How Drag Queen Irene Dubois Made It to Season 15 of ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’
On the last morning of an exhausting vacation in Ocean Shores, Seattle drag queen Irene Dubois rolled out of bed to a phone call informing her that she had been cast in season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her first thought: “Am I still awake now? Like, am I still in my dream world?”
It was her fifth time auditioning for the show since season 2 first introduced her to the world of drag – and Irene was beginning to doubt whether she knew what the producers were looking for. But when her friends and other members of the Seattle community (including season 14 finalist and Irene’s sister Bosco) heard the good news, “a lot of people are just like, ‘Game time.’
“Drag Race started my trajectory as an artist,” says Irene. The contestants had to design their own outfits? Irene learned to sew. The contestants had to perfect their own hairstyles? Irene started working on several wigs. “The show’s focus on being a complete artist certainly became part of my ethos as well,” she says.
But notable queens like Raja (season 3) and Sasha Velor (season 9) also taught her the importance of developing a style of her own. “I think a lot of times we can look at what other people are doing to be successful and think, Oh, this must be what I have to do to be successful,” she says. You “must believe that what sets you apart is your strength and not see the things that make you different as things that need to be hidden.”
Drag queens in Seattle have historically played off of the more mainstream Drag Race contestants with wackier looks and an emphasis on comedy. But Irene sees herself as part of a new, even more experimental tradition of local stars. “I kind of felt like Drag Race,” through queens like BenDeLaCreme and season five winner Jinkx Monsoon, “had curated a perception of Seattle drag, that it was all about theatrics and burlesque,” she says. In her experience, Seattle’s drag scene focuses on “breaking the rules, being outside the box. And so developing here is basically finding and forging your own path.”
For Irene, that road is somewhere between Tatooine and Texas. The first to arrive in the workroom, Irene wears contact lenses with mismatched pupils, a shiny bodice covered in cones like party hats, big pink boots, and giant spiked prosthetic ears. She tells producers that she takes inspiration from Star Wars characters and wants “to look like I rule some kind of alien kingdom.” (By comparison, one of Jinkx Monsoon’s most famous performances was as Gray Gardens’ Little Edie on the show’s beloved celebrity impersonation challenge, Snatch Game.)
However, looks aren’t the only thing that sets Irene apart from its Seattle predecessors. Based on the season 15 teaser, maybe Irene isn’t the “ultimately cool” BenDeLaCreme (season six’s Miss Congeniality), nor will we hear her singing “water off a duck’s back” like Jinkx Monsoon’s ultimately misunderstood; within the first five minutes, she starts an argument with another contestant and jokingly (?) threatens to tear the place apart. “Irene said ‘Oh, you all wanted an ACTUAL villain this season?'” reads a YouTube comment. “Keep my eyeshadow on.”
Perhaps this is just one more indication that Irene is a true student of Drag Race, where sewing, lip-synching and miming may be just as important – but reading, a particularly incisive kind of baking, is essential.