Premium- RuPaul's Drag Race -Tempest DuJour Talks 'Drag Race' Changes, Her Elimination, & More On 'Exposed: Dragged Out'
"Even in my academic career, I still fight for my colleagues to acknowledge drag as an art," RuPaul's Drag Race alum Tempest DuJour told Joseph Shepherd on his latest episode of Exposed: Dragged Out. "It's like, Oh, boys put on dresses and they're funny. But it's an art form."
And one that Tempest — who works as a tenured professor at the University of Arizona alongside her stage work — has mastered, despite being the first person voted off the divisive Season 7 of RuPaul's Drag Race. But she's back to chat about her experience on the series, including why she thinks she went home, and what moment was particularly painful.
Plus, Tempest talks about her experience in the Mormon church, how Drag Race has evolved, and the most meaningful moment in her career.
Check out the full, unedited interview below, and sashay your way to the play button to listen to the latest episode!
JOSEPH: Well, hey, hey, and welcome to Dragged Out. I am Joseph Shepherd and each week we dive into some one-on-ones with some of your favorite Queens who may have just happened to go home first on a Drag Race franchise, whether they deserved it or not. And today's guest is one of my favorites, who I honestly believe went home extremely way too soon. From Season 7 of RuPaul's Drag Race, please welcome Tempest DuJour.
TEMPEST: Thank you. And thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate it, very much. I agree with you by a 100%.
JOSEPH: So did so many people. Literally you have so many fans, and ever since, there've been so many moments where they just come to my videos and they're like, "Where's Tempest? Where is Tempest? I want Tempest." And I'm like, "Okay, cool. Let's get her."
TEMPEST: Oh, I'm having, like, a Sally Field "they really like me" moment. That's awesome. I appreciate that. That makes me feel good.
JOSEPH: "They like me. They really like me."
TEMPEST: They really like me. Ru doesn't. And everybody else does.
JOSEPH: Your life is so interesting and so intriguing looking into it. You were just talking to me about when you started about teaching, what do you teach?
TEMPEST: I'm a tenured professor at University of Arizona. I've been teaching for, going on 25 years now. First I taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and now I teach in Arizona. Basically, I run the costume design program in the school of theater, film and television. So I'm a costume designer, but I also teach things like history of clothing classes and drawing and painting, and rendering. And things like mask making, armor making, fabric dying and manipulation, sort of related costume stuff.
JOSEPH: That's actually really cool, because I think that's one thing, like when you have a passion and you have that, it's very hard sometimes to be able to make a living off of it and still be creative and get those juices flowing. So that's actually pretty cool to hear that you're still in the realm that you love.
TEMPEST: I tell people all the time — in fact, I just did a guest lecture at one of the state university of New York schools. And I was telling the students, look, when I was in high school, the last thing I remember my horrible guidance counselor saying is, "What do you want to do when you leave here?" And I said, "I want to do theater." And she looked at me and she said, "What do you really want to do?" I mean, it just crushed me and thousands of little kids across the world who want to do theater and are convinced that they can't make a career out of it. And if I didn't think that this guidance counselor was dead and buried long ago, I'd hunt her down and say, "See you old hag fish, I did it. Quit destroying the dreams of young people."
JOSEPH: But I feel like that's what a lot of high school theater teachers do. They destroy your dreams. And my theater teacher in high school destroyed my dreams. Her name is Miss Lorraine Cotton. I do not like her. I'm putting that out there. If you're listening, Lorraine Cotton, you destroyed my dreams.
TEMPEST: How dare you, Lorraine. But I mean, look at their perspectives, they're high school theater teachers. And that's not putting them down, my sister is one. But it's just saying that — I don't think and maybe they're living in a little bit of regret. I don't know. I mean, I have to imagine every high school theater teacher I've met is sort of a broken dream. And again, that sounds terrible.
JOSEPH: It's truthful.
TEMPEST: I mean, it kind of is. And luckily I had amazing theater teachers in high school but who didn't squash our dreams. But it's a tough business, there's no way around it.
JOSEPH: You teach and then you make your costumes and stuff, and looking at your life, did you grow up in North Carolina?
