To say speaking to RuPaul was a thrill for me would be an understatement. The first Drag Queen supermodel has certainly made waves throughout her career and left an impression. Many have adored her, loved her, and secretly stalked her in their head.
“That is a lie!” she said, laughing when I told her I was excited to speak to her.
“I don’t (really know about the adoration of fans), and I don’t know if I want to!” she laughed. “When you live inside the skin of a monster it is impossible to be objective unless you try and compare yourself to other people, which is always a mistake. I don’t take it for granted, it is really kind of you to say that.”
The question of RuPaul’s impact on gay and straight society is one that would likely result in many different answers from different people, including Ru herself.
“It is a hard question to answer. From my perspective, my job is to stay interested in what I do, I have been doing it for a long time. I set out to have a good time and be creative and do my thing. If other people are able to get something from that it is really great and I am happy about that. It has never been my goal to inspire or have an effect on other people. It has been to use all the colors in the crayon box.”
Her latest interest is the incredibly popular RuPaul’s Drag Race, airing on MuchMoreMusic in Canada and LOGO in America. The show has thrust her back into the limelight in a big way.
“I had avoided reality television for years because I didn’t want to do anything mean spirited or derogatory towards Drag. When I finally came around I went to my old buddies at World of Wonder, who also did my talk show on VH1. We took the idea around to several networks and it was pretty much bought in the room by LOGO, which almost never happens.”
Thus began the search. Ru explained the process of narrowing thousands of applicants down to the nine finalists on the show.
”Most of the people who applied are not showgirls, which narrowed it down to probably 100. We wanted girls who were professional performers who made a living doing shows and were on the younger side, in their 20’s and 30’s. That narrowed it down to about 40 and of them; we chose the ones that represented a wide gambit of what drag represents. The traditional show girl, the punk rocker, the diva. Those 9 represent the best that America has to offer.”
“We wanted to reintroduce Drag to a culture that has really pushed it underground. When I made it big, Drag was happening, but then there was a fear and hysteria that happened and popular culture didn’t want to hear from gay men doing drag,” she continued. “They were ok with straight men doing it like Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, but for gay men to do it, it had to go underground.”
When the show was announced, many people may have cringed at the thought of a Drag reality show, based on how sleazy the reality concept can often get. Instead, RuPaul’s Drag Race is fun, warm, and addictive. It is easy to get attached to the 9 participants. In one episode, contestant Ongina broke down in tears and stated she had been HIV positive for two years. One couldn’t help but get choked up.
“Part of the reason I knew I was safe in the reality television realm, World of Wonder loves Drag the same way I do and see it in a deeper, human way that places drag high in pop culture. We wanted to put a human face to Drag that is why the girls and I appear in and out of Drag. There is a soul and a spirit - behind every gorgeous Drag image out there is a human being. That was an important part of it. The real story of drag throughout the ages is that it reminds its culture and the roles we play so seriously. Underneath it all we are all the same, actually one person and share the same spirit. What you felt for Ongina is what you feel for yourself, you put yourself in that place and that’s why it was emotional, because you felt a part of you in her. That was important for us to not only be entertaining but to put the human spirit in there.”
The show takes the contestants through a series of challenges, including a group number as Destiny’s Child, making over female fighters, and having to create an outfit from a thrift store.
”In this economy more people are going to find out you can be fabulous and thrifty. All of the challenges were based on my experiences of having to create something out of nothing. When I was a kid my soul sister Renata, she was this kid who introduced me to magic and that it is a state of mind. She put cookies in a brown paper bag and grabbed a blanket and we went and had a picnic. Living a successful, full life is about turning seemingly nothing into something. That was my first ten years in show business.”
At the end of the show, the bottom two contestants had to lip-synch for their lives. The winner was told to shante, and stay. The loser had to sashay away. Ru admitted it was difficult at times to send the girls home.
”It was really heartbreaking. We saw so many audition tapes and the ones we got attached to ended up on the show. To see some of them be eliminated really was heartbreaking. The good thing is that we just shot a reunion show and got to see the girls and really bond with them for the first time. I couldn’t really go there before because I had to judge and didn’t want to show favoritism. I let them know at the reunion that they are my kids forever and ever and we are connected, and if they want or need anything come and find me. We are family now. It was very difficult and I wasn’t prepared for that when I got into this show. Everything on paper didn’t prepare me for the emotional attachment. I think the audience also gets attached to them.”
In addition to the show, Ru released Champion on iTunes in February. The album is in a word, addictive. The first single Covergirl plays when Ru makes her entrance on the show. The song Champion is as uplifting and positive as it is energetic, and even serious songs like Never Go Home Again could easily pack a dance floor. From the opening seconds, the 12 tracks on the album are a lot of fun to listen to. RuPaul agrees.
“I love it so much. I am embarrassed to say that I am still listening to it, it is my album of the moment. It has never been one of my own albums that has been my album of the moment. I am in love with this record because my writing partner Lucian Paine has a background in theatre and his melodic esthetic is so catchy and so beautiful that our collaboration has generated these songs I can’t get out of my head. It is so beautiful, and I have never been so gaga over one of my records before. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
The show and album mark a return to the spotlight for RuPaul, who took some time away for a few years.
“When I was a kid growing up I was kind of odd looking, I stood out. There were times even in grade school where my popularity would be really high and sometimes low, it would change. That really prepared me for show business. Through it all you have to maintain a joy in what you are doing. The public is fickle and trends change, so you can’t place importance on what other people think or what their buying habits are. I have always done what interests me and now it just happens to be what other people are interested in. I did a movie a couple of years ago called Starbooty that was my ‘blacksploitation’ roots, and that could have taken off if people were into it. Culturally there has been a shift and somehow it worked in tandem with what I am doing.”
RuPaul can check off her list being a supermodel, an actor (several times over), releasing albums, performing around the world and hosting a talk show and reality TV series. What’s left?
“I want a child” she said breathlessly, before breaking out in her unmistakable laugh. “No that’s not true I can’t stand kids. There is so much more to do in merchandising and producing other people. I would love to create a line of products that help people bring out their glam. People write me all the time about wigs and body accoutrement, and all the things that make someone a glamazon. I would love to create something like that.”
There is still a lot of entertaining left to do.
“I would love to write and produce more movies. I got the opportunity to do Broadway many years ago but I turned it down because I didn’t like the show. It is such a commitment to working that you have to love something to commit to it so wholeheartedly. It would have to be something that I was in love with. Working Broadway doesn’t make any money, and you work your ass off. You do it for the prestige of saying you were on Broadway.”
We couldn’t say sashay to RuPaul without asking for some tips for up and coming queens that may be reading this article. Her response to the question is universal advice to help you find success.
“The most important thing in any venture, whether it is drag or business law, is knowing thyself and finding your own frequency. Then you can expound upon that and take away the things that block that frequency. On a physical level, it is finding out what your body type is to work out your proportions, which still falls under knowing thyself. That is true for everybody whether you are in drag or not.”
Don’t be surprised to see RuPaul grace Calgary with her presence again.
“I can’t wait to get Calgary again. I went there for Mac cosmetics many years ago and I remember seeing some of the Olympic sights from the plane. It is so beautiful and I love the fact that there are so many cowboys up there. I think of the Olympics and Cowboys when I think of Calgary.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Sunday nights on MuchMoreMusic
Listen to RuPaul send writer Jason Clevett packing, as only she can, at GayCalgary.com!