Q&A: Jaida Essence Hall Talks About Her Love for Milwaukee and Future Plans

Jaida Essence Hall loves Milwaukee, and Milwaukee loves Jaida Essence Hall.

WE TALKED WITH Jaida Essence Hall, fresh off her win on Season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” about Pride Month, her plans for the future and what she loves about Milwaukee.

How are you holding up these days?

I think when you think about the show and what it can do for you and the journey you will take after the show, especially if you win — some of that has been put on pause, but I’m just remembering and realizing that the whole entire world is all going through it at the same time. So you cannot be too selfish and just be like, “Oh, well, what about me?” But the whole world is feeling it, especially with what’s going on right now with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd and so many other Black people being murdered. I think that it’s really important for me to be a role model or a voice in these times.

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And that protest movement has been very strong here in Milwaukee. So how does it feel to represent Milwaukee, especially as the first Milwaukee winner of the show?

I love, love, love, love, love my city. And I think a lot of times people here tend to believe that you cannot be successful here. And though I went and filmed the show in California, everything that I’ve learned about who I am and everything that I took with me to the show, mentally all the tools that I took to the show to survive and to win the show, I’ve learned here. So it feels good to be representing my city. It’s a way for me to give back to the city, I think, and I think it’s given a lot of people here hope that they can do whatever they want to and succeed at it.

We’re well into Pride Month. How do you feel we can best be celebrating Pride right now?

I think what we are doing right now is the best testament to what Pride is. Pride literally started from a protest, you know what I mean? So many people have had enough. And I think that right now, we are learning more and more. And I think people’s minds and eyes are always opening up more to the fact that until all of us win, none of us are winning. […] This is a thing that we all need to make together, and I think that for us to be spending our time making sure that we’re investing in change and the Black community so much as well is a testament to what we really feel about Pride. Pride is about unity.

On the show, you were presented in this box of being a “pageant queen,” which makes you the first pageant winner of the show. What does it mean for you to represent that style of drag?

There are a lot of fans who watch the show and just immediately just do not like pageant drag. But I think some of the root of what the drag community is is that that pageant-y polished glamour vibe from drag. […] So many really, really talented girls have been on the show before, especially “pageant queens,” in quotes, of color. The aesthetic that we have is something that’s also incredible. And I think it should be celebrated as well. I think when we say all drag is valid, we should not be so quick to exclude drag. I think people get this negative connotation of pageant drag, and say, “Oh, well, they’re just the pretty girls who have a lot to say about other people.” I mean, you can be a pageant queen and love beautiful things and be nice and still have heart at the end of the day, and still be funny and be silly and talented. Hopefully people realize that, and going forward, they will keep their eyes open a little bit more and have a lot more respect for the type of drag that I do.

You’ve gotten a great response from fans. I saw that video of the parade of gifts and congratulations the day after you won. What was that experience like?

I try to talk to as many people as I can about the love in the Midwest. And to see the parade just speaks volumes about how strong and powerful Milwaukee is and how much love is in the city. I mean, I can tell people all the time about why I love my city and how much love I receive here, but for them to actually show up, and for people to see the video, they completely understand it. And so many people are like, “Well, this is what you deserve in this moment.” And it just made me feel so proud.

What do you think is really great about Milwaukee drag that other people might not realize?

You know, people think maybe up here we just ride around on cows and do drag, and I’m like, “There are literally no cows in Milwaukee.” But the drag scene in Milwaukee is so diverse. You can go out on any given night and see pretty much anything. […] I feel like what I represented on the show was so much about Milwaukee because it’s not just one thing, and the drag scene here is not just one thing and the queens here are not just one thing. It’s like an eclectic mix of so many different things that we’ve learned from each other over time in the city.

Once this quarantine is lifted and things start moving back to normal, will you be staying in Milwaukee or moving to another city?

It’s the hardest question in the world! Literally everybody when they ask this question, it’s not like, “Are you leaving?” It’s, “LA or New York?” That’s always the question. And I know that for opportunities, I will most likely have to move and relocate just for opportunities that will come from the show. But I definitely want to make sure that I have property in Milwaukee. […] I have so many people who support me and love me now for what I do in drag, but I know that without the people here in Milwaukee first loving me and supporting me, I would not be who I am today. I would not have the confidence that I have in drag, and I certainly would not have won “Drag Race.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Jude is an editorial intern at Milwaukee Magazine. He is a freshman at Northwestern University studying journalism, gender and sexuality studies and theatre.