'Drag Race' star Valentina is ready for her closeup in Fox's 'Rent'

The non-binary drag performer will play Angel in Fox's live musical production of "Rent," which airs Sunday.
FOX Hosts "RENT" Press Junket
Valentina attends the press junket for "RENT" at the Fox Studio Lot on Jan. 8, 2019 in Century City, California.Emma McIntyre / Getty Images file
By Alexander Kacala

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Valentina is taking her talents to the stage. The drag performer is set to play Angel Dumott Schunard in Fox’s live production of “Rent,” which is set to air Sunday.

“I was called in because one of the casting directors was a fan of mine from ‘Drag Race,’” Valentina told NBC News. “Without even knowing if I knew how to sing or if I had the experience or the potential for this, they invited me to come in and audition. They saw something in me.”

Valentina attends "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars Meet The Queens" at TRL Studios on Dec. 5, 2018 in New York.Mike Coppola / Getty Images file

Valentina admitted she “wasn’t really hitting the notes” when she went in for her audition.

“I just said, ‘Hey look, if you guys need me to do anything or you want to correct me on anything, feel free to let me know,’” Valentina recalled. She said it was “exciting” to just be invited in to audition.

Valentina said those auditions ended up being more like workshop sessions and creative forums, and she was eventually awarded the role.

“Valentina personifies all the qualities we associate with Angel — heart, energy, vulnerability and excitement,” original “Rent” casting director Bernie Telsey, who helped cast the Fox production, told NBC News in an email. “We saw many, many people for the role, but no one was better. As fans of ‘Drag Race’ know, Valentina, even while reading lines or singing songs, has a personality that is magnetic.”

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"I want to be able to pave the way to give more visibility to people like me, for others to see themselves through me on TV to give them hope that they can achieve great things like this, too."

The Tony Award-, Grammy Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Rent” tells the story of a group of poor, young artists struggling to survive in New York City's East Village under the shadow of HIV and AIDS. The musical opened on Broadway in 1996, and after a 12-year run of 5,123 performances, it’s currently the 11th-longest-running Broadway show in history. In 2005, “Rent” was adapted into a motion picture featuring most of the original cast members. In Sunday’s live Fox production, Valentina will be joined by Vanessa Hudgens, Tinashe, Kiersey Clemons and Brandon Victor Dixon.

Valentina’s character, Angel — a young drag queen and street percussionist living with AIDS — is the heart of this group of bohemian artists.

“Angel really is like an angel, because he came in so quick and turned all these people's lives around and showed them what it's like to be compassionate and selfless,” Valentina explained. “Like the kind of person that just walks into the room and changes all the energy, you know?”

Valentina said she has a friend who she’s “secretly studying as the role of Angel.”

“He’s very selfless, too,” she explained. “I feel like the kind of heart and soul that my friend has always really has motivated throughout the entire process.”

Valentina stressed that “Rent” is more than just entertainment. She hopes it will be a learning experience for audiences, too.

“I hope that people, especially in the LGBTQ community, take away that we've really come a long way since the ‘90s and since the AIDS epidemic,” she said. “Not only with science, with things like PrEP, but just topics of conversation, like gender identity.”

Valentina said she and “Rent” director Michael Greif have been having numerous conversations about Angel’s gender identity.

“Is he going by ‘he’? Is she going by ‘she’? Is she a drag queen? Is she trans? Is she gender fluid? These kind of conversations are modern conversations of today that we can now explore through the work, and I hope that the LGBTQ community can really appreciate how far we have come along,” she said.

Valentina, who came out as non-binary earlier this month but still uses she/her pronouns, said she hopes her role in “Rent” inspires others.

“People like me, that are triple minorities, that are overcoming a lot of adversities, need a sense of hope to know when you fight for what you believe in, it does make a difference,” Valentina said. “I want to be able to pave the way to give more visibility to people like me, for others to see themselves through me on TV to give them hope that they can achieve great things like this, too.”

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