Since winning Season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — the hit reality TV competition series — Jaida Essence Hall’s glittering star has steadily risen. But she’d be the first to tell you how stupefied she remains about her ongoing success, especially given her humble beginnings.
Still, from the get-go, confidence has always been key for Hall, even while growing up in Milwaukee, where she couldn’t help but stand out.
“I was probably one of the only people you could see in my neighborhood and identify as queer,” she said. “The way I walk, the way I talk, no matter what I did — there was just no way for me to hide who I was.”
Empowerment through drag
In the early 2010s, Hall discovered her creative voice through pageantry and performance, gradually finessing her approach to the art of transformation.
“[Before] I started doing drag, my partner would do hair shows [and do my hair, too],” she said. “And I was like, ‘OK, well, if I’m doing all these crazy fun things with my hair, maybe I should play with makeup, and then whoopi — I was like, maybe I should just dress up one day and see what happens.’
“And drag allowed me to freely express who I was fully. It was almost like when you’re around other people and you need to code-switch.”
Hall also gives props to the drag scene for broadening “people’s minds toward queerness. Drag queens have always been at the forefront of pushing the ‘gay agenda,’ if you will — we’ve always been making sure that we’re seen and heard.”
After snagging several local titles, she wowed the crowd at a Milwaukee Bucks halftime show in 2019. But it was her dignified, determined, unwavering — and at times tempestuous — performances on RuPaul’s coveted TV series that rocketed her to stardom, eventually winning her the 12th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2020. And that’s no small feat.
Hall credits the show for expanding the world’s consciousness and acceptance of drag performance: “That’s the thing I love the most about it: it has opened doors for people to not even have to be on the show to find success in drag.”
Melding sass, class, and muliebrity with unabashed fierceness, Hall has become a household name for drag enthusiasts — walking high-fashion runways, appearing on the seventh season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” (an all-winners spinoff), and swaggering on multiple domestic/international contestant-tours, such as “Drive ‘N Drag,” “Werq the World,” and “A Drag Queen Christmas.” Plus, she’s become a fashion designer and makeup artist in her own right, and was a featured performer on Rihanna’s multidisciplinary Savage X Fenty Fashion Show Vol. 2.
Diversity in representation
In addition to being a creative force to be reckoned with, Hall is all about pushing for diversity in representation, encouraging people of color — and anyone, really — to be themselves, to have no fear, to be proud of their identity, and to flourish in their creative expression. That goes for the makeup industry as well.
“I remember back in the day when you went to the store to grab a CoverGirl [product] and, girl, you’d get the one that’s closest,” she said. “And you had to be real creative with contours and blushes, and you’d better know how to blend using charcoal eyeshadows and doing whatever you could to get it together.
“I think Rihanna was one of the first to really birth it wide open and be like, ‘Hey, people come in different notches, in different shades, in different tones. We are not all the same.’”
Hall also recalls when a fan once told her they wouldn’t have had the gumption to reveal their true self if it hadn’t been for watching her elevate the craft — on “Drag Race” and beyond, including her show-residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas. And she can’t/won’t stop promoting the highest potential that drag can achieve, like on her podcast with Heidi N Closet (named “Hall & Closet”), which was recently nominated for a 2023 Queerties award.
“I was on the phone with my mother and was talking to her about some of the stuff I’ve [been doing], like walking [the runway] at New York Fashion Week,” Hall said. “I used to carry Vogue magazines around, and as a Black boy from Milwaukee, I’d think that stuff would never happen for me. But the things that I’ve always dreamed of are becoming true. If not for drag, they may not have happened at all.”