"RuPaul's Drag Race" star Maddy Morphosis on her transformative looks: "I pull a lot from nostalgia"

The show's first cisgender straight male contestant spoke to Salon about falling for drag while living in Arkansas

Published January 15, 2022 3:30PM (EST)

Maddy Morphosis on "RuPaul's Drag Race" (VH1)
Maddy Morphosis on "RuPaul's Drag Race" (VH1)

This season of "Drag Race" already promised to be the best ever after RuPaul deigned to perform in last week's premiere, but it wasn't done with its surprises. 

On Friday, after introducing the remaining seven of the 14 queens in competition, one queen's debut was of particular interest to fans — and her fellow contestants. Amid the parade of big looks and big personalities, Maddy Morphosis stole the show when RuPaul outed her to the queens . . . as the show's first straight contestant. 

Of course fans had already known of Maddy's imminent unveiling. When her casting was first announced in December, fans call out the series on social media for years of denying transgender and gender-diverse queens the same platform it was now offering to a cisgender, straight man from Arkansas. Maddy responded to the backlash with a lengthy statement on Instagram that addresses the dangers of accepting the gender binary, how drag helped them explore their own sexuality and representation in drag, among other topics.

"If there's a message that I hope to convey to people, it's that you don't have [to] inhabit the box society puts you in just to be comfortable in your own sexuality," posted Maddy.

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While "Drag Race" has recently attempted to rectify its failings around representation, it's a legacy that continues to plague the beloved series and its matriarch. Last year marked some of the franchise's biggest strides, as Gottmik became the franchise's first transgender male competitior in season 13 of the flagship series, and Kylie Sonquie Love was crowned its first transgender winner in season 6 of "All Stars."

This season, two Los Angeles-based transgender queens, Kerri Colby and Kornbread "The Snack" Jeté, are early frontrunners, wooing judges in the first part of the premiere with their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. 

Where Maddy will fit into the season 14 landscape remains to be seen. After her unmasking, much of the episode was dedicated to a somewhat bewildered workroom and judging panel digesting Maddy's Guy Fieri-inspired opening look, electric guitar number and over-the-top Marie Antoinette runway look. Her presence on the show has made this year one of the buzziest yet.

Salon spoke with Maddy about how she first fell in love with drag, what inspires her performance style and how she went from working at an Arkansas Target to the mainstage of "RuPaul's Drag Race."

How did you start doing drag, coming from a small rural town in Arkansas?

Growing up in a small conservative country town, I didn't really fit in. I wasn't super into sports and hunting and all of that. I was almost terminally online when I was in high school, because it was the only escape that I had. We lived out in the middle of nowhere, in the boonies, and our closest neighbor was two miles away. 

In high school, I started to question myself. The fact that I wasn't into the same things as the other guys and that I was interested in fashion and makeup, I started to wonder: Am I gay? Am I trans? There were no resources or people to talk to in my area. And there was no such thing as just gender non-conforming men in the spotlight

So, when I graduated high school, I went on a journey of self-discovery, changing what I didn't like about myself and trying to explore new things. I made more open-minded friends, people that were around the [gay] community. And it led me to explore my own gender identity. 

But I never intended to do drag. 

Where I was going with friends at that time — at what is now my home bar, C4, in Fayetteville — just happened to be a place where drag shows were happening. I think the camp and comedy queens coming into town, and seeing what they did, made me start to get interested in it. Seeing them make people laugh and put on these really theatrical, fun shows, that started to pique my interest. And one day, [the bar] had an open stage night, and a friend pushed me to do it. I did it and ended up getting the bug for it. And it just kind of took off from there.

So would you describe yourself as a comedy queen? Because, on Instagram, you turn big, transformative looks.

I feel, like, I might almost be catfishing people on Instagram. Whenever I perform, I do more camp, comedy and just stupid stuff. But that doesn't usually translate well into pictures.

What has inspired your looks and performance style? Are there any cultural icons or drag queens you gravitate toward?

I take a lot of things from outside of drag and make them drag — things that would entertain me. I pull a lot from nostalgia. I have numbers where I reference old commercials from the early 2000s. I do a number based around Colonel Sanders. I take things that I think could be really funny and turn them on their head. 

But one of the biggest things that had an effect on my performance style was watching a video of Bob the Drag Queen a long time ago. I had just started doing drag and everyone was talking about voguing. And at that time I didn't really understand what to look for — or anything. I remember Googling "how to vogue," and one of the first things that popped up was a performance by Bob the Drag Queen. The way he intermixed music with little sound bites from YouTube videos and turned it into a skit had a big effect on how I started doing my mixes and performances. It opened my mind up to even more possibilities of how to piece together a story within a number. It doesn't just have to be a three-minute song and lip sync; there can be more to it.

