June 26, 2020 at 7:51 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Q&A with ‘Drag Race’ champ Jaida Essence Hall
Jaida Essence Hall, gay news, Washington Blade
Jaida Essence Hall says winning season 12 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ was a shock. (photo courtesy Project Publicity)

Werq the World’s Pride Castle

Starring Jaida Essence Hall and Yvie Oddly

Hosted by Candis Cayne

Wth Heidi N Closet, Raja, Naomi Smalls, Kim Chi and Plastique

Net proceeds and tips to benefit National Black Justice Coalition

Live Stream

Saturday, June 27

8 p.m. EST

(available for replay for 48 hours)

$9.99

vossevents.com/werq-the-world-live-stream

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 12 and the currently airing “All Stars” season five are mostly feeling pretty normal — they were taped pre-coronavirus. But when it came time for the season 12 reunion “Alone Together,” which aired May 22, and the “Grand Finale,” which aired May 29, it was unchartered terrain for the drag franchise juggernaut. 

Season 12 winner Jaida Essence Hall will join season 11 winner Yvie Oddly in a Werq the World Pride Castle event this weekend. She spoke with the Blade by phone June 19 from her Milwaukee home about life since winning, winning during a pandemic and how she plans to advance her career even amidst these crazy times. Her comments have been edited slightly for clarity.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How are you?

JAIDA ESSENCE HALL: Pretty good, pretty good. I’m just excited for a lovely, sunny day.

BLADE: Congrats on your win! I was happy for you. 

HALL: Thank you, I was too. I was really surprised.

BLADE: Tell us about Pride Castle.

HALL: Pride Castle is a really unique, really cute live stream show that will be taking place next week and the show is just some amazing queens from “Drag Race” and also the amazingly talented Candis Cayne. We’ll all just be secluded in a castle giving some amazing performances, some entertainment for some people who need it right now. We will also be benefitting the National Black Justice Coalition.

BLADE: Is this your first time doing it?

HALL: This is my first time and also my first major event since winning. I’m really excited for it.

BLADE: What do you have planned?

HALL: I just really wanna take the people who watch it on a journey. It’s crazy — when you can have an opportunity to have like a really cute production and like a really beautiful space and let your mind wander off and come up with a really creative idea and so I just wanna take the viewers on a journey and like a little piece of my mind.

BLADE: But it’s a real place, not just some virtual thing edited together?

HALL: It’ll actually be all of us in the castle so we have this really beautiful backdrop. 

BLADE: So you’ll just be giving each other space as you perform?

HALL: Oh of course, we’ll make sure we’re socially distanced. Right now there’s still a lot going on in the world so we’re taking all the major health precautions to make sure everybody is safe and we can still give them a great show. 

BLADE: Where is it?

HALL: In California, a little bit outside of Los Angeles.

BLADE: Will you be doing more of these?

HALL: I’m really hoping so. I’ve always dreamed of doing Werq the World and performing the shows. If you know anything about “Drag Race” and you know a lot about drag, you know a lot about Werq the World and it’s just like a major opportunity to be able to be a part of it so I’m hoping I can do a lot more of these.

BLADE: What was it like taping the reunion and finale from home?

HALL: It was kind of crazy because a lot of technology, I’m not the most tech-savvy person out there, but we received a lot of equipment and we had to set it all up so I was a little bit nervous like, “Am I gonna get this stuff right, will I be able to produce what the audience will expect of me,” so I was a little bit of nerves but at the same time I was also really excited because I knew this would be something that the world has never seen before and it would be a very unique experience and if it was done all the way right, the world would have something that they would really enjoy. 

BLADE: How long had it been since you wrapped? It must have been months.

HALL: Oh yeah, it was at least a good maybe six months or so, it’s been awhile since we filmed everything. It was actually quite awhile, so waiting for the finale was like the most nerve wracking thing so you leave and you know who’s in the top but then also at the same time, we have no idea who wins so you have to like just anticipate that for so long. It’s always in the back of your mind — finale finale finale.

BLADE: How long does it take to tape a full “Drag Race” season? How long were you in L.A.?

HALL: Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to discuss that.

BLADE: What was your favorite challenge?

HALL: Oh my god, it was between two. I really loved the political challenge, because I got to showcase another side of myself but also I really loved the makeover challenge because it was super fans. I would never have the career I have in drag right now if it wasn’t for the people who came out and supported me and so to see them be able to be have a moment of time to fulfill their dream and their fantasy to come true too, it made me feel really, really good.

