‘Drag Race’ host RuPaul has ‘done every little thing.’ Except Netflix


The story, as he’s told it dozens of instances more than the years, goes like this: When RuPaul Charles’ mother, Ernestine, was pregnant with him, she went to see a psychic who stated her unborn youngster, a boy, would a single day be well-known. Initially from Louisiana, Ernestine decided to contact him RuPaul, a name inspired by the roux utilized to make gumbo — and, like “Madonna,” “Oprah” or “Prince,” a single that appears to have ensured his celebrity.

But international stardom wasn’t specifically a foregone conclusion for a gay, black drag queen from San Diego. A fateful low point came in 1988. Even though he’d attained a level of notoriety in the East Village club scene, broader good results remained elusive. He wound up crashing on his small sister’s couch in L.A., watching “The Oprah Winfrey Show” every single day and going on “The Gong Show,” exactly where he was judged by Salt-N-Pepa and lost to an Elvis impersonator.

“I had carried out New York and couldn’t get any traction there. I believed, ‘Is this truly it? Was the psychic incorrect with my mother?’” RuPaul recalls. It is a damp, snowy afternoon in Manhattan, flakes the size of quarters turning to slush the second they hit the sidewalk. Now 59, he sits in a dimly lit West Village restaurant close to the apartment he’s shared with his husband, Georges LeBar, for a quarter-century. Clad in a wool cape and shawl-neck sweater in shades of black and charcoal, he strikes a extra sober note than on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” exactly where he seems in suits of seemingly every single hue.

Even when he hit the mainstream 27 years ago with the dance hit “Supermodel,” a send-up of the era when Cindy, Linda and Naomi ruled the runway, RuPaul seemed extra most likely to be a quick-lived novelty act than an enduring cultural figure who would turn the subversive art of drag into a profitable franchise, enable revolutionize our understanding of gender and inspire a course at the New College.

Even though half a dozen networks initially passed on it, his VH1 reality competitors, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” has won 13 Emmys in 11 seasons on air and spawned a number of spinoffs. It laid the groundwork for RuPaul’s DragCon — a drag convention held in L.A., New York City and London — to go with the a number of books, dozen albums, screen credits from “All My Children” to “Saturday Evening Live” and well-liked podcast, “What’s the Tee.”

RuPaul accepts his award for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” at the 2019 Emmys.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” won the 2019 Emmy award for each reality host and reality-competitors plan.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Occasions)

Now he’s coming to Netflix with his most ambitious inventive swing to date. Starting Jan. 10, he will star in “AJ and the Queen,” a road trip drama following a red-wigged New York City drag queen — a single reminiscent of RuPaul himself — and a intelligent-mouthed 10-year-old girl as they travel cross-nation by means of RV. The series, which he co-developed with “Sex and the City” showrunner Michael Patrick King, attributes a large drag efficiency and cameos from “Drag Race” stars in practically every single episode. But RuPaul also spent substantial time in the writers area and, in his very first typical dramatic part, had to discover extra nuanced feelings than on “Drag Race.”

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“I’ve carried out every little thing in motion pictures and Television, made clothes and makeup lines. That is exactly where we are right now in commerce,” he says. “Everybody in the planet, we reside longer and we have to take a web page from St. Jane Fonda’s book, which is, match as lots of lifetimes in a single life that you can.”

But David Bowie, not Fonda, supplied his earliest inventive inspiration. “That was the star I hitched my wagon to,” he says. By way of the singer, he discovered a ”tribe” of like-minded “sweet sensitive souls” and, ultimately, drag. When he met his idol, at a dinner celebration in New York in the late ’90s, RuPaul recalls getting overcome with emotion and hiding in the library, exactly where Bowie discovered him and introduced himself. RuPaul left the celebration quickly right after, walking all the way downtown from the Upper East Side, “screaming and crying the complete way since I met David Bowie.”

Soon after a stint in Atlanta, exactly where he was a typical on public access Television, he ultimately landed in New York and became a fixture in an edgy downtown drag scene centered at the Pyramid Club in the East Village. The defining ethos was, as he puts it, “F.U. Reagan.”

But he grew frustrated with his niche. “I knew that men and women loved me in drag. But I believed, ‘I cannot turn out to be well-known in drag. That is cute for beneath 14th Street. But how am I going to make it to Cahnuhgie Hawwl?’” he says, placing on a thick Noo Yawk accent.

Izzy G. and RuPaul in a scene from “AJ and the Queen.”

Izzy G. and RuPaul in a scene from “AJ and the Queen.”

(Beth Dubber/Netflix/Netflix)

For the duration of his couch-surfing, “Oprah”-watching stint in SoCal in 1988, he received a telephone contact from his pal music producer Larry Tee, urging him to come back to New York. RuPaul describes this as the point he decided to adopt a new philosophy: “Give. These. Bitches. What. They. Want.” And what “they” wanted, apparently, was more than-the-leading glamour, not the punk-inflected drag he’d been performing. He shaved his legs and chest, and inside a year won the Queen of Manhattan drag pageant.

“It felt like ancient doors went creaking open,” he says, prying an imaginary door with his clawed fingers, “and I walked by way of and I became planet well-known. … The greatest obstacle I’ve ever faced is my personal restricted perception of myself.”

If “we’re born naked and the rest is drag,” as he’s been saying for almost 30 years, RuPaul is practiced at the art of celebrity profile drag — of speaking with a blend of bawdy wit and self-enable earnestness that tends to make him a quotable, captivating storyteller devoid of requiring him to reveal considerably about himself. But although it could be nicely-honed, the anecdote sheds light on why RuPaul hasn’t retired the blond wig right after 3 decades, even as he insists he’d be pleased to give up drag.

