Jerick Hoffer (Jinkx Monsoon) talks with GLAAD about 'Blue Bloods,' his new album, and advocating for HIV/AIDS testing

Performer Jerick Hoffer was first introduced to a national audiences as his drag queen persona, Jinkx Monsoon, who describes herself as "Seattle's premiere Jewish, Narcoleptic Drag Queen" on the Logo reality series RuPaul's Drag Race. Since winning the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar," Jerick's star has burned bright, including an acting role on CBS' Blue Bloods, an upcoming album, and a touring production of his acclaimed show, The Vaudevillians.

Currently on the road playing Australian tour dates for The Vaudevillians, Jerick took the time to tell GLAAD about life post-Drag Race, The Inevitable Album, how Donnie Wahlberg turned out to be a Jinkx Monsoon "fangirl," and why HIV/AIDS advocacy is still so important.

GLAAD: Most people know you as drag queen Jinkx Monsoon, winner of the last season of RuPaul's Drag Race on Logo.  How has life changed for you since winning the title?

Jerick Hoffer: I often answer this question by saying it would be easier to list the ways my life hasn't changed. When I really think about it, my life has remained fairly the same, only what I used to do on the weekends to make some extra cash is now my full time career. I always knew I wanted to be a performer; and before Drag Race I was working part-time as a janitor cleaning people's apartments, auditioning all the time for plays (and occasionally getting in), and on the weekends performing in drag shows. Now I tour the world with the same material I used to do for drunk bachelorettes; and with the success of The Vaudevillians, I have a fruitful performance career independent of Drag Race. I'm hoping this will be my career for a long time. 

GLAAD: TV audiences most recently saw you on CBS' crime drama Blue Bloods, where you played a drag performer who becomes tied up in a murder investigation.  What was your experience filming the episode like, and what has the reaction been like so far?

JH: The experience was simply amazing. It was my non-reality TV debut and it was a very different experience from filming Drag Race. Luckily I had taken an "acting for the camera" class or two in college, so I knew some of the basics. Donnie Wahlberg, one of the stars of the show, had his directorial debut with this episode; and he and writer Willie Reale were both so supportive and encouraging throughout filming. They made it a very fun and stress-free experience, which I was grateful for because I had been so nervous leading up to filming! My makeup artist Sherri and wig designer Robert and their team also allayed any anxieties I had. I really didn't want to leave the makeup trailer because we were having too much fun gabbing.

Since I got to do every scene with Donnie, I also got to spend a lot of time goofing off with him; and man, if he isn't one of the biggest Drag Race fans I've ever met. He politely asked for one "fangirl moment" when we took a selfie together on his phone. That was surreal and wonderful. 

GLAAD: In addition to your TV appearances, it certainly sounds like you've got a full plate.  Right now, you're in Australia touring with your show The Vaudevillians with co-creator Richard Andriessen.  What has the reception been like down under, and are you planning to bring the show back to the states?

JH: The reception has been wonderful. Admittedly, our first couple of shows were a bit of a learning experience. The show’s humor ranges from dry to idiotic, and it is full of references to American culture. Some of the references landed and some bombed, utterly. But after a few tweaks and some trimming of the fat, we started to get our stride; and just last night, we began our third tour stop and the response was amazing! It's been a unique and enjoyable challenge, adapting the show for a different country and culture, and we've felt lucky to get this opportunity.

We are definitely bringing the show back to America; we actually have a full season run scheduled for this summer at The Arthouse in Provincetown, Massachusetts. We'll be there for just about three months, and I couldn't be happier. It's a lovely place to spend your summer! But when we first return to the States this spring, we'll focus less on The Vaudevillians and more on my debut album (The Inevitable Album), which we’ll hopefully tour as early as March. 

GLAAD: You're also preparing your album The Inevitable Album to release this spring, which includes the single "Coffee & Wine."  What can fans expect to hear on the album?

JH: Yes, the single "Coffee & Wine," as well as the accompanying music video, are just around the corner and it will be your first taste of The Inevitable Album. I am thrilled about this album! About half of the music is written by my performance partner, Richard Andriessen, and the other half is some of my favorite covers and standards. The feel of the album is very jazz and cabaret-inspired; the concept is as if you were attending a faded actress's one-woman show. The music narrates her life, balancing the career of a starlet and her attempts at having a normal love-life. She sings about the ups and downs of fame, the rise and fall of her one true love, and the exhausting nature of the life of a performer. We've teamed up with wonderful producers, Lucia Chang and Diego Sanchez, and we've even collaborated with Fred Schneider of the B-52's… who not only wrote one of the songs and appears on the album, but is also a personal favorite to both Richard and me!

GLAAD: In addition to your personal projects, you're also now a spokesperson for OraQuick, the first home HIV test, and a supporter of Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Center.  There has certainly been an established history of Drag Race cast members (and drag queens in general) working on behalf of HIV/AIDS-focused charities, but what was it about OraQuick and the Hutchinson Center that you felt made them important to support?

JH: I think drag queens have always been ambassadors for our community. Even though drag is a very light-hearted and fun form of entertainment, it is also a chance for members of the queer community to speak on behalf of many social issues. Whether that's through performances themed around hot button issues, or merely getting on a microphone and speaking out, drag queens have always had the opportunity to address their community and incite positive change.

Now, with kids coming out younger and younger, they aren't necessarily getting a proper education on the issues that our community still faces. Queer teenagers know about the HIV epidemic of the 1980s but think of it as a plague of the past; and the truth is, it’s still an important issue that affects our community. I think the more we talk about knowing your status, and the easier we make it for people to get tested and take responsibility for their sexual safety, the more we can decrease the numbers of those affected by HIV and AIDS.

I believe in OraQuick because it takes a lot of the fear and anxiety out of testing yourself and knowing your status. So many people don't get tested regularly enough because they feel embarrassed to go in and talk about their sexual history with a stranger. Many people live in places where they may not have queer facilities that provide free, safe, judgment-free testing. I'm lucky to have a resource center just down the street from my house in Seattle; but for those who aren't so lucky, OraQuick provides resources for them to be safe, healthy, and responsible sexually active adult -- so that's why I am so happy to be working with OraQuick.

The Fred Hutchinson Center (based in Seattle) is actually the leading facility working to find a vaccine for the HIV virus. When I decided to give a portion of my prize money to charity, I wanted it to be something that would benefit my whole community; and by making a gift to the Hutch’s HIV Vaccine Trial Network, I’m supporting research and medical advances that will not only help the queer community, but will also help save future generations of the world from having to live in fear of this virus. The Hutch team are wonderful people to work with, and I hope I’ll be fortunate enough to see an HIV vaccine in my lifetime.

No matter who you are, you probably know someone who is affected by HIV and AIDS. I've lost enough friends to the virus... We've lost enough wonderful people. I want to do whatever I can to help end the loss.

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