by Will Groff, Staff Writer
Ginger Minj has always been country. The Central Florida native, who grew up listening to country compilation records and cites Dolly Parton and Wynonna Judd as major stylistic influences, came up through the Southern drag pageant circuit before making her way to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Following memorable appearances on Drag Race season 7 and All Stars season 2, Ginger played a supporting role in Parton’s Dumplin’ film for Netflix and starred in an over-the-top music video for a dance remix of “Jolene” alongside several former Drag Race contestants.
Now, six years after entering the famous Werk Room for the first time and fresh off a runner-up placement on All Stars Season 6, the self-described “Glamour Toad” is finally releasing her first country album. On Double Wide Diva, Ginger presents a countrified blend of pageantry polish and slapstick comedy. The album’s stadium-ready lead single, “Walk Tall,” is equal parts origin story and empowerment anthem: “This world will try to make you feel so small / So put your heels on / And walk tall,” Ginger sings in the outro. Elsewhere, she gives Garth Brooks a run for his money with a rowdy cover of “Friends in Low Places” and deflates Southern beauty standards on the humorous “Pretty.”
But despite its campy delivery, Double Wide Diva isn’t a send-up of the country lifestyle so much as a generous tribute to the people and places that shaped the drag icon’s early life. On a recent phone call, Ginger Minj chatted with Country Queer about growing up queer in the South, where she finds the inspiration for her songs, and why she still sometimes feels like an outsider.
What inspired you to make a country album?
Well, I’m a country boy. I grew up in the South; it’s what I was raised on, to the point where I had to take a break from it for a while. When you’re too close to something, you know how you just want to rebel against it? I went off in a different direction with my life, and then I came back around to country music and realized this is the best way to tell my story. Because there’s something so pure about country music. It really is just stories set to accessible songs.
I think that a lot of queer people can relate to rebelling against the music you grew up with. Can you talk about the relationship between country music and your queerness?
My divas growing up were Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette and, of course, Tanya Tucker. And that’s because I would spend a lot of time at my grandparents’ house, particularly on the weekends. My house had its own issues, and I tried to get away as much as I could. I would wake up every Sunday morning to my grandmother cooking breakfast and playing compilation records with all of those women’s songs about female empowerment before it was really a thing that was cool, or tolerated, or anything like that.
These ladies who have always embraced and identified more with their feminine side than their masculine side… that really spoke to me. My father would not support me being feminine in any way or being any kind of entertainer or performer. My grandparents owned a barbecue restaurant, and it had a giant counter, and I remember my grandfather putting on the radio, standing me up on the counter and making me perform for the restaurant. It was, like, the one shining moment I could get in the spotlight. My father would not let me do that.
That’s a really amazing story. It reminded me of “Because of This Town,” which to me feels autobiographical. To what degree are the songs on this album personal and to what degree are you playing a character?
There’s no character at all. This is 100 percent me. The way that we sat to write this album, myself and Brandon Stansell and Jeffrey James, we started going through diaries and journals and letters that I had written to myself, and we homed in on different pieces of my story. It was important to me not to vilify Leesburg (Fla.), where I grew up. I did learn, once I went away from it, that the people aren’t bad. They just don’t understand you, and you don’t understand them, and it’s all about bridging that gap of communication. Sometimes when people are that close to you, they’re the ones that can hurt you the most. But it doesn’t make them bad, you just have to learn to be tolerant of each other.
Definitely. And that was obviously a major theme of “This is Our Country” (from RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 6). I love your verse on that song so much. “My country ‘tis the tea” was such an iconic line.
[Laughs] thank you.
Did you come into the competition prepared to do a country song?
No, oh my goodness. I hoped and prayed for country, but I never thought that was gonna be a thing. When you think of RuPaul or drag in particular, I don’t think you think of country. One thing that stopped me from doing country music for a long time is because, even though I felt like drag and country were the two most authentic pieces of myself, the drag world has this immediate negative reaction to country, and country has this immediate negative reaction to drag. So, I was trying to find a moment to bridge that gap and I don’t know where or when or how but the gods of Drag Race smiled on me and let me do a country song. It opened up the floodgates for me to do this whole album.
Dolly Parton has famously said she modeled her idea of glamour after the “town tramp.” Was the song “Double Wide Diva” inspired by anyone in particular?
It’s more of an amalgamation of all the women in our town. It takes a very specific type of Southern woman to make herself glamorous, and she will do it by any means possible. My mother was never one of those women when I was growing up. And after she and my father divorced, she dove headfirst into that world. She didn’t have more than a couple of dollars in her bank account, and she was working around the clock. But every Friday night when she went out, her hair was done, her makeup was done; she had a new outfit, new shoes, and a new attitude. She was ready to take on the world [laughs].
And my grandmother’s next door neighbor, her name was Betty Jean. She worked at Publix making cakes for like 50 years. But every morning, it didn’t matter if nobody would see her in the back of that bakery, she would put her hair up in a big updo and get herself over to the Publix at four o’clock in the morning and start decorating cakes. It’s just this sense of pride that a lot of Southern women take in their appearance.
That song is also about being a big girl, which isn’t talked about that often in country music. Why was that important to include?
It’s time for queer people and bigger people to be allowed space at the table. No pun intended. There are a lot of very talented plus-size entertainers out there, particularly singers and particularly country singers. And they don’t get enough credit. I want to be part of that. I want to be part of the movement.
