lover] Judy Ogle hanging out… that was very hard.

TM: Have you heard my album yet? If you listen to “Red Side Of the Moon” from my album, it’s a love song about a girl named Judy. And I know that Dolly Parton really isn’t a lesbian, but I needed a lesbian name in that song, so I picked the name Judy. If you listen to it and you like Dolly Parton, I think you’ll get the reference.

AVC: You’ve talked a lot about the finale of All Stars over the past few weeks. Has anything changed or clicked for you in the three weeks since it aired? How are things different now?

TM: I mean, I’m happy I won. I’m really happy I won.

To be honest, I’ve been a loser a very long time, and I’ve only been a winner for like, two weeks, but winning is a lot like losing. There’s a crown and a scepter in my garage. That’s it. And there’s a check in the mail that I haven’t received yet.

When you lose, everyone just tells you they wish you would’ve won. If you win, people are critical of whether you deserved to win. So it’s kind of a new thing, but you know, with Trixie Mattel, I’ve always made bold choices, and I’ve always been a little weird and alienated people, so if people aren’t feeling the fantasy, people being critical really doesn’t bother me.

AVC: You did get to go on Watch What Happens Live, but then Andy Cohen was kind of shady to you.

TM: It was very odd. The thing is, people are upset Shangela didn’t go to the top two, but when I sat down in the deliberation and they said “Who do you think should be in the top?” I said Shangela. I sang her praises. So it’s like, whoever’s mad about Shangela, be mad at the people who didn’t vote for her. I didn’t have a vote, and I still sang her praises. I thought it was going to be me and Shangela lip-syncing. And she’s a great lip-syncer.

Who knows what would’ve happened, but I guess somewhere along the way, she just did not win that vote, man.

AVC: It wasn’t even close.

TM: It wasn’t even close.

We all have different skills, and I always said the whole time on All Stars, the name of the game is impressing your colleagues. Who cares what the judges think about you? Winning challenges, losing challenges, that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the queens are the ones pulling lipstick. Nobody ever pulled my lipstick in the competition, and I think it’s because I made sure that even if I wasn’t winning a challenge, I was working really hard, being really nice to everybody, and trying to make sure the other queens thought I did a good job. That way even if I fell in the bottom, they weren’t going to pick my name. Because they’d be like, “I don’t think she did bad.”

All Stars is a weird game. The rules are weird. However, I think All Stars mirrors the real industry much more closely than normal seasons of Drag Race do. In the real world of entertainment it really is about the impressions you leave on your brothers and sisters in the room, and that’s kind of what it is about. For some reason, Shangela did not leave a positive impression.

AVC: You are clearly a student of both drag and Drag Race. You know the history of drag, and you know who wore what outfits on what finales and who said what joke. How have you absorbed all that, and why is that important for you to know?

TM: What’s funny is I’m a comedian and a musician first. For my totem pole, at the top I’m a musician, second, I’m a comedian, and third, I’m a drag queen. So for me, even on Drag Race, in a room full of drag queens, I felt like I was a civilian reporting live from the workroom. You know what I mean? I’m an artist who happens to be in drag. And I think that’s why my drag is a little different.

When I was standing at that final lip-sync, I was like, “All right, I’ve never won a lip-sync”—I’ve lost four lip-syncs, which I think is a record on Drag Race. Me and Katya are tied for the most lip-sync losses—but I was like, “How can I win?” So I was like, “Okay, Sasha Velour did a hair reveal, so I’m going to do some sort of hair reveal. And when BeBe won, she just stood here and lip-synced in one spot, so I’m going to stand in one spot. And when Violet Chachki did the first runway in season seven, she did a dramatic costume reveal.” I was like, “I’ve got to think like a winner, and I’ve got to flip through my history pages of Drag Race. What can I borrow from these other women?” And I think that actually worked out in my favor.

When you have someone like BeBe who clearly did not watch Drag Race… [Laughs.] I mean, BeBe clearly was on it, won it, and then never watched it. I don’t know if that’s an advantage. Being a fan of Drag Race kind of puts the fear of God in you. You walk into that workroom and, even with the room, it feels like you’re meeting a celebrity. So it also probably added a fear element because I’m such a fan of the program.

AVC: One of the things that they advertise at DragCon is that you can go and see the real workroom. They’re going to bring the set there, and you can go inside it. It really is a celebrity room.

TM: It’s like meeting a famous person, that room.

AVC: When you say that you’re a comedian first, that makes sense because as a comedian, you’d be noticing different people, noticing trends, and you’d have this database of information from past shows and current people.

TM: Knowing about the game you’re playing is obviously going to help you play it better. But also playing it too hard can backfire. Obviously.

