When Jaida Essence Hall gets to Michigan for the Werq the World tour, her visit will mark the first time she’s been anywhere in the state outside Detroit Metro Airport.
“I can finally touch down and actually touch down,” says Hall, who won “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 12 and has been killing it on “All Stars.”
The Milwaukee native called just as she was joining the tour, which brings together a troupe of queens for the official “RuPaul’s Drag Race” show July 30 at the Michigan Lottery Amphitheater in Sterling Heights. Those girls, all contestants on the show, include Daya Betty, Angeria Paris VanMicheals, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, Kameron Michaels, Rosé, Jorgeous and Asia O’Hara.
And while it might be Hall’s longest visit to Detroit, it’s unlikely you’ll see her working the dance floor at Menjo’s. As you might imagine, the tour’s Covid precautions are strict — or “very cute,” as she puts it. (No clubbing, for instance.) But, even though she just joined and has only experienced rehearsal, the tour has “already been the best time.”
Here, Hall talks about learning confidence from trans women, inspiring Black queer youth, and how she’s ready to win on a real, non-virtual stage.
What would you like to explore while you’re in Detroit?
Motown, for sure.
The Motown Museum, maybe?
Yeah, of course! I think that would be so iconic, especially considering there’s this really cute Diana Ross tribute on the “RuPaul” runway recently. So I feel like that would be so fun to go and see where all the magic started.
When we land in a city, most often we try to make sure we force ourselves to get up and go out and explore the city and see everything that’s there and just have a good time and try to take in as much as we can. But even then, I always feel like when we have to [do a] meet and greet, we have opportunities to talk to people from the city. I feel like that’s the best way to know a city, [rather] than just to see the buildings. The people are the insight to what’s happening in the city, and if the city is good or not.
Are all the girls traveling by bus?
Today will be the first day we get to board. We got to go run and pick out our bunks.
My bunk, thus far, is at the top in the back. We kind of had to rush it, but I’m super glad for the bunk that I have because, you know, I love a top bunk. [Laughs.]
So are these bedazzled bunks?
They’re actually just standard, almost like a fluffy cot. It’s a fluffy cot situation.
How did you end up joining the tour?
I was asked to be part of the tour. And so I’m just glad that I get to live my dream every day. I think when I first started drag, it was when I first heard of Werq the World, and the tour is so amazing. To be able to travel the world and [for] so many people to see what you can do and where your skillset is — I’ve always just dreamed for that to happen. I worked with Boss Events [when] we did this Pride Castle event during the pandemic where we had to go to this remote castle and take five billion Covid tests so we could be around each other. It was this weird experience, but I rolled through that, and then we kind of fell into doing the Drive ‘N Drag shows. We were doing shows where people had to drive in cars just so that we were working and people were also able to still get entertainment.
Is it wild to think that so much of your triumphs, from your win in Season 12 and now, with this tour, have all been within the span of a global pandemic?
All within the span of one pandemic! But back in the day they had the bubonic plague and that lasted for, I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but I think maybe a hundred years. And if they could do it, so can I.
When you think back on your Season 12 win, what was it like to take the crown virtually during the beginning of the pandemic?
It was weird because it’s a lot to do: shut the laptop and then sit there and look crazy. Everything happens for a reason, and maybe the reason I didn’t win on a big stage and I had to win from my home during Season 12 is because I’m supposed to win on a big stage now.
It seems there’s some time travel happening in this show. What’s your role in all of that?
Asia is trying to get back to season 10 so that she can finally win her season. [Laughs.] And as she’s traveling, she’s finding herself in a lot of trouble, and she just stops throughout time. For each different time period that the machine stops at, we all do something different. For me, I’m this spy from the ’60s gone rogue. It’s so fun to do these things that I’ve imagined in my head that get to play out on stage.
What’s next for you after the tour?
Right now I’m excited for potentially more television work. I’m also very excited to continue to work with my podcast with my Season 12 castmate, Heidi [N Closet], to see where the podcast goes and how it grows from this point.
I recall you acknowledging that transgender women were the women who helped you become Jaida. What’s the most important thing you learned from trans women?
I feel one of the main things that I learned from trans women is how to be confident in who you are because, oftentimes for trans women, people have opinions about them, and they look at them and they judge them. Every single day, no matter where they are in transition, even if they have hard days, you might not always be able to see it, [but] they walk with such pride in who they are, in the way that they live their lives. So sometimes when I’m on the runway and I’m walking with this confidence, it’s that same air that I picked up from them.
Gun violence, Black people killed by police, the pandemic we’re still living through — what’s your motivation for getting on stage through it all?
The world is oftentimes an ugly place and not everything that happens in the world is going to be a good thing, but it’s important for us to remember that you still have to live. And as much as you have to be an activist and you have to make sure that you’re using your voice to speak about those things, you still have certain people that, every day of our lives, this is the craziness of the world that they live in. We literally cannot live our lives every single day afraid, and you still kind of have to move forward.
Right now, we don’t really know politically, what is the answer to fix [this]? We kind of know what the answer is, but we can’t change it ourselves. But what we can do is speak about what we don’t want to see in the world. And then we have to live our lives to the best [of our] ability because literally, in these times, we really never know if it could be our last day.
I’m thinking about all the young, Black LGBTQ+ kids who have watched you and been inspired by what you do. How you normalize queer people of color being able to triumph in this world that so often wants to hold them back. What does that mean to you knowing that? Do you have young queer Black kids who tell you this?
Yeah, sometimes I do “Drag Race” shows, and anytime that I do see people of color at the shows, I always want to tell them, “Thank you for supporting us at the show.” But then specifically, often they say they see themselves in me. It makes me super emotional because when I was growing up, I always wished that there was somebody that I could look at and see myself in, and to be that person for somebody else is just the most beautiful thing in the world.