The first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under has been a hell of a ride. Particularly for contestant Art Simone, who sashayed into the long-awaited Australasian spin-off with the most revered reputation amongst her fellow queens (and most social media followers), only to be knocked out in the second week after a mediocre impersonation of Bindi Irwin on Snatch Game.
Following her defeat at the hands of Coco Jumbo, in which she became a viral sensation with her now-iconic exit interview, Art made an unexpected ruturn to the fold in episode four. Although stans of the fierce queen mourned her departure, Art’s comeback was met with controversy. Unlike past contestants such as Carmen Carrera, Trixie Mattel and Naysha Lopez, who all returned the same season, RuPaul failed to explain her reasoning to the cast and viewers at home.
Unsurprisingly, Art was inundated with abuse from so-called ‘fans’ of the series, with one claiming she paid her way back into the competition. Art tells GAY TIMES: “These people have the most creative imaginations like, ‘You paid to be back on!’ I was like, ‘Babe, I’ve got no fucking money whatsoever, I put all my money into my runways and I’m still in debt. No, I didn’t pay to be there.'”
Since returning to the competition, Art has been – and we’re gonna state facts and only facts – one of the most enter(t)ainting queens to watch thanks to her self-described “buffoon, dickhead, shit-talking” attitude; from promoting her soon-to-be bestselling Yeast Yank Extractor, paying homage to legendary Australian film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and devouring food for her unforgettable talent show extravaganza (see lead image).
Art may not have conquered a challenge, unlike her fellow finalists, but she’s entering the final focused, galvanised and ready to take crown. Ahead of the season one finale, we spoke with Art Simone about her time on the first season of Drag Race Down Under, the truth behind her return and how previous alumni of the franchise rallied behind her and supported her in her time of need.
Have you put the bins out?
[Laughs] I have! And I’m out of the state now, so I put them out before I left so they’re still out, unfortunately, and my poor neighbours are gonna be worried there’s three bins sitting out there. But, at least the trash was taken out.
Do you ever take out the trash in drag?
Many many times! We only moved to where we lived now back in August, and I was so petrified of my neighbours like… You never know, when you move to a new place, what they’ll think. They came up to me at one of my shows like, ‘We live across the road from you, and we see you getting into your car, we love it!’ So now I walk out like, ‘Hellooo!’ It’s fabulous.
It’s a massive week for you with the finale of Drag Race Down Under looming. How are you feeling?
I am so excited. We’ve made it to the end and I’m so excited for people to see what we’ve put out.
When I spoke to you last, I had absolutely no idea that I’d be speaking to you again this soon. I assumed you’d do a Shangela and make a surprise appearance on season two…
We fast-tracked it! ‘Skip the box, we’re gonna put you in the bin and we’re gonna wheel you out.’ It’s crazy.
How soon after you uttered the immortal words, “That means nothing”, were you approached to return?
I was fully eliminated. We finished filming that day and I came back in the next day and had to pack up all my suitcases. We leave the werkroom the day after. Wait, this isn’t a video interview is it? My housemate is trying to come through the door and he’s crawling on the floor! I could hear him crawling on the floor like, ‘What in the fuck is going on?’
Oh, hello! This should be a video interview with that kind of content…
I know! We could’ve made quite a moment like that video where the kids break in to that man’s interview. Anyway, I was fully eliminated and I had to wait for everyone to pack up their stuff and do their thing. Then I woke up at 5am the next day, taken to set to do my exit interviews, the confessionals, and then I was fully eliminated. I was given back my phone, my computer, I was moved out of the hotel into an Airbnb and waited for my flight. It was that night. I got a call that said, ‘Ru would like you back. Do you want to come back?’ I was like, ‘YES!’ but I didn’t play it like that. I said, ‘Let me think about it… YES!’ So then I had 24 hours where I got moved back into the hotel and then the next morning, I got wheeled into a bin. It was only two days but it seemed like an eternity because it’s TV land and people don’t realise we film an episode every two days. It was a flash in the pan and then I was back there.
I see, like when you’re asked on a date and play it cool. ‘Yeah, I suppose. I did have to take the bins out that day but…’
‘Look, I’ve found someone to take the bins out… Oh alright, I’ll make some time for you.’
I was so happy to see you return, but there was some confusion amongst fans because there was no explanation given. Of course, that’s not your fault in the slightest, but you’ve been targeted online. How did you handle that social media reaction?
I think ‘fan’ is a very loose term. There’s some very passionate people that don’t realise they’re watching a television show. I don’t think they realise that there’s human emotions attached to the other end of a message. It was really tough. Everyone was so upset when I left that I thought, ‘Amazing. Thank god they’re upset because they’ll be happy when I’m back.’ But, there was a chunk of people who were so verbal and so angry that I was back without an explanation. It’s Ru’s show. Ru makes up the rules and they can change it any moment. When you get a call from RuPaul saying, ‘I want you back,’ you go! It was really hard and there was a big chunk of time where I wasn’t doing well, at all, because I was taking it all so personally and people just couldn’t understand that I didn’t have a part in it. I did what I was told. Of course, my dream was to be on Drag Race and get to the end. If I’m invited back to do it, I’m gonna do it. But one thing I can sit happy in, and I was happy during filming, me coming back didn’t once take an opportunity away from someone else. Once I came back, there wasn’t a double elimination, so no one had to be sacrificed for me to be there. That’s why everyone kept saying, ‘Top three plus Art.’ I never stole someone away from anyone and I was grateful for that, in the least, that I didn’t have to sacrifice anyone, but it was hard. I’m surrounded by such a wonderful network of friends and family that were there for me and I’m so grateful for that because it was really hard.
