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March/April 2018 Cover Story: Drag Opera

Start your engines! RuPaul is wrapping up another season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars and is about to unveil a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Are you as lit as RuPaul? “More like late,” laughs RuPaul after a phone mishap delayed my much-anticipated phone interview when I called her the ‘lit-est’ queen. That’s a perfect example of the wit and woke charm of the two-time Emmy-winning Reality TV Competition hostess. But give the What’s The Tea? With Michelle Visage podcast co-host credit for calling this writer on her own without a publicity team setting up the call.

While RuPaul’s fame and career only continues to ascend to new heights and stunningly shows no signs of slowing down, the biggest drag queen of all time is still down to earth, never forgetting her humble beginnings.

Or her loyal fans.

Which is why, on the high heels of a fantastic third season of All Stars that’s about to wrap up, RuPaul is launching Season 10 of her critically acclaimed and popular reality TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race on March 22, which airs in Canada on OUT TV.

IN caught up with the 57-year-old San Diego native and delved into some hot topics, including her hippie approach to time, aging ‘secrets,’ culture appropriation and the current political climate. And no, luckily, I didn’t have to lip-synch for my life.

Congratulations on your most recent Emmy win for Best Host of a Reality or Reality-Competition program! Where do you keep them?
I don’t think of them as mine. I do it because I want to celebrate the art of drag. I don’t think of the Emmys as mine; I see them as a collective award. I don’t do this show to snatch Emmys! Hundreds of people put this show together. I’m so proud of them all. But I do still keep the Emmys at my house, though! [Laughs]

Now we just need the show to win the Outstanding Reality TV Competition Emmy!
That would be great.

How excited are you about the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race? And what did you think of All-Stars 3?
It’s so good. I’d be a fan of this show even if I wasn’t involved in it. It’s so beautifully done. It’s done with love and kookiness and laughter. This season of All-Stars [was] fabulous too. All of the queens were icons.

Why do you think Drag Race resonates so profoundly with the mainstream audience?
It has to do with the stories of the queens. These are amazing people who have been through so much adversity and overcame their challenges. They are true success stories. We are people who live outside the status quo. I think there are a lot of people who want to live outside the status quo too but they don’t have the courage or support around them to do it. Watching these queens, who sometimes come from these horrendous backgrounds and are beaten down by society, to see them triumph is inspiring. Also, it’s a fun show to watch. There is a lot of colour, laughter, music, love, strength and joy—it’s all there.

The host isn’t so bad, either. Unlike network reality TV shows, you don’t seem to shy away from bringing back vets and producing all-star seasons. Most execs want newbie casts each season for a variety of reasons, mainly because veterans are hard to deal with and cost more.
All Stars is like a family reunion. I get to check up on them and see their progress since the show. Also, mixing up the girls in a different way than they competed before is always fun. But I do love the new girls because I love seeing them launch their international careers. I also like seeing new contestants play the game, because they often don’t know what we will throw at them.

It feels like there have been more than three All Stars, to be honest.
Yes, it feels like there might be more because we continue to work with the girls through our production company, so it feels like they’re always around.

Your show is also nostalgic comfort food. It takes me back to the 1980s/’90s gay scene, especially with the gay vernacular and discourse. Do you miss those days? Yes, our brothers and sisters were dropping dead of AIDS and our rights were non-existent, but we had fun and shared a real sense of community long before social media and tech took over our lives. It seemed like a simpler time, but that could just be selective hindsight talking.
I hear what you’re saying. I live for today. I had a great time in the ’80s and ’90s—even though it was not necessarily a cakewalk. I enjoy today even though we are living in the best and worst of times. We’re living in a time where lots of changes are happening. And I’m all for changing. Like a butterfly’s metamorphosis into a beautiful creature—one which is very violent, tumultuous—and I think that’s what we are experiencing now. There is so much division right now. But at the same time, we’re digging up a lot of old and unresolved issues we haven’t dealt with, like the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, gay rights and transgender issues. Hopefully, we can heal them, and in that regard, it’s a good thing; it’s a silver lining to so much darkness in the world. In terms of time, I never think of time as linear. I think of time as happening right now. It’s all right now. It’s a weird hippie concept—but that’s how I always thought of time.

