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Milwaukee's Jaida Essence Hall On Winning RuPaul's Drag Race And Midwest Drag

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Since the pandemic began, many of us have been glued to our couches binge-watching TV. And for fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race it’s been a good time to be stuck at home. The series, which features a cast of drag queens competing for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” premiered its 12th season as shutdowns began to sweep through American cities.

While the majority of the season was filmed long before stay-at-home orders were in place, the finale was a bit different. The top three contestants were each tasked with filming their last performance in their homes. For Milwaukee-native Jaida Essence Hall, that meant performing a full dance number in her West Allis living room.

But it all paid off. Hall, also known as Jared Johnson, was crowned the winner in a virtual ceremony.

"It was amazing. My favorite part of it was winning — the biggest moment in my career — and then just clicking the button to log off the Zoom chat and then just sitting in my house," Hall says, laughing. 

This season of the show featured a number of performers from the Midwest, and all three of the finalists had some connection to the region. Hall says she believes that's due in part to the "heart" Midwesterners bring to their performance. Right now, as clubs and venues are largely shut down due to the pandemic, she says that heart is especially important. 

"Drag queens are fighters and we usually are used to working in sometimes terrible predicaments and situations, but we always turn it and make a way and this pandemic has been no different," says Hall. 

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.