I can’t comprehend that mentality, especially when it’s queer on queer hate…
You’re obviously like me, I could never fathom… We all have opinions, which is why we have conversations and we do things, but it’s such an extra set of steps to take that opinion, write it out, find the person and send it to them. Half of the time, it’s not even an opinion! These people have the most creative imaginations like, ‘You paid to be back on!’ I was like, ‘Babe, I’ve got no fucking money whatsoever, I put all my money into my runways and I’m still in debt. No, I didn’t pay to be there.’ Also, ‘You threw a hissy fit!’ If you roll back the tape, it was me crying. There was no hissy fit there! I guess at the end of the day, it’s so exciting that there’s so many passionate people that love the show, but I don’t know what it’s going to take for these people to learn that we’re human and it’s a show.
It goes against the whole ethos of Drag Race too? Love yourself, love others etc…
And it’s a family, we’re supporting each other and I’m grateful. I’ve had Ru Girls from the UK, Ru Girls from the States and Ru Girls from Thailand reaching out to me to check if I was okay, and I was so shocked by that. They’re like, ‘We’re the only people who have experienced what you have experienced, so if you need to talk it through, let’s chat.’ A few of them were like, ‘Let’s compare war stories!’ At least I’m very grateful for that. Despite all of it, it was quite refreshing to see that they say it’s a family constantly on the show, but it actually is. That was quite surprising for me and it was really wonderful.
Watching you this season has been so much fun. Since you returned, it just looked like you were having a fabulous time and not taking anything seriously. What was your mindset coming back into the competition? Did it change or remain the same?
My mindset completely changed in that I had nothing to lose. I already lost. I already felt the worst emotion I could possibly feel, so I knew what that feels like. If I had to feel it again, I’ll feel it again. So, it was really freeing for me to just lean into being myself and I’m just a buffoon, dickhead, shit-talker. My biggest mission everyday was trying to make people laugh. I was sitting in my interviews with my story producer and my mission every time was to try and make her laugh. When I did I was like, ‘YEAH!’ It was really freeing and I think that comes across. People have been saying, ‘She’s so mean! She’s shit-talking everyone!’ I’m just joking around, it’s a room full of drag queens having fun.
You’ve never said anything malicious. For example, during the makeover challenge when you read Kita Mean’s drag daughter Feta Mean, it all seemed like friendly banter?
[Laughs] If you throw enough sound effects underneath something, people believe that it’s really mean and nasty. If you throw enough rattlesnakes… But if you were in the room, five seconds after that cut everyone was laughing. We were just having fun and I’m glad, at least to you, it came across that way.
I have to talk about that note. You put on your television producing hat when you wrote that note for Coco Jumbo because…
I never wrote the note! What note? We don’t know who wrote the note. If I wrote the note, why did it take them two days to find it?
This is going to be another Bebe Zahara Benet not revealing the name on her lipstick situation, isn’t it?
[Laughs] The other thing is, more notes showed up! When I came back, there were more notes. I think two more, after that, that didn’t make the edit. It was a mystery. I think there was a group of people joining in on it. When we finished the yeast spread challenge, someone’s mirror had “WATCH OUT” written in yeast spread! It was on Karen’s mirror and she was so angry because she had to clean it up.
Throughout Drag Race herstory, there hasn’t been a winner who failed to win a maxi-challenge. Although, I do think there were a few you should’ve won this season. I will never understand the critiques for your Priscilla-inspired makeover…
Don’t! I even think the first week I was a shoo-in, the hometown and Born Naked. There were many times where I just missed it and it came down to personal preferences. Oh sad!
Are you hoping to make herstory as the first ever Drag Race winner with no undeserved challenge wins?
Of course I am! They kept trying to scare me like, ‘But you haven’t won anything, we’ve won things!’ I’m like, ‘I don’t care!’ At the end of the day, people need to realise that Drag Race is not a points system and it never has been a points system, ever. Ru isn’t sitting back there with a tally sheet and a calculator like, ‘Well actually…’ She don’t have time for that! You’re making it through these steps, and when you get through each step, your slate is wiped clean. You’re there again, ready to go. So, I’ve made it to the end and I know I’ve put on a fucking good show. I’m pumped. I’d love to win and I think I deserve to. That was something I didn’t understand with Kita, when she almost felt guilty for winning that last challenge. That was something I couldn’t understand because I wanted it so badly. I was so pumped because getting people in drag is something I’ve done so many times, I love to do it and make them look fabulous. Her coming into the werkroom the next day like, ‘Oh I won… I feel really guilty,’ I could never understand. The people that love you, follow you and root for you, you have to want to win for them as well. It’d be stupid me walking in like, ‘Nah I probably won’t win, but I’m just happy to be there!’ No! I want to win!
Art, I’m so looking forward to watching you in this finale.
Yes! And I’ll take the bins out next week, I promise.
The final episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under season one airs this Sunday on BBC iPlayer.