Local drag queen Coco Montrese says she’s at the top of her game. She has a regular gig on the Strip in Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas and a national drag title. And Monday night, Montrese added one more impressive line to her resume, when Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered and she became the second contestant to represent Las Vegas on the popular Logo reality program.
We sat down with the new TV star to discuss RuPaul, Drag Race and how she always strives to “keep it classy.”
RuPaul is such a legend. Had you ever met before the show?
Actually, in passing, I met Ru years ago when I started my career. I was in Miami, Florida; we were at a club called the Waterfront, and Ru was there, not in makeup. He was standing in the back, watching the show, and I performed that night. I found out at the end of the night—oh my God, RuPaul was there!
What was it like seeing her in the Drag Race workroom for the first time?
All of those feelings came back, like, “Wow, this is a legend,” and it was such an honor to be in his presence. Every single time you didn’t want to let him down ... He brought you there for a reason.
You’re not originally from Las Vegas. With contestants from across the country competing, did you know any of the other girls?
I’m originally from Florida, so I ran into a lot of friends.
What was it like competing with them?
I mean, honestly, it was kind of a reunion. To see them and not know that I was going to see them, and be there with them and compete with them—it was really, really interesting. … You have to be good with knowing that win or lose, if I’ve done my best, then I’ve won. … The experience alone was so amazing, you have to take it and cherish it for what it is.
You star in Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas six nights a week. How did you work out filming with that schedule?
All I did was request some time off, and I kind of told them a white lie. I said I was going to see my family and [that] I needed to be with my family. (laughs) And I did, in a way. ... I needed to be with the rest of my drag sisters!
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RuPaul’s requirements for “America’s next drag superstar” are charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Is that what you would look for?
All those things and more; you have to be a people person, too. ... The people are what make you. My fans are what make me ... [They’re] called Marshmallows, because what good is hot Coco without marshmallows?
Who is your main competition?
I would say Alyssa Edwards was, to me, my biggest competition. But honestly—and this isn’t a pageant answer—my biggest competition really is myself.
You’ve said you can pull your makeup together in a half an hour, if pressed for time, but some of the show's challenges require fashioning a complete look themed with off-the-wall materials. What was your strategy?
My strategy basically was to do what I do best. Do everything that I know I can do first, get that done, get my makeup done and then any extra things that I needed to do to complete the look, then to do that at the last minute. ... That way, if I needed to troubleshoot something, I could do it, because it’s what I know how to do.
Season 4 winner Sharon Needles’ partner, Alaska, is competing this season. We’ve seen partners do well before, with Manila taking second place the season after her partner, Sahara, competed. Is there an advantage there?
Honestly, there’s an advantage and there’s a disadvantage. … You have something to live up to, because everyone’s going to look at you for what your partner did. And I just feel like everyone should be given a fair shot, regardless of who they dated … Alaska wants it just as much as Sharon wanted it.
Drag Race, like most reality television, is never short on drama. Did you partake or play Miss Congeniality?
It’s an emotional roller coaster for all of us ... Yes, when you put that many queens with so many different opinions ... in one room, you’re going to always get that. There’s always going to be so many emotional ties to what we are doing, and we are going to speak out. So I wouldn’t even say that we’re catty or anything like that, I would just say that we all have strong opinions and we all voice them.
During the season’s trailer you tell RuPaul you want to “keep it classy.” What was that about?
We all come to the show with our personalities and who we are, and inside, that’s my personality. In my mind and who I am, this character, Coco Montrese, that I created, she is a rich, classy, black white woman. ... So throughout the show that’s what I try to do; I try to keep it classy. Now, I’m not going to tell you I’m always successful with keeping it classy, because you know, these girls can push you!
Were you nervous about becoming a reality TV star?
I don’t know if reality TV is for me ... I have a voice that I want to be heard, but you never know how it’s going to play out. ... It took me four years to get comfortable to the point to send in a video to actually audition ... In life you have to take those chances, because you never want to look back and say, “I wish I had.”
With this decision, I’m very happy I did do it. I did a filming the other day with Gladys Knight ... I was dressed as Dionne Warwick, and I actually got to sing with her—a duet, as Dionne Warwick. Little things like that for other networks, other TV things that I’m doing, it’s just amazing to be able to experience that and the doors that this is opening for me. So it’s really cool.