The very first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, the latest entry in the drag oligarch’s global expansion, has just crowned its very first winner in the form of New Zealand’s Kita Mean, the bubbly queen who made a splash on the runway with her theatrical presentation and quirky performance style.
Kita managed to stay above the fray between the queens, and out of the controversies that plagued the competition—a rare talent for any Drag Race contestant. Unlike more New York Fashion Week-ready looks we’ve grown accustomed to on the mainline RuPaul’s Drag Race, Kita’s wardrobe achieved an almost unparalleled camp brilliance unmatched by her peers on Down Under. Gargantuan foam wigs, LED light shows, stunningly intricate butterfly ensembles, and a “sea sickening” look that will stay with me for a long time.
Currently, RuPaul’s global Drag Race domination includes RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Canada’s Drag Race, Drag Race Holland, Drag Race España, Drag Race Thailand, The Switch, and now Down Under. While it remains to be seen if the famous fracking entrepeneur will continue this astonishing rate of expansion, I think it’s safe to say that Kita Mean has left her mark, despite the ever-increasing number of queens who’ve made their names from the franchise.
Jezebel spoke with Kita after her crowning, to talk about the experience of being the very first Down Under queen, that shocking confession from Scarlet Adams, and whether or not RuPaul was really in the workroom at all. And, yes, we also discussed Art Simone, the Australian drag legend who shockingly returned mere episodes after her elimination.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
JEZEBEL: Thanks so much for taking time out of your day Kita!
KITA MEAN: It’s beyond comprehension that people would care about talking to me. I’m here for it.
That brings me to my first point, actually. How has it felt in the last few days, with the outpouring of attention and support in the wake of your win on Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under?
It’s totally crazy. It’s something that I have never experienced in my life. It’s so much love and so much focus on me, it feels very self-indulgent. Yeah, it’s a lot to take care of. It’s really a hard thing to process, actually. But it’s all positive, all totally positive. I just feel very, very lucky, and very blessed, very humbled. But also like... this is just so weird that it doesn’t feel real.
You and fellow contestant Anita Wigl’it previously hosted House of Drag, which aired online in New Zealand. How do you feel that experience compares to the reception from Drag Race?
There is genuinely zero, zero comparison. On House of Drag, you know, it was a low-budget digital show. We were like, let’s put on a show, let’s see what happens. Drag has always felt like a series of little wins. I love drag so much, and any time I get to do something in drag, it just increases my excitement. In the moment I was like, oh my gosh, this is so cool, I can’t believe I get to host a little TV show online in New Zealand, but then to do RuPaul’s Drag Race, it feels like I’ve been attached to a pulley and ripped up to the sky. I’m just flying. It feels like I’m in Wonderland, I can’t comprehend how it’s reality at all.
There were actually a few House of Drag alum on RPDRDU, like Elektra Shock. When you realized you were all at Drag Race, how did you approach those relationships in the workroom?
For me, it felt really positive. I’ve always benefited from having people around me that I know and love and feel safe around. So from my perspective, it was a massive, massive positive to have Wigl’it there. I think I was guilty of underestimating Elektra’s ability to make it far in the competition. I know how amazing Elektra is; her heart is so beautiful and I know that she’s ridiculously talented. But I also knew that did hadn’t cut her teeth in drag yet, and I knew she didn’t really have the costuming and the ability to source it in that amount of time.
I was quite confident though that Elektra was going to Drag Race, because I live with her drag mother, and all of a sudden there were conversations that came around about Elektra needing something. So I put in a quiet word to her drag mother, who’s one of my best friends, and said look, here’s a whole lot of stuff that I am not taking to Drag Race, and if Elektra wants to come over and decide what she likes, she can. So, I gave her a whole lot of wigs and costuming, and I felt really honored that I was able to give her a few things that she was able to wear on the show.
Drag everywhere is so hierarchical, and matrilineal, with houses and mothers and this deeply rooted concept of elders and generations. For newer queens in these tight-knit Australian and New Zealand drag communities, do you feel there was maybe a pressure going up against established queens, like you or Art Simone—people who are very well known in their respective scenes?
There was definitely a lot of pressure. I even felt it from my perspective. People could argue that even though I worked my up to that status back home in New Zealand, when I go over to Australia, I’m at the bottom of the rung again, and the other drag artists are on a whole new level. I think all the Kiwis felt that same way. We all felt like underdogs in comparison to the mega, megastars of Australian drag.
Is there a lot of intermingling between those respective drag scenes? I guess the moniker “Down Under” might give global viewers the wrong impression.
They’re very separate, and not because it’s competitive, it’s just the expense it would be for a Kiwi drag performer to go and perform in Australia or vice versa—it just logistically wouldn’t work. We’re performing around our hometowns or doing ground travel to get to different jobs. To fly and accommodate would just blow the budget. So we all stay on our own turf.
Speaking of flying, this brings me to the most conspiratorial moment in the season, at least online. There were a lot of memes for the first few episodes that RuPaul didn’t actually fly to New Zealand and wasn’t really in the workroom. Later episodes I think confirmed the opposite, but people were convinced she wasn’t there. I’d love to know your... thoughts, on all the speculation.
One thing I really enjoy is when I’ve seen people with full conviction telling somebody off, like, “this is what it is,” and they’re wrong? It cracks me up. I just love that people are so convinced in their opinion of things.
A very queenly answer, I’ll take it. [Laugh] For us viewers, the show wrapped up a few days ago, but it’s been some time for the competitors. Both in the moment, and then when you watched it back months later, how did you process Scarlet’s admission in the workroom that she had performed in blackface, as well as a host of other incredibly racist decisions? I’m extremely curious how the mood changed during that conversation.
It was super shocking, and it came out of nowhere. It was all of the sudden, and I thought maybe it was fed from the producers? I feel like other people that knew Scarlet’s past had maybe brought it up in confessionals, or something, and then it was re-introduced into the workroom. But from my perspective, it came out of nowhere, because we don’t get to hang out off-camera and have conversations like “Hey, I found this out about this person.” The only information we have is information we knew coming in, and I didn’t even know who Scarlet was. I’ve never even heard of her. It was shocking, what she was saying about performing in blackface.
I think in hindsight, and in the world of covid-19... I’m not sure what I’m allowed to discuss. But the concept of Drag Race being a thing for me, to the point that I was physically on the show, there was not much time in that space. I’m assuming it was done to accommodate a window of time they had to achieve doing the show. And potentially, Scarlet’s past was something that production didn’t know about. That’s what I can put together.
But I was also really proud that Etcetera Etcetera could stand there and give some truths, and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. It wasn’t about how anyone would feel, it was just very matter of fact, even though from my perspective, they had a cool relationship with Scarlet. It seemed pretty chill. I was really proud of Etcetera.
It brings up a larger point for me. So much of drag is based on specific community and artistic reference points. The two main judges on Down Under, RuPaul and Michelle Visage, came from outside your community of, let’s call it, “Down Under” drag. I don’t want to generalize that they are the same thing, but did you ever feel that there were references you or the other queens made that slipped through the cracks for the judging panel?
It’s to be expected, even in relation to like, my perspective on some of my takes on the runway. Even that was lost on some of the other contestants. For example, my “bogan” look on the runway. Where I grew up, bogan was all about rock and roll. It wasn’t the perspective they had in Australia. But also, we should be prepared going into it that our perspectives might be different. It seems obvious that would be the case.
For the non-Australians and Kiwis around the world: could you quickly explain what bogan is? I felt like I had some general idea of what bogan meant, but after the “Bogan Prom” runway, felt like I’d maybe googled the wrong definition.
[Laughs] It has a fluctuating definition, depending where you’re from and in what time you’re from. When I grew up, my brothers and sisters and all their friends were considered bogans. They were like, the cool kids that didn’t listen to the rules. It was a more relaxed version of punk. They would roll their own cigarettes and listen to Pantera and Metallica and drink beer, and they’d go to the pub. It was a really chill, chill vibe. My perspective was clearly different to what they had in Australia. I think for that reason, the rest of the world was also so confused, because our personal views on bogan were so varied.
Before we go, I have a somewhat spicier question. If you can’t answer it, I’ll have to make peace with that. [Laugh] Is there anything you can tell us about the shocking comeback of Art Simone a few episodes after her elimination?
To this day, we never got told why, and we are all in the exact same boat. We never got told. Art Simone is so well known in Australian drag, and very well-loved as well. It was very shocking that she wouldn’t have made it farther in the competition. So, it made sense that she just got to come back and retry, because she is so well known, and she has too much respect. In a weird way, it almost felt like in the moment, even though we were all so confused, it just made sense.
As our time is short, I wanted to ask: From this experience, the runways, the challenges, the fan reception, how has your own approach to drag transformed?
Some of the things that are natural to me, and the negatives about me that I see as flaws, and I get down on myself about. They all come together to make the person that I am and the person I’ve been and the person I’m going to be. I’ve learned to be more at peace with every single little piece of me, as opposed to looking at certain things and being like, “That bums me out, I wish I was different.”
Are you working on anything you want to shout out? Anything people can look forward to?
I just put out new music! I’ve created a really fabulous song that I’m super proud of, and I’ve worked with some of my close friends and created this really awesome music video. I’m really excited to show it to the world because it feels like another little piece of me, and insight into my weirdness.