“OPPALANNNNNCE, YOU OWN EVERYTHINGGGGG”
Every season on RuPaul’s Drag Race, there’s that one queen that wows us with an iconic catchphrase and this season, it came courtesy from the queen of opulence herself…Miss Mercedes Iman Diamond. Truly one of a kind, this East African beauty is the FIRST Muslim queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race hailing all the way from Mombasa, Kenya and currently residing in Minneapolis, US. Originally named after the Mercedes Benz she owned back at the beginning of her career, she pulled inspiration for her sister’s name (Iman) and her drag mother (Prada Diamond) to form Mercedes Iman Diamond.
Moving to the US when she was 11, Mercedes has had many successes from winning several pageant titles including “Miss Gay 90s”, “Miss City of the Lakes”, “Miss Queen of Hearts” and “Miss South Dakota Gay United States 2015”. Despite charming the hearts of many and bagging trophies, Mercedes experienced discrimination and was put on the no-flight list for a large portion of her life due to her name sounding Muslim with authorises assuming she was a threat. Putting all that behind her, Mercedes took a huge leap towards the future and decided it was time for the world to see she’s a diamond. After being eliminated in episode four finishing twelfth place, I caught up with the drag race star to talk about her time on the show, her iconic catchphrase, life experiences, representation in the queer Muslim drag community and much more.
Congratulations on being the FIRST Muslim drag queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race. How has the response been to your appearance on the show?
Thank you! It’s actually an honour to be the first Muslim drag queen on Drag Race because pretty much all the Muslim queens I know were scared to be out and be known in public. I’m always taking care of myself and when I decided to appear on the show, it was literally me saying ‘why not take care of others by showing them we can do it’. Why not do it for the other people that are scared to speak for themselves and be visible so being the first Muslim drag queen is a blessing. It’s amazing.
What was it like being on the show and what made you decide to audition?
Being on a show that has helped a lot of people and their families, ultimately opening people’s eyes, not just in America but around the world has been a humbling experience. Drag is the new Olympic now, it’s literally in every bar, you see it every night when you go out, everybody’s playing it and it’s amazing. I’ve been a fan of the show since season one and just seeing people get close to their families both blood related or chosen and come out on national TV is such a wow moment. Also, I felt like it was perfect timing, that’s why I auditioned. Everything happens for a reason and this was my time to be on the show. Yes, I didn’t go far on the show but I don’t regret a second of it. I loved every moment I was there and I’m grateful for that.
Let’s talk Opulence, or shall I say OPPALANNNNNCE! Every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race delivers an iconic catchphrase and this season you gave us just that with “Oppalannnnnce, You Own Everything“. Talk to me about how that moment came about in the challenge.
Haha! It was literally an accident! That happened accidentally, it was not something that I planned, it was not something anyone planned. When I walked onto the set, that was the role I was given and right before we started filming I was like ‘I got this, I know how to pronounce the word, yes I can do this, I’m ready’ and then when Michelle Visage said ‘ACTION!’ I was like omg this is not how you pronounce it! Then she was trying to explain it to me and I didn’t even know what it meant and I was like omg, this is embarrassing. I just made myself look like a fool because I thought I knew how to pronounce it but I didn’t.
The night that episode aired, I was in Chicago hosting a viewing party and as soon as that part came on-screen I cringed. I didn’t know if it was gonna make the final edit which is a really stupid thought because it was part of the challenge, so when I watched it back with everyone at the viewing party I was so embarrassed. Everybody started laughing and I was like omg they’re all laughing at me and they were like no Mercedes, everyone is laughing with you and at that moment I knew this was gonna be something. I had created something. I was actually with Monique Heart and she looked at me and said this is gonna change the world, this is gonna be something big.
I woke up the next day to a lot of messages and memes which was crazy. It was all over Twitter and then out of nowhere, Brooke Candy tweeted about me and I was like ‘OMG’. She has a song called Opulence and they were tagging her in the remix that Adam Joseph made. It’s just been great, hilarious but great.
In episode two & three, we saw you share some of your life experiences including the discrimination you faced by the authorities for having a Muslim sounding name to which you ended up on the no-flight list as well as you having a stroke whilst participating in a pageant. We also saw you run away from a conversation about your religion. Tell me why that was difficult for you to talk about and why you avoided it?
