PaleyFest proves it's not the full RuPaul experience without a bit of shade, some words of wisdom and a few tears, too.
"I'm sorry, but you said 'explosive,' and all I think of is diarrhea," RuPaul interjected during Sunday's PaleyFest panel for RuPaul's Drag Race.
Moderator Aisha Tyler, in full drag for the occasion, had asked the panelists (including host RuPaul, judges Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley and Ross Mathews and the show's executive producers) to single out one moment from the series -- something personal or "explosive" -- that has particularly resonated with them.
"You could set your watch to it, every season someone reveals something that leaves you speechless," RuPaul said. "Because it's just amazing that people would have children and be so mean to their kids. What are you doing to these children?!"
The conversation seamlessly cued up a clip of season five contest Roxxxy Andrews breaking down on stage and revealing that, as a child, he and his sister were left at a bus stop by their mother. (You can see the moment here, at 1:12.) As the lights came up in the theater, a visibly emotional RuPaul used a tissue to dab at the tears beneath his glasses.
"That clip in particular, we got to show the world the coping skills of queer people and outsiders and people who have used irreverence and humor as a way to heal themselves," Ru explained. "Behind the paint and the powder and all of the artifice, there are real deep feelings there, and we show the world how to cope."
"And every kid who's out in the middle of wherever they're watching the show, gets to learn there's a tribe out there waiting for them, a family waiting for them, that is going to have open arms," he said.
It's not the full RuPaul experience without a bit of shade, some words of wisdom and a few tears, too, and with the crying out of the way, the panel, held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, was a kiki, full of laugh-out-loud moments and behind-the-scenes tea. Here are a few of our favorite bits:
On how drag culture has changed since RuPaul's early days: "I started right after the Korean War," Mama Ru joked. "Well, when I started, we had to make our lipstick out of whale blubber and asbestos. And Lady Bunny killed the whale."
To which Michelle chimed in, "I thought Lady Bunny was the whale?"
This Tammie Brown moment: While discussing the universality of the show, RuPaul said, "We're all so similar. That's another important part of the show is that you get to see how the struggle of a Tammie Brown is not that different from a Michelle Visage."
"OK. Sure," she deadpanned back. "You don't see me watching children in nature."
How Drag Race landed Lady Gaga as a guest judge: "The whole Lady Gaga moment was the power of yes," Tom Campbell said. "Three years earlier, Lady Gaga was doing an ABC special with the Muppets...and we get a call the day before and it was Lady Gaga's people and they wanted Ru to come do drag tomorrow. We were like, Huh. That's odd to ask all of a sudden." RuPaul said yes. "And I'll never forget, because she came to Ru -- she was dancing with the Muppets, she's dressed in a Xanadu-Olivia Newton-John outfit, if that helps -- and she talked about how Ru helped her through her youth…Gaga said that night, 'I'm going to do Drag Race.' And she came through with her promise!"
Gaga wasn't originally booked for the premiere of season nine, but she reached out to the show and the day of filming scheduled lined up with her availability. "I think that's part of the reason we got moved to VH1," Campbell said. "And then we're here!"
What Drag Race means in these politically fraught times: "We really do need to see a reflection of what a global universe looks like," RuPaul said. "Our show is that example. Not only what it looks like, but how to integrate and behave with one another...I think the Muslim kid who's on there [season 11's Mercedes Iman Diamond] does explain her viewpoint. She's a little timid about it, at first."
"When you connect with these people, you realize, you could be opulence," producer Randy Barbato cracked.
Ross Mathews' encounter with a savage young queen: "I remember thinking when I was nine or 10, 'What does a gay grownup look like?' It wasn't represented on television at all," Mathews recalled. "Now, the world can grow up seeing a show that celebrates people for just who they are...I did this drag brunch, I had a 10-year-old drag queen show up. It's a little boy, looked like a little Cabbage Patch Kid. I said, 'Honey, do you think you'll be on RuPaul's Drag Race season 29?' And he said, 'If Ru's still alive.' I looked at that little kid and said, 'You are a motherf**king drag queen!'"
Producers didn't know about Sasha Velour's rose petal reveal: "We had not seen her lip-sync all season, so she came out and it was such a surprise," Barbato said. "No shade for this, but she came out and we were like, That wig?! That's the wig for the finale?!... And then she did that and it speaks to the power of the artistry of what drag is...To see her do something this artistic was just breathtakingly special."
"We might not have known what she was going to do, but I knew where that Asia stunt was gonna go," Visage chimed in.
On what makes a queen fall apart in the Werk Room: "What most people don't understand is that they have very little time. Now, we say, 'Last week on the show' but what we're talking about is yesterday," Ru explained. "The girls come, they're sleep deprived...some of 'em, they just sort of fizzle out because they didn't get no weed."
"Yes," Campbell joked. "RuPaul's Detox Center."
On last week's six-way lip sync: "It had to be done," RuPaul said, as Campbell added, "Did you see the Mariah Carey [skit]? The decision was made for us." "Thank god they didn't choose Whitney [Houston]," Visage sighed.
"I used to be gentle and sort of guide them," RuPaul added of her Werk Room visit to the girls. "At this point, you have to just break it down. That's where we are in the world right now. You just need to hit people over the head and say, 'This is what's good for you. Just shut up and do it.'"
RuPaul's Drag Race airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on VH1.