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"RuPaul's Drag Race" 16 finalist Sapphira Cristal opens up about journey, love for Philadelphia

"RuPaul's Drag Race" finalist Sapphira Cristal opens up about the love and support pouring in
"RuPaul's Drag Race" finalist Sapphira Cristal opens up about the love and support pouring in 03:25

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - "RuPaul's Drag Race" has been a cultural phenomenon challenging how society understands gender. After 16 seasons, not only does the 27-time Emmy Award-winning show have its first Philadelphia-based queen, but Sapphira Cristál is also in the finale to become "America's Next Drag Superstar."

"The full fantasy? Probably about an hour, maybe two hours," Cristál said.

From fantasy to reality, Cristál is a self-proclaimed jewel of Philadelphia, the city she's called home for the past 10 years.

"Something about Philly, the energy is right here," Cristál said. "It really makes you feel like you are part of something."

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CBS News Philadelphia joined Cristál getting into drag for a watch party at the Theatre of the Living Arts on South Street.

Cristál is the first queen to represent Philadelphia on the main stage of RuPaul's Drag Race since the show began in 2009. 

"I auditioned for 'Drag Race' 11 times," Cristál said.

This season, she's one of the three finalists competing for the crown and America's Next Drag Superstar title. 

Along the way, Cristál introduces a national audience to her classically trained voice as a bona fide opera singer with a six-octave range.

"I am very in the moment when I'm on stage," Cristál said. "I am paying attention to what I am performing. Especially when lip-syncing to somebody else's words, but can you tell a story while you do it? Can you bring them on a journey? That is my goal. Let's go on this journey together."

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On this journey, she's felt the love of Philadelphia. 

"A mother last night said, 'My three sons are all Eagles fans and right now, they are Sapphira fans. They are all about you,'" Cristál said. "Straight men are going to watch 'Drag Race' because there is some Philly representation because they are so Philly."

But that support isn't the reality for many queens across the country with the political lightning rod of anti-drag bills attacking drag performers and seeking to ban the art form.

Last month, a drag storytime event at a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, library was called off after multiple bomb threats in the area, police said.

"If we are going to call ourselves the home of the free and the land of the brave," Cristál said, "then you should be brave enough to be able to let somebody do drag, be brave enough to let someone enjoy whatever art form they want to enjoy."

It is that freedom Cristál said she does see in families that come to her performances, like the ones who embrace her in the meet-and-greets behind the stage.

sapphira cristál
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"Everyone needs to be celebrated," Cristál said.

Crown or no crown, she said she will continue to use her platform to spread love, just like the city that embraced her 10 years ago.

"It's a ride-or-die city," Cristál said, "so no matter what happens, I know Philly has got my back, and I can't say that for everyone else."

Extended interview: Sapphira Cristál talks RuPaul's Drag Race season 16 finale 08:30

Philadelphia honors Cristál ahead of finale

Philadelphia City Council honored Cristál Thursday. 

Councilmembers Nicolas O'Rourke and Rue Landau introduced the resolution. 

"We are here to celebrate a certified star," O'Rourke said. "A hopeful RuPaul's Drag Race champion and already the winner in and of the hearts of Philadelphians." 

"Sapphira Cristál's success is a testament to the power of being absolutely true to oneself, and I am proud to recognize her achievement during our council session," Landau said.

Cristál is proud of the city, too.

"When I moved [to Philadelphia], it was the queerest place I've ever lived in my life," Cristál said. "It allowed me to be free; it is easy to be you when you just feel comfortable." 

That comfort for the LGBTQ+ community isn't felt everywhere, with hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year alone, according to the ACLU. 

"We as drag artists are representations of freedom," Cristál said. "We get to be whoever we want to be whenever we want to be. Drag is such a wide tapestry of freedom." 

Crown or no crown, Cristál said she will keep using her platform to spread love. "We will find out what happens tomorrow, but I know in my heart of hearts that I'm a winner, baby."

When is the RuPaul's Drag Race season 16 finale?

The finale for RuPaul's Drag Race Season 16 is Friday, April 19.

Where to watch RuPaul's Drag Race season 16 finale

The finale airs at 8 p.m. ET on MTV. People without cable can stream it online through Philo, DIRECTV Stream and FuboTV.

Who are the finalists for RePaul's Drag Race season 16?

Philadelphia's Sapphira Cristál will compete for the crown as "America's Next Drag Superstar" with Nymphia Wind and Plane Jane.

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