Zahara Benet tells TooFab: 'Seasoned queens can also learn new tricks, right?'
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Bebe Zahara Benet returned to the world of "RuPaul's Drag Race" as the surprise 10th contestant for the show's third all star season, making her the only winner to compete against a sea of returning favorites.
The celebrated and regal drag queen from Season 1 won back in 2009, which is kind of like forever in "Drag Race" years. In the ages since, the show has become a pop culture darling, spawning eight additional seasons (and counting), as well as two previous "All Stars" competitions, a "Drag U" spinoff and a fan convention.
If this helps puts things into perspective: Bebe won in a time before Instagram, which has not only helped some contestants get on the show, but also launched them to a new lever of fame after competing.
TooFab caught up with Benet, who explained what different generations of drag queens can learn from each other and why she has nothing to prove by returning.
We've been fans of you since the first season ...
Yore one of the OGs! We like a good OG, right?
We were very happy to see you pop up during the first episode. What is it you're hoping to prove with your return?
I'm not hoping to prove anything. I hope that doesn't come across as being ... I don't have anything to prove because I've already validated myself and my work speaks for itself. What I would say is that I feel like this gives me an opportunity to reintroduce myself to a newer generation who didn't even have the opportunity to know who I was or who I am.
A lot of them haven't watched Season 1 of 'Drag Race' and some cannot even be bothered, which is unfortunate because that is the foundation of this whole thing. Seasoned queens can also learn new tricks, right? It's a new generation of artists coming up, you can learn some new things and that was what was exciting about going and doing the show all over again.
Can you pinpoint something you did pick up from the younger girls?
Yeah, not to take it too seriously. I think the newer generation, they have fun with what they do. Maybe too much fun, but they really do have fun. They take it lightly, they try to enjoy their moment and really appreciate the moment. Artists like us work so hard and it's part of our branding, it's what we do, and it's very easy to fall into being too serious and being too sophisticated or too uptight and not taking time to really enjoy your moment and appreciate what you do. I think being in that workroom and being with that newer generation was just that spark. It helped me take more risks. Because I can be very royal, darling, I can be very royal. Now I was like, I can take some risks, which is exciting.
What do you think they may have picked up from you?
I don't know, that's a question you'd have to ask them. I know for a fact, the way I carry myself, the way I present myself and the way I talk to people and the love I give people and show people, I'm hoping that working with me in the work room and seeing my body of work also inspires them. As much as we want to have fun and not take it too seriously, because it's drag, you have to make sure there's a balance of everything. I'm hoping my body of work and just being there also inspires the newer generation. Newer generation, it just makes us sound like we're so old!
Did you keep watching after your season?
There have been many seasons and there have been many girls on the show. I'm part of the family, right? So if I'm going to the be older sister -- older sister doesn't mean years or age -- I keep up with all the seasons. I don't know about every single thing that happened in every single episode, but I do watch it when I'm able to.
When you saw who you'd be competing against, was there anyone you were most excited to take on?
I love seeing all of the girls. I don't mean to sound pageantry, but it was great to see all the girls, just because most of them I have not worked with before. I felt like this gave me the opportunity, because I have not worked with BenDeLaCreme, I've not worked with Chi Chi DeVayne, I've not worked with Kennedy Davenport, I've not worked with Trixie Mattel, Milk, all of these girls I've not worked with. I think it was really exciting to see what it's all about. The only person I had really worked with was Shangela and it was great to see her again.
Was there anything that made you nervous about returning, whether it's new rules or something form your own life?
I don't get nervous, but I think I just knew coming in, I was very hesitant right from the get go when the opportunity was presented to me because I felt it would be kind of polarizing to be in a situation with non-winners. I thought people could really, really like the idea or hate it. But after giving it a lot of thought, I knew the universe was presenting another opportunity for me to come and have a purpose. I do represent a different aesthetic to drag, I have a different point of view with everything. I felt like this was a platform now to come back, showcase that and really share my body of work with other people, with OG fans as well as reintroduce myself.
Did anyone on the show give you a hard time coming back, as the only winner?
From what the contestants mentioned to me, they were like, 'Oh, I'm glad you're back, I get it,' but I don't know what they say in these confessions! At the end of the day, being a crowned queen is also very threatening. There's so many expectations of you. It can be threatening to people who aren't crowned queens, like why are you here again? But I got nothing but love when I walked into the room and I hope that love was genuine. We'll see how the season plays out!
After the talent show, was there anyone who stood out as your biggest competition?
No. And not because I thought the talents were horrible. To be honest with you, I thought that was one of the best talent shows. I know there have not been that many, but to me there was something about that talent show because everybody was so engaging and so entertaining. I felt like I was just watching a really good show, I forgot about the fact we were competing against each other and somebody's supposed to go home. It was just that entertaining to me. Everybody was just doing their thing.
One thing that sets All Stars apart from the other seasons is, ultimately, the top queen decides who goes home. The girls all have different approaches. Do you think you should get rid of the weakest link or eliminate the toughest competition?
In my opinion, I think you look case by case. We all come into the competition as artists with weaknesses and with strengths and you never know what weakness puts you in the bottom and what strengths put you in the top. You look at the challenge, you look at how well you did in the challenge. It has to be case by case. Someone can be so good and so bad another time. Also, look at your experiences in the workroom, your experiences with them, how they are as artists, you have to take all of that into consideration before you make a decision. To just say that, hey, I'm going to send away the weakest link, or the best, I don't think that's the better way to do it. To me, for crying out loud, I love to compete with the best!
Why do you think the show has gotten as popular as it is now in the years since Season 1?
First of all, I'm going to keep praising Season 1 because I'm a little biased but yes, I'm going to go right back to the first season as the OG. I think what we did is that we created heart for the show. The show needed to have heart first before anything else. Season 1 had so much heart, you had people like Ongina, Me, Nina Flowers, Rebecca, Porkchop, Shannel, we all had stories, we all had heart, and so when people were sitting behind their screens and watching us in the privacy of their home, they were able to identify with not the performance but the person, the human being.
I think that took down the fourth wall and you could identify, relate to use as people and that really helped really define drag. I think people really started getting interested in getting to not only know about us and our personas, but as people. That's why when we go to all these meet and greets, they're always so long, people come up to use and want to share their own experience with us because we feel like your best friends, or your mothers, you sisters, your brothers or whatever. That has evolved in time. People tend to forget about the drag sometimes and really get to identify themselves with the people, who we are, the human in us.
Do you think we'll ever see an all winners season of All Stars and how do you think you'd do?
Well baby, I am not a producer! I don't make those decisions. To get that answer, you have to go to the right sources and ask them those questions. I know a lot of the fans want an 'All Star' winners season. I would say that like the 'All Stars,' all the winners are amazing. We're all fierce in our own right and we have our own different aesthetics that are so strong. The one thing I would say: I'm ferocious, I'm a fighter, I'll fight to the very end.
"RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars 3" airs Wednesdays on VH1.