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“If something is scaring the shit out of you, you have to go for it because it wouldn’t be worth it otherwise,” says Raja, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season three, who recently took part in the franchise’s first all-winners’ season 11 years after originally competing. “So I did just that. I just jumped into it and I said, okay, I’m going to take on this challenge and I have a lot to share with people. I have a lot to show people about my growth and about my journey. And I definitely wanted to do the things that I wasn’t able to do the first time.” She emerged from All Stars 7 as the Queen of She Done Already Done Had Herses and, after delivering multiple showstopping looks, solidified her status as the one and only eye-con. “It felt validating, first of all, and it also felt very redeeming, like I was able to go there and showcase something, showcase the evolution that an artist should have,” Raja tells GAY TIMES. “So yeah, I was nervous at first, but then, now, in hindsight, I think I’m very, very glad that I did it – it was fun. It is still fun.”

During her run on All Stars 7, Raja won two challenges and received special mentions from the judges after each critique in almost every episode. The fact that no one went home on the season took a “huge layer of potential bitterness and angst” away from Raja because “there was no game being played where anyone had to be kicked off”. They thought the judging was “fair” and took the feedback they got in their stride each week. “I just went up there and I was like, whatever anyone has to say, whether it be negative or positive, I wasn’t going home and I wasn’t worried about it,” she continues. “I was like, you know what? I spent a lot of money on these fucking costumes, so at least I get to feature those.”

Given that Raja won Drag Race before any of her competitors, it’s fair to say the show has changed a fair bit since she first competed. She explains that her “level of wisdom is at a totally different level” now because of the life experience she has had since winning. “Well, 2011, season three, was a different time than 2022,” Raja states. “You know, there were things that I did on that season that I’m super proud of, including winning, but there are things on there that are kind of cringe and there are things that we’ve learned over the last 11 years, 12 years, about who we are as a community, as a culture.” She believes she is an example “of the growth, the learning and the evolution” of how a person can change over the course of a decade, which All Stars 7 gave her the chance to show to a new audience that may not be as familiar with her work. “That was the focus that kept me going and, again, it wasn’t about winning or losing,” she shares. “It was just kind of about being able to showcase what I do, who I am and my philosophy on what I do and just showcasing the art part of this and yeah, that was definitely highest on the list.”

Deciding to return to the franchise as a contestant wasn’t an easy thing to do, though, as Raja explains: “It was a lot of conversations in the mirror to really convince myself because I am a person who loathes being inconvenienced and it was very inconvenient. It was tough. It brought out emotions that I didn’t want to deal with.” Comparing Drag Race to a “boot camp” that isn’t “easy at all”, they add that “it wouldn’t be fun if it were too easy.” Raja continues: “But what was easy was for me to just go into the place of, you know, I already won this before once, so I don’t really have anything – whether I win or lose in this, however way it happens – [to prove]. I am going to just enjoy this process, enjoy the people that are in this process with me and just sort of let go of the stressful parts of it and not be so in my head about things because I am not that type of person now.”

One thing that “was definitely a huge part” of Raja’s experience on All Stars 7 was “revisiting” iconic season three moments and outfits that longtime fans know all too well. This was clear just a few minutes into the season premiere, which saw her reference the iconic eye entrance look as well as the infamous Heathers vs Boogers rivalry in the reading challenge – the latter of which was “really quite spontaneous”. Discussing this, they say: “So boogers, the eye, everything is just kind of like a nod, a revisit like, hey, remember when I did this? That was kind of funny, or maybe that wasn’t funny. I don’t know. It just kind of happens. I think that’s part of being a performer – is to just kind of go with that and having some sort of spontaneity to everything.” Despite nods to the past playing such a big part in what Raja showed on the season, there’s no denying that she made sure the audience could see how far she has come since 2011. One highlight she mentions is the laser dress she wore, which is one of her favourite looks of all time. “Not only was it the most uncomfortable outfit to wear, it was fragile as fuck,” she laughs. “It was the shoes that were slippery on the surface, made out of stainless steel on a 3D print. You know, it’s the past and the present, if not the future that excites me the most. And that outfit did cost me the most and it was really high impact.”

Raja recently took part in a new campaign with Cann, the leading THC-infused social tonic, and Jane, creator of the largest online cannabis marketplace, which saw her front one of the campest commercials ever. Written and directed by Lake Bell, it stars the likes of Meg Stalter and Benito Skinner who get angry and emotional during an uncomfortable holiday dinner. Raja, the ‘Fairy Cannmother’, saves the day when she mystically appears with Cann’s signature microdose high – bringing joy back to the celebration. “I’m not a big person on holidays, but this was definitely a project that I could relate to,” she says of the end product, which was filmed in Los Angeles. In the commercial, Raja wears what she describes as a “goddess-like” look, which she explains was pulled straight from the “arsenal of costumes” she has at home. “Well, I’m a very particular person and when it comes to shoots and campaigns, I am not always as small as people think I am,” she says. “I stand at six foot three in height and I’m 48-years-old. So I have that body type, you know? So I’m always very particular about how I’m dressed because I don’t feel like I should be shoved into something that doesn’t look right on me.” The project was very collaborative and Raja states that she “always” appreciates an environment where people give her “a lot of freedom” to show her true identity.

California, where Raja lives, legalised cannabis for medical use in 1996 and recreational use two decades later in 2016. Working with companies like Cann, which find innovative ways to use it, is something she welcomes: “You know, in these times, visibility means everything and having Cann as a product that is available, and being a part of this campaign, was really important to me because I think it’s about time that we stop perceiving cannabis as this sort of monster, this gateway drug. It really isn’t.” She notes that, as a creative, it helps her tap into inspiration as it calms her anxiety. “It’s always been an amazing tool for me to kind of let go, unleash, relax and really get to the point of a project that I want to do,” she adds, further explaining that attitudes have come a long way since cannabis was “vilified” when she was growing up. “And even in America, I think we’re making huge, huge leaps and bounds and changes,” she states. “And I’m so excited to see it, excited to be alive in these times.”

Raja is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In 2023, she will kick off her ‘Eyeconic Tour’ which is set to be her largest to date and will include never before seen outfits and previously unheard stories. She recently launched her first wine concept – Wine and Complain – which sold out within an hour and is an example of the way she hopes to “surprise people” with the things she works on. “I’m using the visibility that I have to work in my favour and work on several different projects, all of my interests,” they share. “There’s no stopping it now.” Raja says they are “experimenting with a lot of ideas” to showcase their endless talents as an art director, writer, performer and illustrator. “I like to consider myself a renaissance them, not a man or woman, and maybe I’m going like Beyoncé and going through my Renaissance period,” they declare. “So I’m just going to put it all out there. I do a lot of stuff. I’m a costume designer, I’m an art director, writer, performer. I’m going to do all of it until I die.”