Minutes before I sat down with "RuPaul's Drag Race" season 12 stars Jaida Essence Hall (who won) and Heidi N Closet (who snatched the sash for Miss Congeniality), news of the tragic death of Chi Chi DeVayne broke.
"I was shocked," Closet told TODAY.
"I was hopeful that she would come off this because I have a close friend that's going through a similar situation," Hall, 33, said to TODAY. "And so I was like, hopefully things will turn around. Now today, this is where we are. It's crazy."
On what DeVayne's legacy will be, Hall responded: "Her legacy will be her heart. I feel like that first of all... and her dancing toes."
"Absolutely," Closet, 24, agreed. "She's such an amazing person. I remember when I first met her, she came to me and she gave me amazing advice about how to deal with everything that was about to happen with being on the show. So the kindness of her and the sweetness is truly a thing that will live on."
Some fans have drawn a comparison between DeVayne and Closet, not only because of their lip-synching talents but also because of their origin stories. DeVayne, who hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana, and Closet, who is from Ramseur, North Carolina, both come from self-proclaimed "humble beginnings." This informed their likability and lovability as fan favorites.
"Well, knowing that she is so similar to me in so many qualities, it just means I'm doing the right thing. Knowing that she is such a beloved person, it speaks to me," Closet said. "It comes back to us both coming from humble beginnings, and it's hard to see her go, but I know she will live on forever."
The death of DeVayne is just another rough moment for 2020. This season of "Drag Race" premiered only a few weeks before lockdown began, making it impossible for this batch of new queens to really lean into their newfound celebrity. Many contestants from the show in years past begin touring right away, but that was impossible this year.
"I think it's given us a closer connection to the fans because they they've been so active with us online," Closet said. "So I feel like it's really given us that chance to become really close with them because when we're not always up in the air touring and going around everywhere. We were sitting at home during our season, watching along with them, and it gave us that time to talk and chat with them and really make those connections. That has definitely been a plus for us."
"I do look forward to the day that we are able to go and show them all what we can do in-person," she added.
But also, that desperate desire for connection has made "Drag Race" an even brighter rhinestone in the dark. (As a "Drag Race" super fan myself, this year I found myself especially looking forward to Fridays more than ever before, knowing that for a few hours I would be able to forget my pandemic troubles and watch drag queens strut a runway in things that sparkle and shine.)
And this shows in the numbers. Per Variety, season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was the highest rated season in the show’s history. Hall explained that desire to watch even hit closer to home than she expected.
She gushed about the season's popularity, explaining, "So many people ... even in my family! My father was like, 'I really look forward to Fridays now.'"
"It shows the impact that we left this year. People from all around the world were so excited about this season," Hall added. "I think it's because 'Drag Race' shows you that you're not alone in a lot of situations ... It's so entertaining, and the entertainment value from the show is just one of those things that we really, really needed in a time when people were just locked away at home."
"A lot of people didn't have anyone to talk to or anywhere to go, anything to do. And the show was there for them," she explained.
On what they're doing with their newfound fame, Closet says she's pushing the Black Lives Matter movement towards the forefront of her platform.
"Also show that there can be kindness out there in the world, even in these crazy times. Basically my biggest platform right now is to share love and joy to other people," she said. "In these crazy and dark times right now, that's truly important. With so many people sitting at home, some people have no jobs ... People are really struggling. People are battling anxiety and depression right now. So just trying to be a beacon of light in these times has been the main focal point of my platform right now."
Looking back on this season and looking forwarding to the 2020 Emmys where the show is nominated for 13 awards, including outstanding competition and outstanding host, Hall says the show is deserving now more than ever despite coronavirus or any drama that happened at the start of the twelfth season.
"Honestly, because we were there when drama did happen at the beginning of the season, I was like, 'Oh girl, this is still gonna be a great season,' because we knew the work that we poured into it," she explained. "Our season is super deserving of that Emmy because it's for outstanding reality competition, right? And when you think about what makes television outstanding, I think about stories and the way that television can move you and impact you."
"With COVID and all of the ways the world has literally been falling apart at the seams in 2020 and the way that 'Drag Race' in a lot of ways held so many people together, it connected people who were so far apart. If that's not outstanding and show the power of what television can do for people, I don't know what else can."
A previous version of this story was first published in TODAY.com.