Pearl from ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Is the Real Doll Behind Our Pride Month Giveaway
Clutch this Pearl! On Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the subdued but always sassy Pearl Liaison (aka Matthew Lent) may have been overshadowed by the more energetic queens early on in the competition. But after a speaking-to from Ru and the judges, Pearl revved herself up and made it all the way to the Top 3.
Now, a few years after Race, Pearl is shifting lanes and bringing fashion-doll realness to the masses with Vladonna, a customizable DIY vinyl doll she’s designed for the art-toy geniuses at Kidrobot. Available exclusively online, we’re giving you the chance to score your very own Vladonna at the end of this chat with her creator, who opens up about reality TV regrets, art-versus-fashion, and how a blank doll with Jessica Rabbit features can help future drag artists hone their skills.
Love this doll! Where did you come up with this idea?
Pearl Liaison: Oh, cool. Thanks. I love it too. I’ve always wanted to make a doll and have been doing lots of sculpting the last couple of years. An old friend who had a connection at a toy production company kind of linked us up. So, all of a sudden it was like a really cool freakin’ new project.
And this is not just a minor undertaking.
I know! A lot more goes into it than all of us would think. It was an eye-opening experience, getting a product like this out on the shelves. I guess not even really shelves ’cause it’s available online. But obviously, it’s much easier said than done. We do have plans to create a clothed doll in the future. But it was like a long, two-year process just to get this one product out there.
Did this start working on this right after you were on Drag Race?
I wouldn’t say immediately after. Maybe after about a year of touring or so, I finally found a moment to work on other projects.
It’s an interesting career path that your following. You’ve done the DJing thing, and then you do Drag Race, where your drag was almost like a Kidrobot project… it was more artistic and conceptual than a lot of other queens.
Thank you. That’s a great compliment. I chose to sort of be something versus wearing fashions, I guess. That’s just always kind of been my motto from the beginning. Like Pearl as a character herself is kind of, you know, she’s not a model, she’s a character. So when she goes somewhere, she dresses for the theme, not really for the occasion. Does that make sense?
Of course. When did you first dip your toe into the drag world?
Oh, it was Halloween of 2012, I think. It all just happened very organically and very naturally. I went out and dragged, and from that, I met other drag queens who were the hosts of this drag show, and they had asked me to be a part of it. So I got in drag once and I was asked to do it again and again and then I started my own drag show in Chicago. [It] kind of broke away from the standard drag queen persona that you were getting in Chicago at the time, which was very pageantry, flawlessness, Top 20 anthems. And that’s all fabulous and great, but I wanted a little bit more of an experimental, conceptual style of drag in my show. So the one I started was more of a variety show. It was all kinds of different performances and people from the community, not just men in wigs with a corset and whatever.
How did you end up on Drag Race?
I think my breaking away in the Chicago scene kind of made me realize that I had a little bit more, something special and dynamic to contribute to drag. So even though I felt very unprepared and I had only been doing drag for a short amount of time, I just felt like I could get on Drag Race. They didn’t really reach out to me. I wasn’t known enough. I had somebody help me with my video, I submitted it and then they called me. Crazy.
And then you make it to the Top 3. What are your fondest and worst memories of the experience?
My fondest? Honestly, being on the show itself is very hard and very stressful. I think the hardest and the fondest memories are kind of what happens to you psychologically throughout the course of the whole thing. [I was] able to look back and see where exactly I have room for growth, which was pretty much everywhere. And that’s been the best part of it all, the changes that come after the show. And I’m still evolving.
The worst part is looking back — kind of the yin to the yang of what I just said — it’s really hard to see yourself in a very growing time of my life and not really knowing things that I thought I knew. It’s hard to see yourself like that, especially when you’re so much younger. It was like five years ago.
Now, who is Vladonna? Where did you come up with her?
I think she’s just the woman that was inside of me. Just kind of a crazy, kooky, disassociated, hyper-feminine shell of a person. She just doesn’t take anything seriously at all. It’s just about looking fab and having the best time, meeting famous people, staying in gorgeous hotels, and traveling, jewelry and diamonds! Just ridiculous, over-the-top things that I don’t find necessary in my life. It’s more of like a metaphor, you know what I mean? And sort of poking fun at the way people feel they need to attain things they think that need to have. Kind of like a tongue-in-cheek joke, like body goals and life goals and travel goals, and friend goals.
And what was the thinking behind creating her as a paint-your-own version instead of an already made-up doll? Because that seems like it would be right in your wheelhouse, designing her costume and make up and all that.
Well, when I was growing up I used to take Barbie and strip her make up off with nail polish remover. Then I would repaint her whole body, style her hair and make her clothes out of construction paper and cotton balls. So the original idea was to have a full fledged conceptualized doll — which we have in the works right now — but it was taking so long, and then I had this idea of, ‘Well, I used to customize my own dolls. How amazing would it be if she was just a figure that people could paint on?’ Have you ever been at an arts-and-crafts store and seen the wooden posable figure that you can sort of draw on? That always excited me for some reason. A blank human figure that you can basically make whatever you want it to be.
So it just seemed like a really cool idea and not something that is really available. I know that there are a couple of dolls throughout history, kind of like a big plush doll with a marker, something like that. But not necessarily a crazy, full figured, fashion doll. With long hair and t**s. The goal was to get people excited to create something. And I don’t necessarily want people to just paint a face on her and give her a flesh tone, you know what I mean? I wanted her to be sort of like an art piece, where you do exactly that. You rhinestone her, you bedazzle, you cover her in glitter, or you cover her in feathers, wherever kind of stretches your imagination.
Dried pasta shells.
Kidrobot’s such a great group for this because their whole thing is bringing art to life. And their stuff is superfun!
Right. Yeah, they have their Munny doll, which is a customizable vinyl figure. So we basically just kind of made a super hyper feminine version of something that they kind of already had.
I think it’s so cool, especially for gay kids looking to channel some off their creativity and their feelings.
I have so many people ask me how to get into to drag, how to start doing drag, or they wanna do drag and just don’t know how. And I get it, drag is not an easy thing to do. From making sure that you look the way that you want to look, to getting the courage to leave your house in drag, the whole thing can just get very hard. So, having Vladonna is kind of like your first step. You can practice on her. What do you want it to look like? What is your first look? You can sort of make a miniature version and it’s kind of a release. You scratch that drag itch when you don’t know how to exactly put it on yourself yet. That make sense?
It’s baby’s first drag queen.
For a chance to win your own Vladonna, visit our Facebook page and enter!