Let’s dive into the cultural appropriation debate. The gay community is largely comprised of slices from other cultures because we took in disenfranchised LGBTers who were kicked out of their homes and families. Clearly, I’m not talking about putting on white or black face. But the Censorship Police are in full force right now and are very sensitive to even the meekest of expressions or nods to other cultures. What do you think?
I believe you should use all the colours in the rainbow. It’s of the ego mind to think, ‘Oh, no, this colour is only mine.’ No. Use them all. I think we live in such an egotistical time where people want to branch off and say, ‘We are here; we are this.’ The truth is there is only one of us here. Obviously, I oscillate between gurative and literal thinking. I go into metaphysical speak a lot. It’s hard for people to keep up, but the truth is I like to use all the colours in the world. I would hate for anyone to restrict me from using the colour orange.

Especially since it’s the new black! What do you think of millennials? Are they inspiring or the end of the world?
On our show, we try to mentor young people about navigating this world: how to use the information that is literally at your fingerprints, and how to carry the torch of your ancestors. I think our culture—not even millennials—suffers too much from ADD. It’s hard for people to find the peace and the stillness, which is very, very important. Again, I feel the same way about millennials as I do about the concept of time. I think we’re all millennials right now. If you are alive right now, you are of this time. It’s very easy to get distracted and for people not to be able to focus, which has usually been attributed to millennials. But I think everybody is really suffering a sort of this amnesia.

Let’s get to the tough questions. What magic or potions are you using to never age?!
(Laughs) Trust me, I am aging and do age! You know what? I am okay with it. It’s the deal I signed when I came to this planet. It’s part of it. I love to laugh. I love music. I love colours. Love beauty. So that’s part of it. I think it’s important to remain a part of that childlike awe of the world. I don’t know if it’s a secret. I am having a good time. [Laughs] I’ll say it takes RuPaul three years to get ready! It’s about multi-tasking; in fact, I’m getting ready as we speak right now.

You’re also a great character actor. Is acting still a focus or is the Drag Race empire and your podcast taking up all your time?
I love being creative and challenging myself. If someone is going to offer me a part, I’m going to take it. I usually do whatever is presented to me—if I have time. But obviously, my first love and passion is Drag Race. However, I love doing other things, too. Acting is an interesting undertaking because it really challenges places in my consciousness that I may or may not be comfortable exposing. I do love that challenge.

Do you consider RuPaul a role in some ways?
Everything I do—even this interview—is a performance. Naturally, I am private and like to keep to myself. Being able to speak to you and open up to you is a performance, but it’s also an exercise in opening up my heart and consciousness. It takes effort. I naturally keep to myself. I naturally don’t want to share my feelings, especially with someone I have never met. They are all sides of me. When I am in drag, that’s me. When I’m out of drag—right now I’m in this gorgeous Mr. Turk suit—that makes me behave a different way. I move differently; I feel differently. It’s all drag. It’s like I say—You are born naked and the rest is drag.

I wish you had a talk show. You have that Oprah vibe that’s missing on network TV. You did one before, right?
Twenty-one years ago I had a talk show on VH1 called The RuPaul Show. I would love to do a talk show again. That’s why I love doing the podcast, because I like speaking to Michelle [Visage] in a way where we get to actually have a real conversation.

Consider the pitch written!

NELSON BRANCO is the digital editor and producer for the Toronto Sun. As a contributing editor, he’s penned pieces for magazines like Hello Canada, People and TV Guide, and online sites like Huffington Post. He’s also worked as a TV producer for Breakfast TV and The Marilyn Denis Show. You can follow him at @nelliebranco.

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