TEMPEST: I was born in North Carolina and then at 11 moved to Virginia. Then at 12, moved to Saudi Arabia, then moved back three years later to Virginia. Then went to high school in Florida, then went to first year of college in Idaho. Then I went on my Mormon mission experience to California. Then I went to Brigham Young University for four years in Utah. And then I went back to North Carolina to do grad school. Then I went to New York City and then I went to University of North Carolina and then here to Arizona.
JOSEPH: So what you're telling me right now, is that you love staying in the same place and you've been in one place your whole life, right?
TEMPEST: Yeah. I'm from a stable, deeply-rooted family. The great thing though, is that we had — this is going to sound so pretentious — but we had a beach house on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. And so that was my every summer, I would return there. And that was my home and my heaven and my special place. It still is.
JOSEPH: What were you doing in Saudi Arabia?
TEMPEST: I can't talk about it because the government... No, I'm kidding. My dad was the hospital administrator and he dealt with this international hospital corporation and stuff like that. So blah, blah, blah. But that was a crazy adventure in my young teens.
JOSEPH: What was that even like? Because that's totally opposite...
TEMPEST: It's like living in an Indiana Jones movie or something. I mean, it was incredible. This was back in the late '70s, early '80s. I mean, Saudi Arabia — it's still very backwards and they don't let Westerners in, unless you have a very specific reason. And in fact, the reason we had to leave was because they don't want any Western kids in there over the age of 14. Because they fear that will badly influence them in their culture. So you have to leave when you hit 14. And so it was either you send your kids off to boarding school somewhere, which a lot of people did or you left. And so my mom's like, "Well, we're not sending you to boarding school or something." And I was like, "What? An all-boys school, please."
JOSEPH: So we're leaving. You're like, "Thank you, exactly what I wanted."
TEMPEST: Well, but it was crazy and weird. I mean, the culture there is so remarkably different than anything we know here. And it really influenced me, I think in so many ways, sexuality-wise and all kinds of things. Because the Muslim culture in Saudi is crazy with a man. They basically don't touch the women unless they procreate. So, you see men holding hands and kissing, and these are just straight men. And it's a very man connected to man culture and society. And that was confusing to me. And it seemed normal.
JOSEPH: Your life as a child, you experience things that nobody is going to even experience in their life. When you were on the show, which we'll talk about in a second, you did end up talking about your weight loss journey. How did that end up coming to be like where you decided to go on that journey?
TEMPEST: Well, I always thought I was really fat. You know what I mean? Typical American. We all think we're fat, but I genuinely was fat. But interestingly enough, I remember going to my senior prom and I remember that night and my mom taking pictures of me and my date and thinking, God, I'm so fat, I'm so fat. And recently I saw that picture after like 30 years [later] or whatever. I was like, holy shit, you're skinny. And I'm like, why would my 17-year-old mind make me think I was so fat? And that's how up we are in America. But as I grew older, I gained more and more weight and I'm sure that it had to do with me trying to live my perfect Mormon boy life, and trying to smash down the fact that I knew I was gay deep inside. And in the Mormon churches I think it's a little rougher than a lot of religions.
I mean, there was a book at the time that equated being homosexual with murder. And that stuck with me my whole high school years, so everything, I'm like, I'm as bad as a murderer. And that kind of guilt and shame, you just start eating your feelings. And I ate them and ate them, and ate them, and ate them well into my twenties and even into my thirties. Dealing with that shame and guilt. And then when I had this terrible car accident, ironically, that was the trigger that made me want to lose the weight.
TEMPEST: I was just under 400 pounds at the time of the car accident. And ironically, the doctor told me if you had not been such a big person, you probably wouldn't have survived the impact of that crash.
JOSEPH: Oh, my God.
TEMPEST: But because I had so much literal body padding, it helped me survive. But then that triggered me. When you're laying in a hospital bed for six months, while your leg grows back together and all your broken bones heal, you have a lot of time to think about what matters most. And my kids were very young at the time and I thought, God, I need to be around these kids. So that's it. And I was just commenting to my boyfriend the other day, I was carrying in bags of chicken food, chicken feed for my chickens. And they're 50-pound bags, I was carrying one at a time.
JOSEPH: Stop, you have chickens? How many chickens?
TEMPEST: Oh, my God, over 20. You know I'm a crazy bird lady, right?