When the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 was announced all the way back in 2020: it would have been hard to ignore Kahmora Hall. Even if you weren’t completely mesmerised by her stunning hair, sleek and classy outfits or understatedly beautiful makeup, you couldn’t have ignored her last name. After all, she is indeed of the drag House of Hall, a house with many illustrious members, including Drag Race Season 12 winner Jaida Essence Hall.
Big shoes to fill. It’s safe to say Kahmora has instead (respectfully) picked out her own stilettos and forged her own path on the show as a sweet and conscientious Drag Queen that we saw far too little of by the time she was eliminated in Episode Four.
We sat down with Kahmora (known out of drag as Paul Tran) to talk about her experiences on the show, her story as an Asian-American drag performer, and what songs she likes to boogie to.
Hey Kahmora, thanks so much for chatting with us today. Let’s kick off with a question for the astrology queers: what are your sun, moon and rising signs? Do you feel like those signs accurately describe you and how you approach your life?
I don’t know what my sun/moon/rising signs are unfortunately, but I do know I’m a textbook Virgo. I’m a total perfectionist with everything I do, especially my makeup (which is why I take so long). Seriously, watch my Drag Race makeup tutorial on Youtube and you can feel the Virgo energy from that video. Whenever I have a creative vision, it’s important to me to make sure every little detail is exactly how I want it; it's got to fit my fantasy!
It was so sad to see you go in Episode 4 of Drag Race - which segments or runways have you missed out on that you would have loved to do? Snatch Game? The Rusical? The Bead It Runway? Do tell us what you would have loved to do if you were still on the show.
Isn’t it crazy that the first elimination was on Episode 4? For that I’m grateful, but I would have loved to do The Bag Ball/Sewing challenge. Every season, there’s that one queen who doesn’t know how to sew, and I didn’t want to be that queen. I always wonder how well I would’ve done, but definitely better than LaLa’s masterpiece (lol).
But I’m sad I didn’t get to showcase my Bag Phrase look. It would’ve been an iconic moment to strut down the runway or even lip sync in. The look was campy, yet high-fashion, and I wanted to show the judges that I can do more than just Mackie dresses.
Since &ASIAN believes so much in building a more modern, inclusive and intersectional Asian community, we'd love to know how much being Asian-American factor into your identity? How much of that identity factors into your drag persona?
I struggled a lot with my identity as a gay and Asian person growing up. The only gay TV shows at the time were Will & Grace and Queer as Folk, both with white gay men as the main characters. I always felt like I wasn’t attractive enough and at times wished I wasn’t Asian. I made myself think that I should only be attracted to white men because they were the most desirable.
It wasn’t until college and discovering drag that I started to find my inner beauty. All the qualities that I was so insecure about – being Asian and too feminine – were celebrated in the art of drag. I had to unlearn all of that self-hatred and self-racism. Now, I love myself and love being Asian – from my skin tone, to my nose, and even to my small-uneven eyes. I appreciate my Vietnamese background so much more. I remind myself that I’m part of a community that’s so full of culture and history, and that in itself is beautiful.
I think the Asian community (from my experience) doesn’t know much about the term ‘drag’, but they have definitely seen it. Now that I think about it, there was this very popular flamboyant Vietnamese male singer (Tuan Anh) with snatched brows and makeup on, yet my parents were huge fans. I used to watch a lot of Paris by Night with my parents as a kid. It was this Vietnamese variety show with all kinds of performers with Vegas style costumes. At that moment, I knew I was gay (haha). It also explains why I love Bob Mackie so much. When I look back at this, it definitely inspired my drag persona as this luxurious woman with showgirl-like costumes.
You have been performing drag for basically a decade: what advice do you have for aspiring drag performers to keep going through the highs and lows? For members of Asian communities where exposure to loud and proud queerness can be minimal, what advice would you give for someone starting out who lacks a queer/drag community around them to begin with?
Ask yourself why you want to do drag. For me, I’m an artist and I love to create. Don’t do this just to get on a TV show or to be ‘famous’. Drag is not easy, and it’s not cheap. You have to really dig deep into your pockets and be prepared to invest a lot in your craft for little to no return, especially when starting off. But if this art form is something you truly want to do, be dedicated to it. I’m a firm believer that if you follow your dreams and passions, everything will fall into place.
And practice! Lots and lots of practice. Many newer queens want to debut themselves in public ASAP, but I suggest practicing and perfecting your makeup and look as best as you can before you do. First impressions are everything!
Growing up, I also didn’t have a lot of Asian celebrities or role models in the media to look up to. When it came to drag, I didn’t know any Asian drag queens other than Jujubee on Season 2 of Drag Race. I found my community online through Tumblr and Youtube and that’s where I was able to connect with other AAPI drag queens and artists in similar situations to me. Luckily, there is more of LGBTQ+ AAPI representation in media now, and I hope that gives young queer Asian people the confidence to be themselves.
How much did your family understand drag and queer culture before you entered the competition, and have they become more interested in understanding and learning about it since you’ve been on Drag Race?
My parents have never heard of drag before, even in Vietnam. When I left for the competition, I had to explain to them that I was going to be an actor on a TV show where I had to dress up in women’s clothing and makeup for fun. Their immediate response was that this TV show was a scam and they were afraid I was going to get kidnapped in Los Angeles, ha! I showed my parents photos of me as Kahmora when I came back from filming and to my surprise, they were really supportive of it. My mom couldn’t believe that was me in the photos.
