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Drag Race legend Naomi Smalls ponders a future after drag: ‘There are days when I think, why did I become a queen?’

Reiss Smith August 28, 2020
A tight crop of Naomi Smalls' face. Her hair is long, her mug is beat, her eyes looking to the right

Naomi Smalls is premiering her first solo show digitally. (Sarah Crump and Martin June)

Six years after Naomi Smalls strutted into the Drag Race werk room, she’s breaking out of her comfort zone, taking charge of her art and laying the foundations for a time when drag could be in her past.

The Smalls World Show – written, co-directed and producer by Naomi – is the Drag Race legend’s first-ever solo show.

It’s filled with unforgettable looks and fierce lip-syncing (of course) – but also personal pain and healing, giving fans an intimate look at both Naomi Smalls the supermodel, and the man behind those famous legs, Davis.

Ahead of its premiere on Tuesday (September 1), PinkNews caught up with Naomi about family, representation and Las Vegas.

PinkNews: Tell us all about The Smalls World Show!

Naomi Smalls: It was definitely not intended to be digital. I see this as a stage show, but the pandemic didn’t stop that passion I have for presenting my art.

It’s something that I conceptualised and I had my hand in art directing the entire thing. I hope that what people take away from it, is that during this time it’s super important to still express yourself and to still make art, and I hope that it inspires people to do the same thing. It really is a labour of love.

 

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It’s been six years since you were first on Drag Race and this is your first solo show – why now?

The reality is it’s just super easy to kind of get into that cycle of [touring]. When it’s somebody else’s show, there’s so much less work you have to do, and less responsibility you have to take on.

But what I did realise when doing the [Drag Race] Vegas show, or Werq the World, is you don’t necessarily have the final creative say. You can put up a stink about why you want to do things the way that you want to do them, but when you’re not the one who’s producing it, there is a level of control that the producer has over you.

I am not saying I’m over it – it’s just that I can now realise the reality of the situation. It just kind of pushed me to say, well, if I want things done my way, I’m just gonna have to do it my way.

When you’re working on someone else’s terms, do you feel as though we get a true picture of Naomi Smalls?

I think that you get a pretty good view of the queens who are on stage when they’re sharing the spotlight. But the reality of the situation is, if you’re on a television show with 12 other drag queens, it’s not going to be all about you.

So I don’t think that I’ve ever been pushed into a certain image, but it’s easy to not be so invested in something when only four to five minutes on stage.

Naomi Smalls lying down behind a stack of old televisions, her legs are all that's visible. Each screen has a close-up of her face
Naomi Smalls in The Smalls World Show. (Naomi Smalls)

Let’s jump back into The Smalls World Show. One of the themes is loss and healing.

Yeah, so after filming season eight of Drag Race I lost my brother who I was super close to. He was two years older than I was and we pretty much just grew up as twins.

I was lucky in that that was my first time, at 22 years old, experiencing loss. A year later my dad passed away – that was a little more expected because he was struggling with Alzheimer’s for five years prior.

Loss is just something that everyone goes through and has to deal with in their own time, but experiencing helped me open up and be a little bit more emotional with my art, emotional with my friends, emotional just with my life period.

I was kind of reserved and closed off beforehand, but you can really put that energy into your art and inspire people to not necessarily do the same, but to relate with someone a lot easier, because this is something that everyone goes through.

When it’s a solo show, it’s easier to get a lot more personal, because it is just a lot more genuine when it comes from your point of view, rather than if you’re on television talking about it.

The show opens with a Birth of Venus opening number, what’s the story you’re trying to tell with that?

Something that I take very seriously is inspiring people to be the best version of themselves. And something that took me a really long time to realise is that I am like the strongest person that I know.

The Birth of Venus is about telling people, you are all you have in this world and you better like take care of yourself, and feel yourself, and find whatever makes you feel confident.

That’s what drag has really done for me, and that’s what Naomi’s really done for me. But I always know that I have to remember to take care of both sides – Davis and Naomi.

Naomi Smalls recreates The Birth of Venus.
Naomi Smalls in The Birth of Venus. (Naomi Smalls)

The more that you’re known around the world as Naomi, do you find the two sides blur into one?

Naomi is definitely a lot more powerful than Davis. Naomi is definitely wearing a mask at all times, and can get away with asking for things Davis wouldn’t ask for. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Davis definitely likes to take a backseat – it sounds so weird talking about myself in the third person, I swear I’m not that kinda girl – but I definitely do like to take a back seat and see my friends flourish in the spotlight. But I definitely love to have like my hand though in the creative process.

On Drag Race you spoke about the struggles of growing up mixed-race. As a gay, mixed-race man myself images like the one of you as the Birth of Venus still sort of blow me away – they just wouldn’t have existed when we were growing up. Does the fact that you are that representation for so many people come into mind when you’re creating?

There’s a lot of emotions that come with feeling your place in the world when you are mixed-race, because there’s a huge group of people that are telling you, you’re not Black enough, or there’s a huge group of people telling you that you’re not white enough.

I’ve always hated that, and I’ve never understood it because no matter what your background is or here you come from, I’m more interested to know you as your actins and who you are as a person.

Growing up in a blended family [Naomi is one of 12 siblings, some adopted, of various races] has helped me see people as people and never a the colour of their skin.

I’d hate that anyone would think that the colour of their skin should stop them from doing whatever they want. When I’m in drag I feel like I’m the only one, so I figured the Birth of Venus was a really good representation of that.

Black and white image of Naomi Smalls on a tennis court, in a leotard and white tights
Naomi Smalls performs ‘Dance In The Dark’. (Naomi Smalls)

Before we go, let’s talk about Drag Race Las Vegas. That must have been quite the experience.

I honestly had so much fun in Vegas. I’ve always like craved normalcy. As a drag queen we’re so used to being on a plane or a bus and in a new city everyday – that’s just kind of the gig, but I’m such a creature of habit that I was really craving being in one place. Familiarity is my kink.

I really enjoyed filming the show, Drag Race: Vegas Revue, because it wasn’t a competition. That’s the biggest difference, the queens are not acting as if they’re in competition with each other – but even still there’s a tonne of drama.

But we spent so much time together that we did kind of form a family, and you only fight really hard with your family because you know, you’re gonna make up at the end of the day. Or maybe you won’t.

What’s next for Naomi Smalls?

Right now, I’m kind of taking one day at a time and trying to keep this passion that I decided to sign up for when I was 18 years old alive.

I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t days when I’m like, wait, drag queen? Why did I choose to be a drag queen when there’s no health plan, there’s no retirement plan?

I just love being part of the creative process and art direction is something that I really think is more going to be like my segue when I decide that Naomi Smalls needs a break.

But my passion for drag, for doing this when I feel I’m at my best, is still alive. So I hope to dip my toe into everything that Naomi Smalls can get her toes into, which is probably a lot because my toes are very long!

The Smalls World Show premieres digitally around the world Tuesday (September 1). Tickets are available now.

More: Drag Race, Naomi Smalls

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