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“He loves it so considerably. He lives and breathes it. But now he knows that men and women want him in every single element of his life,” says “Drag Race” judge and longtime pal Michelle Visage, who very first met RuPaul in the late ’80s New York club scene, when he’d adopted a drag persona identified as “Bianca Cupcake Dinkins” — the illegitimate daughter of New York Mayor David Dinkins. (“It was extra streetwalker than Glamazon,” she clarifies.)

RuPaul, who briefly starred in an episode of “The Comeback,” King’s excruciating cringe comedy about a washed-up sitcom star, had been impressed by the writer’s potential to give laser-like adjustments to his efficiency. Years later, his agent set up a meeting. He walked into King’s workplace and noticed a nevertheless from the Preston Sturges film “Sullivan’s Travels” — a single of his favorites — hanging on the wall.

Group photo of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 10.

Group photo of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 10.

(VH1 )

“AJ and the Queen,” in which RuPaul’s character, Robert (a.k.a. Ruby Red) and a scruffy stowaway, AJ. (Izzy G.), make their way by way of red-state America, is a mash-up of “Sullivan’s Travels” and “Paper Moon.” A recurring theme of the series, articulated by Robert, is that “no a single is just a single factor.”

RuPaul describes the project as a “love letter to the America we had been promised as children. And yes, we’ve had a …” — he pauses — “important hiccup with that. But Oprah told me this — name drop, what ever — but she stated, ‘We all believed that progress was linear, but that was our error. Progress is not linear. It goes sideways.’ ”

King, who compares his collaborator’s at times enigmatic presence to that of a “mystical Egyptian cat,” nonetheless suggests that RuPaul has a uncommon potential to transcend the barriers explored in “AJ and the Queen.” “He’s taken this incredibly outsider factor and incorporated every person,” he says, voice breaking. King recalls an MTV News segment of RuPaul charming shoppers at a New Jersey mall in 1993. “What he’s carried out is what he did at that mall. He’s just carried out it in America’s living rooms in 2019. He just stayed the course and either his light got larger or the planet caught up.”

Functioning alongside Izzy G. for months forced RuPaul “to re-parent my personal 10-year-old youngster.” As such, “AJ and the Queen” is most likely to appeal to the group he says is his core audience: not urban gay guys, but “smart, 13-year-old suburban girls.” This demographic is wary of joining “the assembly line of synthetic femininity” and understands, on a gut level, that drag mocks this efficiency — the large lips, the fake boobs. “I see how ridiculous it is. I’m going to align myself with other men and women who also see how ridiculous it is. Drag gives us the potential to mock identity and flip our middle fingers up at the sexual hierarchy that has shunned us. Hoo! Can I get an amen?”

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“I feel small girls my age appear up to him,” says Izzy G., 11, who communicates with RuPaul more than text and Facetime. “For me, when he’s in drag he represents a robust, independent, awesome lady.”


RuPaul in a scene from “AJ and the Queen.”

(Beth Dubber/Netflix)

RuPaul has also set an instance and developed possibilities for a new generation of drag performers, lots of of whom have followed him to crossover good results, such as 3-time “Drag Race” contestant Shangela — a.k.a. D.J. Pierce — who appeared in “A Star Is Born.” “As African American, gay drag queens, we reside with extra adversity and challenges,” says Pierce. “Seeing RuPaul go out there and not only develop music, but Television and film roles, and continue to go down so lots of inventive avenues — that is inspirational. For a particular person of colour like myself, I see RuPaul and I say, ‘Oh, honey, I can do it as well.’ ”

“Drag Race” serves as an introduction to drag for lots of young queens. RuPaul says he can see the downside of the show’s influence — the rote, bitchy mimicry it inspires — when he’s reviewing audition tapes.

“One in 10 does a thing distinctive that tends to make me go, ‘Oh, who is that? These other nine men and women — no exaggeration — do the precise similar factor. They say, ‘RuPaul, you will need me on your show since I will reduce a bitch.’ That distinct line. It is so funny. Anytime an individual does a thing remotely exceptional or to their personal rhythm, I mark them down.”

But with mainstream visibility has come scrutiny. Even though RuPaul is credited as an LGBT pioneer, and says he’s constantly discovered “sanctuary” in the irreverent, that spirit does not constantly sit nicely in an era when tips about gender — and the language we use to describe it — are shifting swiftly. RuPaul has faced criticism for comments about trans contestants.

He’s also had to field continual inquiries about the co-opting of drag, a thing he is not concerned about since, he says, “At its base, drag is about creating exciting of identity. Drag could in no way be mainstream in an egocentric culture.”

RuPaul and Julie Andrews in 1995

Julie Andrews and RuPaul at the Commitment to Life AIDS advantage in 1995.

(Russ Einhorn/ For The Occasions)

Some of the reactions to the show are “interesting,” he says, in a way that is clearly not meant as a compliment. “People take themselves so … seriously. And God bless them. If that is going to perform for you, appropriate on, but I know exactly where that goes. That is a dead finish,” he says. “There are factors I take seriously. I take kindness seriously. I take like seriously. Every little thing else — pfffft,” he tends to make a raspberry sound.

In a uncommon setback, Rupaul hosted a daytime speak show in a 3-week trial run final summer season, but studio Warner Bros. will not be moving forward with the project. But the “Drag Race” franchise continues to develop — with international versions in Thailand, the U.K. and, quickly, Canada.

“I’m going to retain performing it ’til the wheels fall off this …” he says of the show, utilizing an Oedipal expletive. “What I like about what drag has provided me is the potential to be inventive in this way. That is my passion. That is what I reside for.”