BWW Interviews: Jinkx Monsoon Talks Career, THE VAUDEVILLIANS, and THE INEVITABLE ALBUM
The always charming and incredibly talented Jinkx Monsoon proved to the American public that it was truly Monsoon Season for the last year. On May 19, 2014, she passed on the RuPaul's Drag Race crown to the sixth season's winner Bianca Del Rio. Certainly Hurricane Bianca is sure to rattle the world, but for all intents and purposes it is still Monsoon Season the world over. Jinkx Monsoon is going strong, working harder than ever, and proving that she is a talent to be reckoned with. Shortly after she helped coronate Binaca Del Rio, I chatted with Jinkx Monsoon about her career, THE INEVITABLE ALBUM, her debut solo album, and what's next for the indefatigable star.
BWW: How did you first get into acting and performing?
Jinkx Monsoon: I pretty much just always wanted to be an actor. Even in my baby book, when my mom would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said an actor from a very, very early age. So, I started getting into plays as early as kindergarten. I would always volunteer to be part of everything. Then, in high school, I was kind of torn because I was doing a lot of different things like taking theatre lessons, singing lessons, and ballet lessons. I decided I was going to go focus on theatre, first and foremost, because I felt like I would be able to get to do all the other things as well. I felt I'd get to sing, dance, do comedy, and do all the things I liked to do if I followed more of a theatrical route. That led into my decision to go into Cornish College of the Arts, and that's where I got my professional theatre training.
BWW: You gained national recognition when you were cast on and won the fifth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. What was that experience like?
Jinkx Monsoon: It was simultaneously the best experience of my lifetime and one of the craziest fun, most challenging things I've ever done. [Laughs] I wouldn't change a single moment of it. I'm so happy I got to be a part of it the way I got to be a part of it. The world of opportunities has opened up for me afterward. I'm a huge fan of the show, and I just love being a part of everything. I love getting to go to all the events. I was just at the crowning of Bianca Del Rio two days ago. I had just the most fun time. It's so much fun to be a part of that family.
BWW: That's too cool. I think it's awesome. I love how the show emphasizes the artistry behind it all.
Jinkx Monson: That's the thing I appreciate the most about the show. When you get to see the kind of person who creates the drag queen, you know, you get to see behind the artistry. You get to see what goes into it and just how much effort, planning, and talent it takes to do it well.
BWW: Before and after RuPaul's Drag Race, you have been filming Drag Becomes Him, a documentary series. Tell me a little more about that and what that has this been like?
Jinkx Monsoon: It all started when the filmmaker, Alex Berry, was commissioned to do a short film on gender. That's when we filmed Drag Becomes Him #1. He filmed me getting into drag and talking about my experiences with it. Drag Race kind of gave a lot of exposure to Drag Becomes Him, and it got viewed a lot. So, we thought it maybe it would be worth doing more editions of it. With every new one we did, we saw a huge response from the fan base, and we realized it would be kind of interesting to keep following from who I was before Drag Race, who I was during, then after, and then once the new queen is crowned.
So, we had our Kickstarter, and we've been filming stuff that's going to go into the feature length documentary, in addition to the footage we already put into the online series. Everything that was in the online series is going to be re-touched, re-edited, and put into the full feature. There's also all the footage that he's been making for the last year that he hadn't used in the online series. Then, also, we've been filming new footage with me, my family, and other Drag Race girls for the last three months now.
The thing I'm kind of excited about is he also works with me on my music videos and some of my other video projects, and you actually get to see, in the documentary, scenes with me and Alex Berry working together because Kickstarter gave us the ability to hire multiple camera people. It's not all just being done with one camera by Alex; it's actually being filmed more like a documentary these days, so it's really exciting.
BWW: You've performed regionally at acclaimed theaters such as Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. What were those experiences like?
Jinkx Monsoon: Because I have so much drag work these days, whenever I take a role in a theatre piece, it's because I really, really want t play that role. So, all the roles that I've gotten to play recently have been things I always wanted to do. I did HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH two years in a row in the winter in Seattle, and that was an amazing experience both times. One time it was right after I was announced on the show, but they hadn't aired any episodes. Then, the second time, it was after the whole show had aired. It was kind of a completely different energy. Not only from the audience, but also from me. I feel like I grew up a lot in the year in between performing HEDWIG the first time and then the second time. When we did the encore performance, I felt like I was able to bring a lot more world experience and a lot more maturity to the role that I don't think I accessed as much in the first production of it.
