Another week, another controversial Drag Race elimination. Despite her triumphant week on the UK season two premiere, Asttina Mandella became the third contestant to sashay away from the competition, leaving fans absolutely – yes, we’re doing italics again –gobsmacked. On this week’s episode, the ten remaining queens joined forces with their best Judy in a design challenge called Who Wore It Best?
Asttina used the opportunity to showcase her love for cartoons and anime, but ultimately, her ensemble was criticised by the judging panel as too “simple” and “disappointing”. Although Asttina is one of the fiercest entertainters the franchise has ever seen (seriously, her live performances are mind-blowing), she was bested in the lip-sync smackdown by Tia Kofi to the beat of Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now. This season? [Insert Laganja Estranja gif] Too fucking much.
“It’s funny to see the reaction from everyone. It’s exactly what the show is, it’s exactly what I remember watching from the show from the first season, all the way down to now. It’s the gaggery, it’s the goopery, the gumption, the temerity – it’s all of that. What an episode!” the East London-based star tells GAY TIMES. “There’s a picture of me and Tia on the runway and you just see all of the queens at the back like this [Asttina pulls a face, in complete shock]. It’s my favourite image I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Here, we speak with Asttina over Zoom about her – we’re going to say it again, because it bears repeating – controversial elimination, her “taboo” choice for the show’s staple maxi-challenge, Snatch Game, and her newfound status as a role model for Black LGBTQ+ viewers around the world, “from Mexico to Birmingham, to Luxembourg to Canada.” Are you ready for the T to be split?
Asttina, that episode was… rude.
Rude. So bloody rude. I knew it was happening. I mean, I filmed this back in March, so I was waiting for everyone to see it. It’s funny to see the reaction from everyone. It’s exactly what the show is, it’s exactly what I remember watching from the show from the first season, all the way down to now. It’s the gaggery, it’s the goopery, the gumption, the temerity – it’s all of that. What an episode!
Fans have hailed this as one of the most shocking eliminations in history…
Like you said, the gumption! The goopery!
The goop! The gag! The gumption! It’s a lot. It’s a real gag. There’s a picture of me and Tia on the runway and you just see all of the queens at the back like this [Asttina pulls a face, in complete shock]. It’s my favourite image I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
What has it been like for you, to see that level of support from fans on social media?
It’s been overwhelming! I remember coming off that stage, crying my eyes out, and I felt like I had let myself down. Everyone was telling me, ‘You haven’t, you’ve done us proud,’ and I was like, ‘I feel proud, but I know what I’m capable of.’ So, I remember feeling really down. Everyone was just like, ‘I’m so proud that you’re unapologetically you.’ This is from people all over the world, from Mexico to Birmingham, to Luxembourg to Canada. I’m just so thankful and overwhelmed by all of the support. The love I felt when I was there was not the love I feel I am receiving now, although that was the love I’m receiving – if that makes sense? I’m just touched, honoured and blessed that I’ve got to showcase myself and what I can give. Off the show, you can see that on my Instagram! We put ourselves on the map and we are literally going, ‘This is me, we’re stripping ourselves down for everyone to see.’ So, the love that I’m getting is overwhelming.
We’ve had 13 US seasons, five seasons of All Stars, Canada’s Drag Race – all of it. In my opinion, that was one of the most gracious defeats we’ve ever seen on the main stage. What was going through your mind when Ru told you to sashay away?
Oh my god. Another funny thing is, what happened on the runway is not what you guys saw! I remember all of that happened on the runway and I was just like, ‘Cool, just take it. It’s all constructive criticism.’ We did the lip-sync and she said Tia, and I was just like, ‘Well, that’s it. There’s no point trying to [makes argumentative sounds], it is what it is. She’s made her decision, accept it.’ I remember thinking first of all, ‘Get me off the stage, I’m freezing.’ Second, ‘That’s it. Bitch, you did what you did and when it’s out and you see it, you’ll see it.’ It’s weird.
So, what did we not see on the main stage?