With my boyfriend, let me set the record straight: he is very supportive of me. He may not understand the artistry of drag, but he knows that this is my passion. He was the first person I told when I got the call, and he was really happy for me.
For both my family and boyfriend, I think they knew how big of a deal it was to get casted on this show. It’s the largest platform for drag right now and that says a lot.
What are your thoughts around on the uncertainty of an Asian-American family accepting drag/queer culture vs white American families?
It’s hard to say, every family is different. I know drag performers who come from very accepting families, whose parents come to their shows. And I know performers who’ve been neglected and ostracized for being queer and/or doing drag. I’m very grateful that my family has become more accepting of who I am and what I want to do. That’s why drag is so important to the queer community, it’s a way to find your chosen family and have a sense of belonging.
Sometimes between different generations in a family, there is also a cultural/language barrier that prevents fuller explanations and deeper understanding on complex topics such as gender, sexuality and queerness; do you have any personal stories/advice for drag performers who are trying to overcome these barriers?
Coming out to my parents was really difficult. My mom didn’t speak to me for two weeks, and my dad was scared for me. Scared that I was going to get ‘sick’ or hurt. And then I remembered that my parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam during the late 70s. Their only knowledge or exposure to the LGBTQ+ community was during the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s. My parents were afraid that I was going to get HIV or be killed because that’s all they saw in the news while assimilating to a new country.
My parents also asked me about ‘the women’s clothing in my closet’. When I started doing drag my junior year of college, I was still living at home and my parents would find the makeup and wigs. It was difficult to describe what drag is to them, and they kept equating drag with being transgender. It was hard for me to explain to them in English and Vietnamese.
As the years have gone by, my relationship with my parents and my sexual identity has gotten better. At the end of the day, my parents know that I’m an adult and they can’t tell me how to live my life. It’s cliché, but time truly heals everything. Find the right moment to come out to your family and loved ones. If they’re traditional and immigrants like mine, try to understand where they’re coming from and how they grew up. I know not every family is going to be like mine, but I hope my story helps others in a similar situation.
What do you hope for the future of drag in general?
I think it’s great how mainstream it has become thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race. More and more (straight) people are being introduced to it and it’s a part of our pop culture now. I mean, think about how often you see or hear people repeat gay and drag lingo nowadays. But with all the spotlight on drag, I hope that the future generations of queens remember that drag in itself is political – it’s more than just the sequined dresses, the big hair, and nightlife. As drag queens, we are cheerleaders for the LGBTQ+ community, and we need to continue to use our voice and platform for those who are unable to speak.
Part of why you’ve become so loved is how you work with your iconic wardrobe that’s full of vintage pieces... Top 3 bargaining tips for the young, beautiful and broke?
My drag persona may look like she’s dripping in luxury, but in reality, I’m dripping in student debt! But here’s my three tips to the YBB.
- Be committed – you need to scour the internet on second-hand/re-sale shops like Poshmark and eBay or estate sales and auctions to find rare vintage pieces. It can take hours of searching and I make it part of my morning routine or if you live near or know of good thrift stores, it’s important to check them weekly.
- Know your limit – look, I know we all want to have nice designer pieces, but do not choose that Mugler suit over your rent! Remember, these are bargaining tips for the broke! If something is over your budget, try and bargain with the seller. If they don’t budge, tell yourself that this just wasn’t meant to be and move on. Another vintage piece will find its way to you, trust me.
- Make it look expensive – accessorize with cheap costume jewelry you can get at the wholesale district and make your friends believe that you are wearing diamonds and not plastic crystals.
Please share with us what your favourite Bob Mackie dress is – maybe one you already have and one you have your eye on?
My favorite Bob Mackie piece from my collection has got to be the red-beaded and fur-trimmed coat I wore for the cast RuVeal. The coat is the matching ensemble to the dress Brooke Shields wore on the cover of Cosmopolitan in 1983. The jacket is one of those rare Mackie pieces that aren’t sold in department stores, and it somehow made its way to a resale shop and into my closet. It’s truly a piece of fashion history, along with the dress I wore on the first episode of Drag Race (it belonged to Mitzi Gaynor). I’ve got plenty of more amazing Mackie pieces that I can’t wait to share, so please make sure to check my social media pages!
There is one Mackie dress that I’ve been dying to find! Lady Gaga actually wore it when she performed with Tony Bennett. It was a black-feathered dress with multicolour arrows pointing up; fashionable and whimsical!
What are your top three song recommendations right now! What’s got you feeling good or in your feelings?
I’m a huge fan of 90s R&B, I grew up listening to this genre of music with my sisters. My go-to songs right now are:
- Angie Stone, “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” (my drag mother performed this all the time)
- En Vogue, “Don’t Let Go” (my favorite movie is Set It Off)
- Fleetwood Mac, “Dreams” (this song always puts me in a good mood)
Thanks so much for talking to us Kahmora, you’re an inspiration. What final message would you like to leave with our readers?
I was always the black sheep of my family. I never wanted to be a doctor or lawyer; I wanted to create art. My dad would always say to me, “You’re a man, you’re supposed to do this and that”. I used that as motivation to be successful in something non-traditional. When I discovered drag, I felt like I found my calling.
Follow your dreams and passions, and know that they do matter and they are valid. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s a lesson that I had to learn a lot later in life, but once you do, you’ll be a much happier person.