Davide Laffe

Laganja Estranja spills all the T in this exclusive interview with Gay Times. 

Texan drag performer and choreographer Laganja first sashayed into our lives back in 2014, when she appeared as a contestant on the legendary sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Despite a controversial run on the show – and a placement lower than she anticipated (8th) – Laganja became one of the most iconic and quotable contestants in Drag Race HERstory.

Since her elimination, fans have campaigned for the self-described “cannabis activist” to return on a future season of All Stars for her well deserved ru-demption edit. But Laganja tells Gay Times that it’s never going to happen. “I don’t think I could ever return to the intense competition that it is required by Drag Race,” she reveals. “I will never be a competitor, and I hope that people will finally let that go.”

But honey, who said you need to return to Drag Race to get that redemption arc? Earlier this week, Laganja went viral and gained thousands of new fans after kicking, flipping and shablamming the mother-tucking house down on So You Think You Can Dance. And earlier this month, she showed off her acting chops in the acclaimed sci-fi short, Channel.

We caught up with the dancer – real name Jay Jackson – to discuss her acting career, returning to reality TV, and why we won’t see her on All Stars 4…

What inspired you to return to reality TV for So You Think You Can Dance? 
There were several things that inspired my audition. I was inspired by Mark Kanemura, who is one of the previous contestants. He choreographed to Call Me Mother by RuPaul last year on the show. He’s very flamboyant online, makes a lot of videos that are funny and about LGBTQ rights. I’ve also been an avid fan of the show since season one. I’ve had many friends go on the show – some of them have even won – so I’ve always wanted to do it, I just don’t think I’ve ever had the confidence. This year, on Twitter, I tweeted my supporters, “Do you guys think I should make time for this audition? If so, would you support me?” Of course, Twitter responded so well to that. So with their support, I decided to audition.

You must be so pleased with the response so far. 
Yes! It has been incredibly, overwhelmingly positive, which I’m sure you know is a huge change for me! On season six of Drag Race, I was received with quite the turmoil. I think people maybe weren’t as ready for my eccentricity then as we are now, because now we have people like Cardi B who uses the same vernacular that I do, but made it cool again. So, I think it’s really awesome that I’m getting a second chance and doing it in my own way. Everybody is always like ‘All Stars, All Stars, All Stars’, but I knew that there was something else out there for me that would showcase my real talent. Yesterday, So You Think You Can Dance tweeted out an emoji to represent which contestant you felt the most connected to, and it was all high heels! I text my friend and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I feel like Trixie Mattel. Is this what she feels like every day?’ So, it’s just been amazing to have the support I see a lot of my other sisters get, and to feel appreciated by my community. Like I said, it hasn’t always been that way for me, and I’ve gone through a lot of hard and dark times.

You must be happy a new audience is seeing you in such a positive light. 
The great thing about So You Think You Can Dance is that it’s on Fox, it’s a national television show, so the broadcast reach is much larger than RuPaul’s Drag Race. So, I’m being exposed to a whole new group of people. I was looking up the hashtag, ‘Miss Estranja’ yesterday just to see if there are new people who are coming onto the Laganja family, and there is. If I went back on All Stars, sure, I would’ve reached some new people, but predominantly, it would’ve been the same fanbase. Now, I’m able to to reach a fanbase that I’ve so desperately wanted to be a part of, and that’s the dance community. Not that the slate is wiped clean, but it kinda is. In many ways, this will be people’s first introduction to me. Going from a 23-year-old to a 29-year-old, a lot has changed, and the world is going to get to see that. 

On the show, you go by Miss Estranja. Did they tell you to drop ‘Laganja’?
No, I actually chose to do that myself. I didn’t want to give them any reason to not show my talent. I never even mentioned ‘Laganja’ to them at all. I never even mentioned RuPaul’s Drag Race, because again, I felt it would limit my appearance, and limit who I can be as a person. As much as I support the cannabis industry – and I will always stand behind it – I would like to be seen in a different light. It’s been a shame that for so many years, people have looked at me like a drug addict and a stoner, and as someone who’s lazy and sits on the couch, when in fact, I am none of those things. I medicate legally, here in California. I am actually a very hard worker, and lazy is not a word that’s in my vocabulary. Marijuana helps me get my job done, stay active, and stay present in every situation. It helps me deal with crazy, drunken fans, and it makes me wanna hug everybody and be peoples’ friends! I think I have this great opportunity to continue my activism alongside that, but I ultimately chose Miss Estranja going in because I didn’t wanna rock the boat. I rocked the boat for years, and quite honestly, I just wanted to get on the boat this time. At the end of the day, I made up my name. What’s real is my talent. 

Nigel has made negative comments about feminine men in the past, do you feel like you can win him over? 
Absolutely. I think that Nigel, much like any human being living on this Earth, is a growing creature. He’s not perfect, he has said many things that have hurt effeminate men in the past. He’s one of the reasons I never went and auditioned for the show before, as a male. I always thought that he would come down on me for being effeminate, but that being said, I was so happy to see that he has grown and changed. If you saw the other night, he was interacting with me on Twitter, which I never thought in a million years would happen. I think, much like myself in the last five years, he has grown. He has come to learn that his perception of an ideal dancer isn’t necessarily true. I think it’s amazing that they let me through, and even though he said no, I knew in my heart of hearts that he was living! That’s why I was able to give him a hug, and let Nigel know that I’m going to convince him that I am a real dancer and that I have talent. I definitely have what it takes to win him over, but it won’t be easy. As you said, in the past, he wants to see masculinity in a male dancer.

