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Naomi Smalls on booting Manila Luzon: ‘We’re co-workers, not best friends’

Naomi Smalls on booting Manila Luzon: ‘We’re co-workers, not best friends’

Naomi Smalls licking a lollipop

Drag Race’s Naomi Smalls (real name Davis Heppenstall) describes herself as a ‘tall glass of water’ with ‘legs all the way up to her asshole’.

The 25-year-old drag queen first entered the reality TV competition on season eight, when she was just 21 years old.

But don’t underestimate her age for lack of impact.

 

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Standing tall at six foot five inches (without heels) and over 1.3 million followers on Instagram, her legendary limbs stomped back into the workroom for All Stars 4, ready to snatch the crown.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though, with one controversial decision that split Drag Race fans across the globe.

Gay Star News exclusively spoke to Naomi Smalls to talk about everything from her iconic new meme queen status, rocky relationship with Manila Luzon and who she wants to see in the next instalment of All Stars.

First and foremost, congratulations on your top four place

Thank you so much!

For the first couple of episodes, a lot of the commentary online was that the judges and producers were overlooking you and some of your outfits on the runway. When you were watching it, did you think the same thing?

Not necessarily when I was watching it so much because I already went through the experience and kind of coping with it when I was there.

When I was at All Stars, I was definitely trying my best for every challenge. Even if it wasn’t good enough to be in the top two, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from doing my best the next week.

One of those challenges that you did so well in was that Wendy Williams snatch game and the fainting at the end was so good! Do you know if Wendy saw it?

I don’t know!

Unfortunately, Wendy went on a medical leave around the time that was finally coming out on air.

It’s such a shame but I was so excited to go back and really tackle snatch game as a character that I really cared so much about.

I’m obsessed with Wendy Williams, so it was an honor.

We really started to see what you were all about halfway through the season, when you came into your own with that lip sync against Gia Gunn with that now iconic backbend. How do you do that? Especially in heels – what’s your secret?

It’s so funny because if I tried doing that in flats, I can’t do it.

It’s only when I’m in heels and I’m feeling the adrenaline of being on that stage. For some reason, I all of a sudden have abs.

When Naomi really comes out, it’s my favorite.

 

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Then, of course, when you eliminated Manila, what was your reaction to the intense backlash from Drag Race fans?

It definitely opened my eyes to a different side of the fanbase.

But it didn’t really affect me emotionally or mentally, which actually surprised me in the end of all of that.

I didn’t know I could take all of that negative critique and not let it get to me. Instead, it just made me want to prove those people wrong.

What I do know is that I’m not a malicious person. The people I’m close to love me and I love them and that’s all I care about.

So what’s your relationship with Manila now?

I just saw Manila in Boston when we performed together. I think we’re great co-workers, for sure.

But the thing that a lot of people don’t necessarily know when they think about Drag Race is we’re all really strangers who just share an experience.

It’s kind of like summer camp.

I don’t know if you’re necessarily best friends with everyone you went to summer camp with. Because I’m not.

Some fans also noticed you unfollowed Manila on social media but you’re obviously in her music video and then there was a bit of tweeting back and forth between you two about that. Was that all a joke or was there a little bit of residual tension there?

It’s so crazy to me that that’s like a subject of conversation that people can magnify it that deeply when you see someone unfollowing someone else.

For me, Manila was posting tweets about if people don’t like the things that I’m doing, then to unfollow me.

So I didn’t necessarily like the things Manila was doing so that’s what I did. I unfollowed her.

 

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It really felt like this season of All Stars also seemed to be one of the most strategic – with Manila wanting to save Latrice and then both you and Monet wanting to get rid of Manila. Do you think All Stars is increasingly moving away from this premise of ‘doing the right thing’ when it comes to eliminating queens?

It’s so interesting.

‘Doing the right thing’ isn’t really up to everybody. We all make different decisions and we all kind of have our own brains and how we think.

The past couple of seasons of All Stars, I think, has trained the viewers to think that the game should go a certain way. But in my mind, I went to All Stars to compete for the crown and I was going to try to do anything to get myself to the crown and not try and bring anybody else up to it.

Everyone is entitled to play the game exactly how they want to play the game.

