Talking to RuPaul about her ‘Drag Race’
by Lawrence Ferber • Photo by Mathu Andersen
When Logo’s hit RuPaul’s Drag Race was renewed, drag queens everywhere put their pedals to the metal to secure a spot. Debuting February 1 at 8 p.m., season two entails a fiercer competition with more contestants (12, up from nine), celeb guest judges—including Kathy Griffin, dance diva Martha Wash, Kathy Najimy, Debbie Reynolds, and punk icon Henry Rollins—hysterical challenges, and higher production values. (Yes, the White Diamonds-like hazy filter effect is gone!) Of course, the titular grand dame is back—RuPaul, aka RuPaul Andre Charles—playing both out-of-drag Tim Gunn-style mentor and glamazonian judge.
Lawrence Ferber: How do these contestants compare with the first season’s?
RuPaul: The kids this year had the luxury of having seen the first season, so we really got the players out this time—the people thinking, “You know what? I have what it takes. I am going to go in and audition and let these children have it.” A lot of them are younger and have an edgier angle, and they’re also, shall I say, more ambitious. [Laughs]
New York’s well-known Hedda Lettuce aggressively campaigned to get on. Were you pleased or surprised by some of the queens who tried to get on?
No. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and you have to try every angle. I’ve known Hedda for probably 20 years.
What are the biggest differences between seasons one and two?
The production values [in the second season] are amazing—light years beyond the Vaseline on the lens in the first season. But it’s also the contestants. Their level of ambition and willingness to cut off each other at the knees is pretty amazing to me. The first year, the kids were diplomats. They knew they were representing years of this genre being absent and were very cordial. Not so much the second season. First episode this season, these bitches have come out ready to cut. There will be blood.
The first challenge is hysterical. As with season one, it’s a Mike Ruiz photo shoot, but this time you have airplane-engine-caliber wind machines blowing on them so hard that their false eyelashes are flapping and at least one wig flies off. What else is in store, and how do you come up with ideas?
[The ideas] always start from my own career and what I’ve done. We twist that around to make it work for TV. I did a photo shoot once with David LaChapelle where he had fans going and people blowing bubbles. It was for some Japanese catalog or something in 1990. It was pure hell on wheels. I couldn’t focus. He’s got music blasting. Where’s the camera? So all of [the ideas] come from things I had to do myself. There’s a wedding challenge, a sort of Golden Girls challenge, where the girls have to make up their senior equivalent. Lots of really great stuff.
Is there an Ongina moment this year? A big, emotional revelation?
There seems to be in every single show. Huge revelations. We are dealing with queens here, so the drama abounds. We also have more queens and more shows. First season we had nine queens, and this year we had 12. It just ups the ante that much more.
Do you have any behind-the-scenes scoops that might enhance our viewing of season two?
When we’re doing our comments about the kids as they do their runway, I say tons of stuff, and the things they choose to put in the show are what they decide are funny enough. My favorite from last season was when Rebecca Glasscock was doing her “executive realness” walk and took out a cell phone. I mouthed what I thought her conversation was: “Donald Trump—why, you old geezer!” It became our tagline for everything. In fact, [in the second season you’ll hear me saying Pandora Boxx’s name every time in the same intonation, as a] nod to the Donald Trump line!
On the day following season two’s premiere, Harper Collins publishes RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style. What can you tell us about this tome?
It’s a style guide, but the angle is “style from the inside out.” Finding your own voice and frequency, and decorating that once you find that voice.
Lawrence Ferber is a frequent contributor to OutSmart. See his report on the Sundance Film Festival in the upcoming March issue of OutSmart magazine.