The Q.U.E.E.N. has arrived — finally! RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15 officially added singer and actor 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 they felt about being included in the Drag Race family: “I am honored to be here. I love everything you stand for and everything this show stands for.” SPOILERS ahead.
For this week’s Maxi Challenge, the 13 remaining queens were divided into three teams — or fashion houses — and tasked with ransacking a room themed after one of the three regular judges for materials with which to make a cohesive collection of looks. Considering that Monae is widely recognized as one of the most fashionable individuals on Earth, whether they’re performing on stage or walking the red carpet for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, this challenge was tailor made for them.
The 13 queens took to the runway to show off 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 in a few good witty remarks during the runway (a tradition on Drag Race), including, “J. Lo better lay low” in response to Sasha Colby’s exquisite handmade riff on Jennifer Lopez’s green Versace dress. And when it came time for judging, they knew a winner when they saw one: Luxx Noir London. “I felt the ancestors, I felt Erykah Badu,” said Monae of London’s regal purple cape and head wrap and striking zebra-print trousers. Then Monae paid the Drag Race queen the highest compliment: “It’s giving me House of Monae.”
As is often the case when a musician appears as the guest judge, the bottom two queens — Amethyst and Salina EsTitties — performed a lip sync duel to Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N.” from 2013’s The Electric Lady. Following the high-energy number, Monae exclaimed, “Oh my god, I literally could cry.”
Monae also paid a visit backstage 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’ve been blown away by everybody’s artistic expressions. As an artist, I am so inspired. You have no idea what it looks like for me to watch you guys embrace your uniqueness. It’s just beautiful to watch you blooming and be a part of history being made, because this is history — or the future, because so many people will be inspired. They’ll be like, ‘Because of you i had the guts to get 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 having that very experience with the judges right now), Monae said, “Can’t nobody tell me about 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…”
Regarding their career, which involved blending the topic of Afrofuturism with a mix of R&B, old fashioned soul, hip hop, and pretty much whichever genre they wanted to dabble in, Monae said, “When I first started out, people didn’t get that I wanted to talk about science fiction and androids and how the android represented the other, represented blackness, represented queerness, represented minorities who are overlooked, and I knew that there was a community of people who look like me who wanted to prove that we’re not monolithic. Who we are is a spectrum. Some folks were not leaving room for nuance, [but] I can do this, I can be that, creating not a blueprint but a you print.”
While this was Monae’s first appearance on Drag Race, their presence has been felt on the series for a very long time. Monae’s “Make Me Feel” was the final lip sync of 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 pulling out a tuxedo look directly inspired by Monae’s “Tightrope” era. Considering all of the iconic looks Monae has turned in their career, might we one day see a Night of 1000 Janelle Monae runway category? Fingers crossed.
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15 premiere on MTV at 8 p.m. ET, followed by new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked at 10 p.m. ET.