RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Nina West talks LGBTQ advocacy and her new holiday single

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 06: Nina West speaks on stage during "RuPaul's Drag Race" - Emmy FYC Panel & Reception at Wolf Theatre on June 06, 2019 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for VH1)
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 06: Nina West speaks on stage during "RuPaul's Drag Race" - Emmy FYC Panel & Reception at Wolf Theatre on June 06, 2019 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for VH1) /

Culturess catches up with RuPaul’s Drag Race fan favorite Nina West who talks about keeping the holiday spirit alive amid COVID, working with Dolly Parton, and gives us the lowdown on her new holiday single, Cha Cha Heels.

RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Nina West, who won Miss Congeniality during her season, spoke with Culturess about keeping the holiday spirit alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic, what it was like collaborating with Dolly Parton, her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (FYI: She’s Team Spuffy), and gives us the details on her new holiday single “Cha Cha Heels.”

Although she placed sixth in season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Nina’s career hasn’t slowed down since her time on the hit reality series. Just last year, she made history at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards when she became the first-ever person to walk the carpet in full drag. Her season won five Emmy Awards that night, including Best Reality Competition Show. She also released her first Christmas EP, The West Christmas Ever, featuring Disney legend Jim Cummings, which debuted at #5 on the Billboard Comedy Charts.

This year, her animated short Coaster was shortlisted for a 2020 Oscar. She relaunched her podcast, “Dragcast with Nina West,” and has featured guest celebrities such as Glenn Close, Patricia Clarkson, Daisy Ridley, Tituss Burgess, Kristin Chenoweth, and more. She signed on as a Pantene spokesperson and was featured in several hilariously funny commercials earlier in the year. Nina also partnered with country music legend Dolly Parton to produce a line of apparel and accessories called the “Kindness is Queen” collection, which helped raise money for LGBTQ+ youth charities and children’s literacy programs.

As is the case with most entertainers, the coronavirus pandemic put a serious dent in Nina’s work schedule for the later part of 2020, but she made lemonade out of lemons by taking to the internet and going viral with her Halloween musical tribute to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Culturess spoke with the charming drag superstar via phone about her new holiday single “Cha Cha Heels” and what inspires her this holiday season.

Culturess: A lot of fans felt like you were robbed when you were eliminated in season 11. Like Manila Luzon getting eliminated in All-Stars 4 robbed. Was it hard to be competitive without “playing dirty”?

Nina West: For me, it was like fight or flight. I was just doing my best to keep my head above water. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and, conversely, the most rewarding.

None of us, aside from Vanjie (Mateo), had ever done reality television, so everyone just appeared as who they are in real life. No one was typecast as “the mean one” or “the innocent one.” People were who they were, there just happened to be cameras recording it. I wasn’t surprised by anyone’s actions, I was surprised by some of the things that were said during the confessionals, but I wasn’t surprised by what happened.

Culturess: What was it like working with Dolly Parton on the Kindess is Queen campaign?

West: COVID has been a very challenging thing for everyone. When the pandemic started, I was in NYC to see a show on Broadway when it had just been announced that Broadway was closing down. Rumor had it that Trump was going to ground all flights and I was worried about getting home [to Ohio]. I saw my entire calendar evaporate before my eyes. I was freaking out and wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to pivot [to] what COVID drag would look like.

Then, the opportunity to work with Dolly fell into place. It was an absolutely unexpected, beautiful surprise to come out of this pandemic. I don’t think it would’ve happened under different conditions. It has been the greatest collaboration of my professional career. She is, for all intents and purposes, a true living legend. This is a woman who gave a million dollars to find a COVID vaccine. She uses her platform to support the LGBTQ, always has. She is wickedly perverse but never vulgar. She is perfect.

Culturess: And she also financed the production company behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  which is a nice segue into my next question. You put together an awesome BTVS tribute music video for Halloween. What was it like putting that together? And how did you get Anthony Stewart Head to join in?

West: It was so much fun but we were working to the nose on that. We were filming and doing the animation at the same time, so we had to make sure it stayed synced. It became this really goofy, serious love fest. A full-circle moment.

I love this thing [BTVS] so much and I’m going to do something to celebrate it. I can write a song about Buffy and do it with Taran Killam from SNL and celebrate it. Anthony Stewart Head came in at the last minute, and he was kind, gracious, and funny–giving us wonderful takes.

Culturess: Of all the tributes you could have done for the holidays, why did you pick John Waters films?

West: It’s a really funny story. I wrote the [West Christmas Ever] EP in July 2019 as a holiday album that would represent what I’m used to. Drinking with friends, putting up with relatives, but there was also a campy side to it as well. An honest, high-camp vibe.

Female Trouble was the entire inspiration, so the video for “Cha Cha Heels” opens with the scene of Dawn Davenport not getting her cha cha heels for Christmas and throwing the tree on her mom and everything. It’s all so reckless, trashy, imperfect, and it was real and relatable in its own way. I had planned to do a big Hairspray-type production, but COVID interfered, so I had to work with the people who were already inside my bubble. Thanks to the director, we were able to celebrate three different John Waters films.

Dawn Davenport is the hero we need this holiday season, and thanks to John Waters, I am excited to bring that energy to life and have a very Baltimore-y Christmas! Everyone deserves a pair of black cha cha heels!

You can view the video for “Cha Cha Heels” by Nina West below:

Culturess: With everything that the LGBTQ community has been through in 2020, what do you hope to see in 2021?

West: I hope that if you’re reading this in Georgia, you’re registered to vote. You can register up until January 5th to vote in the runoff election.

There are some serious tasks at hand to see about. We need to see about opening up the conversation again and talk to each other as people. I miss having political conversations, spirited talks about how to make the world better. There are definitely some things in our culture that we learned a lot about to discuss.

On a personal level, I hope that I get to experience live theater and performances again. A shared communal experience and reacting to live art. It’s really important and it’s really needed. I’m looking forward to getting back to that.

Next. Shoshana Bean reflects on Wicked, shares her hopes for Broadway’s return. dark

Is Nina West your favorite Miss Congeniality from RuPaul’s Drag Race? Let us know in the comments section below.