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NUNN ON ONE DRAG RuPaul's Drag Race' winner Jaida revs up for a drive-in performance
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2020-07-22

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Jaida Essence Hall ( real name: Jared Johnson ) won the twelfth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. America's current drag superstar is from Milwaukee and began performing in the early 2010s. Her drag family includes mothers Tajma Hall and Prada Diamond with her drag sisters being Mercedes Iman Diamond, Dida Ritz and Kahmora Hall.

Winning multiple pageants and a lively halftime performance at a Milwaukee Bucks game in 2019 were all part of Hall's accomplishments before landing Drag Race in 2020. On the hit reality show, she won three main challenges before beating out the final contestants for the crown virtually from home due to COVID-19.

Hall—along with other RuPaul stars such as Asia O'Hara, Gigi Goode and Vanessa Vanje—is among those scheduled to perform in Chicago for a Werq the World Drive 'N Drag show. This three-day event, with two shows each night at Soldier Field's South Parking Lot, comes complete with Jumbotron LED screens, a light show and gourmet food trucks.

Windy City Times: I heard you were at Hamburger Mary's recently when you used to work in Milwaukee.

Jaida Essence Hall: Yes. I am so glad they are opening back up—slowly, but surely.

WCT: Are you originally from Wisconsin?

JEH: Yes. I was born and raised in Milwaukee.

WCT: I knew your drag mother, Tajma Hall. [Editor's note: Hall, who was based in Chicago, died in 2014.]

JEH: She was the sweetest.

WCT: How did you become her drag daughter?

JEH: I was doing a competition for the second time for Miss Wisconsin USofA. She came to the pageant and I was nervous because she was there. After the performances, she said she thought I should have won. I told her how I wanted someone like her to mentor and guide me. She told me to come on and she would be my mother. I learned so much from her.

WCT: Where did the name "Jaida" come from?

JEH: My friend named me. We were just driving around and she introduced me to her friends as Jaida. That made sense, since it is similar to Jared.

WCT: Do you have a preference about pronouns?

JEH: In drag, "she" is fine; out of drag, it is whatever. Anything is fine with me!

WCT: Have you ever performed at Chicago Pride Fest, as Taj did in the past?

JEH: No. I have never performed at Chicago Pride, which is crazy. I have done Milwaukee Pride many times. I did Black Girl Magic at Roscoe's and people called me their Chicago queen for season 12. I was very grateful to hear that.

WCT: Talk about your upcoming drive-in performance.

JEH: I am super-excited about the drive-in. Chicago has always been a second home for me, being from the Midwest. It's a hop, skip and a jump away. To do things in Chicago has always been major for us in Milwaukee. It has been a dream of mine to do Werq the World. Soldier Field is the best spot. Beyonce sold it out! Hopefully, we can sell it out even under different stipulations like COVID.

This show still gives people the opportunity to see drag in person. It's a big event where people can come out and get that taste of drag they have been looking for. They get to see me, so hopefully they have been looking forward to that!

WCT: Will it be challenging to hold an audience's attention at a venue like this?

JEH: I think it can be, but Werq the World events always have a top-tier performance. With everything going on in the world right now, I think it's important to always do your best performance that you have ever done. I know a lot of people were concerned about the finale on Drag Race, but in the end they loved it.

With the distance, it may seem there's an obstacle to hold their attention, but I am sure we can do it.

WCT: Some performers in the past have brought hidden talents, like fire breathing, to Werq the World shows. Do you have talents that we don't know about?

JEH: I probably am a fire breather—maybe out of my ass! I think it will be a surprise. Everyone is going to bring something to the table. They always do.

I am excited that people will see another layer of me. Since we have been in a lockdown, we have not traveled so people can see us in a live show. Audiences can finally see that from me.

WCT: Do you have a favorite song that you lip-sync to currently?

JEH: My all-time favorite and one I do at every show, if I can, is "Die Young," by Kesha. The energy is up with that song and is all about a party. It's about having fun, which is what I like to give at shows.

WCT: Who are you interested in seeing from the Werq the World cast?

JEH: I am excited to see Crystal Methyd and Gigi Goode. I have not seen them since February. We have only had this weird way of only seeing each other from watching the show. After the show ended, I haven't been able to see them. We only talked through social media, so now I can finally see them smiling in person!

WCT: Do you keep in touch with other cast members from your season of Drag Race?

JEH: Yes; we all talk through a group chat. We tell each other how we have been doing.

WCT: What did you spend your winnings on?

JEH: I did splurge on a Gucci bag. It was something I wanted for the longest amount of time. When the salesperson rang it up, I wasn't sure if I should use my credit card, even though I had won $100,000, but I had worked hard and felt like I deserved it. I had to go ahead and treat myself to something nice.

WCT: Were you happy how things turned out for your season of Drag Race?

JEH: I was really happy overall. I was very hopeful for the finale. I didn't know what would happen or how it would work, especially with the platform being different. Crystal and Gigi are so creative and we all saw how they did. I am just a performer. I am used to working in the bars and not having to produce a whole show. In the end, we all bought something completely different to the table. I think it's one of the best finales ever.

WCT: I heard your boyfriend makes your jewelry. How has the quarantine been with him?

JEH: Quarantine has been good. I think the best thing about our relationship is that we respect each other. I hope we continue to do so! With my journey on Drag Race, he helped me out so much. I don't know what I would have done without him. He did the camera work for the finale and did my hair. He will not touch my costumes, but he can do as much jewelry work as he wants to!

WCT: Do you get tired of people yelling your catchphrase "Look over there?"

JEH: [Laughs] No. I love it. I didn't even think it would be a thing. I was in the moment when it happened. Now, when I walk into a store someone always screams, "Look over there!"

We filmed the show last year and then this year we would normally be traveling and the audience would slowly get to know us. People would watch episodes and trickle in as fans along the way. With the pandemic, we have been sitting in the house the entire time. We got the love from everybody at once. People will recognize me at the grocery store, even with a mask!

WCT: With your current worldwide platform, do you want to be an activist?

JEH: Yes. As a Black queer entertainer just by performing and being who you are is already activism in itself, but you still have to do more. I try to use my voice as much as I can. I speak out about my experiences and people's experiences like me, not just about being a Black gay person, but about women's issues. Until we all win together, none of us are winning, so we all have to work and use our voice as much as we can.

I think the biggest part is talking about intersectionality between people who are marginalized or repressed like a Black woman or an Asian queer man. Even though we have so many differences, there are so many things that link us together. We need to all realize that and stop having this mentality that it is only one of us. What affects me also affects other people too. If we can think in that way, we can have progress and move forward faster.

WCT: Chicago is currently revamping [its] drag scene.

JEH: Oh, I heard about the town hall, honey! [Editor's note: Drag personality/entertainment producer T Rex issued an apology about her treatment of other performers, and agreed to a town-hall meeting.] I love that the queer entertainers in Chicago have had enough and are taking it into their own hands and making the change happen. If they are not given an opportunity, they still make a change because they needed to.

WCT: A little bird told me that you are a Hamilton fan.

JEH: Yes, I am and just watched it. I know there is a Wicked live recording somewhere, so they need to release that!

WCT: Is Wicked your favorite?

JEH: It's up there. I love The Wiz. I wish I could see The Wiz as a musical live and in person. I like The Color Purple's musical version and Hamilton. A lot of people don't know that about me. I love Broadway and I love musicals, especially!

Visit VossEvents.com for ticket information about Hall's upcoming Drive 'N Drag on Aug. 7-9 at Soldier Field, with two time slots per night of 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.


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