Orion Story Talks Her Elimination, Lizzo & More – Billboard

At long last, RuPaul’s Drag Race has finally returned for its 14th main season, with a batch of new queens ready to vie for the crown, $100,000, and the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar. And off the bat, the queens in episode 1 pulled out all of the stops to show their skills.

In season 14’s first episode, which aired on Friday, Jan. 7, we met half of the cast for the show (with the other half being introduced in this week’s episode), as they were tasked with performing in RuPaul’s first-annual Charisma, Nerve & Talent Show. L.A. drag star Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté took home the first win of the season for her hilarious lip sync to an original song, while queens Orion Story and June Jambalaya became the first pair on the chopping block for their African dance and workout sketch comedy performances, respectively.

Performing in a lip-sync to Lizzo‘s “Water Me” — with guest judge Lizzo watching them, no less — both queens delivered the goods. But June’s fiery execution put her over the top, bringing an end to Orion’s story. Below, Billboard chats with Story about being the first eliminated queen, her thoughts on how she was judged, and what it was like to lip-sync to Lizzo in front of Lizzo.

It’s lovely to be speaking with you, although I wish it were under better circumstances. How are you feeling after your elimination in the premiere?

Honestly, I had a great experience. Everyone on set was so amazing, everyone was so nice and accommodating, and it was really cool. The biggest thing is that I really learned a lot about myself, I feel like. Even just through the audition process — there’s a lot of things that you don’t think you’ll be good at that you really surprise yourself. I thought my Snatch Game on my audition was going to be awful because I suck at impressions, and then I made it and was like, “This is really funny!”

The thing about Drag Race is that it’s kind of like therapy, in a way! The judges are very good at picking up on how you’re feeling. I for sure had a guard up on the show that I didn’t even know I had, and all of the judges immediately picked up on it. I thought about things differently after I got back from the show. I was going through a hard time when I got on the show — I was homeless, I was dealing with substance abuse issues, and I wasn’t really in my head when it came to the competition. I’m so competitive naturally, and I for some reason was just not allowing myself to get into the competitive spirit. I was so focused on everything else. So it helped me actually process some of that stuff.

How many times did you audition for the show?

I had made some practice tapes, but this was my first year auditioning. I just wanted to get familiar with the process, because I knew once I submitted, I wanted to get on. And honestly, I thought I would get on. [Laughs.] Like, honestly! I just really believe in myself! I had a good story to tell, I have a unique style, I’ve got my own spin on everything, and I think I’m always trying to push myself as far as I can go. Let’s be real — I’m a star, and I knew they would see that. I’m just hoping I was able to portray that with the small amount of time I had there.

You also spent that small amount of time representing for the Michigan queens as the first queen from the state cast on the show! Tell me a little bit about what the Michigan and Grand Rapids drag scene is like. 

The drag in Michigan is very pageant-based. I think lately, there have been a lot more styles starting to come through, and I think especially with me getting on the show, I’ve seen some people stepping up their game a little bit. I’ve had a lot of girls messaging me, saying “You’ve really inspired me to audition myself, my drag is valid.” A lot of the talk before I got on was about like “They don’t put Michigan girls on the show.” To which I was always like, “Is it that, or is it just y’all?.” [Laughs.] It’s true!

But now I’ve been getting so many messages — even from people who don’t do drag — saying they feel inspired seeing me go on the show as someone from Michigan, and that’s the one thing that’s been extremely heart-warming for me. So hopefully this opens the door, because there is a lot of talent in Michigan!

Let’s talk a little bit about your looks, specifically the one you wore down the runway — what inspired this toadstool fantasy that you presented to the judges?

I feel like they did me dirty for that! It was so cute! I felt like it was so unique, nobody has ever done that on Drag Race. Both my entrance look and my runway look were made by me — I will say, no, the wig was not the best. It looked a lot better when it was put in my suitcase, not gonna lie. But I wanted to give a little Mars Attacks, mod mushroom runway, and I thought I nailed it, to be honest. I guess they weren’t feeling it, but that’s whatever. [Laughs.]

Speaking of the judges not feeling things, they definitely took some issue with the sketch that you performed as your talent. What made you want to do something so out of the box for your talent?

So, the tea with that is that it was not my original choice for the talent show. I was originally planning on performing an original song, and I was going to do a puppet show with it. But when we were doing the song, I wasn’t happy with how it was sounding, and puppets take so long to make along with all of my outfits I was making for the show — so I just didn’t have a whole lot of time. I was like, “Okay, all of the other girls are probably going to be doing lip-syncs and stuff, what can I do quickly to stand out?”

That was 100 percent improv — none of it was rehearsed, it was all on the spot — and I came up with that character on the spot, too. They even said that it was a great idea, but that it was in early stages and needed some work. Like, “Yeah, that’s fair.” It was totally off the wall and unhinged and unrehearsed, so I get it. I thought it was funny, but I understand the critique, to be sure. At the time, I was also thinking about the curse, almost, of doing comedy for the talent show on Drag Race. I kind of figured, when I did it, that it may not work out well for me.

Well, you sadly ended up in the bottom with June Jambalaya, lip-syncing to “Water Me” by Lizzo, with Lizzo herself watching you do it. I have to imagine that is pretty stressful, to have the artist you’re performing to sitting there and watching you do it. 

Here’s the thing, for me — I was less concerned about Lizzo being there, because it was June and I lip-syncing. Like, my white ass trying to compete with f–king June in this lip sync? No, I was like, “I’m gonna have to pull out some wild stunts or something.” Because, let’s be clear; June is Lizzo. And she absolutely turned it out. But I didn’t go down without a fight!

No, you didn’t! It was great seeing you on the show — before we let you go, because this is Billboard, I wanted to ask what music you’ve been listening to lately. What artist, song or album has really been giving you life as of late, and helping inspire your future drag?

I really have been obsessed with Amber Mark. Every single song she’s put out sounds completely different, but every single song is a hit. There’s this one song in particular, “Worth It,” that I listen to all day, every single day. She’s so talented, I absolutely love her.

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