Sutan Amrull knows how to look like Tyra Banks almost more than Banks herself does. After getting his start as a makeup artist on America's Next Top Model in 2006, he appeared on camera dressed like his boss, impressing co-workers, TV audiences and Tyra herself.
Amrull has since won Season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race as his cross-dressing alter ego, Raja. The L.A. native, makeup artist and performer describes himself as “30-ish,” towering at 6 feet 3 without heels.
Born in Baldwin Park, Amrull moved to Indonesia with his family at age 3, returning to the States and settling in La Puente when he was 10. He credits his early childhood in Southeast Asia with igniting the creativity that fuels him today.
“I was that kid who played in the corner with bedsheets, towels and dishrags, making costumes,” he says.
But Amrull didn't get into fashion seriously until high school, when he learned how to apply makeup from his 14-year-old friend Eva, who was under house arrest for breaking into a restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier. Amrull describes his teen look as “goth,” but confesses he was only into it for the fishnets, capes and eyeliner.
“I found a lot of parallels in the goth look to the chola look, and I'm still really drawn to that,” he says. “Cholas are gorgeous.”
How did Amrull's family react to his interest in drag? “They tried to put their little limitations on me, but you can't hold a bitch down,” he says. “If it's inside of you — if you have to do it — you will do it.”
So Raja was born, taking her name from a character in Aladdin, which also means “king” in Indonesian.
Amrull's makeup clients include Dita Von Teese and Adam Lambert, but he doesn't want to be “the makeup guy” forever. “At this point, the drag and the performance are definitely my focus,” he says.
He's inspired by Edith Bouvier Beale (aka Little Edie of Grey Gardens) and 14-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson.
As with his role models, style plays an important role in Amrull's life, down to his West Hollywood apartment, which he describes as a cross between Pippi Longstocking's house and the Haunted Mansion, with a touch of Liberace thrown in.
But Amrull isn't home often these days. He's traveling to perform as Raja.
As for RuPaul's Drag Race, Amrull says, “It was a good experience. I would never say that it was easy. I had to challenge myself constantly.” But the challenges paid off, and now Raja is making a name for herself as a performer.
What does the future hold? “I'm probably going to retire on an island and have long, silver hair with tons of turquoise bangles and rings,” he says. “I'll be shirtless and overly tan, wearing white linen pants — that old gay hippie dude.
“I don't care how, but I'm gonna get there.”