If a contestant is eliminated at top six, chances are they’ll become a Drag Race legend. In the past, we’ve had queens such as Shangela, Alyssa Edwards, Trixie Mattel, Monét X Change, Nina West and Heidi N Closet reach the same position and miss out on the coveted top five, but their boisterous, likeable personalities catapulted all of them to fan-favourite status. Ilona Verley will be no different. The 25-year-old, who hails from Lytton, BC, has made her mark on the series due to her polished pastel aesthetic and brazen impersonation of Cock Destroyer’s Rebecca Moore, as well as her now-iconic, Laganja Estranja-esque breakdown in episode four. (“All I’m representing for right now is fucking dumpster divers!”)
More importantly, Ilona has made HERstory for, not just Canada’s Drag Race, but the entire franchise as the first ever Indigenous, two-spirit and openly non-binary contestant. Speaking to GAY TIMES, Ilona said it was her “mission” to provide representation for all three marginalised communities. “I went there to represent for Indigenous people and for two-spirit people, and it was my mission to bring visibility to this mainstream platform. The feedback has truly been incredible. I’ve had people share the exact same story I had growing up, telling me, ‘I’ve never seen myself represented on TV. I saw a piece of me in you.’ Those moments for me are better than winning a crown or $100,000.”
Over Zoom, we caught up with the star after her elimination to discuss her achievements on the first ever season of Canada’s Drag Race, that controversial exchange with Brooke Lynn Hytes and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman on last week’s episode, and why the producers cut most of her ‘inappropriate’ Snatch Game performance from the final edit.
I wanted to start off by telling you that my favourite moment from Canada’s Drag Race so far has been your Snatch Game of Rebecca Moore.
Oh my god, thank you so much! That means a lot. Yeah, I’ve been waiting for someone to do them so I was like, ‘Fuck it! I’m doing it.’
I went so off the deep end with my Cock Destroyer fantasy, and a lot of what I did, I don’t think was appropriate to put in the TV show.
You were a Cock Destroyer. Did Rebecca Moore respond?
Yes! She was actually so sweet. She sent me a really cute message and started tweeting about it. She’s still DM-ing me all the time like, ‘Once again, thank you so much. It meant so much to me.’ I’m like, ‘It meant so much to you?’ It’s really special that I have that connection with her. She already followed me on Instagram, so I was worried she was going to hate it, but… she lived for it. That put such a smile on my face.
I need to see more of it. I need an extended cut!
Here’s the thing… I went so off the deep end with my Cock Destroyer fantasy, and a lot of what I did, I don’t think was appropriate to put in the TV show. At one point, Kiara had all these little Christmas trees, and I got up on the table, started riding them and deep-throating them. I even started fisting one of them. It was a whole experience! The reason why I had lipstick across my face at the end of the Snatch Game was because I went underneath the table. Brooke Lynn was like, ‘Where’s Rebecca?’ I popped up with the lipstick smeared everywhere like, ‘Oh, sorry! I was giving a quick blowie under the table!’ It was a very good moment for me… that didn’t get to make it to air.
Didn’t Jimbo basically deepthroat a microphone this episode?
How did you feel following your elimination?
At the time, I was super at peace with it. I knew it was my time, and I didn’t go into Drag Race gunning to win. I went there to represent for Indigenous people and for two-spirit people, and it was my mission to bring visibility to this mainstream platform; that doesn’t really see a lot of visibility for Indigenous people. I felt like I got to share a lot of what I wanted to share on the show, at that point. So, when I was eliminated, I was at peace with it. I was happy that it was Priyanka that sent my ass home and not one of the white girls! No, I’m kidding. My heart is happy and I’m proud of myself for how far I made it. I made top six and episode seven out of 10 – that’s pretty fierce!
You also had the seal of approval from Allie X at the end!
Yes! That was so heartwarming for me. I’ve had so many close encounters with her where I almost met her, or my designer will design stuff for her tours. I always feel like I’m so close to her all the time, and I’d never been able to meet her or connect with her, really. She tweeted me once four years ago and it sent me off the deep end. I was so shook but living. So, to find out that she was going to be the guest judge for that episode, I literally thought the whole time, ‘I hope I lip-sync tonight. I hope I lip-sync tonight.’ Hello is my song! I love it and I wanted to do it. I had to perform it in front of her! I was really happy actually, that I ended in the bottom. I wish I could’ve stayed a little bit longer, but I was really happy that I got to perform her song in front of her, and then to meet her afterwards. It was a special moment for me.
