by Christopher Rudolph
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CANADA’S DRAG RACE
Ilona made Drag Race herstory as the first Indigenous, two-spirit, and openly non-binary queen to compete in the reality series franchise. The Vancouver-based vixen might have walked into the workroom claiming she was a “fucking bitch,” but Ilona’s fierceness won the hearts of viewers, and respect from her fellow queens. Ilona memorably brought half of the Cock Destroyers to life on Snatch Game, and served an amazing lip sync against Tynomi Banks, but after her less than hysterical Miss Moose Jaw character this week it was time for Ilona to lip-sync for her life and sashay away.
Ilona spoke with NewNowNext about her time on Canada’s Drag Race, why she almost quit the show before lip-syncing against Tynomi, if she’s heard from the Cock Destroyers, and what tattoo she plans on getting with Scarlett Bobo.
What was it like when you got the call that you’re going to be on Drag Race? What were you doing?
Oh gosh, that was the dream-come-true moment. It was just confirmation in everything in my life going in the right direction. At the time of casting, I was living in Los Angeles and as the casting progressed, I made the decision to move back to Canada because I knew I wanted to be in Vancouver, should I get on the show. And yeah, within three days of being back in Vancouver, I got the call that I was on.
Wow. Why were you living in Los Angeles?
I could give you a whole juicy story about my time in Vancouver, that inspired me to move away, but I’m just going to go ahead and give you the short answer, which was, I wanted to chase my dreams, have a fresh start, and give myself room to grow up and become a better version of myself, and that’s what I was able to do down in LA.
What are your drag beginnings? Where’s the name come from? How long were you doing drag before you got on the show?
I’ve been doing drag for about six years now. The first year was just a lot of practicing the makeup, practicing the look. And then my first time going out and performing was in 2015 for the Vancouver Next Drag Superstar competition, and that’s my first real big, big moment. Prior to that, I went to an Adore Delano concert in drag, and the MC pulled me up on stage and asked me to do a number. So technically, my first time performing was accidentally opening for Adore Delano.
Oh, I love that.
Yeah. And then as far as the name, I got the name from this amazing lady I worked with at Fabricland, actually, Fabricland ended up being one of the sponsors on the show, which I thought was kind of funny. But she was named Ilona and she was a burlesque dancer from Germany. She was in her 80s when I knew her, but she would always bring in makeup and show me all these old photos of her in her burlesque outfits, and tell me all these fabulous stories. And I knew one day when I started drag because at the time I was just learning about drag, that I wanted to name myself after her. She was such an inspiration for me, and she was so fabulous.
And in this week’s episode, you talk about wanting to be like a role model or have indigenous kids being able to see someone like themselves on TV. Have any indigenous kids reached out to you
Oh, my gosh. So many, so many. I knew that this was going to have an impact, but just the sheer volume of people that are touched and that are seeing themselves on the show through me, it’s just really heartwarming. I get so many messages of people telling me, “When you said this, or when you did this, it made me think of this time in my life,” and just building these really amazing connections with all these other people like me, honestly is one the biggest highlights to come out of the show. It’s been really, really cool.
Does your family know you do drag?
Yeah, they do. And my mom is my number-one fan. She has an Instagram account called Ilona’s Mom, and she’s always posting photos, sharing all the girls’ photos from the season. My mom just loves, loves, loves drag. Any of my shows that she can be at, she’s there. And she’ll always send me photos of cute things when she’s out shopping to ask me if it’s something I’d like for a look.
Okay. So I want to talk about that lip sync with Tynomi, because when I spoke with Tynomi and she said, “Yeah, I wasn’t sure if Ilona was going to go through with it, she’s that girl.” Did you honestly think that maybe you weren’t going to go through with it?
I actually asked if I could just leave before we even found out we had to lip-sync. I was like, “Can I just go home?” And sure enough, I had to sync. But yeah, no, when we found out, and we were standing there, I was really thinking to myself, I was like, “Okay, how fierce would that be if I just walked off the stage right now?” And that’s really going through my head, “What would happen if I just fucking left?” And right before we started, Tynomi came up to me and hugged me. And she’s like, “Please just do this and have fun with me because if you don’t do this performance, you’re disrespecting me.” And when she said that, I was just like, “Okay, fuck. I’m not giving up, looks like we’re doing it.” But yeah, I was just really emotional because she was one of the people that I got the closest to there, and having to do that was just hard on me.
Yeah. You really served it. I thought it should have been a double Shantay.