BLADE: I can’t recall her name, but have you kept in touch with your partner from that challenge?

HALL: Oh my god, yes. Bethany, we called her Jazz, Bethany and I keep in touch. We talk all the time. We even did a zoom call with me, Heidi, Jackie, Crystal and all of the fans we all got on a zoom together and just chatted. We got to meet their partners and see some of their kids, it was so cute. 

BLADE: Who was your favorite celebrity guest judge?

HALL: It had to be Whoopi, oh my God, I could not believe that Whoopi was there. That’s one of the things that completely shocked me. I could not believe she was there but I love her so much so I was just floored. She could have been there and literally not said a single word and I still would have been over the moon.

BLADE: What did it mean to you when she hugged you?

HALL: Like I said, growing up where I’m from and my background, seeing like really talented, strong black figures was just so incredible and to see one of the most amazing black entertainers whose work transcends race and everything like that, it was so moving to me. Just like, “I’m in the presence of somebody who worked so hard and never gave up, had so many successes.” It just made me feel so good.

BLADE: Did she smell like cigarettes or perfume or anything?

HALL: No. All I can remember is the fact when she said, “Come down here and give me a hug,” I was like, “Do you really want me to come down here and give her a hug?” And then when she started to walk over, I almost had like a blackout moment. It was good to see it back on TV.

BLADE: Did (season 12 finalists) Crystal (Methyd) and Gigi (Goode) reach out and congratulate you?

HALL: Oh yes, we always talk all the time. All of the girls from the season, we all communicate wth each other so much. And I actually got to have a full phone conversation wth both of them and they both explained how we feel about everything and they were really actually genuinely very happy for me too.

BLADE: What struck you most watching the show back? Were there any shady edits or mischaracterizations?

HALL: No. I think sometimes when we watch the show it’s always the show is almost you pull out the moments that happened the most and for me I’m always remembering like in the moment trying to remember everything that happened. So to see everything back it was just like a refresher. I’m so thankful it was recorded so we can always look back and be like, “Oh, I remember when this happened.” 

BLADE: Whom are you rooting for for “All Stars”?

HALL: Oh my God, I love so many of the girls but Shea Coulee is like one of the first girls I ever met. She’s from Chicago which is like an hour and a half way from me and I’ve always been a Shea fan so of course I’m rooting for her. But all the other girls are really fantastic too so whoever wins I would not be surprised.

BLADE: Did any of the past season winners reach out and congratulate you?

HALL: Yeah, so many of them. I already speak a lot with Aquaria, who I’m a little bit obsessed with. It’s like, is there anything she can’t do? Yvie has been reaching out to me, Bianca is always sharing stuff, it’s like so many of the girls. BeBe (Zahara Benet), Raja, they’ve all reached out and been like, “We’re so proud of you for the work you’ve done.” Not just the winners but so many of the other contestants.

BLADE: Had you met many of them before?

HALL: Some of them I have, some I have not. Like season 11, there were quite a few of the girls I knew prior to the show. Some I’ve met just through meet and greets.

BLADE: Does the work room have four walls or is it more like a giant set?

HALL: No, it’s an actual room. I always wondered that too. 

BLADE: Do you feel your victory has been diluted by the pandemic?

HALL: I think we all could have been working a lot more had this not happened but I also think everybody in the world could have been working a lot more had this not happened, so it’s one of those things in life where you have to like learn to roll with the punches and that’s something I’ve been doing quite often in my life. So yeah, I was like “Oh my god, I wish I could be traveling and meeting all the people that I normally would have met had I had the opportunity to travel but at the same time, I’ve met a lot of people through social media. That’s honestly been the best thing for me. That always makes me feel so much better even with everything going on in the world. 

BLADE: How’s the rest of your summer shaping up?

HALL: I’m enjoying life as much as I can but also trying to stay as safe as possible. It seems like every single day details are changing of what we can do.

BLADE: Have you been going out much?

HALL: In Wisconsin everything is pretty much opened back up but it’s limited. They’re kind of saying you can, but if it’s something you really don’t have to do, it’s probably best to stay in.

Jaida Essence Hall says winning ‘Drag Race’ gave her a chance to connect with fans and former contestants the world over. (photo courtesy Project Publicity)

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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