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BeBe Zahara Benet is the stage name of Nea Marshall Kudi Ngwa, a drag performer, and former male model. She is best known for being the first winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, appearing on Season 1.

BeBe is known for her poise, infectious smile, and her polished runway presentations which led her to snatch the crown of America's Next Drag Superstar. Her drag aesthetic is known to be heavily influenced by her African culture.

Biography

Nea Kudi Ngwa was born and raised in the African country of Cameroon. Growing up as a child, he says he was always curious about fashion and makeup, even sneaking into his parent's room after they left the house and playing around with his mother's (Elizabeth Ngwa) shoes and makeup products.

Kudi worked as a model in Paris, France and in the U.S. In his modeling career, he once walked the runway as a woman after one of the models failed to show up at a Paris fashion show. At this time, Kudi didn't know that what he was doing was considered drag.
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BeBe Zahara Benet photographed by Terry Hastings

In 2000, 19 year-old Kudi officially moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in order to continue his college studies and be closer to his family. Still not knowing what "drag" was or what it meant, his school friend took him to his first drag show. After seeing drag queens perform and entertain, Kudi states this was his "a-ha" moment and would eventually pursue his life-long interest in drag as Bebe Zahara Benet.

BeBe first performed in the Gay 90s, a nightclub in Minneapolis, though she did not consider this as proper drag performances. Her first full drag performance would eventually be alongside pop diva and LGBT rights activist Cyndi Lauper, who sang "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", performing as a backup dancer during an LGBT Pride block party. With her new-found popularity, BeBe began performing full-time in gay bars and refining her signature look: playing off her African roots with animal print bodysuits and gowns, elaborate head wraps, face paint, and much more. She also competed in drag queen beauty pageants.

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"Serving face, beauty face"

In 2009, BeBe got another big break. She was approached by casting directors for the inaugural season of RuPaul's Drag Race three times. Declining twice, she was eventually persuaded to join the show after she was approached by RuPaul herself and told her that her voice, point of view and aesthetic was needed in the show. After competing in the show, BeBe Zahara Benet was crowned as America's Next Drag Superstar, beating her fellow competitors. Her prize package included a cash prize of $20,000, $5,000 worth of MAC Cosmetics, a feature in an LA Eyeworks campaign, and a spot on the Logo Drag Race tour.

Following her win, she moved to New York City and began a music career, releasing iconic bops such as "Cameroon" in 2010 and "Face" in 2014. In May 2018, BeBe released the ultimate bop "Jungle Kitty," which is based on her verse from the Kitty Girls group challenge in the third season of RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars.
Bebetan

BeBe's variety show performance in All Stars 3

Prior to 2018, BeBe was invited back to appear on season three of RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars. Skeptical of joining the show once more, she eventually accepted the invitation and was introduced to a now-massive audience of the show she helped launch. BeBe made it to the final episode and placed 3rd/4th overall with her competitor Shangela.

Since 2006, Kudi and BeBe have been the subject of a feature-length documentary titled "Being BeBe". The documentary will follow BeBe's journey: from her early days in Minneapolis, to winning the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race, to her inner struggles and all the way to competing in the third season of All Stars. The documentary is expected to be released in 2019. Filmmaker Emily Branham met BeBe when she was just starting out at the Gay 90s club.

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BeBe photographed by Alvan Washington

BeBe continues to tour the world and produce her own shows and performances. She currently resides in Minneapolis.

Drag Name Origin

The name "BeBe" randomly popped up in her mind while driving, and she has stuck with it since. While "Benet" represents the French side of her, "BeBe" represents the American side. "Zahara" came after she went to Las Vegas and was in awe of the beautiful scenery, which reminded her of Cleopatra and the Sahara desert. She stated that she also wanted a name that connected her to her African roots and flowed well with BeBe Benet.

RuPaul's Drag Race Stats

BeBe Zahara Benet
Season Competed: Season 1 All Stars 3
Ranking: 1st Place (Winner) 3rd/4th
Mini-Challenges Won: 0 0
Times as Team Captain: 0 0
Main Challenges Won: 2 (ep. 3, 6) 2 (ep. 5, 6)
Times in Bottom Two: 1 (ep. 5) 1 (ep. 7)
Episode Eliminated: N/A ep. 8
  • BeBe is the very first season winner in series history.
  • BeBe won two main challenges in Season 1, and two main challenges again in Season 3 of All Stars.
  • Over the show's history, BeBe has only been in the bottom two twice.
  • BeBe is the only contestant to win the $20,000 cash prize, the second lowest cash prize in series history. (see: Tatianna)
  • As the winner of Season 1, BeBe was given a featured cameo in the music video for RuPaul's song "Cover Girl (Put The Bass In Your Walk)".

Discography

Kisses and Feathers

Cover art for Bebe's EP "Kisses & Feathers"

EPs

  • Kisses & Feathers (November 17, 2017)

Singles

Trivia

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  • After winning Drag Race, BeBe moved from Minneapolis to New York City.
  • According to BeBe, she never received her prize of $5,000 worth of MAC Cosmetics, though did receive everything else in the prize package.
  • One of BeBe's most memorable performances was performing "Circle of Life" from the classic Disney movie, The Lion King.
  • After Season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race ended, BeBe was cast as a new professor for RuPaul's Drag U Season 2. BeBe was the only new Season 1 queen to enter the show but was reunited with her fellow friends and contestants Shannel and Ongina.
  • BeBe was revealed to be the mysterious 10th queen on the premiere episode of All Stars Season 3, confirming rumors.
  • BeBe is the first winner to compete in an All Stars season.
  • On both seasons BeBe competed in, she won 2 main challenges, placed high once and was up for elimination once at the final 5.
  • After All Stars 3, BeBe is the most followed Season 1 queen on Instagram, with over 300,000 followers.

Memorable Quotes

Rupaul placing the Crown on Bebe's Head as The First Ever Winner of Drag Race

RuPaul crowning BeBe in the season one finale

Season 1

  • "I bring a lot of international influence, and right now I really feel like I'm ahead of the game."
  • "I want to win this because there is pride and dignity in what we do. Dressing up for a living does not make us less of a man."
  • "Right now I'm overwhelmed because I can't believe it finally happened. Like a dream that you have been dreaming all the time has finally come."
  • "Face, face, face, I give face, beauty face!"
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BeBe photographed by Alvan Washington

All Stars 3

  • "Mother, another day; another slay. Who's first?" (All Stars 3 entrance)
  • "I'm the only African here, but why does it look like you can sponsor Kennedy Davenport for 30 cents a day?"
  • "Hahaha, bitch you got jokes!"
  • "Paramedics! Paramedics, make sure she's okay because I was not ready!" (reacting to Aja's death drop)
  • "Miss Thorgy drew the --- a very like, you know, a picture of what the...(laughs)...She drew a picture!"
  • "That's the gag of the season."
  • (as Grace Jones) "So RuPaul, when are we going to FUCK?"
  • "Ooooh, the drama in the pageant!"
  • "Bitch I'm a performah!"
  • "Who's Ornacia? I don't know who that is."
  • "Rrrrra-ka-ta-ti-ti-ta-ta, Yeah, I'm pussy, bitch! Ooh-la-la-la-la-la-la C'est bon, c'est bon. Do-go-choco-la-ta-la, you, can't take my snatch, drag it up, wild it up, give me more, bring it to the ball!" (BeBe's lyrics in the Kitty Girl group challenge)

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