RuPaul Talks 'Drag Race' Hits -- and Misses!
By JARETT WIESELMAN
September 23, 2013
When RuPaul's Drag Race sashayed into our lives in February 2009, it didn't instantly snatch wigs. In fact, it's taken six seasons (including one All-Stars edition) for the show to permeate the mainstream, earn inclusion in nearly every "Snubbed By Emmy" story and be considered Must See TV.
But loyal fans have known since day one that RuPaul was on to something special with this eleganza extravaganza, and now Logo's giving Johnny-come-lately's the chance to come correct and -- finally -- experience the first edition of Drag Race! The 9-episode season, which has not been re-aired or available on DVD due to legal issues, premieres tonight and includes never-before-seen footage, new cast interviews and "peek-a-Ru" pop-up commentary!
ETonline caught up with the H.B.I.C. to talk about revisiting the first season, the show's ultimate legacy and why drag -- and Drag Race -- still has a long way to go to truly be considered "popular culture."
ETonline: What made you decide to give the fans another look at season one?
RuPaul: It was truly by popular demand. The fact we shoot the show once a year, we wanted to fill the gap and satiate the appetite of our loyal fans because a lot of people came on board later. I mean, people are still now just discovering the show.
ETonline: What was it like going back and rewatching the first season given how much the show has changed?
RuPaul: Obviously the first season didn't have the budget to be as glossy and shiny as it is today. We had just enough money for that jar of Vaseline for the lens. But it's funny to see how certain ideas, which are huge components of the show now, have their origins in that season. There are glimpses of what the show has become in the first season, and it's interesting to see how they were peeking their heads out from day one.
ETonline: Such as?
RuPaul: Well, the first season really established that something organic always happens we couldn't have counted on, like Ongina revealing her HIV status. There are so many wonderful facets of these courageous creatures' personalities that come out and there's no way, in conceptualizing the show, we could have anticipated that. Now, I'm always looking for that one defining moment for every season, and we've had them every year. It was a galvanizing revelation; not only for the girls but for the nation. Everybody understands that behind the pain and the powder, there are real, courageous human beings who should be admired and celebrated.
ETonline: The collective perspective of drag has really been transformed since the show began; now you have your girls on network television, taking over YouTube and starring in Lady Gaga's Applause video. What does it mean to you to see them having such success?
RuPaul: It's the greatest part of my whole career. I've been doing this for 31 years and it's absolutely the thing I've been placed here to do. It feels absolutely amazing and great and I couldn't be more proud because beyond the fame, beyond the money, it really gets down to taking inspiration and love and inspiring people to get up and be themselves. To see them flourish and to present themselves to the world in a way that everybody can enjoy is indescribable.
ETonline: Who do you think has done the best with the platform? Shangela? Willam? Detox?
RuPaul: Absolutely. Also, Manilla and Latrice and Sharon and Alaska; they're all over the place. They're everywhere. Some girls have the hunger more than others. But the idea is to give them an opportunity to go as far as they want, and some are taking that opportunity to the umpteenth degree. The venues for us to perform in have generally been nightclubs -- and they come and go. Now, with the internet, the audience is so much smaller, so it had to transfer into television and other venues. There's not a long career span because you can't really make money doing drag for very long the way the system was set up for so many years. People have fans all over the world now, which allows them to travel -- these girls are no longer just a local phenomenon.
ETonline: Has the success of the show changed the caliber of queen who auditions?
RuPaul: On paper you'd think that would be the case, but by bringing someone young to the front of the line with your guidance, it doesn't necessarily make them better, faster. There's a certain trajectory and certain timeline that a person absolutely has to go through to get to that place of perfection. It's almost like Malcolm Gladwell's theory of the 10,000 hours. There's really no way to fast-track someone because the rate that their brain is able to interpret the information they're getting is on pace with life. It's like the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy says, "Why didn't you tell me all I had to do was click my heels three times?" It's because she had to go all that way to claim ownership. In terms of quality, some people just have it and others don't. But I do not think the show is capable of fast-tracking someone to the front of the line.
ETonline: Is that why you felt strongly about bringing Shangela back?
RuPaul: Absolutely. Absolutely. There's a certain rate of information assessment and absorption that you have to let happen naturally. There are microwaves, but in an oven, it takes the right amount of time for a certain item to be ready. Some girls simply aren't cooked yet.
ETonline: Speaking of Shangela, she was one of the Drag Race alums in Lady Gaga's Applause lyric video. Afterwards, Gaga said she wants to be a judge on the show. Any chance that'll happen this season?
RuPaul: Oh, we have tried to get Lady Gaga every season [laughs]. I mean, from season one we tried to get her. I wish people truly knew how hard it is to book talent on this show. It's like how everyone thinks all famous people know each other. Booking talent for the judges panel is a freakin' nightmare of scheduling. It's not as easy as saying, "Come on down!" It's a long f*cking day, and people who run businesses aren't coming down for that [laughs].
ETonline: What's the status of season six?
RuPaul: We've filmed the entire season and, oh my God, it's fabulous. It's one of the strongest seasons ever because the girls have very equal skillsets. It's the tightest competition ever. If I had my way, there would always be a new season of Drag Race airing, but it's not in my control. Although, honestly, if there was enough public demand for it, it would be happening. The basic fact is we still are a niche audience -- even in the gay community there are still people who think drag is the bastard child of the gay movement. When the truth is, it was a queen who threw the first motherf*cking brick -- and people forget that sh*t because it's convenient for them to forget sometimes. If you read Animal Farm, you know that humans traditionally forget the reason we have revolutions in the first place. Am I going to change it? No. Am I going to live with it? Sure! And I'm going to have fun every single day with it.
RuPaul's Drag Race: The Lost Season Ru-Vealed premieres September 30 at 9 p.m. on Logo.