Drag Race royalty Alyssa Edwards: ‘I’m a homosexual man who grew up in a baptist church. Am I doing the right thing?’
You haven’t seen somebody peel a potato until you’ve seen Alyssa Edwards, Drag Race superstar, peel a potato.
The Texan queen is perhaps the last person you’d expect to find on a cooking competition show, though she could probably cook a microwave meal with her frenetic, charismatic energy alone.
And yet, Alyssa is one of several queens competing in Served! With Jade Thirlwall. It’s a tongue in cheek show born from lockdown, which sees the Little Mix star cook-off against a bevy of her favourite Drag Race legends.
Filming her episode from her home in Mesquite, Texas is one of many surprising ways Alyssa has been keeping herself busy during lockdown.
“I never realised I was into landscaping,” she tells PinkNews over the phone. It’s late May, a few days before the brutal murder of George Floyd prompted unprecedented worldwide protests in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. At the time Alyssa, like many others, was focused on getting through the pandemic and working out how to celebrate Pride Month from home.
“I love to be outside, lounging by the pool with a nice margarita on a sunny day. But I’ve found myself planting flowers and redecorating my backyard, keeping myself busy with productive projects around the house.”
As anybody even slightly acquainted with the world of Drag Race will know, Alyssa Edwards is a Dancing Queen. So much so, that was the title of her 2018 Netflix series, in which she introduced the world to her boy alter ego, Justin, and his dance school for children, Beyond Belief.
“It’s been really hard being without dance,” she laments. I’m an energy person, I need human interaction.
“But I’ve stayed connected with my students, and in some bizarre way, I think we kind of needed this. We needed a moment to step back and go, OK. We can’t take for granted what we have. And, you know, we started to challenge ourselves in more ways than just moving.”
Having been “on the go, go, go” since she first appeared on Drag Race in 2013, Alyssa says she has been, in a way, thankful for the rest. It’s a typically thoughtful moment of gratitude for the queen, whose Bible Belt upbringing and pageant background have given her a carefully-mannered way of speaking, always careful to remain positive on things that to others, might not seem particularly deserving.
“My grandmother, when I was a very young child and for as long as I can remember, she always taught me to treat others the way I want to be treated. And to remember to take the good with me,” she explains.
Alyssa Edwards: ‘I don’t want to say they’re small-minded, but that’s a very small-minded way to think.’
At 40 years old, Alyssa comes across as very comfortable in her own skin – but it wasn’t always this way.
“I’m a homosexual man who grew up in a baptist church – which is frowned upon,” she says.
“There were certain times I questioned my faith and, and my idea of am I doing the right thing, but I’ve learned that as long as I’m not hurting anyone and I’m doing positive things for others, then that will be my legacy.”
What about those in the church who attack the LGBT+ community – in particular, those who insist drag queens like Alyssa have no place around children?
“I think for the people that are saying these things – I think it’s very unfortunate, because maybe, just maybe, they’re missing out on something that could potentially make them smile, make them feel good,” she says.
“I grew up with the idea of thou shalt not judge, so I definitely don’t want to cast judgment back on people that have either judged me or judge what I do.
“I don’t want to say they’re small-minded, but that’s a very small-minded way to think.”
I didn’t seek Hollywood out in the hopes of one day becoming a reality TV star.
Alyssa has spoken before about how drag helped her to feel more confident in her younger years. She won her first major pageant, Miss Gay Texas, aged 25 in 2005, and took home a series of trophies before her now-infamous Miss Gay America win (and subsequent revocation) in 2010.
Before all of that, before Alyssa Edwards was the star she is today, a young Justin got his first taste of what being openly, comfortably queer could be at New York City Pride.
“It was my very first gay event, my uncle took me as a graduation gift. And I’ll never forget it,” she recalls.
“I’ll never forget all the colours, all the feathers and bows, all the people of all shapes and sizes and the floats, and all of the smiles. You could just, you could feel the hearts beating. I’ll never forget that.”
Today, for Alyssa, it’s the work she does with her young dance students that is most special to her.
She welcomed cameras into Beyond Belief for Dancing Queen in 2018, a decision she said wasn’t taken lightly.
“I don’t want to exploit any child, that’s not my thing. It’s not what I’m about. I am a dance teacher and a choreographer and this is my art and this is my home. This is my safe haven. This is my place.
“I didn’t seek Hollywood out in the hopes of one day becoming a reality TV star. So I really handle the dance studio with care. It really is not only my passion, but my purpose.”
Drag Race remains an unfinished business for Alyssa.
A second season has been discussed, but Alyssa says there’s no rush. She wants to make sure it if happens, then it happens organically, and besides – pre-lockdown, her schedule was pretty chock-a-block.
Does her success make up for the fact that after two attempts, she never managed to snatch a Drag Race crown?
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“I think All Stars 2 was a good sign-off for me, I don’t think I can redo that,” she says.
“But I think I would go back again, for the fun of it all, the excitement. If I were asked, it would be a done deal.
“I’ve been Miss USA, Miss Texas, I’ve won almost every other crown, but I wanted RuPaul to crown me so bad. I’ve always looked up to him so much.
“And as long as I’ve still got it, I might as well use it right?”
Alyssa Edwards’ episode of Served! With Jade Thirlwall can be streamed on the MTV Youtube page. An extended edition of the episode airs on MTV UK Monday (June 29) at 8.30pm.