You can hear Océane Aqua-Black coming. The Quebec City drag queen has an infectious cackle that toes a line between infectiously exuberant and wickedly shady.
Aqua-Black’s laughter punctuates many of her sentences over Zoom as we do her post-elimination interview the morning after the second episode of Canada’s Drag Race season 2. She’s disappointed to have been the second contestant to go home but savvy enough to know that what comes next can be just as important: tour dates, viewing parties in Toronto and Vancouver and a new single.
“I would’ve liked to have lasted longer of course,” she says. “But I’m so grateful for everything that is coming my way and everything I got to do.”
Despite only appearing in two episodes of the reality competition, Aqua-Black managed to have some dramatic moments. She shared an emotional story in the Werk Room of being abandoned as a baby and then adopted. She also seemed to injure her knee while leaping into a pile of foam during a high-concept photo shoot—a moment that no doubt caused gasps of alarm among the Drag Race fandom.
Sidelining injuries among bigger queens are not uncommon on Drag Race and Aqua-Black’s dive came just after a contestant was forced to bow out of Drag Race U.K. season 3 due to a knee injury. And in 2017, Eureka, a popular queen from the U.S. version, left the show early following a cheerleading-related leg injury.
Aqua-Black says she soldiered through but never felt unsafe during filming. As Drag Race grows in popularity, so too are the athletic challenges and daredevil lip-sync tricks that can sometimes rocket a performer onto booking agents’ radars.
But having performed for 18 years in Quebec City, she’s more interested in the emotional side of rocking a crowd than wild stunts. She’s a big K-pop fan and lip syncs in multiple languages, including Korean. To that end, she’d like to see her English-speaking Canada’s Drag Race peers tackle a French pop hit on a future episode.
Unfortunately, her lip-sync skills were not enough to best Ottawa performer Icesis Courture during a lip sync face-off to "Stupid Shit", a 2008 song by made-for-TV pop group Girlicious that was a minor chart hit in Canada.
Her black-and-white (literal) tent dress impressed the judges, but Aqua-Black nonetheless landed in the bottom thanks to a confused clown performance during the circus-themed “Rusical” Under The Big Top. Pythia won the challenge with a memorable Ryan Murphy-meets-Stephen King turn on the main stage that gave the Montreal queen early one-to-watch status.
How did you become a drag queen?
Before doing drag I had a background in theatre. I was used to performing but I wasn’t used to performing as a drag queen. The fact that I was so at ease on the stage made people feel at ease also.
You’re known for lip sync-ing in multiple languages, including Spanish, German and Korean. Are you interested in languages?
I’ve always been fascinated by foreign languages. I think it’s beautiful. The world is such a vast place and there are so many ways to say the same thing. I will not say that I know what I’m singing about [laughs], but I work very hard. I listen to the song over and over again and I look at lyrics when it’s possible. I work my ass off because my lip syncs are always perfect. That’s something that’s important to me.
What’s your favourite slang word in French?
What I say at the beginning of every show: Salut gang de laids! Which means: bonjour uglies! I love saying that. It just puts people at ease. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not doing drag to be the most beautiful creature in the world. I’m doing drag because I want people to be entertained.
What’s it like going into the more tense, competitive world of Drag Race?
I was kind of nervous because there are so many different types of people in the world. I’m very social so I love everybody but there’s always that little something that sometimes happens. Drag queens are known to have big personalities and I have a big personality. And I’m going to be with 11 other people who also have big personalities. It’s intimidating in a sense but what I found there was a great sisterhood.
In episode one, you injured your knee jumping into a pit. How painful was that and how are you feeling now?
At first when that happened because I didn’t want to have the Eureka moment where I’m asked to return in another season because I can’t continue. If something happens to me I’m going to try and turn it into comedy and make something out of it. I’m in this situation but that doesn’t mean I’m beat. Yeah, I hurt myself but that won’t stop me to go further because this is a one-time opportunity.
Do you feel there is pressure on queens to do stunts and tricks as Drag Race becomes bigger?
That’s a good question. If I look at all the seasons, we clearly see that everything has evolved a lot but I don’t think things weren’t safe for us to do. They were always taking very good care of us. An accident can happen to anybody. It was a misfortune. I wouldn’t say it’s more dangerous but it’s definitely challenging. Of course the stakes are higher now that there’s 15 seasons, there’s the U.K. version and they have to keep the audience interested.
As someone who prides themselves on being a perfect lip sync-er, do you feel the need to do stunts?
I think nowadays a lot of people focus on the death drop and big things. For me, the base of entertaining is lip syncing. You can do all the stunts that you want. If you don’t know the words, if you’re presence is not there, it’s not going to have the same impact. I put more energy into practicing my songs so I can really convey an emotion rather than an acrobatic [feat].
You bombed in the circus challenge. How did it feel watching that back and the judges critiques?
I was nervous [watching the episode] at first because I knew what was coming. Of course I would have liked to stay but I understand the judgment because I wasn’t that good. I’m not a singer and I’m proud to say it. I’m not ashamed of it. I wasn’t offended or something – I just blew it. This challenge could have happened at week five, six or seven and I think the result would have been the same for me, unfortunately. Being a big girl, I felt like I couldn’t breathe at one point because there was so many moves going on and props. I couldn’t sing and dance at the same time. But that’s life. It’s a challenge.
Did you feel pressure to bring it to the design challenge now that people are stepping up the kind of things they’re bringing to the show?
The more the show evolves the more you see people put so much art into it. When I prepared each of my looks before coming to the competition, I always kept that in mind. I have to impress—everybody in the room wants to impress so I have to go bigger. I’m not a size six so I’m gonna do things big and impressive so people will still remember. I don’t do my own costumes but I design all of my looks. I was confident about that.
You’re a big fan of K-pop and have lip sync-ed in Korean. Do you think Drag Race should do a K-pop lip sync?
That could be fun. What I love about K-pop is the creativity and originality. There is something about the K-pop music and video artistry that is so polished and out of this world. It catches my eye the second I see them because that’s how I see myself: as someone who catches your eye the second you see me.
What I would like to see? Yeah, K-pop would be a really good idea in the franchise, but I would like to have some lip syncs in French. Quebec is part of Canada. I think it would mean more difficulties for my English sisters. English not being my first language, I always have to work a little bit harder when it comes to learning all the lyrics in the short amount of time. We don’t know which song we’re gonna do at which episode so you really have to learn everything. I would really love to see the girls struggle with the French [laughs].
Oh my god. Marie-Mai is so huge in Quebec City. She has so many energetic songs that could be featured in Drag Race. That could be really, really good.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Watch Kevin Ritchie's interview with Océane Aqua-Black in the video below.