Project Runway’s Christian Siriano
uttered his first “tranny fierceness,” RuPaul
was turning heads at international hotspots,
headlining her own VH1 talk show, and burning up the
dance charts with singles like "Back to My Roots" and
"Supermodel (You Better Work)."
Now, the 6-foot-7
glamour girl is poised to conquer reality TV with
RuPaul’s Drag Race, a cutthroat
competition that sees her putting nine female
impersonators through their paces in a bid to be
crowned the next drag-queen superstar. With her team of
judges -- and help from celebrity guests like Bob
Mackie, Destiny’s Child’s Michelle
Williams, Lucy Lawless, and Tori Spelling -- Ru quickly
separates the boys from the queens.
But as the
Supermodel of the World herself would say, beauty
ain’t always pretty: Each week the bottom two
contestants must duke it out in a “lip-synch
for your life” showdown that determines who gets to
prance for another week. The last diva standing gets
$20,000 in cash, a photo spread in Paper
magazine, a print ad campaign with Greg Gorman and
L.A. Eyeworks, and other fab prizes.
of the eight-part series’ February 2 premiere on
Logo, Advocate.com chatted with RuPaul about putting
the show together, some of Drag Race’s
less-accomplished applicants, and her thoughts on
Advocate.com:So many people loved the drag episode of Project Runway you appeared in with Varla Jean Merman and Hedda Lettuce. Was that fun to work on?RuPaul: Well, I don’t know about fun -- it took something like seven hours to film just a few minutes of film. Even on our show, there are a ton of things that have to happen behind the scenes to make it all look effortless. Television is like drag: There’s a lot of illusion involved.
Did the Runway episode inspire your show? No, we’d been planning it for some time already. But it was great exposure for a lot of those girls.
How did you pick the contestants for Drag Race?We were looking for queens who had charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. There was a lot of discussion about what kind of contestants we were going to feature. Are you gonna do trannies, or pre-op or post-op girls? We decided they all had to be showgirls. None of the contestants have had any surgeries. But it was really hard to choose, actually. There were tons of video submissions to RuPaulsDragRace.com, but we ended up picking just one [of those]. We had a casting director choose most of the girls.
The best part of American Idol is when they show the train wrecks and rejects. Were there a lot of hot messes in the submissions for Drag Race? There were plenty of disasters -- and I wanted them all on the show. But fortunately other people had some say in the casting. It would’ve been a very different show. [Laughs] I love a good train wreck and I don’t think there’s really a wrong way to do drag. Anytime someone celebrates the human form it’s a good thing. The worse the better.
With nine drag queens in one room there must’ve been a lot of drama. Tons and tons of drama. It was a really diverse group -- queens from all over the country ranging from their early 20s to late 30s. So of course they’re going to get heated. But mostly I wasn’t prepared for how emotionally involved I’d get in them as people. Yes, there’s paint and powder. But what you really walk away with is the courage of the human spirit. What kind of person would go against our culture’s last taboo, messing with gender roles? What lengths will people go to live in beauty and love?
In the first episode the girls have to create brand-new outfits out of thrift store clothes. Are all the competitions based on their ‘look’? No, there was a lot more to them. If they’ve gotten as far as being on the show, they should have the look down. In one episode they have to write a rap to my latest single, “Cover Girl.” Another time they have to read the news from a TelePrompTer, sell a product on TV, and then interview a celebrity -- all in just a few minutes. There’s no time to rehearse; it’s really about seeing what they're made out of. The challenges sort of follow my own career. I want to see how well they can do what I've done.
Getting back to Project Runway for a second, how did PR contestant Santino Rice get chosen as a judge? Does he have a drag background?I’d met Santino a few times before -- we went ice skating together last year -- and we had a good connection. I don’t know if he’s done drag, but he has an amazing background in fashion and pop culture. Our other regular judge, Merle Ginsberg, is a fashion journalist who’s been in the biz for years and she cowrote Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress. Honestly, though, I think anyone with a clear vision can relate to drag. We all do it to some extent. You’re born naked and you die naked. The rest is drag.
Every good reality show has a great exit line. What’s yours? Shante…you stay; sashay…away.
Ouch. Being read by RuPaul must be a fate worse than death for a drag queen. Why do you think the contestants put themselves through such a fierce competition? Well, there’s obviously a big cash prize and sponsorships from M.A.C. and Absolut. But really, it’s about the fame. We all want it. And millions of people will see them on Logo or download them off YouTube or wherever. Our society is still so fixated on gender roles and crossing those lines. On one hand we’re obsessed with masculinity, but we love them drag queens!
Are you a fan of any other reality shows? Is Judge Judy a reality show? That and The Golden Girls are really all I watch. I just love Judy. In a world of so much bullshit, you get an hour of straight talk. Someone who bases their decision on the law, not on fashion or emotion. She’s for real.
You recently released an amazing photo-illustration of yourself as both Michelle and Barack Obama. Are you excited about the Obama presidency? C’mon, you know how I feel about that! We have a saying on the show: “If you’re watching this, it means a Democrat is in the White House.” His election signaled a real shift in our culture after all this coldness and fear. But we’re in such a bad place right now. I really hope he gets a chance to turn things around.
Do you think you’ll be invited to stay in the Lincoln bedroom? That’d be great! [Laughs] Keep your fingers crossed!