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Conway native Symone puts Natural State on the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ map

by Sean Clancy | December 29, 2020 at 1:54 a.m.
“It makes me happy that I get to represent myself and my state,” Symone says. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

For 12 seasons, "RuPaul's Drag Race" has featured fabulous contestants tackling challenges in a competition to be crowned as America's Next Drag Superstar.

In all that time, no drag queen from Arkansas had ever competed on the Emmy-winning VH1 series.

That is about to change.

Conway native and self-proclaimed "Ebony Enchantress" Symone is among the 13 queens ready to battle for the top prize, worldwide fame and glittery glory in the 13th season of the series, which debuts Friday.

Symone, 25, is a graduate of Conway High School ("I'm a Wampus Cat gal," she says) and attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock before turning to drag full time.

She lives in Los Angeles with House of Avalon, a collective of fellow Arkansas queens, fashion mavens and party hosts. Before moving to L.A. two years ago, she was a regular at Little Rock's Club Sway, where she hosted Symone Says, a series of monthly drag performances.

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In this interview, which has been edited for clarity and space, Symone, born Reggie Gavin, talks about growing up in Conway, inspiring small-town gay kids, the power of drag and RuPaul.

When did you discover drag?

I was 15-16. I started because I was watching "RuPaul's Drag Race," season one. I was like, wait, there is something going on here. You can put on makeup and do whatever you want to do? Let me do it!

You were watching the show as a kid and now you're on it and you're the first contestant from Arkansas. That has got to feel good.

I'm so proud of that. It makes me happy that I get to represent myself and my state. It's beautiful.

Do you think about the kids who will watch you and learn your story and who will be influenced by you?

I think about that all the time.

I was that kid watching the show in a small town. It gave me hope and something to aspire to. Growing up in Conway, there were other Black, gay kids but I didn't see it that much on television. That's part of why I wanted to be on the show and why I wanted to do drag in the first place and be in the public eye. There has to be a bigger reason than just the attention.

What's your favorite part of drag?

Two things. I love performing and the energy that the audience gives. You give it out and it comes back to you. That's when I feel I'm the most myself, when I'm on stage.

I also love the transformation. I did an interview with British Vogue where I said that my boy persona is the armor I put on and go out into the world every day. But Symone is who I am. I love being able to transform and truly be myself in drag.

That reminds me of something you said in another interview about the names you used before choosing Symone. Were there different personas with those names?

That's a good way of putting it. Each name sort of signified a different moment. There was Delilah ... and that was the beginner girl that was first on stage. I was Symone Sanchez for a little bit and then I just became Symone. I could see that, for sure, the different personas.

Did having the other members of House of Avalon make it easier to leave for L.A.?

Absolutely. People usually come out here alone, following their dream. It's hard. [In Arkansas] we're known for our Southern hospitality. Here, it's a different beast and that's just the makeup of L.A. I was so blessed and fortunate to have people here that I consider family. I don't know how long I would have made it here if I didn't have them.

The show was filmed during the pandemic. What were some of the measures taken to keep everyone safe?

It was obviously different from any other season. We were in a bubble and there were only certain people who could come into contact with us. We had masks and shields on on the set and we couldn't be as close with the crew as probably other seasons were.

It was a very different experience. I think having that experience on the show made the cast much stronger and closer. In a weird way, it made us all fight harder for it. We were the first season of its kind, and we were one of the first productions to go up during all of this. It makes me even more proud.

You grew up watching RuPaul. Can you describe how you felt being on this show that he hosts and produces and that has been such an influential part of the culture?

RuPaul is truly a mother and cares about the queens and truly wants us to succeed in our own way. It is a competition, but he really wanted everyone to do their best and was very genuine. You felt that. It's an honor. You feel seen by this person who is the drag queen. It was nice to have that and feel that warmth.

He plucked us out of obscurity and brought us all on this television show [dramatic laughs]. I got to live my childhood dream. I'm on "RuPaul's Drag Race." I'm the first Arkansas queen. I got to represent my state, I got to represent me and my house. I have no regrets.

What's next? What are your plans?

I want to take over the world [laughs]! I want to see Symone everywhere. I want to see my name in lights and in magazines and on billboards and TV screens and Instagram feeds and Twitter. That's what's next. Now that you put me on TV you are not going to get rid of me [laughs]!


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