The latest contestant to wave goodbye to Mama Ru says Drag Race helped breathe new life into her.
Chi Chi DeVayne has come a long way from her school of hard-knocks in Shreveport, Louisiana. The 29-year-old was a person who joined gangs, carried a gun and got into all sorts of trouble before she became a drag queen. “I don’t get ready, I stay ready,” she proclaimed on the first episode of Drag Race season 8.
Her Southern Charm carried her through nine episodes of the show, winning the “B*tch Perfect” challenge for her incredible choreography.
When she was unfortunate to have been in the bottom two in episode seven, she slayed the judges with her lip-sync tour-de-force “And I am Telling You,” as if she were singing it herself.
This week, Chi Chi was a part of the top four, but amid the talents of the comical Bob The Drag Queen, Stylemaster Kim Chi, and the ever-evolving Naomi Smalls, she wasn’t able to secure a place for the finale, and was asked to sashay away.
I talked to Chi Chi about her time on the show, the healing that it brought and if Drag Race is making it harder for other queens to succeed without Mama Ru.
Chi Chi is a girl with a past. One that not many people can identify with. She was a part of a gang in her younger years and was afraid to come out to her parents. All of these things were a little damaging to the real person trying to claw her way out, but through time, she eventually emerged.
She says being a part of Drag Race was an essential step toward her journey of healing and it helped soothe the anxious person inside who was too apprehensive to show the world the realness that is Chi Chi DeVayne.
“Drag Race definitely helped me heal from a lot of things from my past,” she told me. “Not accepting where I came from, and who I am as a person, the voice, you know the appearance, the everything. Drag Race has opened my eyes to see there’s so much more than where I came from and to, like, not hold that against myself. To push forward with where I wanna go in life. So yeah, it definitely has healed that aspect.”
I wondered what exactly was holding her back before, I assumed it might be a family member or others not wanting to accept that Chi Chi is a talented gay person. But she says her biggest foe was herself; the repetitive voice inside her head saying she wasn’t good enough, “Knowing that I had all the talent in the world, but just thinking that I was not worthy of being where I was and not accepting that.”
She has since realized that her dreams were far too determined to get lost in the muddle of self-doubt, “this is my time; I always dreamed of this and now it’s here,” she said.
Not everybody is a right fit for Drag Race, hundreds of queens audition, but only twelve make it to the show every year, and in its eight-year run only 100 girls have been cast.
Chi Chi says that she has proved that a person with the right amount of drive and the need to better themselves should try and get on the show. The world as they know it will change if they are cast.
“You know I was just working in a bar doing the minimal,” she told me. “I never had to come up with avant garde looks and things, but I think it proved Drag Race is the platform that …that you want to see all different types of drag, I think that me being there showed that a small, black queen that never really had to step out and do all of these things, came to being in the running of the top drag queens in the world.”
She tells me that through all of the self-doubt and lapses in confidence, the desire to be on Drag Race was so important that she gathered up the courage to pursue the dream on her own.
“I watched it since season one and ever since season one I was like that’s what I wanna do, and um, I just started doing drag,” she laughs. “It happened so fast, it happened so fast. I only auditioned three times and I still heard the stories of people auditioning for years to get on.”
Recently Drag Race has come under some criticism from former contestants for making reality drag so popular that other non-reality star performers suffer the consequences, therefore not drawing in the crowds that a Ru Paul alumni might get for an appearance.
But Chi Chi is not a believer in that speculation. She says she knows plenty of people that don’t need the show to make a name for themselves.
“I know a lot of drag queens that are successful and have a lot more than Drag Race girls have, you know what I mean? And they worked to achieve it,” she said. “It’s all up to that person to get out there and make it known that I’m a talented person. There’s lots of drag queens that are far more successful than a Drag Race girl could be. And that was just by getting out there and entertaining the crowd.”
I asked Chi Chi what it was like to be away from the show and back home, touring and performing without all of the cameras, and if there is any difference from working on television series to working on a club stage.
“There’s really no difference, um, you wanna do your best on the show and once you’re off of the show.” she said. “You want to continue to just wow people and that’s what us Drag Race girls really have to do to be successful because the spotlight’s going to continue to be on us. You don’t want to be one of those Drag Race girls that just fade in the background. The competition to me is always going to on.”
She says her family has been very supportive of her since the show and that they watch the latest episodes when they air. It is a group event she says, “Drag Race brings family and friends closer there’s no hate whatsoever. It’s been a great experience from everybody.”
She adds, “And they know me so they know the story, they know the background, the history,”
Every contestant that has been on Drag Race wants to carry the success of their celebrity over into the real world once the cameras stop rolling for them. Chi Chi is no different, and she says she wants to carry on doing the things she loves the most.
“I’m going to try my best to work on some music because I can actually sing,” she said. “That’s what I do; I’ve always been a singer and a dancer, so that’s what I wanna do.”
She will do just that when she comes to Rich’s Nightclub for Divas in San Diego on May 13.
I asked what she has planned for her visit to America’s Finest City, “This is the new Chi Chi,” she laughs. “High energy - I’m just going to try to dance the house down.”