Naomi Smalls calls herself an “eclectic” sort of drag queen. Her style isn’t uniform, and she tries to “transport you to the editorial thread I came up with in my head,” which varies between performances.
The statuesque Los Angeles native, who has lived in Chicago for about three years, caught the national eye in 2016 as a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Logo, where she finished as runner-up to winner Bob the Drag Queen. She steps back onto the “Drag Race” stage, and the screen, for an all-star season premiering Friday on VH1.
“On season eight, Naomi Smalls put the LEG in ‘legendary’ and stomped her way into the top three,” VH1 said in announcing her return. “She’s back on ‘All Stars’ to prove she can outperform the best of ‘em.”
Smalls, 25, said that the first time she was on the show, she learned to embrace her silly side.
“When I was first starting out, I wanted to be always be very put-together,” she said. “But what is so unique about me is I have a very light way of looking at life and I can really make fun of myself.”
At the time she first appeared on the show, she didn’t have much of a following and performed mostly in amateur competitions. “I was kind of a baby drag queen,” she said.
This season will be different because competitors will bring along their experiences since the show. For Smalls, that has meant traveling the world, improving her craft and working with “icons and legends.”
She also works on a YouTube series called “Small’s World” where she documents her life for fans.
“I’ve been really living my dream,” she said “I’m very thankful for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ ”
Smalls has been performing since she was 18. Her stage name pays homage to model Naomi Campbell and rapper Biggie Smalls.
“They’re the best at what they do,” she said. “They’re very well known for doing their own thing, and no one really does what they did, so I wanted to have that same kind of uniqueness with my own drag.”
She now lives in Edgewater and often performs in the city. She said her home bar is Roscoe’s Tavern in Boystown.
Smalls is the drag persona of Davis Heppenstall. He grew up as the 11th of 12 children and said his family was always supportive of his performances.
“I used to not really like to talk about just how accepting my family was because you hear so many horror stories,” Smalls said. “I’ve learned that talking about it more helps normalize it.”