When you look back on your Drag Race experience, how do you feel about it? 
I personally believe that everything happens for a reason. When I look back on my season six experience, I’m first and foremost grateful that I survived it! I found my sobriety, my yoga, and a group of real friends to support me behind the stage. I was an innocent 23-year-old who just moved to Hollywood, who was willing to do anything and everything to be a star. Quite honestly, that’s what got me to where I am today. I don’t regret anything I said or did, I’m just thankful that my legacy has turned into something iconic and legendary. It took some people time to come around and realise my jush. I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

It’s arguably the most iconic season in HERstory. 
I definitely think season six was the most iconic season. When you look at the top three, Bianca Del Rio is touring internationally and is worth two million dollars, Adore Delano has had incredible success with her music, and Courtney Act has gone on to win Big Brother. You name another top three that has accomplished what they accomplished. Then, you look at the other contestants like Milk, who is an international model and BenDeLaCreme who had incredible success on All Stars 3. Gia Gunn is also travelling the world internationally. Season six is doing it. I’m so proud to be a season six girl, and I will go on record to say that it is the best season.

Will you ever return for All Stars? 
No. I will never return as a competitor to RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I made that very clear to World of Wonder. I would love to come back as a cameo, much like Alyssa was as a dance coach. But, after doing So You Think You Can Dance, where I was treated with such kindness and such respect, I don’t think I could ever return to the intense competition that it is required by Drag Race. It’s not that they’re mean, or they do something to harm us, but what they put us through is very intense. You have to be incredibly strong in your mind. I just feel, mentally, I’m not ready for that, and I’ll never be ready for that because it’s not how I operate. I would never put myself in a shark tank like that where girls can have opinions on me, and potentially vote me off. You already saw, I felt very attacked when girls started coming for me, and I’m not ready to have a repeat of that. That being said, I love the brand. I have nothing against Drag Race, it changed my life. I just know I will never be a competitor, and I hope that people will finally let that go. I’m doing so much work to show people that I don’t need that. I was just on Germany’s Next Top Model, the number one rated show in the country and the amount of viewership for that is just incredible. I’m proving myself everyday in the real world that I am an All Star. And like I said, I survived it once, why would I throw myself back in that again? People want me to go on and do well, but what if I go on and don’t do well? What if I do crack under pressure? Everything I worked so hard for over these years would be ruined in the blink of an eye.

One more All Stars related question. How did you feel when Shangela didn’t win the crown? 
Obviously, the Haus of Edwards has been robbed twice now… Some would say three times! I’m still so proud of my sister Shangela and it shows that it’s not about winning the crown, it’s about winning the hearts of America, and she did just that. She is incredibly dedicated to her craft, so, she deserves all the success she gained from that show. I know, for her, it’s just the beginning. Shangela is a real actor/actress, and there’s so much more in store for her. Yes, we’re sad she didn’t win the crown, but be thankful so many other people were exposed to her, and made such a huge fanbase.

How important is your drag family?
By having a drag family, I am so lucky, because so many girls have to do everything on their own. I got to tour the world with Alyssa and Shangela, and I feel so blessed that I have a drag mother and drag sister to teach me and show me the ropes. However, it’s super important to remember that plenty of girls don’t have a drag family, and they’re incredible. I don’t think a drag family defines the drag queen. A drag family provides support, love, and you should be thankful to have that, but new Hauses are made every day. I just watched Pose, and it was all about that. One girl breaking off from a family and starting her own Haus. I am grateful to have a drag family, and it’s changed my life. I just hate articles that come out about needing a drag family. My best friend, Gia Gunn, she doesn’t have one. I hate girls who feel left out, because they are just as powerful as any other queen. 

Last month, you appeared in the short sci-fi film, Channel. Is acting something you’d like to pursue? 
Absolutely! I’m currently working on a few television shows right now. None are in production, but one of them is a fictional story about a beauty school, where I play a character very similar to myself. We’re pitching to Netflix, and Amazon. I’m also working on two reality series. I judge contestants on one, and on the other, it’s like Queer Eye but with drag queens. I play the movement and confidence coach. This year is looking amazing for me. If you can be kind, be confident, and believe in yourself, you can do anything. I hope that my appearance on So You Think You Can Dance will prove that.

What’s next for Laganja – other than SYTYCD and acting? 
Next is my music. That’s what I’m most excited about releasing. I’ve spent a fortune, everything I have, creating a really strong and incredible album that I believe has the potential to crossover. I think we’re about to blow it out of the water. And I just feel like I’m really slept on. I pay almost $2000 a month on rent. I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck. I’m not like these other girls. I’m not paid $4000-$6000 a gig. And the struggle is real. It’s not easy being Laganja Estranja. But I do feel like this will be my big break, and So You Think You Can Dance will be the tip of the iceberg. If it’s not, I am ready to put in the hat. I’ve been trying to be a star for years, and it’s been difficult not having the financial backing like some of the top Drag Race queens have. I really do believe though with all my heart I deserve to be treated like the rest of the girls. I’m one of those queens that some people like, but they don’t all acknowledge what I have done, and so, I feel like this is going to be that moment. I’m going to bring incredible visuals to back up my music, and let people know that I’m here to stay. My talent is undeniable, and when people hear me rap for real, they’re gonna freak. But at the end of the day, if my album is a blip or a flop, it’s gonna be okay because I love my album and one day, I’m going to play it for my kids. That’s the bigger picture to me. There’s so much more than trying to be a star.

You can catch new episodes of So You Think You Can Dance every Monday in the US on Fox.