How do I say this without… What didn’t make the edit was me wiping Tia’s tears. She was crying, I was crying. We spoke about the necklace and there was a whole moment when we were like, ‘The necklace needs to come back on!’ and ‘It needs to stay off!’ and ‘It needs to go back on!’ It was all of these things and I was just like, ‘The necklace is off. Relax, it’s done, don’t worry about it.’ There was this big hoo-hah, and that kind of caused like ten minutes of stuff you didn’t see. Ru was talking, and I remember she mentioned something about my hairline or my own hair, and I remember thinking, ‘First of all, I painted the hairline on, and second of all, my hair is definitely in bunches which are from extensions from the packs of the East London shop down the road.’ I was thinking all of these things that she was saying to me, which wasn’t in the show and the edit. So, it’s things like that where it’s so weird to relive what I lived and what I remember – because that’s what happened – and to see the truth of what’s happening on the show. It’s like two magnets where they pull and pull. What you see is what you see, but what I’ve lived and what happened is what happened. It’s crazy, but like I said, I came on the show to challenge and push myself, and I did that. What I learned all the way back in March to now, it’s just a complete evolution. I’m so grateful and thankful for being on the show – and going on All Stars!
All Stars 6, 7, 8…
All Stars 20 million!
Compared to some of the queens still in the competition, we really got to know Asttina Mandella as a person and a drag queen…
Yeah! I remember going there and thinking that I didn’t want hold back anything, because sometimes I can keep myself to myself. ‘Let’s go from the jump and learn about me straight away.’ You meet people and you’re like, ‘I’ve met this side of you, but I don’t know the 89% of the rest of you.’ In the three episodes I’ve been in, I’ve shown four different looks, four different sides and personalities of me – and the shady side of me, because yes, I am a shady little bitch. You’ve seen my vulnerable side and me break into tears. You’ve seen all sides of me, and that’s what I’m happy to do because I never used to be like that. I was a barrier, you’d never penetrate my wall. Now I know who I am, and hopefully, everyone else can learn from that. Be who you are and be unapologetically you. It’s fine to be upset. It’s fine to be angry. It’s fine to cuss someone out. It’s fine to call someone a bitch! But, it’s also good to be happy and all of the emotions that you are, because that’s what makes us human beings. But I’m not a human being, I’m a mutant, so…
You and Tayce received praise in the first episode for highlighting the lack of Black role models in the UK for LGBTQ+ people. So, how does it feel for you now Asttina, knowing that you are going to be that role model for viewers out there?
Babe, it’s amazing. I’m glad I can be that person now, so thank you for giving me this platform. Also, it’s really rewarding. Compared to a lot of POC’s out there that I’ve seen in the TV or the mainstream, I’m completely different. I come from an East London background. I come from a council place and I wasn’t brought up with much money. I’m an only child and my mother brought me up. I come from powerful women, and I know there’s so many people who can relate to that. I’m happy and honoured that I get to be that beacon of hope for that child whoever they are – especially within the LGBTQ+2477 alphabet family – to say, ‘It’s okay to be who you are and feel these things to be the fabulous, human warrior you are!’
Speaking of warrior, you memorably paid homage to Mortal Kombat on the main stage. I see you’re wearing a ‘FATALITY’ jacket right now…
Bam! I got this the other day and was like, ‘I’m wearing this for the rest of my life.’ Fans have gone absolutely crazy for the Mileena look and I’m so happy! I remember watching all of these episodes as a gamer, as a geek and a nerd, like, ‘No one’s done anything that I’m here for yet, and I want something from a game.’ Even if Mario went down the friggin’ runway I would’ve been so excited! I was like, ‘If I ever had the chance to, I would do something Mileena.’ Especially during that time in March and April, I was just watching anime and cartoons. That was my vibe! When the sewing challenge happened I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ll make an anime character outfit!’ When it came to Meet the Queens, all I wanted to do was live my little Pussycat Dolls and Little Mix, streetwear vibe fantasy. So, my aesthetic constantly changes. Embrace who you are! It sent me home, but guess what? I LOOKED AMAZING!
