When drag queen Willow Pill got the call that she was selected for season fourteen of RuPaul’s Drag Race, her initial reaction wasn’t exactly what one would expect.
“I immediately thought, ‘I have to say no. I have to call her back and say I can’t.’ I just panicked! It was full panic, “she recalls. “I was on my floor eating leftover hangover food and it was 10pm. I got a call from an unknown number and thought, ‘Oh, this must be spam.’ But I replied anyway and they said, ‘Condragulations, you’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and I freaked out. I got up and started screaming for about an hour. But luckily, after being on the floor for three days and had gone through some mental breakdowns I thought, ‘Okay, I have to go to work.’ ”
The world will now follow its journey on the largest televised drag platform.
Pill represents the surrealist twisted glamor of Denver to a T. She was first exposed as a teenager through RuPaul’s Drag Race, which had just aired its first season.
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“I originally saw it at The Soup with Joel McHale and they made fun of it. I was very intrigued by what was going on and I was confused because I thought it was really cool but didn’t know how to pronounce it. I just watched the show for a long time and always felt like, ‘That would I like to do it, but there is no way that it can become a reality, ‘”she says.
“It just scratched my door for a long time,” she continues. “I started experimenting with makeup and then I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll start at 21 because when I do I want to be able to perform in the clubs and have the full experience.'”
She made her drag debut while attending Colorado State University and loved it. “When I turned 21, I bought my first outfit at Forever 21 and did a student show at the CSU,” she recalls. “I thought it might be a one-off gig, but I fell in love with him instantly. It was such a high and I thought, ‘I have to chase that high forever.'”
Willow Pill is one of fourteen contenders for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.
Courtesy of VH1
However, the willow pill that appeared in Forever 21 at the CSU is a far cry from the willow pill we’ll see at Drag Race. Almost six years later she has proven herself and carved out a niche for herself as a limitless visionary at the forefront of alternative drag. “It took me a long time to get where I am with Willow Pill,” she admits. “When I started out, I just did top 40 mixes and some of my favorite songs in cute outfits – which is still fun, but over the years I’ve developed this messy character, the Willow Pill is adorable and scary and very embarrassing and sad, but also very psychedelic and trippy. ”
Pill’s Drag plays with contradictions and confrontations, both visually and emotionally.
“For my appearance and my performance, I always want it to be an experience or a story that happens. I draw a lot of inspiration from psychedelics, from mushrooms and LSD, but also just from madness. I like to take a lot with me from darkness and Traumas that have happened in my life and turn it into something kitschy, sad and funny, so when I perform I want the audience to feel more than one emotion, “she explains. “I get a lot of inspiration for my look from the ’60s and’ 70s. I want the rest of the outfit to have that twisted or psychedelic feel where something is wrong. So either my ears are huge or my eyes are bloodshot or my feet are huge – something that catches your eye and is just a little wrong. ”
One of the biggest sources of inspiration for Pill’s conceptual drag looks is her lifelong battle against cystinosis, a chronic kidney disease that causes eye, throat and muscle problems. The name “pill” actually comes from the fact that she has to take more than twenty tablets a day to treat her illness. “Willow” comes from the character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Willow Rosenberg. (As Pill notes, “I always wanted to be a lesbian witch.”)
“I have sometimes said that my illness contributes more to my drag than even my queerness or transness. I can’t really be myself unless that’s part of the conversation,” says Pill. Her experiences with chronic illnesses, including a kidney transplant at age 14 and years of watching comedies while on dialysis machines, form the backbone of her dark humor.
“In my opinion, there is no way to survive with a chronic illness without a sense of humor,” she says. “It comes out of necessity, otherwise you will drown in it.”
During the Drag Race, Pill intended to use the platform to increase visibility for people with chronic illnesses, as did her dear friend, frequent collaborator and fellow Denver queen, Yvie Oddly, during season 11 (which she won), when you talked about living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The two even released a song together last year, “Sick Bitch”, which is about dealing with chronic illnesses with humor.
The two got to know each other at Pills debut on the CSU student show, on which Oddly also appeared. It was the beginning of a beautiful and bizarre friendship. Pill decided to do a mini-documentary on Oddly for a film class she was taking, “and that’s where we really met and started working together.”
Now they consider themselves family and often refer to themselves as drag sisters. “We kind of ended up with Sister, but it really is everything,” explains Pill. “It’s not a very traditional relationship that we have when it comes to drag families. We’re really friends first and we’re both unconventional drag queens so our relationship is going to be unconventional. We just have a drag connection and a human connection, which is really sacred to me. ” When Oddly took home the coveted drag race crown in 2019, Pill felt like she was following in her sister’s footsteps.
“Being in Drag Race was something Yvie and I had been talking about for years,” she says. “I think we both knew it was going to inevitably happen. I don’t know if this is delusional confidence or just plain cleverness, but we could feel it. It just felt like she was passing the torch on to me. “
Willow Pill and Yvie Oddly on the set of their music video “Sick Bitch”.
Oddly enough, with some crucial words of wisdom, Pill sent off to the drag race. “Her biggest piece of advice was just having fun,” says Pill. “Because she didn’t have the most fun when she was there. … If you’ve seen her season, you know she fought a lot with the other queens and she was on her mind a lot. Although it worked out for in the end, she said, ‘One thing I would change is just having more fun.’ It was great advice that I carried with me all along. It’s easy, but it really helped me be present while I was on the show. ”
Having a strong support team, including Oddly, helped Pill with the daunting process of preparing for the drag race. “I’ve worked with a few Denver designers, I’ve worked with friends and family. When I got ready, it was like a big Christmas workshop. It was a madhouse. It was a really fun time. It was horrible, but it was fun, ”she says.
See Willow Pill, representing Denver in RuPaul’s Drag Race, Friday at 6:00 p.m. MST on VH1 and in person on Saturday, January 29th at the X Bar, 629 East Colfax Avenue; Presale tickets are $ 10 (10 p.m. GA entry) or $ 15 (9 p.m. entry with Willow Meet-and-Greet) at xbardenver.com/events.