The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula has never had a winner quite like Niohuru X. Originally hailing from a small town in China, Niohuru brought perfectly executed concepts to the alternative drag competition: An alien sex worker with three sets of breasts? A nine-tailed fox demon? A day-glow serial killer with a love for Hello Kitty? Check, check, and check. Her creativity on and off the stage brought Niohuru all the way to the grand finale, where she became the franchise’s first international winner.
Now, Niohuru is based in Los Angeles, and after being bathed in blood by the Boulets, she’s ready to continue on the path to world domination. INTO caught up with Niohuru to learn her favorite looks from the season, what it means to represent her home country, and how she feels about her fellow season 5 monsters.
Hi Niohuru! First of all, congrats on your win! Your package on the show was incredible. What inspired you as you prepared for the season?
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A lot of my looks have a very personal message from my experience coming from China as a queer artist. I put a lot of my cultural reference into the looks, and a lot of characters come very naturally when I’m conceptualizing those looks. The whole package of looks is like a storybook of my life.
Is there an example of one look that you think really connects to your life?
One of the looks that really stands out is the Hello Kitty slasher look. That is representing my whole life of battling with masculinity and femininity. I shared a little bit on the show that growing up, I was always bullied for being so femme as a boy, and I hated myself for that. And during puberty, I tried to look as masc as possible. I would draw on a little mustache — so ridiculous.
After I realized I am a trans woman, I started to embody my feminine side more and more. But at this point of my life, I know who Niohuru is: I am both feminine and masculine. There is no definition of what being trans is like, and all those qualities of me are what make me who I am. I just really wanted to share that personal journey on the stage with such a fun, cute look, and I’m very proud of myself.
Speaking of being proud of yourself, I wanted to talk about the first episode, which you also won. How did it feel for you to prove yourself immediately?
Coming into the first challenge, I only had one goal on that day: I’m not going home first. I’m laying everything I have on the table, pulling everything out of my sleeve. I didn’t have a lot of performing experience, so the first time I performed on stage, it was very nerve-wracking and I was freaking out a little bit. But I think the whole journey really opened up my mind, and I feel so much more confident on the stage. I think I’m a good performer now. I don’t know how to play the guitar, but I can serve c*nt, you know?
And what more do you need? Beyond your own looks, this whole season was full of amazing floorshows. Do you have a favorite look from one of your competitors?
Oh my god, there are just too many great, great, great looks. I don’t even know where to start. I am so mesmerized by Orkgotik’s rock demon look with the wings and horns. That look lives in my brain rent-free for the rest of my life. Orkgotik is such an artistic visionary — nobody does things like him. He’s literally a gift from the universe to humankind.
Another look is the Egyptian god look by Blackberri for the neon haunted house. That look is drop-dead beautiful. Everything about that look, all the details, the glow effect, the makeup, and the way the wings spread — everything just captured my attention so much. I’m a huge fan.
Speaking of your fellow monsters, are you still friends with your season 5 cast?
None of us are friends anymore. We are family now. The season 5 cast is a true chosen family. We celebrate each other, we motivate each other, we inspire each other, we help each other through hard times, and we’re there for each other for the beautiful, happy times. I truly feel so grateful that Dragula brought such a beautiful cast together. We formed a lifelong bond.
That is so beautiful. You are also, of course, representing China as the first international winner of the show. What does it mean to you to represent Chinese culture on such a large platform?
Coming into the competition, I didn’t think I was going to represent anyone but myself. But as the episodes went on, as I discovered more about myself and got more in touch with my feelings, I realized I’m representing a whole community. I’m representing Asian queer people in America. I’m also representing queer people in China, in Asia, at this moment. I want to use my voice, share my journey, really step out of my comfort zone, and conquer my fear of talking about my deepest traumas and my darkest moments.
The feedback has been amazing. A lot of people, even from China, reached out to me saying, “Hearing you talk about your journey, we can relate so, so, so much. And seeing you thrive as a queer artist on a platform like Dragula gives us so much hope that we can accomplish beautiful things no matter where we come from, no matter how dark we might feel right now.” I’m just very grateful, and I’m filled with happiness right now.
You also opened up a lot in the finale about your relationship with your family back in China and wanting to make them proud. Have you talked to your family about your drag since the show?
I haven’t talked to my family about drag since the show, and I don’t really think I would. Like I said, I’m still on a healing journey with my family right now. And I love them with all my heart. The last thing I want is to cause them more pain, and them seeing my art will for sure bring them more pain.
I think I’ve spent my whole life seeking validation from them. All I wanted was to hear, “I’m proud of who you are. You don’t have to be the perfect Chinese son we designed you to be for us to be proud of you.” That’s all I wanted to hear. But at this moment, I’m learning to let that go. I want to be so secure in my core, I don’t need anyone’s validation. I don’t need anyone’s “I’m proud of you” to make myself feel good. As queer people, we don’t need to seek validation from our family. It’s really easier said than done — I’m not quite there yet. But I’m on this journey of finding myself and finding the power within myself.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Finally, now that you’ve won, what’s next for Niohuru X?
Oh my god. That is such an exciting question. To be honest, I don’t have a specific milestone that I want to conquer. I think I am going to do what I have been doing for the past few years: I’m going to just focus on elevating myself, enriching my heart, enriching my brain, and pushing my art to the extreme. And what the universe has planned for me will deliver me better and bigger things. ♦
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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