I didn’t go into Drag Race gunning to win. I went there to represent for Indigenous people and for two-spirit people, and it was my mission to bring visibility to this mainstream platform.
You’ve given us three incredible lip-syncs this season. That’s also something to be proud of, too.
Thank you! Yeah, I’m really happy that I got to showcase my performing abilities on the show. I consider myself a look queen, although I know I’m a good performer, but I’m not the girl out there who’s doing dips, splits and backflips, you know? I’m not a dancer, but I enjoy the performance style that I can do.
What has the response been like online from the two-spirit and Indigenous communities?
Honestly, it’s been so mind-blowing for me. Obviously, I knew that this was going to be so impactful and that it was going to touch so many people. I’ve had so many messages and it’s hard to keep up with all of them, but I make sure I reply to every single one. The feedback has truly been incredible. I’ve had people share the exact same story I had growing up, telling me, ‘I’ve never seen myself represented on TV. I saw a piece of me in you.’ Those moments for me are better than winning a crown or $100,000. Being able to build those connections that are super meaningful… it’s everything to me. That was my goal.
You also opened up about being non-binary on the show – was it important for you to provide representation for that community as well?
For me, gender diversity is really important. Even though in today’s society it’s so much more accepted and people have the freedom to express their gender, there’s still so much loss of opportunities for people who are trans and non-binary. To be able to go onto this platform and be super open about being non-binary, seeing myself as non-binary, seeing myself as female, being two-spirit, that to me was just as important as representing for Indigenous people. There are so many trans and non-binary kids that don’t get the same opportunities as everybody else, and that’s something I’m really fighting for, is it to make sure that all performers in the drag industry gets the same opportunities.
Last week, there was some controversy over the judges’ critiques about your bum. Were you surprised at how passionate the online response was following the episode?
Yeah, actually. I was dreading that episode because it was one where I had to lip-sync, and you just never know how people are going to react to that. I was really scared leading up to it. I had a pretty big blowup in that episode, that thankfully was not featured, so I was dreading dealing with that. Then to watch the episode and see how different it was than how I remembered it put me in a really relaxed position. Seeing the online response after the runway critiques really blew my mind because it was the first time that I really felt love from the overall fandom. I had gotten my fair share of hate for different instances on the show, and as a result, I even took ‘Drag Race’ out of my bio on Instagram. I was like, ‘Leave me alone!’ After episode six, having that sheer love and support from people, changed my perspective and made me appreciate the good side of this fandom. There’s so many people out there that have the same views as me, fighting for social justice and making sure everyone is respected for their bodies, their gender, their race and for they who are. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable about who they are.
I loved how you tagged Jeffrey when you posted your merch on Twitter. It do take nerve!
[Laughs] Charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, honey! He inspired me!
Seeing the online response after the runway critiques really blew my mind because it was the first time that I really felt love from the overall fandom.
How are you dealing with the sudden rise to fame, especially during a pandemic?
Leading up to filming, the 12 of us have a group chat and we talk every day. We were talking about what we were gonna do when the hate starts coming, because obviously, we have fights on the show. There’s this and there’s that, whatever. We were all laughing like, ‘We’re gonna be making so much money, we’re not gonna have time for all the hate!’ Then the pandemic happened and we weren’t making money because there’s no gigs, and all we can do is look at our phones. It’s definitely been overwhelming. Recently, I turned off all my comments and all my messages so I can just focus on creating art and enjoying the experience. As much as I love interacting with fans… I was going through a lot with my mental health, so it wasn’t the right time for me to be reading messages, especially when you never know when a hateful one is gonna pop in there. Just one hateful message throws you off for a whole day, at least for me. Now, I’m interacting with fans on Twitter and it’s amazing, but I don’t feel famous, you know? I’m getting recognised all the time, walking down the street or on the train, just going about and living my everyday life. It’s so random, because it just feels like I have all these new friends.
How does it feel to finally see Canadian queens be recognised on an international scale?
It’s really amazing because Canada has such an incredible drag scene, and there’s so many incredible drag artists that had nothing to work towards. You have your weekly show and that’s the biggest deal that you can get out of Canadian drag. Finally having Drag Race in Canada gives all of these performers something to work towards, something to continue honing their craft with the goal of getting on the show. I think it’s so exciting! I’m so thankful to have been part of the inaugural season and it’s been a great experience so far. I can’t wait to see who comes after us!
Canada’s Drag Race airs every Thursday in Canada and the United States on Crave and WOW Presents Plus, and every Friday in the UK on BBC iPlayer.