THE QUEEN has arrived — finally! RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15 officially added singer and actress Janelle Monae to the pantheon of legendary guest judges with Episode 5, “House of Fashion.” Dressed in her signature black and white, Monae made sure to let Emmy-winning host RuPaul know exactly how she felt about being included in Drag Race family: “It’s an honor to be here. I love everything you stand for and everything this show stands for.” SPOILERS front.
For this week’s Maxi Challenge, the 13 remaining queens were split into three teams – or fashion houses – and tasked with ransacking a themed room after one of the three regular judges for materials with which to create a cohesive collection of looks. Considering Monae is widely recognized as one of the most fashionable people on Earth, whether she’s performing on stage or walking the red carpet for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mysterythis challenge was tailor-made for them.
The 13 queens took to the runway to showcase collections inspired by the vibes of Michelle Visage (animal print and New Jersey), Carson Kressley (plaid and country) and Ross Mathews (floral and Palm Springs). Monae got some good witty remarks during the runway (a tradition at Drag Race), including ‘J. You better lay low’ in response to Sasha Colby’s exquisitely handmade riff on Jennifer Lopez’s green Versace dress. And when it came to crunch time, they knew a winner when they saw one: Luxx Noir London. “I felt the ancestors, I felt Erykah Badu,” Monae said of London’s regal purple cape and head and eye-catching zebra-print pants. Then Monae paid it forward Drag Race queen highest compliment: “She gives me the House of Monae.”
As is often the case when a musician appears as a guest judge, the two junior queens — Amethyst and Salina EsTitties — lip-synced to Monae’s “QUEEN” from 2013. The Electric Lady. Following the high-energy number, Monae exclaimed, “Oh my god, I could literally cry.”
Monae also visited behind the scenes during the show’s half-hour companion series RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked. “I’m so happy and honored to be here,” Monae told the queens, adding: “I’m blown away by everyone’s artistic expressions. As an artist, I am so inspired. You have no idea how it feels to me to see you embrace your uniqueness. It’s just beautiful to see you blossom and be a part of history being made, because this is history — or the future, because so many people will be inspired. They’ll say, “It’s because of you that I had the guts to stand up and do my thing.”
When asked about dealing with people who don’t understand their aesthetic (a question asked by Marcia Marcia Marcia, a queen who is having this exact experience with the judges right now), Monae said, “No one can tell me for me more than I can tell myself about me, and [I’ve learned] to allow my voice to be the loudest voice in the room… That came from my therapist, so…”
Of their career, which involved mixing Afrofuturism with a mixture of R&B, old-fashioned soul, hip-hop and pretty much any genre they wanted to do, Monae said: “When I first started out, people didn’t understand what I wanted to talk about science fiction and androids and how the android represented the other, represented blackness, represented queerness, represented overlooked minorities, and I knew there was a community of people like me who wanted to prove that we’re not monolithic. What we are is a spectrum. Some people left no room for nuance, [but] I can do this, I can be that, creating not a plan, but one you printing.”
While this was Monae’s first appearance on Drag Race, their presence has been felt in the series for a long time. Monae’s “Make Me Feel” was his last lip sync RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5, which was the lip sync that gave Shea Couleé the crown. And before that, Season 4 contestant Milan paid homage to Monae for the Dress to Impress runway category by rocking a tux directly inspired by Monae’s “Tightrope” era. Considering all the iconic looks Monae has rocked in her career, could we one day see a Night of 1000 Janelle Monae catwalk category? fingers crossed
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15 premieres on MTV at 8 p.m. ET, followed by new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked at 10 p.m. ET.