Then, with HAIRSPRAY, I said, "If I ever did HAIRSPRAY, I'd only do it if I got to play Velma Von Tussle," and I got to play her at the 5th Avenue's ten year anniversary of HAIRSPRAY! It was actually at the 5th Avenue that HAIRSPRAY first premiered, before it ever went to Broadway. It was really exciting. I actually wore some of the original costumes from ten years ago, and I got to do my favorite songs form the show in my own style, which was just so exciting. [Laughs]
BWW: Recently, you made your Off-Broadway debut in the THE VAUDEVILLIANS. The successful show was extended four times. Tell me more about that experience.
Jinkx Monsoon: THE VAUDEVILLIANS is a show that me and my friend, roommate, and music partner for the last five years, Richard Andriessen, created. He and I started THE VADEVILLIANS in college, and it was originally just a cabaret show, and we would do a ten-minute act in a big variety show. Soon, we got our own show where we turned our material into an hour and a half long one-act musical. From there, it's just kind of evolved and evolved until it became what we performed in New York. But, it was Drag Race that really gave me the platform to introduce THE VAUDEVILLIANS in a big way. You know, the Laurie Beechman Theatre had originally approached me to do a one-woman show, just me singing my favorite songs with a piano player. I pitched THE VAUDEVILLIANS to them, and I don't think any of us expected it to be as big of a success as it has been. It has been amazing getting to tour it; not only through America, but we also took it to Canada and Australia this year.
BWW: On May 6, 2014, you released THE INEVITABLE ALBUM. Where did the title come from?
Jinkx Monsoon: I've just always wanted to an album. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to one day record an album. Once I did Drag Race it was kind of just assumed that sooner or later I'd be doing music. I was working so much with THE VAUDEVILLIANS though, and that was kind of taking up all my focus. So, it wasn't until the later part of the year that we were able to sit down and record the album. It was kind of this thing that we all knew was coming, we all knew it was going to happen eventually, but we just didn't know exactly when it was going to happen. So, I came up with the idea of calling it THE INEVITABLE ALBUM pretty much right after I won Drag Race, and it took us quite a while to actually get it recorded, published, and everything. I had the title of the album before I had anything else because I knew it was just going to happen inevitably. [Laughs]
BWW: What was it like recording the album?
Jinkx Monsoon: It was like a dream come true because I got to work with my music partner, I got to pick all the songs, and he wrote a lot of original songs for the album. We also got to work with Fred Schneider of the B-52's on it. That was just a very surreal experience. Someone I had been listening to since I was a child, and I just always loved the music of the B-52's, was suddenly in a recording studio with me, giving me a song that he'd written. So, that was very exciting. The whole process was just amazing. Then, the response form the fans ever since has been really, really humbling. We were so nervous about releasing something that is so different from what all the other Drag Race girls do. But, I knew the kind of style of album I wanted to do, and there was really no way I was going to do it any other way. [Laughs]
BWW: Like Jinkx Monsoon, the sound for THE INEVITABLE ALBUM is unique and very special. Where does the sound for the album come from?
Jinkx Monsoon: It's very much inspired by one of my favorite Bette Midler albums, THE DIVINE MISS M. It is inspired by all my favorite old Hollywood film actresses. Cabaret stars always put out an album of their torch songs, and I just really wanted the whole album to sound like it was coming from one person's life experience. It's kind of like it's an actress talking about all the places she's been in her life and all the experiences she's had. In that way, you know, it was inspired by Bette Midler, Marlene Dietrich, Peggy Lee, and then modern day influences like Amanda Palmer, Regina Spektor, and Lady Rizo in New York. I have a lot of female inspirations that kind of made me want to make my own version of a torch song album and kind of resurrect this style of the old Hollywood, glamorous actress releasing her swan song album, I guess. [Laughs]
BWW: Because it is absolutely amazing we have to talk about "What About Debbie." [Jinkx Monsoon Laughs] Why did you decide to musicalize Joan Cusak's monologue from Addams Family Values?
Jinkx Monsoon: Well, I think Addams Family Values is definitely a gay icon movie and definitely a drag queen icon movie that no one ever talks about. We always talk about To Wong Foo..., Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Rocky Horror, Mommie Dearest, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Death Becomes Her as being big, huge influences on drag queens. We never talk about Addams Family Values, but every drag queen I know knows that scene where Debbie gives her speech because it is so brilliant that she is just so self-absorbed, ego centric, and so fabulous about it. She is a total drag queen in that part. When she says this line "Malibu Barbie," everyone screams it along with her. When I sing it in shows, and I get to that part where I'm saying "Malibu Barbie," everyone screams it back at me from the audience. That just goes to show how much of a queer film it is.