I watched it with some friends and we were all literally screaming when Manila’s elimination happened. But it got people talking and at the end of the day, it was so entertaining. That’s what reality shows are all about – entertainment – right?

Yeah, it’s the same people who are saying ‘Oh my gosh, this show is over’ when something like that happens are the same people who are saying ‘the show is so boring and predictable’.

What I’ve realized is you can’t win every time with the fan base.

Speaking of winning, what was your reaction to the two winners, Trinity and Monet?

You know, that is not how I remember it being filmed when I was there.

I was surprised at it and I think everyone watching it [was surprised] too. The edit kind of said it all.

I don’t think anyone was expecting that to happen.

There was also the fact they weren’t ever shown standing next to each other wearing two identical crowns.

Right! A couple of giveaways.

The best thing about this season were the memes of you. You had the backbend, then you saying ‘Honestly, I don’t give a fuck’ and ‘Life’s not fair’. What’s it like seeing your own face in viral memes plastered across the internet?

It’s definitely great because I’m such a child of the internet.

So to be the meme queen of the season – very unintentionally – is an honor.

I’ve had so much fun doing it. The things that I was in the top two for, are things that people are going to remember forever.

Also, Club 96…

People are still talking about that! I have to ask: how do people get on the guest list to Club 96?

You have to be tall, chic and believe in the french vanilla fantasy.

Your new song Pose features the hilarious bald reveal from All Stars, but also your good friend Kim Chi. When are we going to see your season eight sister follow in your footsteps on All Stars?

You know, I don’t know!

I think that Kim and I always went into RuPaul’s Drag Race with the mindset that we weren’t super into making music. But what I’ve realized is with making music, you get to transport your audience to a completely different factor of the world you put your drag persona in.

We can do that with music.

What Kim and I have really enjoyed right now is doing the Werq the World tour and we can transport our audience. Our only limit is imagination. On the Werq the World tour, you get to see us performing at our 100%.

When does the tour finish up?

It was just in Asia and Australia and we’re coming to Europe in April. So get your tickets online.

Who do you think should be on the next season of All Stars?

I would love to see Tammie Brown back on All Stars. Yeah, I think the two that I’d love to see come back are Nina Flowers and Tammie Brown.

You’re known as the fashion queen – what was your reaction to Karl Lagerfeld passing away last week?

It was such a shame. You can say Karl led such an amazing, amazing, incredible life.

I’m sure the things he was doing, as a child, he would never imagine doing.

Your body is absolutely incredible – how do you keep in shape? Especially when you’re on the road all the time?

It’s not easy while on a tour bus or constantly back and forth in airports.

Before All Stars, I was hitting the gym every single day just trying to get tight and right so I could have the ability to backbend if I needed to.

Every single time I go out now, I think it’s the rush of the crowd that helps me get into the zone. That’s where I find my time to work out – on stage now.

 

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After the tour, do you have any exciting projects or plans coming up?

I’ve started really exploring the idea of having my docu-series, Smalls World, be more of an on-stage experience and I want to have my own solo show in the upcoming year.

The solo show would be called Smalls World and it will have a lot of visuals and narration, but also broken up with numbers that I curate for that audience.

Any plans for when you’ll be in the UK?

I’m really excited to come to London for the Werq the World show. I’ll also be at G.A.Y bar on 14 March.

I love London and I’m really excited to come back.

What I really enjoy when I come to Europe is that somebody can be so young – a lot of our shows are 18 and up – but since the drinking age is so much lower overseas, the kids have a way more mature outlook on life.

They seem like they’ve been through it and they’re grown up already.

In the States, our drinking level is 21 and that’s when people are still partying and finding themselves and going a little crazy.

But in the UK, they’re a little more grown up and have a better outlook on the reality of life and how to treat people.

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The RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World tour is coming to Europe, starting from 1 April. North and South American tour dates are coming soon.

Hosted by Michelle Visage, it features fan favorites Aquaria, Asia O’Hara, Detox, Eureka O’Hara, Kameron Michaels, Kim Chi, Monét X Change, Naomi Smalls and Violet Chachki. For more information or to buy tickets, check out Voss Events.

See also:

Shangela makes history as first-ever drag queen on the Oscars red carpet

Here’s every RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 queen out of drag (NSFW)

Monét X Change reveals who she wants to win All Stars 5 and we’re gagged