A month and a half ago, RuPaul's Drag Race season-nine contestant and L.A. native Valentina (aka James Andrew Leyva) first spoke with us about being on the show and what she hoped to achieve after it aired. Now, seven queens later, her time on the show has come to an end in a blaze of drama and controversy. After never being in the bottom, the pilot that Valentina and her partner, Nina Bo'nina Brown, created for this week's challenge fell a bit flat, and both were up for elimination. Valentina, whose runway look featured a red mask across her mouth, began the lip sync with the mask still on.
After some unhappy mutterings from the judges, RuPaul stopped the song (“Greedy” by Ariana Grande) and asked Valentina to remove her mask so they could actually see her lips during the lip sync. She replied, “I'd like to keep it on, please,” but eventually acquiesced after Mama Ru insisted. It then became clear that Valentina had asked not to remove the mask because she didn't know the words to the song. “In this moment, my mind is just at a blank. I don’t remember the song, I just want to disappear,” she said on the show. As she sashayed away crying, it was no doubt that her legions of supporters felt her pain. We spoke to Valentina again before the episode's airing to discuss her unconventional elimination, her time on the show and how she's become such a fan favorite since the last time we spoke to her.
L.A. Weekly: Let's talk about that lip sync — it was heartbreaking! Was it nerves that made you forget the words to the song, or did you not know them?
Valentina: I was not prepared and didn't know the lyrics. There wasn’t enough time to learn the lyrics for me.
Can you tell me what was going through your head?
I was in a state of shock and I don’t recall much of any of it. The only thing I remember was when Ru raised his voice at me and I remember thinking, 'Oh shit, what's going on?'
Were you scared when you first refused RuPaul's request to take your mask off?
I don’t think I was scared, I was in a state of shock. I don’t think I felt anything, to be honest.
So any bitter feelings toward Ru?
Not at all. I've been asked, “Valentina, what is the best thing you can take away from Drag Race?'' The best thing that I can take away from Drag Race is having met RuPaul. He is a star and I had the privilege of being in his presence. I can only aspire to be like RuPaul. He's a big role model for me now, and I thank him for choosing me and for letting me be on his show. His validation means the world.
How would you describe your time on the show, looking back at it all these months later, now that it's aired?
Looking back on the show, I'm so happy. I'm so glad that [in] the weeks leading up to my elimination, I was thriving, I won challenges. I had a great time, had fabulous runway [looks] and had so much TV time. It's been a dream come true. I'm so lucky and blessed to have had such an amazing run on the show. The reward is having this amazing following and this platform to be able to achieve my dreams through getting on the show.
That perfectly leads to my next question. You definitely are a fan favorite. Here's just a sample of one post found on the Reddit page dedicated to Drag Race: “I am completely won over by Valentina. The more I see of her, the more I find her to be a sweetheart. A winning smile, a kind and innocent naivete and a theatrical feminine disposition, which is rare these days in a time where many gay men try to 'butch it up' for social acceptance. It is refreshing to see a gay man who embraces his flamboyance with the fierceness of Latin America.” Why do you think you’ve been able to connect so strongly to the Drag Race fan base?
I think [I presented] something that really stems from a place of passion. I put a lot of time and thought into what I say and what I do, and I think that really transcends and reaches out to people. People really admire authenticity.
In our first interview, we discussed how you wanted to be a beacon of light for the Latin community. How does it make you feel that it seems as if you did achieve your goal?
I feel a level of responsibility to make my fans proud, to feel proud of myself and to shed light to the beauty of my culture. The fact that people feel so connected to and passionate about me, it really just means that they connect with their culture too. There's power in that, and I'm so lucky to be a Latina drag queen during these difficult political times. I represent a lot to my fans and it's deeper than just drag, it's more [about] the beauty of our culture that hasn't been put out in a very positive light. I mean a lot to them and they mean so much more to me, so I'm very grateful for it.
How would you feel if you were to be season nine's Miss Congeniality?
My goodness, just the thought of it makes me smile, but it's something that I cannot choose myself. If I were to be crowned Miss Congeniality, I would take it on as a big responsibility not just as a Ru girl but [a responsibility] to always be kind for the rest of my life.
What would you have done with the prize money had you won RuPaul's Drag Race?
I would’ve done the smart thing and invested it in my career.
Who did you see as your biggest competition for the crown?
Have you had post-traumatic stress whenever you hear an Ariana Grande song now?
All the time.
Do you prefer to lip-sync in Spanish or English?
Spanish. Exclamation point!
What are your plans for the future?
My dream now for Valentina is to become the face of drag in all of Latin America. My goal is to take myself on tour [and] do as many possible countries in Latin America as a performer. Not only that, but I want to cross over into networks like Telemundo, Univision, [TV] Azteca. … I think with my life, I want to create a career, and my ultimate goal is to be a superstar. I shoot big. If you want my near future goals, I think it's to just meet my fans in all these different cities that are waiting to meet me. Along the way, I've met such amazing people, like people that want to work with me in editorials or music videos, [so] there's [a lot] that I can do with my career right now. [For the moment] I'm focused on just living the rest of this Drag Race experience, because I'm so blessed to be a RuPaul girl and to go to things like DragCon and the [season nine] finale. I'm going to enjoy that for now and along the way, if opportunities come, trust me, I'm not going to let a good opportunity pass me by.
Would you come back if there ever was an All Stars 3 season that RuPaul invited you to be on?
It would be my pleasure.