Interview with Yahua Hamasaki

On an otherwise dull night in Ireland, it was all colour and rhinestones in Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre. August 10th saw RuPaul’s Drag Race bring its “10’s Across The Board Tour” to the capital. Hosted by Dublin queen, Victoria Secret, and Danny Beard of Britain’s Got Talent fame, the event saw stars of the hit reality show’s tenth season hit the stage for a night of high kicking, hair flipping – okay, they’re wigs – and death dropping. Joining current-reigning queen, Aquaria, were Yuhua Hamasaki, Miz Cracker, Kameron Michaels, and Asia O’Hara who dazzled the crowd with a mix of exciting pop lip syncs and camp comedic numbers. After some warm ups and group numbers, Yuhua Hamasaki takes the stage.

The bubbly and boisterous queen is clearly no stranger to the spotlight. She effortlessly works the crowd with her quick wit, interacting with fans and throwing shade at queens backstage. A Miley Cyrus mix starts the crowd’s engines before she later returns later to command the room with a high-energy performance of “Sweet Nothing”. Earlier that day, we caught up with her.

Before moving to New York City, Yuhua was born and lived in China. It was there she was first exposed to drag. “I used to be scared of them. In China, the image that the media portrays of drag queens isn’t good”, she explains. “They’re portrayed as drunk and mentally unstable”. It was only until she went online that her perceptions changed. “On MySpace, I saw…how bold their makeup, fashion, and hair were…and how courageous they were for expressing themselves and pushing those boundaries.

I knew I wanted to be brave like them…so I started doing drag”. Eventually, after working the New York City scene, Yuhua got the call to be a contestant on Drag Race. It was her third time auditioning for the series. When asked if did anything different this time around, she insisted that she just didn’t care what anyone thought. “I was just being myself – and it worked”.

Yuhua recounts her first day and favourite moment from being on set fondly. “It was definitely walking through the workroom for the first time. After watching seasons 1 to 9 and All Stars, I knew I wanted to be a part of the show. Seeing as these girls get the opportunity to compete, I wanted that too”. After performing well initially, Yuhua unfortunately landed in the bottom two during episode three, which resulted in a fiery Lip Sync for Your Life between Hamasaki and Mayhem Miller to “Celebrity Skin” by Hole. “This is the moment you have to prove…why you want to stay”, Yuhua remembers. “The lights and music come on. You honestly leave your body and you do everything you possibly can to stay…and just hope it’s enough.”

Unfortunately, the episode resulted in RuPaul telling Hamasaki to sashay away but positively, she remarks that “it’s honestly what you do with it afterwards”, something becoming clearer with each cycle of contestants. Trixie Mattel, Katya, and Alyssa Edwards, who weren’t crowned on their original seasons, are now among the most successful RuGirls for leveraging the international exposure and opportunities the platform afforded them. RuPaul’s Drag Race, now in facing into its eleventh season, is at the height of its success, earning a staggering 12 Emmy nominations in 2018, a landmark feat. “It’s amazing. You can actually watch drag queens from your living room”, Yuhua laughed, still amazed that there’s a space for this kind of queer content on the air. “It has become so mainstream”. She lauds the show’s increasing popularity.

“The message of the show is available to all types of people everywhere now”, referencing the promotion of community, love, acceptance, and freedom of expression by queens on the show. “It tells people that…whatever gender they are, whatever sexual orientation they are, they can express themselves however they want. As long as you’re happy in yourself, that’s all that matters”. Yuhua herself identifies as gender-neutral and fluid, meaning she does not conform to the typical gender binary. “It helped me discover my confidence and inner happiness”. When she’s not on-stage, Hamasaki is also a professional seamstress.

“First and foremost, I’m an entertainer but it was something I got into once I realised it was easier to make clothes myself true to how I envision them. It started with just clothes for myself, then for friends, but then word got around and it became a bigger business than I thought setting out.” She has often made costumes and gowns for fellow Drag Race contestants including Aja, Monét X Change, and Peppermint. More recently, Yuhua held a special event during Montreal Pride. “People underage are not allowed inside bars and often, fans message me saying they want to come but can’t, so I thought that the perfect solution would be to do an all-ages show at a theatre.”

This issue of the accessibility of Pride is highly topical as of late. Many celebrations are being criticised for becoming too focused on the party scene, excluding those not of age or comfortable in those environments. “It’s important because you must remember that some of these kids are struggling…and these drag shows might help them in some way, so they need and deserve access too”. She hopes to set an example for other queens and promoters to follow to make more LGBTQ+ events more accessible to all those who not only want them, but may need them. In June, she also took part in VH1’s It Gets Better project alongside fellow Drag Race contestants Eureka, Jiggly Caliente and Peppermint.

The series coincided with Pride month and encouraged LGBTQ+ youth to love themselves for who they are and believe in themselves at whatever stage of the coming out process they might be at. “Come out however and whenever you want”, she says. “It’s completely on your own terms. Everyone’s story is different”. Since speaking to Yuhua, VH1 have announced that Drag Race: All Stars will be returning for a fourth season following its magnum opus second and contentious third. When asked if she would ever return, Yuhua seemed keen. “However scared you might be, you should…seize the chances you get. It’s not everyday you get an opportunity like RuPaul’s Drag Race. So I’d absolutely be there”.

We hope that comes to fruition and that Yuhua not only returns to our screens but to Ireland too. You can find Hamasaki on Twitter and Instagram at YuhuaHamasaki and if you aren’t already, be part of the cultural phenomenon by catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Season 10 available to stream now on Netflix in Ireland.