The fashion writer turned television personality was Ru’s original right hand woman on RuPaul’s Drag Race but left the franchise after two seasons…
By Bianca Guzzo
As we’ve previously discovered, RuPaul’s Drag Race is no stranger to shaking things up when it comes to the judges on the show. Thanks to a high turnover of their panel of experts during the first five seasons, there are some personalities that may have come and gone that still inspire jokes that remain fresh even in the most current seasons of the series. Merle Ginsberg is one of them. She provided queens with warm fashion critiques during the first two seasons of the show as a judge before being replaced with Drag Race legend Michelle Visage in the third season. After a brief appearance as a guest judge in a season seven episode, Ginsberg has stayed away from the Drag Race universe despite being revered by fans of the show, so what has she been up to since then?
Merle Ginsberg was one of the original judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race and her kind critiques on the contestant’s fashion choices made her a favourite among fans of the show. Which is why it came as a shock to viewers when she didn’t return as a judge during the third season. Ginsberg was replaced with Michelle Visage, who has had a seat on the judging panel (as well as a number of international spin-offs of the series) ever since. There has been speculation on why Ginsberg left the show. Had she been fired to make space for Michelle? Or simply left on her own accord? During a season seven episode (that Ginsberg guest judged) there was even an acting challenge that told the “Ru Hollywood Story” on why she left the franchise, which made fun of all of the wild theories fans of the show had come up with over the years.
In reality, there are two reasons as to why we haven’t seen Ginsberg on the judging panel since 2010. It was eventually cleared up that Visage was always meant to be an original judge on the series since she and Ru have had a working relationship since the ‘90s. Unfortunately due to contractual obligations, Visage was unable to be onboarded as a permanent judge until her contract expired just in time for filming the third season where she has sat on the panel ever since. Ginsberg has also said she left the show after receiving an offer to be a teacher at a fashion school in Tel Aviv.
The tea on Ginsberg isn’t as piping hot as other previous judges and she’s maintained a good public image with fans of the franchise. Since her time on Drag Race she’s competed on a reality competition show called Launch My Line where she finished as a runner-up. Reddit isn’t filled with much info on her current whereabouts, but fans have continued to rally for Ginsberg getting more followers on Instagram or trying to get her back as a guest judge on the show again. In 2016 she was the mediator for a panel at RuPaul’s DragCon. Following her time as a television personality she’s worked as a journalist as a writer and editor for major publications like Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, and Harper’s Bazaar to name a few. Several sources name her as the editor in chief for fashionrules.com but there is no current trace of the website and the domain is currently up for sale. She’s also known for co-writing the 2004 New York Times Bestseller Confessions of an Heiress with Paris Hilton. An archived reddit post from 2017 states that Ginsberg was fired as a journalist for allegedly taking bribes, but the link to the news story is broken and there isn’t anything else about it that can be found online.
In 2021 Ginsberg appeared in an interview with YouTuber Joseph Shepherd where she discussed how she came to be a judge on the show in the first place. It turns out Ru and the producers sought her specifically out to host. Though wasn’t famous for being part of the world of drag, she was familiar with the art of drag. “Look, I lived in New York in the ‘80s. My life was a drag show” she joked. While talking about how she ended up as one of the original judges of the show she explained that television isn’t really where she pictured her career going. She auditioned for several pilots and projects for two years without any of them coming to fruition and decided she was done with on-camera work. “I really wanted to get back to writing for magazines and write more books and whatever,” she said. It wasn’t until she was contacted twice by reps at World of Wonder to come in for an audition with Ru, which she described as “a truly complex and deep conversation” about world history and politics. Their chat was filmed and a few days later she got an offer to be a judge. Comments underneath the interview are filled with praise for Ginsberg, with propositions to bring her back as a permanent judge in place of some of the ones currently on the show.
Ginsberg is still serving absolute lewks whenever she steps out to an event. Even if her time on the show was short she is still referenced by current queens in challenges. In season 14 Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté featured Ginsberg in a missing persons ad on the side of a milk carton during one of her runways that fans couldn’t get enough of online. Like Santino Rice, Ginsberg is an original piece of the Drag Race family that can never be replaced and her contributions to the series will be remembered for years to come. There isn’t any evidence of bad blood between Ginsberg and Ru or any of the current judges, so there’s a possibility that we could see her guest judge again on an upcoming season. Though she only sat on the judging panel for two seasons, Merle Ginsberg remains a beloved and celebrated piece of Drag Race herstory that queens and fans will continue to reference for years to come.