I think it's so beloved by the queer community because it's this big "F**k you" to mainstream society. I think all of us kind of relate to Wednesday Addams at summer camp because she's the one that doesn't fit in with all these pretty, straight white kids. She's her own person, and I think we all felt like that when we watched the movie and were her age. But, as we grew up, we kind of fell in love with Morticia, Debbie, and all these wonderful characters in the movie. So, I was like, "Yeah, drag queens love this movie, but no one has ever talked about it before. I really want to perform Joan Cusak's monologue some how."
Originally, I was just going to do it as a live monologue for my shows. Then, it was BenDeLaCreme, actually, who told me that I should turn it into a song. So, my music partner and me worked on it. It was his idea to make it a gospel revival song at the end, and I think it's just so brilliant. It's like this woman testifying, you know. It's like this woman on trial for her life's crimes, but she wins in the end. [Laughs] She feels like she has convinced everyone why she's right. [Laughs] I love that.
BWW: That's great. It was such a surprise on the album. I wasn't expecting it at all. Hearing it, I instantly thought it was brilliant!
Jinkx Monsoon: I'm thinking it might be our next music video. I'm just so glad that so many people are responding so well to the song.
BWW: What is your favorite song on the album?
Jinkx Monsoon: I don't know. I think it's really hard for me because all the original songs are songs that were written for me by my musical partner. The others are songs that I've been working on for a long time, so it's kind of like... [Pauses] I don't know. I'm just glad that we finally got to record them and that we got to share them with the world. I don't know. It's a toss up between "What About Debbie," "A Song to Come Home To," and "Hold On." Those are my top three. I'm allowed to have a top three because that's how they do it on Drag Race! [Laughs]
BWW: Exactly. I agree. Plus, it's your album. You could say the whole album if you want. [We Both Laugh] It's not a problem. So, what can we expect in the future from the always busy Jinkx Monsoon?
Jinkx Monsoon: The big things, I think, are that I have plans to do sequels basically of everything. [Laughs] We're trying to write the next Vaudevillians show. We've had an idea for a Vaudevillians show that would be the same characters in a new situation, picking up where the last one left off. We've been talking about doing this for a long, long time, but we're finally now actually trying to sit down and do it. After our summer season with THE VAUDEVILLIANS in Provincetown, MA, we're taking a little time to focus on writing the second show. Already, we're talking about a second album. So, I think by 2015 we might have a whole new cabaret show and a whole new album. We just plan to keep doing what we've been doing, to see how far we can take it, and to see how big we can make it, you know. This year was just kind a testament to the fact that this is what I was kind of meant to do, and I want to keep being a performer for as long as possible.
BWW: What advice do you offer to others hoping to make a career in performing?
Jinkx Monsoon: I think the two biggest things I can say are tenacity and education.
Tenacity means just never giving up. If this is what you really want to do, you have to be willing to work hard for a long time for it. With that, you have to be able to take critiques. You can't believe that you're the best at everything. If you go into this thinking there is no one better than you, there's nothing left to learn, and there's no advice that you need, then you'll just miss out on a lot of opportunities. So, I always say just be willing to take critique and be willing to grow from your critiques.
Then, I also think educating yourself in your art form is important. It's not enough to just be a good singer. You have to know where your roots come from. If you sing jazz, you should know all about jazz. You should look into, as much as you possibly can, the history of it, so that you're and educated and well-informed performer. I think a lot of time with pop stars or people who want to be pop stars, because it's the most contemporary, you just have a good singing voice and you have the passion that you want to be a pop star. But, it also takes formal training, and it takes a lot of work, critiques, and input from people who have been doing it longer than you. You have to be willing to be open to that before you can make a career in this.
Jinkx Monsoon is showing no signs of slowing. To keep up with all the latest on Jinkx Monsoon please visit http://www.jinkxmonsoon.com. You can also Like her on Facebook and Follow her on Twitter. For more information about Drag Becomes Him, please visit http://www.dragbecomeshim.com. For more information about The Vaudevillians, please visit http://shop.theofficialvaudevillians.com and Like them on Facebook. Lastly, Jinkx Monsoon's captivating THE INEVITABLE ALBUM was digitally released by Sidecar on May 6, 2014. It can be purchased from iTunes and Amazon.