I do not like talking about religion or politics at all. Religion and politics are the two topics I stay away from because I’ve literally seen people fight and lose their family and friends over it. I believe that if this world didn’t have religion and politics, it would honestly be amazing, it would be a much better place. So in episode three when Vanessa, Silkie and Akeria were asking me about being Muslim, I ran off and was like okay, time for me to go, I don’t have time for this, I just wanna get ready for the runway, I don’t wanna be part of this conversation and make anyone upset or argue with anybody. I completely removed myself from the conversation and I realised after it was rude for me to do that.
It’s difficult for me to talk about religion because I didn’t want the people I know back home to feel like I am disrespecting my religion or them with my views. So, the next day when I saw the girls again, I had to apologise and explain that what I did by running off was wrong and tell them that I was on the no-flight list for the longest because of my name and my religion and it sucked. I kept telling the authorities “I’m a just drag queen, what do you think I’m gonna do? You can check my bag there’s nothing there but wigs, make-up, fake boobs, heels and costumes like I dunno why you look at me as a threat?” I decided to be open about the whole situation and honestly, it was the perfect time to explain to them why I acted the way I did. They were very supportive.
There’s a lack of representation in the queer Muslim community especially when it comes to the art of drag. You’ve said before that one of your main goals for appearing on the show was to change the way people judge your religion and sexuality, how does it feel knowing that you being on this show is one step closer to getting more representation for the queer Muslim community?
Representation is everything so It’s an honour. I’m so proud to be a part of the queer Muslim community. People always ask me ‘how does your family feel about you being out in public’ and I always tell them what I told my family and that’s if you love me for who I am then what I do shouldn’t matter, how I live my life shouldn’t affect you. If you love me because we’re family, respect that and respect what I do and vice versa. Like RuPaul once said “as gay people, we get to choose our family, we get to choose the people were around” and if you don’t wanna respect me then I’ll go and find my own family. Some of my family agreed with me and some didn’t which is totally fine.
For me, if I can help one child then let me be on national TV and let them hear me and see me and know that they are not alone. Doesn’t matter what background or religion they come from if there’s someone out there like me and they feel alone and they need to see love and respect from people they admire and look up to then we’re on the right track. You’re not alone. This show has given me the opportunity to speak and use my voice to represent so if I can help one child today that’s all that matters.
Unfortunately, you didn’t win and sashayed away in the fourth episode however you did win the hearts of many who supported you throughout your time on the show. How did your fans both old and new react to your elimination and your time on the show?
From the moment I walked into the workroom to the moment I was eliminated, I didn’t receive one negative message which was amazing because I was genuinely so scared. I am grateful for everyone that has supported me from the beginning. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me who are Muslim and queer saying ‘thank you, you’ve helped me a lot because now I am happy and proud of who I am’ and that is exactly why I came on the show. All those messages have been amazing to hear. The fans have been amazing, they’ve helped me a lot too. Like I said before, yeah I didn’t go far on the show but I don’t regret anything. I went on the show and said let me be me and do me cause at the end of the day I’m here for a reason.
Now that you’re a role model and a new face proudly representing the queer Muslim community, what advice would you give to those who look up to you and admire the strength and confidence you have to be yourself and live life how you want to?
Be yourself always. Love who you want, do what you want but always be yourself. Nobody knows how to do you better than you. I got onto Drag Race by being myself and telling my story. Also, I have some advice for the parents out there, if it’s hard for you to accept your child for who they are, take some time, give them time and trust me, your child will give you all the time you need to understand and respect them. All they want is for you to be there for them that’s it. Support is everything. That’s all.
What does the future hold for Mercedes post Season 11 of Drag Race? All-Stars 5 maybe?
Listen, if Mama Ru calls me for All-Stars 5 and says ‘hey Mercedes I want you back, I am dropping everything and going back straight away! You can’t say no to Mama Ru EVER! If she wants you back, you better go back okay! I would 100% do All-Stars. As of right now, I’m just travelling, working on different projects. I’ll be in London next month at G-A-Y for Porn Idol, I’m super excited about that. I just wanna enjoy the rest of the year and travel around the world and meet my many fans.
All new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11 are available on Netflix every Friday.