'RuPaul's Drag Race': Vanessa Vanjie Mateo Reveals Why Her Time on Season 11 Was 'Legendary' (Exclusive)
By Meredith B. Kile
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RuPaul's Drag Race is down to the final five, and in Thursday's semifinal, a heartbreaking lip sync showdown saw a fan favorite sashay away.
After saying goodbye to last week's eliminated queen, Nina West, the queens wasted no time before getting to work on their final maxi challenge of the season, for which they were tasked with creating a "sickening solo" rap verse for RuPaul's song, "Queens Everywhere," complete with choreography from Todrick Hall.
In between candid guest appearances on Ru and Michelle's "What's the Tee?" podcast, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Yvie Oddly, A'Keria C. Davenport and Silky Nutmeg Ganache worked on their rhymes and their rhythms -- which came more easily to some than others. "I’m gonna have to rent some legs from somewhere,” A'Keria said as she struggled with her choreo. "I’m confused as hell and lost as a billy goat."
Even trained ballet dancer Brooke Lynn struggled with the hip-hop moves, joking, "I'm giving you Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance."
In their last day together in the Werk Room, the queen reminisced over their favorite moments from the season, which left Vanjie -- the only semi-finalist to not win a maxi challenge -- feeling a little left out. "Don’t sleep on the turtle!" she warned. "Sometimes the turtle can win the race!”
Then it was time for their performances, which featured each queen busting out their individual verses before coming together for a massive dance number. There were no major flubs, but Mama Ru, Todrick, Michelle Visage, Ross Mathews and Carson Kressley were watching close for lip sync perfection and stunning looks on the runway. (Category is: "Best Drag.")
Yvie came away as one of the favorites of the night, as the judges raved over her appropriately odd verse and choreo as well as her runway look, which combined glam and camp as she outfitted her stunning gown with an extra eyeball, boob and butt cheek for a triple trouble look. Michelle praised her as a "power hitter" poised to make an impact in the upcoming finale and said her "Queens Everywhere" verse was her favorite of all five semifinalists.
Despite her initial struggles with the dance numbers, A'Keria also came away on top, the judges praising her "modern pageant" look and commitment to the music video. The panel loved Silky's nude illusion runway gown and performance, too, admitting that while the Reverend Doctor was not "technically perfect," they couldn't help but want to see her in the finale.
Brooke Lynn brought her ballerina glam to the runway, but the judges came away feeling lackluster about the look, as well as her performance in the video, which they felt lacked passion. Vanjie didn't fair much better, as the panel appreciated her stunning emerald Vivian Leigh-inspired gown, but noted that her lip syncing in the challenge was way off. No surprise, Michelle was once again Vanjie's biggest critic, noting that she's received "chance after chance after chance" to prove herself this season.
After each queen sent an emotional, uplifting message to their younger selves (seriously, how cute were those baby pics?!), it was time for Mama Ru to make a decision. Yvie, A'Keria and Silky were all dubbed safe, while heartbreakingly, Vanjie and Brooke -- who spent the episode admitting to the judges and their fellow competitors that they were looking forward to pursuing their showmance after cameras stopped rolling -- were pitted against each other for a do-or-die lip sync to Aretha Franklin's "Pride: A Deeper Love."
“I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest," Vanjie said to camera, admitting that she was hoping to lip sync against anyone but Brooke Lynn. But there was no way the pair's personal feelings were getting in the way of their competitive drive.
"It is hard lip syncing about someone I care about," Brooke agreed. "But we’re both gonna give this our best shot. I’m not throwing anything away -- for anybody."
And the 11th queen to sashay away from season 11 was...
Miss Vanjie gave it her all, but Brooke Lynn had already established herself as a lip sync assassin and the latest casualty was her own smooch buddy. When means that Vanjie was sent home one week shy of making it to the final four and the show's grand finale. "You didn't just come back," Mama Ru announced. "B***h, you came through."
ET's Brice Sander sat down with Vanjie herself in the ET studio in March, where she opened up about returning to Drag Race after being the first queen eliminated last season and making friendships (and more) with her fellow season 11 queens.
ET: How do you feel about how you came across on Drag Race the second time around?
I've always been myself, and I'm just glad that I've been receiving a lot of love. And even if there is hate, I don't f**king read it. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion and so far, so good.
Like you promised, you got to show Vanessa this time around, not just Miss Vanjie.
Right, 'cause I left so soon in season 10, so this is my opportunity for everyone to really get to know me. I feel like, because of the fans and everyone's reactions, I got the chance to come back, so I kind of owed it to them to, like, turn it out every episode.
When season 11 is all said and done, what do you hope the fans walk away thinking of Vanessa Vanjie Mateo?
I'm just happy and thankful that they, like, really get to know me versus last time it was so quick and everyone loved it. So, I hope it stays the same, because I've been getting nothing but love. And it's just a great season. I hope everyone enjoys, you know, regardless of whatever happens, win or draw, a d**k in your mouth or a cyst in your a**, or "Opulence, you own nothin'!" Whatever may happen, just enjoy it. It's a great show. We all live and love the show. So, get out the comments, stop typin' and enjoy the show!
If you had to sum up your time on the show with a word or two, what would you boil it down to?
I don't like to really brag about myself, but I've been gettin' nothin but the term "legendary." So, you asking about me? I think I go down in history as one of the first [to come back after] going home first. I kind of broke the stigma of leaving first and that being the worst thing ever. No knock to all the other ones that went home first and I didn't anticipate that happening either.
But even with Soju, I told her, "Girl, don't even worry about it. It's not how you fall, it's how you get up and it's not the end of the world. Because look, you have a cyst in your a** and you're still here." She's a first, too! The first one to come on there and say she's got a cyst. I'm sure there's been a lot of bitches with a cyst in their a** but nobody owned up to it. So, speak your mind and drink your cocktail and tell RuPaul, dead in his eyes, you got a cyst. I done made the whole interview about her. She better cut me a check. Shoutout to cyster, because we uplift her!
Speaking of sisters, did you make some friends for life out of this group?
Yes, of course! I love each and every one of them for different reasons. You know, you're stuck there. You have to clique up, because you can't go through this whole process without leaning on somebody. You can't be cold-hearted, so of course. We all built friendships and some of them are stronger, some of them you start kissin'.
RuPaul's Drag Race season 11 finale airs next Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on VH1.