Girl Talk: Gabbing with Alaska From Rupaul’s Drag Race
Do you feel the rumble? Alaska Thunderfuck is rolling into Philly tonight to perform at Tammy Faymous’s inaugural #faymeproblems party at Tabu. On Mondays, you can catch the drag queen working her bony ass on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, where’s she’s currently holding her own in the top six. In the real world, however, the show’s wrapped up and she’s living with her girlfriend Sharon Needles in Pittsburgh.
This week, I chatted her up about being on Drag Race and what life’s like after the show, but she also took me back for a peek at Alaska’s origin story. With a voice like Barry White on estrogen and Benadryl, she gabbed about growing up broke-ass poor in Erie, Pa., how a group of druggies coaxed her into taking the name Alaska Thunderfuck and the moment she fell in love with America’s scariest drag queen.
G Philly: What was it like growing up a little drag queen in Erie?
Alaska Thunderfuck: I had such great parents and such a really good upbringing, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that I basically grew up in a shanty town. We were by the train tracks and right under where the planes fly over from the airport. I didn’t realize that we were so poor. [laughs] But my parents were so loving and fabulous and we always had everything we needed, but we were fucking broke.
GP: So did you grow up dressing in your mom’s clothes?
AT: Actually, my grandmother has such wonderful taste. She has fabulous fur coats and she had these tennis dresses I’d put on and parade around the living room in. I wouldn’t steal my mom’s clothes, because she’d get mad at me. [laughs]
GP: Were you able to dress up openly, or did you have to hide?
AT: There was a certain point where I was always very effeminate and always playing like a girl, but at a certain point I realized that boys weren’t supposed to do that. After that, I became super shy … and really depressed for a number of years. It wasn’t until I started to come out and discover myself in high school that I came out of my shell.
GP: When did you start to do drag?
AT: It was a joke at first. I was living into L.A. [where I went to become an actor]. I had no money. I was discontented. One night I went out in drag just to have a good time and cheer myself up, and I ended up getting a job doing the door at Fubar. It just started growing from there.
GP: How did you choose the name Alaska Thunderfuck?
AT: Drugs. [laughs] I was super stoned with some friends They were talking about all the strains of marijuana they smoked and one of them said “Alaskan Thunderfuck.” I said, “That’s it. That’s my drag name.” Never make life decisions when you’re stoned. Now I’m stuck with it. You can’t say it on TV. Most people put an asterisks in it in magazines. But whatever, I’ve grown to love it.
GP: Who were some of your inspirations for your drag character?
AT: I’ve always seen her as a mixture of Britney Spears and Divine, because she’s so crazy and unhinged. When I look in the mirror, I see Britney Spears at 19. Whether or not that’s true, I’d rather never know.
GP: When did you meet Sharon?
AT: We met almost four years ago. We were both drag queens and knew each other from Myspace. We’d comment on each other’s pictures and check each other out that way, but it wasn’t until I came back [to Pittsburgh] from L.A. to visit for Christmas that I met him out of drag. I was just like, “This person is so fun and so funny … and he has a really nice ass.” That was it. So I went back to L.A. to close up all my affairs and I moved into his house in Pittsburgh and never left.
GP: Let’s talk about Drag Race. Can you tell me about your experience on the show?
AT: I worked so hard to get there. I auditioned every single year that the show’s been on the air. I was so excited to finally get there and then it’s just like, “Oh shit,” because you’re just constantly afraid that you’re going home. It’s sort of like the best experience ever and the most horrifying.
GP: Was it hard coming into the season right after Sharon?
AT: There was so much pressure. But there’s pressure on all of us. You know that the world is going to be watching you. It’s really stressful, but it’s very rewarding.
GP: It seems like you’ve really broken away from the Sharon stigma. When was the moment you felt that happen?
AT: Never. [laughs] I don’t know that I ever will be totally free of that, but it’s something that helps me discover who I am as an artist and a performer, and I love Sharon so much. Being compared to her is a privilege. She’s a superstar.
GP: What was the hardest thing about being on Drag Race?
AT: You have to shave a lot, so your skin goes through it. It was also hard being a vegetarian, because craft services is slim pickin’s.