AVC: The season finale of Trixie & Katya just aired. Is there going to be a season two, and what can we expect from it?

TM: Ooh, I can neither confirm nor deny there’s a season two, but I love Bob [The Drag Queen] and I love Katya.

Obviously, I love my drag queens a little left of sanity, so it’s hard to predict what’s going to come out of our mouths or out of our brains, but the opportunity would be so amazing.

AVC: Is it weird to you that people were assigning so much backstory and drama into Katya not congratulating you right away?

TM: Oh, I don’t pay attention to it, really. The thing is, you have to think, on my social media, I only see something if someone tags me. And the average Drag Race fan is not analyzing the tweets between drag queens. That’s crazy, tin-foil conspiracy behavior.

People thought me and Kim Chi hated each other for a while. And I was like, “Okay, whatever you guys feel and believe.”

AVC: Have you done DragCon before?

TM: I’ve done every single DragCon to date. I can tell you everything you need to know.

AVC: How has it changed year by year?

TM: Oh my god. It not only gets bigger, it grows exponentially. It’s like, squared, to the third power, to the fourth power. It doesn’t even double in size. It grows in every dimension. It’s more vendors, more people attending, more drag queens, bigger, more high-production booths and photo opportunities. The panels are bigger, the rooms are bigger, even the convention halls get bigger. They expand the walls. It’s nuts. At this point, if you’re a drag queen, you actually fear DragCon because it’s so intense.

AVC: Have you noticed public perceptions of drag changing? I guess you could view DragCon’s popularity as emblematic of that in some sense.

TM: DragCon is an opportunity for people who maybe don’t get to see drag queens at clubs. There are a lot of families and kids who go. And there’s a lot of great shopping. A lot of people who do drag even go, because they want to go shopping.

Conventions are very intense because it’s all the people who love that scene the most in one room. But for drag queens, it’s fun because it’s the first and only time we’re in a room full of people who love drag as much as we do.

AVC: You have a private VIP performance the first day, correct?

TM: I got invited to do an acoustic VIP performance in drag. So I’m literally flying in that morning, getting in drag, going down, getting my guitar on, and I’m gonna sing some stuff. I’m gonna sing some stuff from Two Birds and One Stone. I have some cool Drag Race song covers. I’m going to do “Cover Girl,” I do “Purse First,” I do “This Is My Hair.” I do all kinds of stuff.

AVC: What’s the difference between a show like that and a show on your upcoming tour?

TM: Moving Parts is a big, hour-and-a-half-long production show. It’s basically 75 percent stand-up, and I punctuate it with some songs.

The acoustic show is going to be a little bit more interactive. I’m going to talk with the audience more. If somebody screams “Wonderwall,” I’m going to play it. Stuff like that.

AVC: I will make sure to do that, then.

TM: If you have a guitar and you’re caucasian and someone yells “Freebird” or “Wonderwall,” you’re kind of obligated.

AVC: Are there trends that you notice at DragCon or in drag in general? Are you like, “This year pageant queens are up and art queens are down,” or whatever?

TM: I don’t know. It’s hard to say because so many queens don’t live in one box anymore. Kennedy [Davenport] is a pageant queen who is not afraid of getting really ugly. Same with Trinity Taylor.

I think we’re seeing the walls of what we think certain drag queens are just expand. We don’t really put drag queens in boxes as much anymore.

AVC: Last question: What’s your favorite song off the new Kacey Musgraves record?

TM: Oh, girl. That question. I’m still chewing on it. I’m still composting it with my mouth. Also I’m still listening to her old albums. So it’s all one to me right now. I saw a video today where she was going to a record store to pick a copy up in person, which I thought was really cute.

When my Funko Pop doll came out at Hot Topic I went there to pick one up, which was so cool. There was only one left, and I was like, “Oh, there’s only one left!” And they were like, “Yeah, but we have the Alaska and RuPaul ones.” I was out of drag, and they didn’t know who I was, so I was like, “Would you say that this one sells more than the other ones?”

I like to go out of drag, incognito, and check out which Trixie shirts are sold out in stores. If I go incognito to go to Hot Topic to look, and if the Trixie shirts are out of stock, I feel like a winner that day.

AVC: What did they tell you? Did they say they sold more of you than RuPaul?

TM: Oh yeah.

One time I was there looking at the drag-queen shirts that were there, and the Trixie one, they had one youth large left or something like that. My boyfriend was embarrassed by me because I was talking to the guy who works there like, “This one seems really popular, huh? Who is this Trixie Mattel? She seems like a big deal.” And the guy was like, “Yeah, I guess. I mean, we don’t have any.”

AVC: That’s better than hearing, “Oh, we only ordered two.”

TM: Yeah, it’s better than, “Someone stole them all and burned them.”