I agree. Honestly, when they said my name, I was like, “Okay, well, I’m going home.” If you watched it, you can literally see me in looking around because I’m just taking everything in one last time. And then they told me that I was staying, and I was like, “What?” And then I looked over at her and I was like, “Oh, it’s going to be a double stay, it’s perfect.” And then it wasn’t, and I was really shook.
I loved that the Cock Destroyers have finally made it to the Snatch Game. Have you heard from Rebecca? Has she reached out to you at all?
Yeah, Rebecca and I have actually followed each other on Instagram for quite a while, but I was worried she was going to hate it, but she absolutely loved it. She’s been reposting so many clips of it. She’s tweeted at me, and yeah, she sent me a really sweet private message just letting me know how much it meant to her for me to reference her the show and do her on the show. So that was really special and yeah, I got to chit chat with her a little bit back and forth, and as soon as the borders are open again, she wants to meet up in LA.
And then also there was that moment in one of the episodes where they walked in and you were sleeping back in the workroom. Were you really sleeping on that couch?
Okay, so here’s the thing. Dead-ass, yes, we were. And right before the girls were coming, I had woken up and I literally just was hazy and waking up. And one of the assistants came over was like, “Ilona, go back to sleep right now.” And so I tried to go back to sleep. So the first shot that you’re seeing, I was dead-ass passed out, and the shot when the girls come to wake us up, that’s when I was faking it, at that point. But yes, we did actually fall asleep.
— Canada’s Drag Race (@canadasdragrace) August 14, 2020
Well, I’ve been talking to the other eliminated girls every week, they told me they kind of knew they were going home, even before the lip sync. Did you feel that way this week?
I kind of just had a calm over me. We were sitting in Untucked at that time, and I was like, “You know what? If I lip-sync tonight, I lip-sync tonight. If I go home tonight, I go home tonight.” Because I was at peace, I feel like I got to go and do what I wanted to do on the show, represent for indigenous people and binary trans people, and do that. That was my mission. I didn’t go there to win. I went there to make an impact, and I felt like I got to do that. And by the time it had happened, I was just at peace with it. I felt calm. And I was proud of myself.
Yeah, you should be proud. You made it a long way. And it was a great lip sync. Was it extra nerve-racking performing Allie X in front of Allie X?
Oh my gosh. No! That was the one thing I was so excited about. I was like, “If I have to do one lip sync this season, it better be to Allie X.” And so sure enough, finding out she was the guest judge, and that was going to be the lip sync on, I was almost like, “Fuck, yeah, I want to lip-sync.” And so finding out that that was going to be the case, I was actually stoked. I was like, “I get to perform one of my favorite songs in front of one of my favorite artists. That’s fucking fierce, that’s better than the crown in my books.” And especially getting to meet her after, that meeting was such a perfect end of my Drag Race experience. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
What did you guys talk about?
She came into the workroom and surprised me while I was just in tears. And she was just so kind and sweet and she just told me all about how much she lived for my inner beauty, and how special I am, and how much it meant to her to get to see me have such a good time performing her song, and that was just such a heartwarming moment for me.
— Daily Hive Toronto (@DailyHiveTO) August 16, 2020
What are the Allie X lyrics on your tattoo? What song is that?
Okay, so “Never Enough” is the song that I have tattooed on my arm. And then after everything, I added “good” in it. So now it reads, “Never good enough.”
Do you have any tattoos planned, that you’re planning on getting?
Okay, so this is kind of funny. Obviously me and Lemon had a kind of rocky relationship on the show, and after we got very close, after filming, and so I went ahead and gave myself a “Lemon gives me life” tattoo. And so it’s like a little lemon with her signature under it. And then it says, “Gives me life.” So it’s just on my leg, but I kind of botched it, so my friend sort of fixed it for me before I post the photo.
Do you think you’ll do any more Drag-Race-inspired tattoos?
Yeah. Me and Scarlet are planning to get matching sissy tattoos.
You and Lemon get close after filming. What sparked that?
I messaged her and I just said, “Hey girl, I was such a cunt to you during filming, and I just want to formally apologize. I know we kind of moved on by the end of everything, but I just want to actually apologize to you and let you know that I respect you and I live for you. And I got in my own way with having a relationship with you and I hope you can forgive me.” And right away, she came back and she was like, “Oh my god, what are you talking about? We’re sisters. I’m happy to move on and blah, blah, blah.” She’s always cheering me on and checking on me and she’s just really such a little angel, and I’m happy that she and I finally have a friendship now because she’s definitely someone I want to have in my life.
I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was “just the cutest thing ever.”