I said it on season 7 (of RuPaul’s Drag Race): We are the land of the free, home of the fat people, where we can supersize our food, but we can’t allow different-size people into our sphere. And I don’t think that’s fair because our stories are just as valid, and a lot of times they’re more interesting. Give us a chance to tell them.
Where does your funny come from?
I learned at a young age that if you can’t run your legs, you run your mouth. My mouth has gotten me into and out of a lot of bad situations. I also learned very early that life is serious, but it’s not that serious. You shouldn’t let it bog you down too much, because then it becomes unbearable. You’ve got to really find the moments of happiness and joy and celebrate them.
That’s a perfect segue into talking about your cover of “Friends in Low Places.” Why that song?
Well, even the gays love Garth! I’ll start with that. It’s one of those songs that — even for non-fans of country — you hear the first (few notes) and you know exactly what the song is. You’ve sung that song, you’ve heard it in the car, you’ve joined in to the chorus at karaoke.
When I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve gotten to meet all of these incredible people. I’ve always said that drag is a regional sport, and everywhere you go, it changes. The whole game changes. I’ve learned so much from all these girls, and now I consider them to not only be co-workers, but also friends. I wanted to do it as a love letter to them and a love letter to country and a love letter to Garth.
I love that. The video’s so much fun as well.
I didn’t even know the video was happening! It was a surprise for me for my birthday from my husband and my management team. He just said, “I need you to say this and hold your purse and walk around the corner” [laughs].
Let’s talk about Tanya Tucker’s appearance on the All Stars 6 finale. What a moment!
I actually identified with her a lot when we were doing our conversation with her in the Werk Room, because she said she always felt like — no matter how successful she was — she wasn’t accepted by her community. She was always the redheaded stepchild, a little bit of the black sheep of that big country family. And I have felt like that a lot of times with Drag Race and its fan base. I work really hard to prove myself and they do respond to it well, but I’ve always felt like a little bit of an outsider. And when she said that to us in the Werk Room — I don’t think they aired that part — it really rang true. And she said the way that she got over it was to realize that the insecurities were hers; she was projecting that. I try every day not to project that into the world, to try to see every situation exactly like it is. And it has helped a lot.
It’s interesting that you felt like an outsider, because at the same time, you kept getting critiqued for being too polished. Was that frustrating?
What’s frustrating is that they don’t show the flip side of that. And I realize it’s an hour-long program, they’re not gonna be able to show everything, but it feels fairly imbalanced. They wanted to focus on that side of my story and not tell any of the emotional moments that I felt like would have been beneficial for other people like me to year. I felt like my storyline got a little bit diminished, especially towards the end. They cut out some things that I think would have been really helpful for other people, but it is what it is. I’m not mad at them for telling me I’m fantastic and wonderful and polished and all that stuff, because that’s the kind of drag I’ve always done. I was raised by the Southern pageant girls to be polished, so to tell me that I’m polished and professional is something that I do appreciate. But I also want people to know that there’s another side to me, there’s a human side, and I’m sad that those moments didn’t get to be shared.
I’m sure. I don’t want to get too far away from the album, but can you talk about one of those moments?
In my final interview with Ru and Michelle on the main stage, we had a good half-hour, crying conversation — all of us were crying, the cameramen, everybody — about feeling like an outsider and learning to love yourself and realizing that that love doesn’t come from other people. It has to come from inside, whether you feel like you have it to give or not. I was talking about how my husband has really been my biggest cheerleader and supporter, but I also learned that I can’t rely just on those moments with him. I have to stare at myself in the mirror, I have to find the things that I love.
It was such an important conversation to be had, that I think it really affected everybody who was in that room. And I feel like it would have made a lot of people who look like me feel less alone. That’s another reason we wanted to write the album the way that we did. Because it does tell stories from my perspective, of being queer and being plus-size and being from a place that doesn’t necessarily accept you. They want the best for you, but they don’t really know how to go about doing that, so you have to figure it out for yourself. That’s my story and the story that we told with this album.
Do you think there’s a point at which you’re so successful that those feelings go away? Or do you always have to deal with them?
I don’t think those feelings go away. I feel like those feelings are natural for everybody in the world. I don’t know why everybody on this earth doesn’t identify as queer. Because queer just means different and a little bit weird in your own way. We all feel that way. We’ve all felt like an outsider. We’ve all been on top of the world, we’ve all been at our very lowest lows, and that’s just kind of what human nature is. But I think that especially if you’re an artist who tries to look for all of those things to express yourself, you will never fully and truly feel completely accepted. Part of you is always gonna feel like you’re walking around on the outside.
Has doing this album helped you work through any of that?
Oh, of course. I’ve always said sitting down and writing something is a lot cheaper and a lot more helpful than therapy ever was to me. I’ve been through plenty of therapy in my life, and I’m not gonna discredit it — it definitely does help — but there’s nothing like putting pen to paper and getting what’s inside of you out.
In terms of country music, what’s next for you?
Well, our goal is the Grand Ole Opry, and I think we’re gonna make it happen. We’re gonna do what we have to do. I’m gonna tour with this album as much as I can. We’re gonna continue to sing these songs and get the stories out there, and once we’re done with this, we’re gonna move on to some more stories. Country is my home, it’s what I made my way back to, and I don’t plan on leaving it any time soon.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.