Phi Phi O'Hara
When Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race airs later this month, the world will learn what Phi Phi O’Hara and her legion of loyal “phan-atics” already know: Boystown’s hottest female drag star is truly phierce. And, depending on her mood, she’s also phabulous, phreaky, and phine. (Adding a “ph” to various descriptives is a trademark Phi Phi O’Hara move, particularly on Facebook, er, Phacebook.)
Phi Phi O’Hara—host of the Dollhouse Drag Revue at Spin nightclub every Thursday—is one of three Chicago drag superstars vying for a $100,000 cash prize and the coveted title of “American’s Next Drag Superstar” on Logo’s smash-hit reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, premiering January 30.
Ms. O’Hara (Jaremi Carey) is also a licensed optician—a fitting profession for a competition where contestants must possess keen powers of observation and the ability to maintain an unwavering eye on the prize—no matter what criticisms the panel of judges sling their way.
The Redeye caught up with the 26-year-old Texas transplant to drag out the juicy details of the upcoming new season.
You’re originally from San Antonio. What drew you to the Windy City, Phi Phi?
I’ve been in Chicago for about three years. Chicago is a mini New York City, but it’s a lot cleaner and a lot nicer. The thing about Chicago, compared to San Antonio, is that it’s really open-minded and accepting of all types of art and culture, and there’s more opportunity to grow in the entertainment field. I had to hide who I was walking down the street in San Antonio. I would get ready at the club and stuff. I couldn’t be openly gay in Texas, but here I can be.
In the past, I was not recognized out of drag, but now everyone knows who I am! In the promos, they show me as a boy, so it’s gotten out. (Laughs.) People on Facebook have been tagging my boy page too, so it’s definitely out there. When people see me on the street, they usually say something like, “Oh my god, you are on the show—I am so excited for you!” Everyone wants teasers, and I always say, “Girl, just watch the show!” Everyone is very supportive.
As this Q&A is for the Redeye’s Boystown neighborhood page, I’ve got to ask you: What are some of your favorite haunts in Boystown to meet boys, eat, shop, hang out?
I have a boyfriend, so the “meeting boys” part is done. (Laughs.) As for dining out, I love Nookies. I love to shop at Beatnix, and I love Spin, Roscoe’s, Scarlet, and Minibar.
There are a total of three girls from Chicago on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Did you know each other before the show?
Princess is not originally from Chicago, and she performs outside of the city a lot, so we didn’t hang out too much before the show, but now we are real close. DiDa [Ritz] actually lived with me for a while, prior to both of us being cast on the show. It’s funny—I guess [the producers] didn’t know that before we started filming! The whole process is stressful, so to have DiDa there, someone who I could vent to, was a big help.
Word on the street is that you only auditioned once before you were cast on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is rare, as many of these girls audition multiple times for a coveted spot on the show.
It actually was my first time auditioning for the show. Before that, I didn’t feel like it was my time yet. Drag is a whole process of learning, and I am still learning.
What do you think set you apart from others who auditioned for the show?
Honestly? I felt I could school these girls. I wanted to shine out. (Pause). A lot of girls have only one look, and I like to do complete transformations. I have multiple Phi Phi looks. I really like it when people say “I didn’t even know that was you” and I think I showed that in my audition video. I am a tiny person, but I am cutthroat and in it to win. I don’t have to take crap from anyone—I have had that happen my entire life. So, if I have to be brutal, well, it’s a game, and you have to play the game to win.
What was the inspiration for your stage name?
My original drag name was Phoenix O’Hara. My friends in Texas helped me pick that name because they said I brought fire to the stage! (Laughs.) Once I moved to Chicago, people started calling me “Phonics,” but I didn’t really like that. Then, people started calling me “Phi Phi” and I didn’t know any other Phi Phi’s so it stuck. I think it sounds feminine and fierce!
Who are some previous contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race that have inspired you? And who have you looked at and said to yourself I do not want to act like her on TV?
You know who inspires me—the Puerto Rican queens. Their style and art form is so special and different from anyone else’s—people like Nina Flowers, Yara Sofia, and Jessica Wild. I didn’t want to be fake. I didn’t want to be the one to say “I love you” and then turn around and talk about you behind your back.
Guest judges this season include Rose McGowan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kelly Osbourne, Loretta Devine, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Who was the one guest judge that had all the dolls starstruck?
Kelly Osbourne. She was so down to earth! She wanted to get to know each one of us and she was friendly and funny. She was just…one of the drag queens! Loretta is exactly how you think she would be—she is very sweet and kind and you could tell she didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings. She was very motherly.
Talk about the first time you interacted with RuPaul. What was going through your phierce phi phi mind?
When I first talked to her it was actually on set. I didn’t meet her prior to that. You are kind of stunned at first because it is RuPaul! She was very friendly. We were talking about how I work for an eye doctor and she loved that! She is very motherly, but Ru is also crazy! She will just bust out into song and dance! (Laughs.) She had some insane moments, but she really helped break up the tension on set.
If you were to teach a class for drag queens competing in future seasons of RuPauls’s Drag Race, what would that class entail?
I would say…how not to not take crap from people. My class would be called “Don’t Take Shit 101.” Don’t let them, meaning your competition or the judges, take over your mind.
Where are you planning to watch the premier of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I will be at Spin nightclub for the big premiere! It will be cool watch it with fans and to hear their commentary. I’m excited, because they will be shocked at some of things I say, although my true phans, probably won’t be all that shocked at what comes out of my mouth!
RuPaul’s Drag Race premieres January 30th on Logo, 8pm Central.