Santino Rice had his big break as a finalist on the second season of Project Runway. Proving that great things come in twos, he is once again connected to the runway, this time judging on season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
WCT: (Windy City Times) Hi, Santino! I love how RuPaul’s says your name with a big O!
SR: (Santino Rice) That’s funny. He always makes me laugh when we are around each other.
WCT: How did you get involved in the show in RuPaul’s Drag Race in the first place?
SR: Five years ago I did Project Runway. My personality and my work polarized people to either love or hate me. Ru was one of those people that reached out to me early on and said, “Hey kid, you are doing the right thing and I love your work.” When he was starting another show he gave me a ring, we hung out and became fast friends from there. Anything you do with Ru is a blast, whether you are on a hike or roller-skating!
WCT: So you judged the whole first season, which gained a big following.
SR: It was really a no-brainer. I don’t know why it took so long to have a show like that on the air. It is really my favorite reality show now. I think all the contestants are hugely creative and complex people. It is great that they are representing for who they are.
WCT: I interviewed Jade last season and now Mystique Summers, originally from Chicago, for this season.
SR: I love Mystique Summers Madison.
WCT: What do you look for in a contestant when you are judging?
SR: What is amazing is that there are so many variables that you have to look at. Anything that a queen can bring to the stage for their performance is something to critique. It’s not only style, grace and poise; it is personality, overall charisma and talent.
I am always looking for someone who can take nothing and turn it into something amazing. For as little time as I am on each episode, sometimes there is two full days of note taking, critiquing and judging all the contestants. It takes a while to decide who is the winner and who are the two in the bottom who have to “lip-sync for their lives.”
WCT: So this is fun but serious.
SR: I take it totally serious. I hate it when people get it wrong on shows. I hate it when people don’t recognize when someone really talented is on stage in front of them. I always want to champion the person that is speaking from their heart.
WCT: It’s obvious that the competition means so much to these contestants.
SR: Even in gay society, drag queens are marginalized to an extent. To be able to get this kind of recognition in the gay community and straight community, internationally now that the show is in Europe, has to feel good.
WCT: I agreed with your comments in the first season but the competitors felt like you were being hard on them.
SR: I am a huge fan of every single contestant. I am a huge fan of drag queens in general. I think if the world was full of more drag queens that it would be a more beautiful place. I try to get that through to everyone before I really start splitting hairs. Even Shannel—I was a huge fan of and it just happened as the show goes on, the whole process just wears you down. There was a point where her true attitude came out. She just thought if she focused all that negative energy onto me that it would be fine for her. In actuality I probably liked her the most of everybody. I wish the best for her and every contestant. I want to see everyone succeed.
WCT: This past season there was such a big following in the Chicago gay community.
SR: Comparative to bigger networks and reality shows, Rupaul’s Drag Race is small show with a huge buzz and a core audience who is loyal and keeps tuning in to every single episode. That’s better. You want that quality over quantity all the time. Even the vocabulary sometimes when we are on the judging panel and some of the things that come out, I look at Ru and say, “I think that is first time that phrase has been said on television before.” You are really going to blown away by the second season, Jerry.
WCT: There is a celebrity judge on every episode, such as Kathy Griffin and Debbie Reynolds.
SR: Oh. my God—Dita Von Teese was amazing. You could have an outtake reel with six hours of Cloris Leachman! I love Reno 911! Niecy Nash, was a really excellent judge. Also, Henry Rollins and Terri Nunn from Berlin.
WCT: Do you still have time to design clothing with all this reality television?
SR: Oh, yeah. It is still my day job. I always want to design. Two thousand nine was a tough year for everybody. I had to do 10 times the amount of work in order to make the same amount that I had been making in previous years. I see things getting much better. I am very thankful to have two different channels to create and make an income.
WCT: You were the most entertaining designer on the special Project Run All Stars. Have you always been dramatic and funny?
SR: I love life and I love to make other people laugh. I like to make fun and do imitations of people. I also make fun of myself. I enjoy laughing a lot. I think it probably gets me through most of the time. Ultimately I want to create beauty in the world. I am not the kind of the person that looks around and says, “ugh, look at those shoes.” I put on blinders so I don’t see ugliness in the world.
WCT: You are bisexual, correct?
SR: Well that is a whole other interview right there. You can just call me gay but I like men and I am attracted to beautiful women. I didn’t like the negativity that was attached to being gay growing up so that is why I have problems with the label.
WCT: Well, try to find time to visit us in Chicago.
SR: I have many friends in Chicago and in Downers Grove. I want to give a shout out to Hunters Danceclub!
Written by: Jerry Nunn
“Shake the dice and steal the Rice!” as RuPaul says. Start your engines as season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race debuts Feb. 1 on the Logo network. Drive over to www.logoonline.com for details and last season’s episodes.