Willow Pill wins “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: Denver queen named champion in 2022 season04/25/2022
For the second time since 2019, a Denver drag queen has won “RuPaul’s Drag Race” competition, the most prestigious and visible drag-queen event in the United States.
Denver-raised drag queen Willow Pill grabbed the crown and a $150,000 cash prize during the Emmy-winning show’s Season 14 finale at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, which aired on Friday, April 22. She beat out Angeria Paris VanMichaels, Bosco, Daya Betty and Lady Camden in a “showgirl glitz extravaganza,” as Billboard wrote. (The “RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!” stage show is currently running at the Flamingo.)
Twenty-seven-year-old Willow Pill hails from the same Denver drag family as 2019 winner Yvie Oddly, she said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. And, like Oddly, her attention-getting designs for the competition again pushed drag spectacle beyond its traditional borders, with looks that were based on two hands growing out of her head, blood-red fungus eyes, and “a mold of her own head fastened to her crotch.”
“I’m an adorably twisted little doll,” she told CityCast host Bree Davis in an April 21 interview that preceded the big win.
Willow Pill is the first out trans winner of a non-All Stars season of American Drag Race, “a title she wears proudly,” Entertainment Weekly wrote, but has said in the past that it can feel overwhelming to be “hoisted into the spotlight as the face of representation for any community.”
The 2019 “Drag Race” winner, Yvie Oddly, is Willow Pill’s mentor and friend. While Oddly is scheduled to perform as one of the headliners at this year’s Denver PrideFest, Willow Pill is not yet on the roster (and is based out of Chicago these days).
However, she came up in Denver’s drag scene with other nationally known queens such as Nina Flowers, and loves that she was able to find her niche in an open, experimental environment, according to her CityCast interview.
“What makes Denver drag so special, or at least at the time I was kind of coming up, is that there wasn’t a whole lot of structure or rules. It’s one of those mid-sized cities for drag …,” she told Davies. “The through-line with Nina and Yvie and myself is that we’re all kind of people who subverted the expectations on our season. And I think Denver does that fantastically.”
It’s hard to overemphasize that last note, as Denver’s aggressively competitive, national-quality comedy, music, theater and other performing-arts scenes have found similar success by punching up and ignoring traditional ladder-rungs in their industries.
Denver queens in particular have come up against — and beaten — names from much bigger, more established scenes on the coasts, even when not winning entire seasons of “Drag Race.” In Season 14, Willow Pill was able to impress Grammy-winning guest judges ranging from Lizzo and Alicia Keys, as well as acclaimed actors Taraji P. Henson and Nicole Byer, amid other fashion, drag and entertainment industry experts.
“I never took the time to think about what it would mean to win, or be one of only two Colorado queens to represent the state (along with Season 1 runner-up Nina Flowers),” Oddly said in a 2019 Denver Post interview, just before playing that year’s PrideFest. “I hope it makes all the girls here that much hungrier. I’ve always been a very stern critic in the community, to say the least, so I hope people have a fire lit under their (expletives). If you work hard enough and you have a vision, you really can achieve some insane things.”
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