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Do you have a drag mother or a drag family that you collaborate with?

I'm really fortunate in the drag scene that I find myself in. Maybe it's because we are kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but we all really help each other. There's always someone that I can get advice from or ask, "What do you think of this idea? Can I borrow this outfit? Can I borrow this hair?" So I don't have a drag family, per se. But it's almost like a drag village. 

But I don't like to be influenced too much by other people. I don't have a drag mom or any drag children, because I don't want anyone to sway me or push me too much into a certain way of being — and vice versa. I know that if I had a drag daughter or son, I would just try to project myself through them.

I do have my partner [Miss Liza]. She does drag as well, and we share a lot of things. But, as far as performance styles, I don't tell her how to do her drag and she doesn't weigh too much into mine. We're completely different people when it comes to performing.

It seems common for contestants on "Drag Race" to get help from their partners, at least when it comes to their looks.

It's almost a trope of the drag community: people's partners being forced to become their dressers. [Laughing.]

Going into "Drag Race," were there challenges you were excited about or elements of the competition that you were particularly worried about? 

I wasn't really scared about the competition itself. I've seen "Drag Race"; I knew what to expect. And even things that weren't in my comfort zone, per se . . . I've always worked pretty well under pressure. 

The thing I was most worried about was the time constraint. I can sew an outfit, put together a routine and come up with a skit. But to do that while cameras are on you and you're trying to get to know all of these people, in a strange environment, it's hard to keep your mind focused on one thing. There's so many little things happening around you. 

What about putting yourself out there on national television?

No. I spent the first almost 20 years of my life unhappy with what I was doing, too scared to try anything different. Once I started to change things about myself and try new things, that's when the best things started to happen to me. It was doing that that led me to drag. 

Doing "Drag Race" was, obviously, very huge and very scary. But I embraced it. I was telling myself that no matter what happens, even if it doesn't go the way I hope it does, I can always just go back to working at Target. And that never happened. 

I knew that I would have more regret about not doing it than about it not going the way I planned.

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Going into the work room, how did you expect to be received as a cis, straight man doing drag?

I think what a lot of people don't realize is that there have been straight people doing drag for a long time. After entering the drag scene, I've been the butt of a joke every now and then. But I've performed across multiple states, in — I don't know how many — different bars and venues. I've done national pageants. And I've never encountered pushback because of that. 

Obviously, there has been some hesitancy. And I think you should have some healthy skepticism, because there are some straight people that see the popularity of drag and see dollar signs and want to take advantage of that. But doing drag, especially in a place like Arkansas, I don't think I've even turned a profit up until this point. [Drag is] so expensive, and doing shows for $40 and two drink tickets doesn't pay the bills.

It must get old, driving around to gigs for that much. Do you think you'll stay in Arkansas or try somewhere else like LA, now that you've been on the show?

I know if I stay in Arkansas my whole life, I'm going to regret it. I need to at least try moving to a bigger city, make the push, see what happens, see what lands. Like I was saying before, if everything doesn't work out, I can always move back to Fayetteville and go back to Target like nothing ever happened.

Speaking of making it work, I read that you cashed in some bitcoin to help get you to the show.

It was shortly before I got the call for "Drag Race." I just happened to get a little bonus from work, so I had an extra $100 to spend. And I ended up investing it into Dogecoin [stock], because everyone was talking about it at the time. Then, when I got the call for "Drag Race," I was running around trying to get all of these outfits together, and I didn't have a lot of money. 

When we were about to fly out, Dogecoin happened to spike and the $100 became, like, $600. It isn't a crazy amount, but it was enough to cover my rent and pay for a bit more stuff. It was that down to the nitty-gritty for me.

Did you make most of the outfits that you took with you?

I did. Like I said, I was working at Target when I got the call. And I don't live in a big city; I don't know a bunch of designers. Even if I did, you obviously can't go around telling everyone that you're going to be on "Drag Race." I didn't trust reaching out to random designers and saying, "Hey, I'm going to be on 'Drag Race' but don't tell anybody. Can you do an outfit for free that I'll pay for later?" I just had to buckle down and get everything done myself, for the most part.

I know a lot of drag queens have a plan. They might never get the call for "Drag Race," but they have designers on standby and they have everything lined up. I cannot imagine.

Well, as a fellow Arkansan, I'm excited to see what you came up with. It's already been a pretty exciting season.

Yeah, it's already starting to feel like some of the older seasons, especially with the photoshoots, talent shows and other things. And RuPaul doing choreographed talent numbers . . . It's going to be really fun.

"RuPaul's Drag Race" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on VH1.

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By Elaina Patton

Elaina Patton is a freelance entertainment and culture writer

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