Loretta Devine Says She Channeled Her Dreamgirls Past on RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race

·5 min read
Loretta Devine
Loretta Devine

David Livingston/Getty; VH1/World of Wonder

Loretta Devine was the first star eliminated from the season 2 premiere of RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race, but she says the experience was still fabulous.

The Emmy-winning actress, 72, chatted with PEOPLE about her experience on the VH1 reality competition show, which debuted on Friday.

She transformed into Fabulosity for the show, a queen she described as "a missing piece of all of the grand divas of the world." But it turns out, there was one diva in particular she was channelling — herself!

Asked why she decided to sign up for the series, Devine said she was flooded with "memories of my days in Dreamgirls," the 1981 Tony-winning Broadway musical in which she originated the role of Lorrell, one of the three original Dreams (the others played by Sheryl Lee Ralph and Jennifer Holliday).

"You don't often get to do roles on film and television where you're on stage, singing and dancing," Devine says. "I wanted to get my Dream back on!"

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Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph

Courtesy Everett Collection Terry Burrell, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Loretta Devine in Dreamgirls

Devine is also a fan of RuPaul, gushing that she "absolutely adores" the show's host and head judge.

That said, watching Drag Race may have been better from the couch. Devine admits to PEOPLE that the experience of doing the show was much harder than she anticipated — especially when she was asked to sashay away.

"I was very excited to be a part of it, but I just was devastated to be the first out," Devine says. "You put a lot of work into it, putting together the look and learning the song, the choreography. I had a Mary J. Blige song and I said, 'If I can't do the dancing really great, I know I can fake out the singing so it'll be really good.' And then next thing you know you're standing on the stage and it really is hard as you see people disappear around you. You go, 'Oh God, I'm still here and they're going!' You see it on the reality shows all the time but when you're the last on the stage, it hurts!"

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It only got harder when Devine was left to lip sync for her life in the competition. "I was so focused on the first song and then boom, it was just me and someone else and I had to do the the other song!"

All in all, Devine looks back on the experience positively. "I'd do it again, if Fabulosity could do it sitting down!' she teases to PEOPLE. "It was scary, but it was exciting. And my look, it was extremely dramatic. I didn't look like myself to me. When they finished with me, it was an absolute surprise. It was Fabulosity! That's what it was — it was not me!"

Her time on Celebrity Drag Race may not have been long, but Devine says she's looking for more opportunities to sing and dance in future projects.

That includes a hopeful return to the stage in The Preacher's Wife, the musical adaptation of the 1996 Whitney Houston film.

Devine played secretary Beverly in the movie. In the musical, which features a score from Emmy nominee Tituss Burgess, she's been cast in the role of Julia's mother (a.k.a. the mom of Houston's onscreen character).

"I've been working on [The Preacher's Wife] musical for years with Tituss. And I don't know if I need to be telling his business, but something is coming up," Devine says, with a laugh. "It's a great project. He is just an incredible composer. We've been at it for so long with workshops, but we did the same thing with Dreamgirls back in the day — we did four six-week workshops putting the show together. So I'm really hopeful it'll come together soon because I'm ready to be back on Broadway."

Loretta Devine
Loretta Devine

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty

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Until then, Devine is staying busy working in tv and film. She has more than 170 career credits to her name, with plenty coming down the pike, including the final season of Netflix's Family Reunion.

She also on Starz's P-Valley, playing Ernestine, the 80-year-old blind stripper ("the idea is just so incredible, I couldn't say no," she jokes of the role). And can be seen on the big screen currently in Mack & Rita alongside Diane Keaton.

Off screen, Devine remains very close with her Dreamgirls costars, especially Ralph and Holliday, who often share videos of various Dreamgirls productions from around the world.

"Can you believe it's been over 40 years since Dreamgirls?" Devine recalls. "It's really incredible. We had no idea it would turn out to be a legendary piece, but there are productions all over."

"We just had so much fun," she adds, of doing the show originally. "I was young and silly; every day was exciting in the streets of New York. We worked har and partied harder; we had little time to sleep but it was just a great time. And for all of us to be able to continue to work in this industry? We are just blessed."

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The actress is especially thrilled for Ralph right now, a 2022 Emmy nominee for her role on Abbott Elementary. "Isn't that wonderful for her? It's just so absolutely wonderful," Devine gushes. "I'm very happy for her in that."

Does that mean a role on the ABC sitcom is awaiting Devine soon? "Oh, you'll have to ask them!" Devine says. "But please do put it out into the universe now!"

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RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.