GP: The best thing?
AT: Hanging out with the girls, who are so cool and so fun. And being around RuPaul. His energy is so amazing and he’s so funny and fun to be around. And he’s just so stunningly gorgeous.
GP: Now that you’re watching it back, do you feel like it accurately represents your experience?
AT: Yea. Everything that’s shown on the show happened. Everyone loves to say, “Oh, editing is so rotten, they can make it look like anything happened,” but all of it happened. It may be over-dramatized with big music behind it, but it all happened.
GP: How has your life changed since you were on the show?
AT: I’m just so grateful and inspired by how supportive people have been. It blows my mind how many people love the show and are so seriously touched by it. To be part of that makes me so grateful. … It’s changed my life incredibly. I’m looking forward to giving back to my friends and my mom and people who have always supported me [starts to choke up] … people who always supported me when I had nothing and I’m just really excited to give back and share this with them.
GP: Now that you’re traveling around the country doing shows, how do you and Sharon deal with two such hectic traveling schedules?
AT: It’s hard, but it’s also good. When you have to be away from each other so much, the time you have together is so special.
GP: What’s a typical night at home like for the two of you?
AT: We just sit on the couch and pat the cat and watch Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. It’s amazing. [laughs]
GP: I asked our readers to post a few questions they’d like to ask you. Mind if I rattle off a few?
AT: Oh, I’d love it.
GP: Who did you see as your toughest competition on the show? (From glsand3 via Reddit)
AT: I’m going to be such a pageant girl and say myself. If you have any issues or insecurities … you’re under the microscope when you’re there and all of those things come to the service. It really was the biggest battle I had — not feeling like I was good enough. The greatest thing is when you’re able to push through that. When I did the perfume challenge, I really felt like I got to come through all of that and really move through those securities. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re going to suck!
ff GP: On Drag Race you’ve presented a more-polished, less-campy version of Alaska than you bring to your rawer YouTube live-performance videos. Did you intentionally do that to avoid Sharon comparisons and to show the judges you could also be cute and pretty? (From dilettwat via Reddit)
AT: I guess there was a little bit of not wanting to just rehash Sharon, but I think part of what Alaska is … I think of her as the prettiest woman ever. … I’m just glad I looked pretty on TV. [laughs]
GP: How much alcohol did you drink during Drag Race, and are you a lightweight? (From Kage_Okami via Reddit)
AT: Hardly any! They give you one drink in the Interior Illusions Lounge. You know how much I drink normally?! It was like drying out; like being in rehab. And no, I’m not a lightweight. I’ll drink you under the table.
GP: Will you continue to perform in Pittsburgh — at the Blue Moon, specifically. (From herencia via Reddit)
AT: Absolutely. Sharon and I perform and hang out there all the time — we were there last night. That’s our home bar and they’ve always been so supportive of us. We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be on that little 4-by-4 stage with a busted sound system and we are going to be doing our thing. [laughs]
GP: What are your future plans now that you’re a superstar? (From @pgmcbass via Twitter)
AT: I just want to feel this whole experience fully and completely and take every opportunity that I can. I’m going to be doing some acting projects coming up that I’m really excited about. I want to do music. I like to sing and write songs. I want to collaborate with people. I just want to take every opportunity that I can, because being a part of RuPaul’s Drag Race gives you so many opportunities. I’m really grateful for that.
GP: This one’s from all of gay Philadelphia. Are you excited to come to come to our town?
AT: I am so excited about it. I love Philadelphia. I’m very excited to eat your cheesesteaks and your cream cheese. I’m a skinny bitch, but I love to eat.
You can see Alaska perform tonight at 11 p.m. at Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar with local drag queens Tammy Faymous, Maddy Milan, The Goddess Isis and more. Tickets are $20 at the door.
OTHER GIRL TALK GAB SESSIONS:
- RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon
- Project Runway‘s Mondo Guerra
- The Biggest Loser‘s Jackson Carter
- Johnny Anastacio from Kimora: House of Fab
- Casey Donegan from What Not to Wear
- Matt McWilliams from Temple web series One of the Guys
- Risk! poscaster and The State Alum Kevin Allison
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