Another Man meets the RuPaul’s Drag Race star, who reminisces about her childhood and route into drag, as well as sharing some advice for new queens
- TextTed Stansfield
Aquaria needs little introduction. Real name Giovanni Palandrani, the flawless drag queen of Instagram fame is a contestant on the current (tenth) season RuPaul’s Drag Race – the competition to find “America’s next drag superstar” aka the gay man’s World Cup. At 22, Aquaria, who takes her name from her star sign, is the youngest contestant in her season and one of the few queens in Drag Race herstory who’s fame preceded the show: she was notorious for her fierce beauty looks and high-fashion sensibility, as well as her ties with former Drag Race winner Sharon Needles.
Palandrani picks up the phone from Seattle, where he’s sitting in bed in his hotel room, having performed a show the night before. Despite finding success at such a young age, he comes across as surprisingly grounded and self-effacing. “Well I can tell you what not to do,” he jokes when I ask him to share advice for aspiring drag queens – more on that later. He precedes to reminisce about his childhood in West Chester, New York, and his route into drag.
Born in 1996 to liberal-minded parents, Palandrani was heavily involved in the performing arts as a child: theatre in middle school, and dance in high school. At 13, he started watching beauty tutorials on YouTube and it’s this that got him into drag. “I would watch those videos and try to learn the techniques, and apply those to myself,” he recalls. “My whole experience with drag comes from makeup and this desire to create different beauty looks.”
It wasn’t until a few years later, though, in August of 2014, that he stepped out in drag for the first time and the memory remains with him to this day. “Absolutely I can remember it, I was 18 so I wasn’t drinking. I went to this venue in Philadelphia called Tabu and performed this comedy mix of Do What You Want by Lady Gaga and these YouTube parodies of The Marty Show. It’s a number I still perform to this day. The people in the crowd (all five of them) were very excited, it was a very encouraging atmosphere. It was definitely the gateway drug for me.” Aquaria was born.
Palandrani soon headed to New York City to read fashion at The Fashion Institute of Technology and threw himself into the city’s buzzing drag scene, first performing fellow Season 10 contestant Yuhua Hamasaki’s show. Citing Gaultier, Dior and Versace as his favourite brands, Palandrani’s knowledge and appreciation of fashion continue to inform his looks – he won the Ball Challenge in Episode 4, debuting well-executed outfits for each of the three categories: Alaskan Winter Realness, Miami Summer Realness and Martian Eleganza Extravaganza.
Regardless of her ultimate place in the competition, Aquaria is a drag superstar in the making. And while she admits she has “so much to learn”, it’s clear that she’s already picked up a lot and has some valuable advice for aspiring drag queens. Here, she gives us her five top tips...
1. Don’t dream it, be it
“My mantra is ‘Don’t dream it, be it.’ Is that corny? Put your mind to something and if it never happens, boohoo, life sucks. But if something does happen then you got it! So don’t dream it, be it, but work hard for it.”
2. Take your time
“Diving in headfirst is daring and very fierce, but I took my time to work on my makeup skills and to try and practice something before I debuted, and I think that definitely paid off with how people ‘respected’ me as a new queen. Like, ‘Oh the new queen can paint? Work!’ Focus on learning and perfecting your technical skills.”
3. Figure out who you are as a drag queen
“Trying to figure out where you fit, where you drag fits, is key to figuring out who you are as a person and a performer. Know yourself and have a good idea of what you want to put out into the world. It’s very traditional to do a fierce Whitney Houston remix, but if that’s not reflective of the kind of art you want to put out, then don’t do it. Find out what is genuine about you and your art, and go at that full throttle.”
4. Have fun
“Before I went on Drag Race, Valentina from last season was in New York City and we had a little meeting. She was like (puts on Valentina’s voice), ‘Aquaria, I have to tell you one thing, this thing is very important, what you need to do if you’re going on the show, is to remember to always have fun.’ As corny as that sounds, you have to always have fun. If you lose the fun, you lose a lot – especially on Drag Race where you are consumed in the craziness of what’s going on. When I do something, I try and have fun with it, even if I don’t want to do it.”
5. Do enjoy trends, don’t feel confined by them
“I think trends are enjoyed by many people, that’s why they’re trends. Try them out and see what works for you. But don’t feel confined by them; don’t feel obliged to follow them or the ‘traditional route of drag’. Don’t feel confined to look a specific way, or perform a specific way. Do things as you wish.
“Don’t let confines of what beauty is, or what gender is affect your view of drag either, because drag is not defined by some stupid heteronormative white man’s view of beauty, drag is defined by your view of beauty – be it beautiful or not beautiful, feminine, or not feminine. It’s all just a made-up construct anyway. Do you, don’t give a fuck about anyone else, take no prisoners and don’t forget to tip your bartender.”