As Season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to an end with the Grand Finale, you can expect one of the franchise’s most successful queens to have some uplifting words. Laganja Estranja, Class of Drag Race Season 6 and one of the most viral Lip Sync Assassins who guested on All Stars 6, can provide thoughtful commentary on Season 14 not just because of her background with the show, but also because she’s gotten to know and work with several of the most recent contestants.
RuPaul’s Drag Race fans got to see more from Laganja on The Pit Stop this season, where she mentioned to host Monet X Change that she’d known and worked with DeJa Skye in California for years. And just before Laganja sat down with Honeysuckle, she’d been part of a spectacular “Night of 1000 JLos” tribute to Jennifer Lopez for the IHeartRadio Awards, where Lopez received an ICON Award and numerous Drag Race alumni - including Season 14 queens Jorgeous, Alyssa Hunter and Kerri Colby - danced in her honor wearing their best JLo ensembles. The number also nodded to the “Night of 1000 JLos” runway challenge that was seen on Episode 4 of Season 14 (and controversially brought Alyssa Hunter into the lip sync that sent her home).
Laganja, now an LGBTQIA+ icon in her own right who was named one of America’s most powerful drag queens by New York magazine, bared all with Honeysuckle as she shared her thoughts on the show, the evolution of drag, and new surprises in her own life as an artist.
Watch Honeysuckle's interview with Laganja Estranja!
All About Laganja Estranja
Jay Jackson, AKA Laganja Estranja, is a world-renowned performer, choreographer, music artist, and cannabis advocate. A U.S. Presidential Scholar in The Arts, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance and choreography from the California Institute of the Arts before launching herself to stardom by competing in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Since then, Laganja has rooted herself as an established entrepreneur, choreographer and an industry-revered talent. Today, Laganja continues to be an integral member of the dance, cannabis, acting and LGBTQ+ activism communities. Regularly performing at festivals and events across the globe, Laganja has to date worked in fourteen countries spanning five continents.
Her television appearances include So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, Germany’s Next Top Model, Bong Appetite, MTV’s Music Video Awards with Miley Cyrus and the American Music Awards with Christina Aguilera. Laganja’s original music, videos and social media content including YouTube and the drag-centric platform World of Wonder (which produces Drag Race) have garnered hundreds of millions of views online.
Laganja Estranja and RuPaul’s Drag Race
Fans first encountered Laganja Estranja on Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The drag daughter of Alyssa Edwards, who competed on Season 5 and All Stars 2, Laganja became known for her inimitable and eminently meme-able moments, particularly her entrance with the line, “Let’s get sickening!” and a deathdrop fall.
In Summer 2021, Laganja made a surprise appearance on All Stars 6 as one of the Lip Sync Assassins, doing battle against the queen voted in the bottom of that week’s episode. Going head to head with Trinity K. Bonet, who had also competed on Season 6, Laganja won the lip sync to Dua Lipa’s “Physical” in one of the most-watched performances of the competition. (The clip of the battle currently has 3.5 million views on YouTube.)
Watch Laganja Estranja's viral lip sync on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6!
Laganja Estranja Talks RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 14
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: You had the Night of 1000 JLos tribute for IHeartRadio and got to work with so many Drag Race alumni, including some of the Season 14 queens! That must have been cool.
LAGANJA ESTRANJA: Yes, that was awesome. Morgan McMichaels actually cast the piece, who’s one of my OG sisters from Drag Race, so it was wonderful to be with her and also to meet some of the new girls like Jorgeous who I’d never worked with, and also to have a huge amount of trans representation with Sasha Colby and Kerri Colby and me there. Yeah, it was a really wonderful experience and JLo was great to work with.
This season is so interesting because we are seeing much more trans representation. Five of the Season 14 contestants - Bosco, Jasmine Kennedie, Kerri Colby, Kornbread “The Snack” Jete, and Willow Pill - have come out as trans to date, with Jasmine actually making that announcement on an episode of Untucked.
Absolutely, yes. I don’t think there’s been a season that’s had so many, or at least told their stories quite like this season.
You came out publicly as trans this past summer. For where you are on your journey, what is it like to see that kind of trans representation on the show now?
I’m just grateful. I think the show has been criticized for a long time for not featuring trans stories because trans stories are so crucial to the drag landscape, so I’m just grateful that there is the visibility and that the franchise is recognizing how important it is to celebrate these individuals.
You were on The Pit Stop and gave some color commentary early on in Season 14, but have you been keeping up with it since?
I’m still a huge fan of the show, so I watch it every episode; even though I’m very busy I always try to make time to watch the episode. I will admit it’s not my favorite season. I think there [aren’t] a lot of outlandish characters the way there was in my season, Season 6, but I’m always going to be a fan of the show and I’m always going to find ways to enjoy it. It is my art form at the end of the day. So while I may have critiques or wish that things were changed or that people were not so afraid to be dramatic, I’m always going to find the good in it.
Laganja Estranja’s Favorite Season 14 Queens and Moments
By now you’ve been able to get to know several of the Season 14 queens. It seems like all the Drag Race contestants remain very close after the show is over.
Well, it depends. Obviously we don’t all make friends and stay friends forever. But we have those that we do form relationships with and stay close with. I’m very lucky to be removed from the franchise pretty much at this point, so I make friends with everyone and give all the new girls a chance and try to be a good alumnae to them.
Who have been your favorites this season?
I’m definitely rooting for Lady Camden. I got to work with her in San Francisco at Club Beaux. She’s a fellow dancer as well so obviously we related to each other on that level. She’s just a really kind, sweet girl and I really enjoyed working with her, so obviously having that personal connection to her has made watching her on the show that much more fun. I really love Jorgeous as well. As I mentioned, I just got to work with her and I think she’s great. I love her style. I definitely love Kerri... I think she’s an amazing performer and beautiful. But I really do root for all the girls. DeJa Skye is one of my dear friends. I’ve known her for years and years. I’m happy to see her [having made it so] far into the game. Like I said, I really do - I root for all the girls. I know how hard it is, and I know that we’re seeing an edited version of the show. So I think all the girls deserve their kudos.
I remember you saying you’d worked with DeJa Skye before, in California.
Yeah, out in Fresno. She’s been in a club called Fab Fresno. So many happy memories there. So I’m glad to see that she’s out there repping Fresno and is doing it so well.
As both a fan of the show and a veteran, what would you say are the highlights of Season 14?
Oh gosh. It’s hard for me to pinpoint my specific favorite moments. Something that comes to my mind is “Punch the Ghost” from Jorgeous. I thought that was really funny and of course it’s tied to a dance move, so that’s something that I remember. I enjoyed the fart challenge. I know that’s not the actual name - the Daytona Wind, I believe. I thought that was a really great, strong episode. And there’s also been some really amazing lip syncs. Some that I wouldn’t have judged the winner [as] the winner, ie, Alyssa Hunter against Kerri Colby, but I think it’s been a great season. Although, like I said, it hasn’t been my favorite, I think there [have] been a lot of shining moments. And I’m just excited to see the brand continue to grow and find new girls and continue to show the world what makes drag so special.
What would have made this season pop a little more, in your opinion?
I think casting has gotten more generic. You know, we have the Puerto Rican queen. We have the villain. It’s just missing its combustion like there was on my season or Season 5. I consider Seasons 5 and 6 to be the classic seasons where people were not so scared of being themselves on TV and being worried about repercussions. I also feel nowadays that it’s concentrated on girls who are popular on Instagram and that doesn’t necessarily translate so well to television. So I think it really does come down to casting and also just the Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent of the individuals.
Intergenerational Friendships and the Evolution of Drag
We did have this long period of lockdown where performers in all mediums had to be content with doing stuff at home and broadcasting through social media. Because the girls on this season are so young, they probably have that as more of a frame of reference rather than performing live and that’s shaped their approach to the craft.
Sure, I definitely can see that point. I think you hit it on the head with that word “young”. These girls are all very young. When you look at my season, we had me, who was very young, versus Bianca [del Rio], who was much more established and that’s how you have a dynamic season with all these different perspectives. When you have just a bunch of young people, I don’t find it as dramatic and over the top, and that’s what I look for when it comes to drag.
There’s a lot to be said for intergenerational friendships, which is probably why you and photographer/multihyphenate artist Robert Hayman are best friends.
Yeah, absolutely. India Arie has a song, she says, “If old people would talk to young people and young people would talk to old people, we’d be a better people,” and I really believe in that. I believe in learning from our elders but I also believe that our elders could learn something from talking to us young’uns.
It’s the only way to know how we’re evolving as a culture.
There seems to be an interesting intergenerational divide in the drag community. Those in their 30s are feeling very removed from the ones in their 20s and there’s this specific Gen Z humor that’s very different.
I think that’s common, though. I think when I stepped onto the scene, people who were older felt that way about me. I think that’s just the cycle of life and… that’s just amplified in drag because with each new generation comes a new take on drag. The pageant drag used to be very big and that has slowly and surely phased out as these new Instagram kids come in and make it more about fashion and less about over the top glam and big drag jewels. So things just begin to shift. Even for me, when I come in and look at these new girls, I feel very removed and very like, “Oh my gosh, they’re so much younger than me and I’m the old one.” I just went on tour with a bunch of girls from later seasons and I was the oldest one there. And I’m only 33, I’m not old. So it’s just natural. I think it’s the cycle of life and it’s both positive and negative. That’s why I always say if we can learn from each other and still keep the old with the new, that’s the best of both worlds.
Laganja Estranja and Cannabis Advocacy
You have this wonderful mission with cannabis and Honeysuckle has been able to follow that journey along. We’re seeing the LGBTQIA+ community become more visible in cannabis; how does your advocacy work in each of those communities parallel?
They parallel for me because they’re both two groups that have been ostracized and treated as unequal. That’s how they run parallel to me. I see the cannabis community as having to fight for the right for it to be called medicine, and I see the queer community as having to fight for rights to just exist. That’s pretty much the parallel for me. I think the two sectors are fighting for the right to be seen as equal.
Laganja Estranja on Dance and Choreography
You do so much physically as a dancer, and cannabis is probably the only way that you can do that. I know that you started using cannabis as medication after an injury, but you’re doing all those death drops and twisting your legs. How are you not going home in pain every night?
Well, I am going home in pain every night, and that’s why I’m actually starting to phase a lot of that out… You have to listen to your body, and yes, cannabis does help a lot with recovery and preparation, but at the end of the day, I’m looking to not only transition my gender but transition my job and just focus more on choreography and writing a book and other things that don’t require me to jump off scaffolding onto my back.
You know, it’s a process. This is what people expect from me, this is how I’ve created a name for myself, but I think slowly and surely people are going to realize that I’m an amazing performer with or without tricks. And I just have to listen to my body and understand that I’ve done this now for 10+ years. And I remember when my drag mother Alyssa Edwards didn’t do as much dance-wise onstage, and I’d always be like, “Why, why, why? She’s just phoning it in.” And I completely get it now as we get older. Drag is already extremely hard on the body. And so to be that physical on top of all the other things you’re already doing, like supergluing earrings or nails or things of that nature to your body and tucking, it’s just a process, and you have to find a new way to show your personality and show what you have.
As a choreographer, do you make dancers work really hard? Do they do all the deathdrops now?
Well, not exactly. I’m not pushing people past their limits, but I definitely am very strict on people and I expect the best. I just worked with [Drag Race alums] Trixie [Mattel] and Katya on their tour and yes, both of them left the studio exhausted every night for sure. But I like to think that my level of fierceness is very kind. I’m not like a Bob Fosse who’s going to keep you in the studio and make you rehearse everything over and over and over.
What’s your ideal vision of dance?
I love all forms of dance. I grew up in the contemporary world, so that’s definitely something that I hold very near and dear to my heart. But I love Broadway, I love jazz funk, I love hip hop, so I’d like to do it all. I really would. I’d love to choreograph for Broadway, I’d love to choreograph a Cirque du Soleil, I’d love to choreograph a Target commercial. I think that’s the great thing about being a choreographer, is I have many different movement vocabularies that I can pull from and many different references, so I hope to just continue to expand my portfolio and do it all.
What’s Next for Laganja Estranja?
What projects are coming up that you’re most excited about? You and Robert Hayman have been shooting your YouTube series Muse Me for the past couple years. Are you still in the middle of that?
We’re actually not right now. We’re on hold. We’re talking to a company to produce the third season which we’re really excited about and hoping that everything goes through. Until contracts are signed, we’re not spilling the tea, but we’re pretty certain that that is going to be picked up and fully produced so we won’t be using our iPhones anymore, which is exciting.
I’m also working on new music as always. I’m going to be putting out a new single this summer called “Daily Basis,” with a music video that will be directed by Robert Hayman, of course. And I have a movie coming out where I’m playing opposite [Drag Race alum] Alaska, called God Save the Queens. I’m really excited for people to finally see it. We made it back in 2020 during Corona, so I’m really excited to see that released and be out to the world. And of course I’m performing all over, all the time, every week, so I’m here literally in LA for two days, this being one of them. And I’m off to Boston this week and I’ve got [Provincetown] coming up for 420 and I’m starting to do some more college gigs. It’s just go, go, go over here. So there’s a lot of exciting things from me coming soon.
For more on Laganja Estranja, visit laganjaestranja.com.