By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Queen has spoken. Everyone listens because, well, how can they not? Her bearing, her stature, her very demeanor demand attention from all her subjects, and in the new book The Essential RuPaul by John Davis, these queens have a lot to say.
When RuPaul Andre Charles was a little boy, his mother told him that he would be a star someday, and that she had given him an unusual name just so he’d stand out. That’s what he did, starting in his teens when he dropped out of the North Atlanta School of Performing Arts and began to “find his calling.”
Along the way, he joined a punk-rock band, performed as a go-go dancer, hosted a talk-show, and “hosted numerous local events” in Atlanta. Later, he moved to New York and acted in films. By 1989, after a few pauses in his quest for fabulosity, he became “RuPaul the glamazon” and went on to even bigger fame in fashion, modeling, music, TV, and cosmetics.
Following the 9/11 attacks, RuPaul briefly and “quietly” stepped back from show biz to “take a break.” He couldn’t stay away long, however, and in 2009 he launched RuPaul’s Drag Race, a television show that featured snarky judges and competitors in performance, costume production, comedy, and (of course) drag.
In this book, we meet some of them . . .
There’s Santino Rice, a Drag Race judge whose comments can cut like a razor blade. Adore Delano, whose last-minute debut came on YouTube after her creator, Danny Noriega, appeared on American Idol. Alaska, a “Tacky Blonde Bombshell” who hailed from the state she was named after. There’s Cameroon native BeBe Zahara Benet, who arrived following a modeling gig from “an unexpected no-show of a female model.” Drag housewife BedDeLaCreme has created her own cosmetics line that features cruelty-free products. Following her appearance on Drag Race in 2010, Carmen Carrera became a trans TV star. Cher impersonator Chad Michaels has been fortunate to perform with Cher herself. Manila Luzon’s first appearance was as Cruella de Vil, and performer Nina Flowers enjoys her own “day” in the Denver LGBT community.
The Essential RuPaul is one really quirky book.
Despite its subtitle that promises “Herstory” and more, there’s really very little here about RuPaul—four pages, to be exact, and one of those is basically an illustration by artist Libby Vanderploeg. The rest of this book, alas, only has a tentative connection to RuPaul by way of the drag queens who appeared on her show.
And that’s fine—if that narrow subject is what you want. Author John Davis does a good job in bringing together a bedazzle of performers in this book, but the list is frustrating in its incompleteness, and the mini-chapters with mini-biographies are woefully short and quite repetitious. That, plus the misleading title, may frustrate some readers. Nevertheless, many fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race probably won’t care and will enjoy this book, no matter what.
If that’s you, then you’ll be happy when you find The Essential RuPaul.
And long live the queens.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.