Saturday, November 17, 2018
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Miss Vanjie talks her ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ exit, memes, drag roots

Tampa might have the worst track record when it comes to contestants on RuPaul's Drag Race.

Both queens who hail from the Cigar City were eliminated right away during their seasons. Alisa Summers was the first boot on Season 4 in 2012. Then on Season 10, in late March, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, 26, was the first to sashay away.

But that won't be Vanjie's legacy, not exactly. Instead, she will be remembered for her absurd runway exit in which she repeated "Miss Vanjie" — in different cadences — as she walked off as the surviving queens, RuPaul and the other judges, including guest Christina Aguilera, looked on.

The moment became an instant viral hit and has spawned a flurry of memes, even reducing RuPaul to barely contained laughter. And now later in the season, queens and judges keep murmuring, "Miss Vanjie, Miss Vanjie."

"I was thinking it would probably get edited out or was not going to be shown," Vanjie said about her exit in a recent phone interview with tbt*. "It wasn't until after I was eliminated and we had to film stuff with the other girls … (that) they were telling me how much they loved the 'Miss Vanjie' thing."

Months later, Vanjie still cannot wrap her mind around the fervor surrounding her exit.

"But (the memes) are funny as hell," she said. "I love the one where I'm in The Shining and they got me looking like a crazy serial killer."

Before she became a self-proclaimed meme queen, Vanjie grew up in Orlando and lived in Texas before moving to Tampa for her career.

"I was working more in Tampa for drag, and right around when I started performing, the tragedy of Pulse happened," she said.

On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and dozens more injured in a mass shooting during the Orlando gay club's Latin night.

"It kind of shook everyone up," Vanjie said. "People were scared to go out and perform."

RELATED: RuPaul's Drag Race star Coco Montrese on St. Pete Pride 2018, the Pulse shooting and compassion from police

Vanjie moved to Tampa because she was getting booked more in the Cigar City, which is also where her drag family lives. Her drag surname — Mateo — comes from her drag mother, Alexis Mateo, 38, another RuPaul's Drag Race alum. Alexis Mateo, representing St. Pete, was named the second runner-up to the crown for 2011's Season 3. In 2012's All Stars 1, she made it to the top five before being eliminated.

"She gave me lots of advice before I went on the show," Vanjie said. "But one thing that stuck with me was, 'If you read somebody, make sure you read them with a smile.'"

The two met through mutual friends years ago when Vanjie was performing for a dance company and Alexis called in a favor to borrow some of the dancers for pageants. They became friends and danced for drag pageants including some for fellow Drag Race alums, most notably Coco Montrese.

But when did Vanjie go from backup dancer to queen? One night after a dance rehearsal, Alexis suggested Vanjie enter a St. Pete talent show with a prize of $500 at the Flamingo Resort.

"I said I would do it if my other friend did it," Vanjie said, "He does not do drag. Me naming him was me thinking, 'Okay he is not gonna do it,' so I'm good."

But her out wasn't a guarantee. Soon Vanjie was in a wig and tights, on her way to the Flamingo. That night, she performed Nicki Minaj's Anaconda and "tore down the house."

"When I tell you I thought I was Nicki Minaj reincarnated times 20 — I didn't have no body like Nicki — but when I was performing, I thought I was a full stripper," she said.

Vanjie enjoyed the show enough to keep performing as a drag queen.

"And that is what you're gonna get from a Miss Vanjie show: a lot of shenanigans, big hair and a lot of face," Vanjie said. "I like to treat everybody at my shows like I'm their sister, cousin, auntie or even their uncle."

Hopefully, it won't be too long before Tampa Bay fans can see their Drag Race meme queen. For now, she's on tour from Seattle to Australia.

You can catch Vanjie on Thursday's 8 p.m. reunion special of RuPaul's Drag Race on VH1.

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