Prizm News / March 7, 2019 / By Bob Vitale

Nina West was in the bottom three but survived Episode 1 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Guest judge Miley Cyrus said it would have been “un-American” to send her home so quickly.

‘If it had been an acting challenge first out of the gate, girl, forget about it,’ she tells Prizm. Episode 2 airs tonight.

By Bob Vitale

Nina West is back tonight for Episode 2 of Season 11 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Let’s just hope there’s no sewing involved.

- Advertisement -

In an interview this week with Prizm, Nina talked about Episode 1: how it felt walking into the workroom for the first time, how all that side-eye she gave surprised even her, how the antics of Silky Nutmeg Ganache eased the tension and, of course…

The Pimple Dress.

Episode 2 airs at 9 p.m. on VH1.

When you walked in to the workroom last week, you looked like that Midwest girl off the bus…  

Yeah! It really did feel like that! You walk into a television studio and you turn into the workroom. You’re going from a dark backstage area into a fully lit room, cameras everywhere. You’re not prepped. This is reality TV.  

They’re not giving you any instruction at all. They’re not telling you, “OK the cameras are going to be here, here, here and here when you walk in. It was, “All right, you’re walking in. And you’re like, oh my God, this is happening right now. 

There’s no prep. That’s good, because they’re trying to catch you in the moment, having reactions. And I have some of that! 

You gave some of the best side eye in that episode… 

Oh my god. I’m the Episode 1 Queen of Side Eye. I wonder if I can hold on to it for the next episode! 

Did you feel yourself doing that or did it surprise you that you were making those looks? 

No! Oh my gosh, no! You’re aware of the cameras. You have no idea what they’re catching. Especially in that first episode, everyone is so aware. You’re hyper-aware. None of us had done it, so you’re really hyper-aware that the cameras are always there. So the first episode, specifically, you could feel everyone on edge. 

Did Silky cut the tension or add to it?  

She’s a gigantic personality, of course. It was something to kind of break the ice a little bit. Her energy was definitely welcome because we’re all kind of sitting there, we’re all trying to feel each other out and she’s going ham. So you’re like, all right, cool, someone to kind of pull the attention a little bit so I can get a little more comfortable.   

It was honestly a welcome reprieve in the first 20 minutes in that workroom. It’s like, thank God. There’s someone here for a minute who’s going to get the energy in the room up, get everyone alive and awake.

When they said it was a sewing challenge, that must have been a fright. 

OK, so, it cuts to me saying, “Well I don’t know how to sew.” It’s in context. I know how to sew. But I am not a JD Martin. I am not a professional seamstress.  

The skills that I have are basic. I can do that tube dress that you saw. I can do a simple silhouette. It is definitely not my strong suit. I have the ability to sew, to put it together. It’s just not going to be good. 

So of course, knowing the show and being a fan of the show, I know probably Episode 1 is usually a creative design challenge. You know, like one of the seasons it was Drag on a Dime, where they went to a dollar store. Another season they had to make floats. 

I knew I was going to be asked to sew at some point, so I didn’t go unprepared. But it takes me forever. I am not fast. There are girls in the workroom who made their look in 30 minutes. It took me all of the allotted time. I’m just slow with it.  

If it had been an acting challenge first out of the gate, girl, forget about it. But of course, it’s a sewing challenge. So it definitely does quickly weed out the tops from the bottom. 

By the way, it’s so sweet you mentioned JD Martin. JD is married to my college roommate… 

I know! It’s a small world! 

You got started before “Drag Race” started. How has the show changed drag? 

Well, pre-“Drag Race” is also pre-YouTube tutorials, makeup tutorials, pre-sewing tutorials. 

I think I’m the last of the generation where you sat down next to another drag queen and they did half of your face and then you painted the other half of your face. By the next show you were blessed to paint your own face and you’re trying to figure it out and you’re asking other queens in the dressing room for feedback and critique and assistance.  

Now there’s so much access to how-to’s that I didn’t have when I first started. 

A lot of articles have picked up that I’m just more old-school drag. My drag is not influenced by YouTubers or Instagram personalities. My drag is more influenced by the Lady Bunnies, the Varla Jean Mermans, the Mary Ann Brandts, the Virginia Wests… The people who were doing drag before drag was on TV. 

What “Drag Race” has done is it’s opened up the world to the art form and made it really accessible. But that’s a Catch 22, right? Kids who don’t have access to going to a bar to see a drag show only know drag in this context. So you have to encourage people to step outside of the show to see other drag to really appreciate what the show is doing.  

Did you think 17 or 18 years ago that you’d make a living off performing? 

No, I didn’t. I’ve been basically full time doing drag for probably the last three years. I was only really part-time at Union and Axis, doing about 17 to 20 hours a week on some social media stuff.  

I was just feeling so burned out by having to punch a card every day and not just doing what I wanted to do. 

You have such a travel schedule coming up! I was looking on your website. 

And that’s not everything! It’s exciting. Thursday, I’m doing a viewing party at Marshall University. I’m doing a lot of colleges, which is really exciting and incredible, to be around students who are excited about the art of drag, who are watching the show. 

A friend of mine said last week that it’s so cool how this whole city has gotten behind a drag queen. 

I have tell you, it is really overwhelming. I just didn’t know. I knew that people were really invested in me. But I think this is really exciting because hopefully people feel like it’s bringing attention on Columbus. Hopefully it makes queer people feel like, “Yes! See, we have a really great gay community here! Our queer scene is really great!” 

Well from the previews of Episode 2, it looks like acting challenges are coming up, so that bodes better… 

Miley Cyrus saying it would be un-American to send me home was about the best thing I could have heard. I had no idea she said that. When you watch that with a room full of people and it erupts, you’re just like, ahhhh, that feels really good. 

That’s true! You were there, but there’s a lot of things you didn’t see or hear. You’re seeing it for the first time with everyone else. 

Watching it with an audience is a little nerve-wracking. You were there, you know what happens, but you don’t know what happened. I kind of know where it’s going to go, but oh my god, I didn’t know she said that about me! It’s a little harrowing. 

In those eight times you tried out for “Drag Race,” did they ever give you feedback on why you weren’t selected? 

It’s an audition process. They really don’t give feedback. It’s like anything you audition for. You don’t hear back usually. What World of Wonder/VH1 does is they send you an email: “Thanks so much for auditioning. We’ve selected our cast. Please try again next year. Don’t give up,” or whatever the email says.  

I really just relied on talking to other queens who would get on the show. “What am I missing?” And I’d show them my tape. I think what it really boiled down to was I kept giving them something I thought they wanted to see instead of just being myself. 

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: