Like so many before her, BeBe Zahara Benet high-tailed from her native Cameroon in West Africa to Paris, where she quickly developed a flair for the haute art of feminine illusion. Today, BeBe is best-known for her role on RuPaul’s reality show Drag Race. Her lip-synching, show-stopping, side-splitting performances clinched the competition, while endearing her to viewers and leaving more than a few well-contoured pouts agape. In New York to attend a fundraiser for an upcoming documentary on her life, BeBe sat down with Hint to discuss everything from tucking to keeping it real. —Sarah Fones
Tell me about the documentary and working with [director] Emily Branham.
We had such chemistry. To me it’s an honor to find someone who wants to tell my story. And it’s not only about what I do for a living or why I do it. It’s about empowering people. We all go through our battles.
Did you reach any revelations?
I will tell you that you have to respect and accept yourself. This is my story, what I’ve had to overcome. Who says that I am not representing a man? First of all, it takes a man with a lot of guts to be able to do what I do. And a lot of men cannot do it!
Even early on in Drag Race, a lot of viewers singled you out as the winner. How confident were you?
When I went on the show I was really confident about what my persona is all about—the BeBe persona—and very comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t focus too much on will I win, but will I represent BeBe the best way possible?
Some of the girls on the show were definitely more likable than others. Was there anyone you didn’t get along with?
I was very upfront with everybody and I let it go. I wouldn’t go behind anyone’s back and badmouth them. I’ve had so many interviews where people ask me about Rebecca [Glasscock]. There were things about Rebecca I didn’t care for, but I made sure I told her.You kept it real?All these characters I met, all these drag entertainers, are the same people out of drag. That’s how Shannel is, that’s how Rebecca is, Akashia, Nina Flowers. Genuine.
What are some of the less glamorous aspects of drag?
All that underwear! The make-up is one thing, but when you have to go through all the undergarments just to look like that.
Do you wear Spanx?
Oh, no! But you have to tuck, and then sometimes you have to wear, like, corsets to make your waist really small. It can be really tricky because you want to make sure everything is in place!
What role does fashion play in your performances?
Drag and fashion are like husband and wife. A lot of designers get inspiration from us, just as we get inspiration from designers. But I think it’s more the other way around, because drag entertainers are thinking crazy. Sometimes you look at the costumes and it’s like, What were you thinking when you put this together?
Do you have any idols?
I love Beyoncé. She can go from glamour to fantasy to raw—everything! That’s also my character. My character can go from African queen all the way to Chinese doll.
Diana Ross. Love Diana Ross. And Grace Jones! Grace is so edgy. She’s just so fashion-forward and makes you want to like something, even if you don’t know how that thing works.
Do you watch Lifetime movies?
Well, if there was a movie being made, who would play you?
Oh my god! It’s such a tough question. I know Grace Jones could. I know Beyoncé could. Yes, I’d like Beyoncé to play me.
If you met her, would you be starstruck?
No, I never get that way. We are all human beings. I’ve witnessed that from the show, how people act toward me.
You mean CAMEROOOOOOON!!!!
(Laughs.) Oh. My. God.
Are you over that?
Do you know, I’ll be in the airport and I’ll hear somebody go “Camerooon!” Seriously, from nowhere. And they say it in so many different ways. You have a guy with a very deep voice saying (drops voice) “Ca-ma-roooon.” And then you have (in a high voice) “Ca-me-roooon!” Or they go, “Face, face, face!”
How do you respond?
I strike a pose.