I have to ask: is it an ASOS jacket?
This is actually an ASOS jacket! It is! I’m joking, it’s Pull and Bear. It’s their Mortal Kombat collection. If you’re not with Warner Bros and you’re not following the Mortal Kombat world, you wouldn’t know there’s a Mortal Kombat movie coming out… I would pull the wig, that is not on my head, off. I’m embracing a Simone, season 13 headscarf moment. She inspired me so much from that. I’ve seen a few snips and clips and I was… gagged.
I just hope they use the same instrumental from the original films because that beat is so iconic.
It has to! If not, then I will sue. I’m very excited.
So, who did you have planned for Snatch Game?
I was going to do Cherry Valentine. I’m joking! First of all, can I just point out that Cherry’s laugh and entrance are my favourite things of all time. When she bumped her head… I friggin’ live! And Joe Black is just an icon. I love them to pieces. So, Snatch Game. I had a few plans, but I was either going to do Mel B – she’s from Leeds and so are my drag mother and dad – or Ricky Thompson. My third one, because I look like her and it would’ve been nice and controversial, was Azealia Banks.
That would’ve been…
[Laughs] Yeah. I remember when I was doing my audition tape, I put on a white jumper from the 212 video and put my hair in bunches and went, ‘Yeah. Hmm. This is scary, because I really look like her.’ I took a picture – I don’t know where the picture has gone because, you know, the internet and the cloud just doesn’t work – and was like, ‘This is really creepy!’ She’s just very controversial, even though her music is amazing. The gays love it and I love it, but she’s so controversial. It would’ve been a nice way to play it. Also, she’s not funny, but what she says makes you piss because she says some stupid things. It was going to be a test on me to try and make someone who is, not hated, but is a taboo person. They were the three.
Incredible. Would you have been prepared for a hostile response from Azealia on social media?
Babe, criticise me all you want. It just means you’re a keyboard warrior and you’re pressed. That’s the thing. You’re literally sitting there, angry, feeling some type of way, and typing on a phone. If I’m affecting you that much, good, because you have nothing going on in your life. Read a book!
We missed out with this. Like you said, c’mon All Stars 20!
All Stars 20 million! It could be ‘Stars All,’ who knows? They’ll probably the change the format, change the title. It’s going to be very interesting from now to see what happens. I’m not in it, Cherry’s not in it, Joe’s not in it. From what I can see from all the love, the top three people have gone out. Not my words, but my words. But, I’m so happy for the girls and Tia obviously too, she did that! At the end of the day, no one wants to go home. No one wants to see any person go home, so it hurts every time someone does, but that’s the name of the game sweetheart!
If you had to pick one of your remaining sisters to win, who would it be?
I would pick Asttina Mandella. It’s hard. To win? Can I pick three? I will pick Aston, Asttina… No, I’ll pick Asttina. No. Not to be biased, but I would love if Tayce won because she’s my gal. I would also love if either Ellie or Lawrence won, and Cherry Valentine.
We’ll get Cherry to that top three!
Let’s get Cherry to that top three guys, because she’s insane. That entrance? [Impersonates Cherry’s entrance into the werkroom.] It kills me.
What’s next for Asttina Mandella?
To go to my bed. That’s what’s happening baby, it’s early! What’s next? I’ve got a few projects here and there. I know everyone’s asking for merch, and don’t worry, it’s on its way. There were a few complications with home life, so I had to pause all of my merch. There were family matters, friends matters, health matters and I wanted to make sure that was all okay. My merch is paused, but now it’s on track! Collection RUDE coming out! And, I’ve just got my life plans. I want to enjoy it. There’s goals I want to achieve and things I want to tick off my list. Hopefully, once we all go back outside into the world, we’ll be touring and performing. I want to try everything and anything.
The first three episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 2 are now available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
To hear our thoughts on the season, subscribe to Snatched! an original podcast from GAY TIMES. Each week, we dissect all of the drama and conflama of the latest episode and chat with the eliminated queen, who spills all the T on their exit and time on the series. Snatched! is now available on all streaming services including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.