Walking into Sutan Amrull’s Los Angeles apartment is like walking into a dreamscape. In a coordinated chaos, couture fabrics drip off the tables, peculiar statues lines the shelves, and hefty fashion pieces hang where they can fit. Amrull’s famous drag persona, Raja, is clearly in-residence. Most people know Raja from his win of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Three, but that’s only one of many benchmarks in the drag icon’s 20+ year career. Before Drag Race, Amrull worked tirelessly for eight years as the lead makeup artist on America’s Next Top Model and a personal makeup artist to Tyra Banks, Paulina Porizkova, Twiggy, Iggy Azalea, and Adam Lambert. In more recent years, Amrull has kept busy touring internationally as a headlining drag performer while also sewing and designing his own fashion looks.
BLNCD: Your home is breathtaking.
RAJA: I want it to smell like Fabuloso. You know, that Mexican cleaner?
RAJA: The entire place.
BLNCD: The theme of your 2019 tours and cabaret shows has been “Lush Life,” which from my understanding is about you relaxing and kind of owning your lifestyle just how it is– raw and real. Tell me more about that.
RAJA: Well, you know, growing up I was one of those kids who was told that if I kept dressing the way I dressed, that I was never going to get a job. My parents told me that shit. I had a lot of guilt about the life that I was living, because I didn’t feel like I was a complete adult. I’m in my 40’s now, and I have terrible credit. I don’t own a house, I don’t have children. I felt very irresponsible, and I think all of that feeling came from other people’s opinions of what life is supposed to be like when you’re 45, you know? I had to realize… nothing is really that bad about this. My bills are paid. I shop and travel a lot, and I have great, great friends. I indulge in everything. If I decide I want to have a glass of wine for breakfast, I’ll do that. I customize my entire life, so the idea of doing “Lush Life” was really about owning up to the leisure, to the life that you customize for yourself. I’m very fortunate to have the life that I have. The people that have told me when I was growing up that I couldn’t do what I’m doing– I’m now in a position where I am doing exactly whatever the fuck I want. No one tells me what to do. I live it how I want. I dress how I want. It’s a very, very, very curated life.
BLNCD: It’s true. There’s so many constructs about what life is supposed to look like, or what your life at a certain age is supposed to look like. We don’t question those norms enough or even realize how prevalent they are. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture, these different constructs.
RAJA: Yeah, I live in Southern California, and I don’t drive. I haven’t driven in 15 years, over 15 years. I had a car once, and I hated that car because I got a DUI in it, and it was taken away from me. I decided that I will never drive again, because I prefer to drink and have a good time more than I wanted to worry about a car, but I always felt guilty about that, because my parents and my friends were like, “Are you ever going to get a car? Are you ever going to drive again?” For years and years and years, and I just never did it and now it’s just that time in my life where I just let go of that stupid guilt. Why should I need a car? I know how to get around and before Uber and Lyft came about, I would take taxis. I would take public transport. People made me feel ashamed for taking the bus, because I wanted to go somewhere. I was like, “I just need to go there. Why do I have to live like everybody else?”
BLNCD: I feel like when you travel a lot for work, your home place is important. What does home mean for you?
RAJA: It means where all my shit is at. When I’m away, I miss that part of being home. I miss being around my things. I have quite a collection of things. I like to be reminded of them. I recycle and reuse a lot of my things, my clothing. It’s just my play space. I’ve always been that person that always needed a corner or nook where I can just have my alone time and play in my imagination. Now, especially in 2019 in Southern California, I take some edibles, and I just putz around my space in a kimono and a top knot on my head, and I have a blast by myself. I just listen to music. Multiple media will happen. There’ll be a Netflix show happening, and Lana Del Ray’s new album is playing on my fucking Alexa. Right now I’m on a mission to actually make my home space feel a lot, lot, lot better, because I’m spending more time in it. I’m going out less to nightclubs. I want my place to be a place where I can invite all my friends and just hang out. Just let my old gray hair down and invite the boys up, honey.
BLNCD: Television has played a big part of your career, from America’s Next Top Model to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Do you like being on TV? Do you think that you may want to be on TV again in the future?
