When you think of a drag queen who has left an unremovable mark on the RuPaul’s Drag Race fandom, you’d be hard-pressed not to think of Laganja Estranja and her many catchphrases that have become a cultural staple.
The 32-year-old Texan choreographer and remedial cannabis activist, whose real name is Jay Jackson, competed on Season 6 back in *checks notes* 2014. Her rolodex of catchphrases have been quoted on and off the show ever since, perhaps more than any other queen’s. She’s always at the top of fans’ dream cast lists for future All Stars seasons and she’s spoken about in the same breath as living legends Peppermint and Asia O’Hara.
This year on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 6, she made a surprise cameo as a lip-sync assassin and it might just be the season’s best moment so far.
But, she wasn’t always this beloved. Oh, no, no, no. She’s had a total 180 from audiences. In fact, I’d dare say that she’s had the best off-screen redemption arc in reality TV history.
When Laganja first competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she was edited to look like a talented performer with a fake and annoying on-camera personality. Bianca Del Rio and Adore Delano called her out in Untucked for coming across as passive-aggressive, and her on-screen overly-defensive behaviour was seen by fans as obnoxious and spoilt.
In Untucked, she often misread queens shading her as an insult and would take things personally. When the queens were preparing their own stand-up routine, she decided to work under the table with a “no smoking” sign on her head. Judges and queens alike confessed that they felt she was trying too hard with her personality and not being genuine.
But you tell me a moment from the show that is more iconic than this one:
Hmm, that’s what I thought.
How many times have you seen someone quote an abbreviation of her saying, “C’mon Season 6 let’s get sickening”, or the time she said she was bothered by something Adore said but couldn’t even explain what it was that upset her?
When Laganja was on Season 6, she was suffering from anxiety and paranoia. She claimed that it was worsened by producers not letting her take a prescription of medicinal cannabis that puts her mind at ease. In the episode where she goes home, Gang breaks down and leaves the set for a breather, followed by a shot of her standing in an alleyway and having a nervous breakdown. Years later, that scene still irks me.
Laganja Estranja has repeatedly said that her experience on the show was quite traumatic. After filming wrapped up, she said she fell into a “deep depression” and “suffered alcoholism”.
“I realised I’d allowed the show and public perception [of me] to deteriorate my love for myself,” she told Gay Star News in 2019.
“I got help, was in counselling for years, worked through it, thank god. But I think the show should’ve been there for me. I really do.”
Flashforward to 2021 where Laganja has become one of the show’s most quotable and booked competitors. Since her iconic Untucked moments on season 6, she’s worked with Miley Cyrus and competed on a US season of So You Think You Can Dance. Videos of her time on the show have been used by non-Drag Race fans and quoted by people who may have never even heard of RuPaul Charles.
In June this year, she came out as a transgender woman. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, she said: “I’m able to come off stage and take my makeup off and still see a beautiful woman in the mirror. It’s powerful.
“People think that when you’re trans that you’ve wanted to be a girl your whole life; yes, that’s partly true [for me], but it’s also true that I’ve wanted to be male my whole life to fit into what society deems as normal.
“But, that isn’t my truth, and I’m daring to take this on. I tried to be male and be in-between and non-binary. The truth is I’m a feminine entity and I can live this life.”
Soon after, her queen and friend Yuhua Hamasaki made a GoFundMe page in her honour as thousands helped raise funds for her transition. When the campaign launched in late July, it made $25000 in just 48 hours.
“I am blown away, I have never felt so loved,” Laganja said in a tweet at the time. “Our community is so powerful, and I couldn’t be more proud to belong to the LGBTQIA+ family!”
You did it!! You all raised over 25k in under 48hours. I am blown away, I have never felt so loved. Our community is so powerful, and I couldn’t be more proud to belong to the LGBTIA+ family!! Thank you @YuhuaHamasaki for using your platform to help me in my journey ????️⚧️????????????— Laganja Estranja (@LaganjaEstranja) July 29, 2021
Looking at that, it feels almost poetic that she’s made her return to the show now as a lip-sync assassin. In the All Stars 6 episode, Laganja reveals herself to the queens by jumping from the sky into the splits on-stage, before quoting one of her iconic lines: “Oh, y’all wanted a twist, eh? C’mon
Season 6 All Stars 6, let’s get sickening!”
Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping, spectacular, never-the-same.
Fittingly, she lip-synced against Trinity K. Bonet who sent her packing in their original season. And the performance was everything we needed. Over on Twitter, people heralded and praised her as the best moment of the season.
Me watching Laganja on season six vs Me watching Laganja on #AllStars6 pic.twitter.com/FdfwWNIa8N— Beejay (@Beejay_Balleras) July 1, 2021
TKB VS LAGANJA + LAGANJA ENTERING IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY WITH HER CATCHPRAHSE. MY SEASON 6 BABIES ???????? #AllStars6 pic.twitter.com/vugRjyH1eK— jess (@denaliwxyz) July 1, 2021
This was the most iconic entrance on All Stars, Laganja Estranja is THAT GIRL #DragRace #AllStars6 pic.twitter.com/nIQAUiyCt9— Black Lives Still Matter (@wiz_thcreator) July 1, 2021
Laganja just gave us one of the best lip sync performances of all time ???? #AllStars6 pic.twitter.com/j8JXyb8cx0— Follow Madame Vaudeville (@onlyedgarxo) July 1, 2021
I can't believe Laganja extended pride month with that split!— Kaizen (@Kaizen_Zuno) July 1, 2021
It was an amazing reunion but reminded us just how far Laganja had come since her first stint on RuPaul’s show. When we first met Laganja, she came across as an abrasive person with a fake personality. Now, she’s one of Drag Race’s much-loved queens. Laganja Estranja truly has gone from “I feel very attacked” to “I have never felt so loved”, and I think that beats any other reality TV redemption arc, don’t you?
Watch RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars on Stan here.
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