***NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS***
I was introduced to RuPaul’s Drag Race by my step-daughter, who said her proudest moment would be if her brother ever appeared on it.
I don’t know why it isn’t more of a (female?) phenomenon in the UK, because it combines everything you could want from a hard-fought reality show, as well as providing for all your comedy, high fashion, emotional backstory and killer bitchiness needs.
RuPaul Charles is a drag queen (read ‘Drag Superstar of the World’). Out of drag, he is a very tall, slim and slightly geeky black man. In drag he is an amazing glamazonian with blonde hair, model-looks and sequined designer gowns. We are not talking Danny La Rue here.
The programme is sort of a Great British Bake-Off for drag queens, of which America seems to have an unending supply. At the start of the series, 12 men dressed up as women pitch up in a large workroom and are giving various tasks to do. At the end of each week, one is sent home until the season finale crowns the Next Drag Superstar.
RuPaul is the Mary Berry in heels and a corset presiding over it all, helped by a panel of C-list judges. He offers inspiring advice and killer put-downs in equal measure.
It is as hilarious, eyebrow-raising and gross as it sounds – as well as inspiring and touching.
In the UK, we see drag queens as little more than pantomime dames. In Drag Race, where drag is an art, it is obvious they are so much more than that. There are the comedy queens, of course, but there are also the pageant queens, in foot-long false eyelashes and over the top prom dresses, the fishy queens who look so much like women (fish=woman, you don’t need to know why) it is unnerving, the East Coast queens in their weird, edgy drag that usually involves sticking bits of hairdryers all over a bodystocking and talking about My Art and the plus-size queens with their Large and In Charge ethos.
The tasks are either silly, hilarious or just ewww.
The queens have to dress non-drag men up as fellow queens, take part in mini-Broadway shows or exercise videos, record a song (promoting whatever single RuPaul has just released), dress puppets up as fellow queens or guess the colour of a load of beefy assistants underpants.
At the end of every show there is a catwalk, where they have to strut in their best drag to a different theme each week, ranging from Gold Eleganza to Executive Realness. After telling each queen how she had let herself – and, more importantly, Mama Ru, down, RuPaul selects the bottom two who will have to Lypsynch For Your Life.
Cue over the top dance moves, splits (‘she dropped it like it was hot’), and wig swinging (in one memorable Lypsynch, one queen dragged off her wig only to reveal another wig underneath). Ru delivers her verdict, telling the losing queen to ‘Sashay away’, which she does with her head held high and a few bitchy words for the camera back in the workroom. You don’t get that on Strictly.
The show’s production values are as trashy as the queens’ outfits. Sponsors get any number of mentions, the stages are tiny, the audience, when they have one, is about a dozen people. Everything is held together with hundreds of catchphrases you will soon find yourself incorporating into everyday life, such as remember – don’t fuck it up, or no tea, no shade, no pink lemonade and can I get an Amen in here? Oh, and a phrase for every situation – don’t blow your nose on the fabric, baitch!
Stuff I think about when sewing on my sequins:
- You need a suitably draggy name – try Pandora Box, Sharon Needles, Milk, The Princess, Ginger Minj, Shangela, Penny Tration and Jujubee for size.
- You have to be gay. You don’t have to be, but they all are.
- You have to be able to read – give someone a dressing down in the most bitchy way possible (usually preceded by donning a pair of plastic glasses and announcing ‘the library is open’).
- You have to say fuck a lot. All the queens swear vilely, all the time.
- You have to know how to tuck (go look it up) – a meaty tuck is to be avoided at all costs. You also have to cinch (to avoid hogbody) and pad. It’s a whole new world.
- You have to have a tearful back story. Actually, this isn’t true. Some of the queens have lovely, supportive families, but they are in the minority. Most were bullied at school for being gay and effeminate, many have parents who can’t accept their lifestyles, some are totally estranged from their families. Ah, the shade of it all…