RAJA: I would like to. I think that would be a wonderful idea, although I think the focus right now on people who are on TV is the youth, and it’s always been that way. If that ever happens again, it would have to be something very, very specific, and it would have to have a lot of meaning. I would love to be on TV, because the power of being on TV or having visibility, is great for the bank account, for sure.
BLNCD: What is a moment where you feel the most creatively satisfied right now?
RAJA: I think it’s when I make a dish, a beautiful meal, that’s creatively satisfying to me right now. I also create costumes and fabricate things all the time.
BLNCD: What’s your drink of choice?
RAJA: Sauvignon Blanc.
BLNCD: Your show on youtube, Toot and Boot, premiered four years ago and is still going strong. Did you ever expect it would last this long?
RAJA: Yeah, I don’t think I really understood the power of what YouTube was going to be like. No, that’s not the word. I just didn’t take it very seriously, how about that? I just thought it was another little frivolous World of Wonder piece. I was like, “Whatever,” then it started to catch on, and people really, really were connecting to it. As I started traveling, even around the world … Like I’d be in Australia, and they would say, “Toot and boot my outfit.” I was like, “What?” They were so into it. The power of the internet has allowed people to see me weekly now. I’m very pleasantly surprised by it. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do when I am home to do it.
BLNCD: Have you thought about what you want out of 2020?
RAJA: 2018 was a challenging one. 2019 has been better, a lot better. 2020’s going to get real good. I’m more concerned about our political climate, which makes me want to get myself out of America and find more time to go somewhere else until we figure some stuff out. I like how things are evolving right now, and that evolution has everything to do with me focusing on me, focusing on the creativity that I have to provide.
BLNCD: This past year you did two long residencies in Provincetown and Puerto Vallarta. These evening-length cabaret shows are a newer endeavor. Do you find that, at this point in your career, you are gravitating more towards the residency structure than hopping around to a different club every night?
RAJA: Yeah, I think so. It’s nice because that was never an option before. It usually was only just me going to nightclubs and doing the lip syncs. Now, three years into doing my solo shows, I’m a lot more comfortable in it. I find a lot more joy in it. I find it challenging. The creative part is a lot more fun for me.. I like telling stories. I like singing now, which was never part of my life before.
BLNCD: Tell us about your new single “Moodbored.” The music video is amazing.
RAJA: I decided one day that I missed doing music, and I felt like after my stint and my time in Provincetown performing, I felt a lot more comfortable about my voice. I’ve always had a problem with my voice. You know, when you turn on a recorder, you don’t always like the way the sound of your voice is, and it’s always been like that my entire life. The last frontier that I had to overcome in my life was the sound of my voice, you know? I was starving to do music, and so I just put it up on Facebook on my social media. I was like, “Hey. I’m ready to do music. Friends, if any producers out there want to fucking hook up and write something together, or talk about something.” Everyone kept pushing me towards this guy, Tyler, who had just moved here from New York. He’s originally from the south. Love that. Love the southern children who move to New York, you know? He had done Trinity Taylor’s music and videos, and so I was already a little bit familiar. So, I just met up with him, and we just talked about each other, and we were both Geminis, and then we connected in that way. We talked about our love for movies, especially horror movies. You know, I love horror movies. For me to fall asleep, I will turn on Netflix a horror film or two, and just kind of be in that joy until I fall asleep. Blood and guts and murder and weird spirits. Oh, cozy time. What I really loved was that Tyler was open to my ideas, whereas sometimes I’ve worked with producers, and they’re like, “No, no, no. That doesn’t sound right.” They would always argue with me, and I definitely have a clear vision and we were able to read each other’s visions.
BLNCD: What’s your advice to someone who’s interested in becoming a drag queen?
RAJA: What is my advice to someone who wants to be a drag queen? Shoplift.
BLNCD: That’s good.
RAJA: I’ve always said that. People always ask me what my advice would be to young drag queens just starting out doing drag.
BLNCD: Is to shoplift?
BLNCD: Nice. Thanks for doing this interview.
RAJA: That’s it? That’s how we end it?
BLNCD: Isn’t that a great button?
Photography by Martha Kirby
Interview by John Mark