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Start Your Engines: RuPaul Previews Season Three of 'RuPaul's Drag Race'

by Christine Champagne, posted Jan 24th 2011 3:20PM
RuPaul, RuPaul's Drag Race season 3The search for America's next drag superstar is about to begin on Logo. 'RuPaul's Drag Race' kicks up its heels and kicks off its third season tonight at 10PM ET with a 90-minute premiere. TV Squad caught up with RuPaul by phone to talk about the new season and found there's more to the world's most famous drag queen than meets the eye.

I live in New York City in the East Village, and I saw you at Wigstock in Tompkins Square Park in the early '90s before you were really famous. You were selling your T-shirts and I wanted to talk to you, but I was too shy. Every time I see you on TV, I regret not going up to you and saying hello back then and telling you how great I thought you were.
That's so kind of you, but I hope that that's taught you a lesson in your life -- the shy story line doesn't work.

You're right. Shy doesn't get you anywhere. If I saw you now, I would approach you. I had just moved to New York back then, and I wasn't as bold as I am now.
It's time and experience. On the show, we go through that with the girls because a lot of times they're saying, "Well, the next time I'll be better," and I'm like, "Kiddo, this is it. This is your moment right here." Time taught me how to seize the moment and know when the universe is giving me a stage direction, and also to override the built-in saboteur that's standard equipment with my machine.

I watched the season premiere of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' and I loved the cast. How do you think this season's cast compares to the first two?
Well, it's interesting. I was just talking about that in the office this morning. The kids' skill level is much higher than any other season. I think because the show's been on for two prior seasons they came ready and prepared. The challenges are based on things I've done in my career, things I've had to learn to do, things I continue to do. You've got to know how to market yourself. You've got to know how to bring an idea to fruition, how to actualize it, and you've got to know how to focus under a lot of pressure. All of us -- myself included -- we're not getting a lot of sleep when we're doing this show. It's pretty grueling, so you've got to be on your A-game in a pretty tough situation.

You have an amazing lineup of guest judges this season. You've got Vanessa Williams from 'Desperate Housewives' judging the season opener, and we'll see Chloe Sevigny ('Big Love'), Sharon Osbourne, Margaret Cho, Johnny Weir and a whole bunch of other big names, and I see Michelle Visage is now a permanent judge along with you and Santino Rice.
We conceived the show with Michelle in mind, but contractually she couldn't do it. She was tied to something else at the time, and finally we got her. I just feel like she elevates the show to a whole 'nother level. This girl who I've worked with and known for about 20 years, she comes from the hood. She knows downtown, uptown. She knows about queens. She is quite literally a gay man living in a woman's body.

RuPaul's Drag Race, Michelle VisageI love that you two have been friends for so long, and you work together now. You're stuck together all these years.
I think it also sends a message to the kids who are watching, even the kids on our show. You form alliances and bonds with people, and it's important to respect those bonds. Actually, that happens a lot this season. One of the bigger surprises was that alliances were formed earlier and stronger than in any other season. The kids were really forming friendships early on.

In the first episode, we see one of the contestants is struggling with one of the challenges, and some of the other contestants rallied around him. I thought that was really sweet. We don't always witness moments like that on reality competition shows. It was good to see.
Absolutely. One of the things about these kids is to be a man-child doing feminine things, you really have to go it alone until you find a family or your tribe to help support that, and I think that really comes through. When one of the girls is in trouble, the other kids rallied around her. That's pretty common. Everybody talks about the bitchiness of queens, but the truth is we all relate to being someone who doesn't have that support, definitely not from our families, definitely not from society, so we have to form our own tribe.

Do you think it is just as difficult for kids who like to do drag these days as it was for your generation, or is society more accepting now?
I think it's still not accepted, and I'll tell you why. There are several things going on. First of all, in our culture, which is male, masculine-dominated, it is akin to an act of treason to put on girl's stuff and say, "I'm fabulous." Aside from that, drag is a reminder to people that you are not who you think you are, so immediately the ego attacks anyone or anything that threatens its identity. I'll say it again. The ego is threatened by anything that reminds you you're not who you think you are. In fact, who you think you are is just a facade. It's a character that you're playing. It's not really real. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, which is quite temporary, by the way.

I have heard people proclaim drag is over, although it hardly seems over to me. What do you say to those people?
We're all doing drag. You're born naked, and the rest is drag. You know what those people mean by that? The form of drag where men dress up and do numbers in clubs, that's what they're saying is over, but the truth is, throughout history, shamans, witch doctors, you name it, even the court jester is there in society to remind itself not to take life so seriously, to remind society that this is all an illusion. I love in the movie 'Inception' where they keep a little keepsake that they can look down at and be reminded, "Oh, right, I'm dreaming." That's what drag does. That's why people are threatened by drag, because nobody wants to break the fourth wall, so to speak, and drag breaks the fourth wall as one would in theater.

As much as some people hate it, I love it. I love seeing people getting in touch with their imagination and being whoever they want to be.
I do, too. I love the imagination. I love the creativity. I love being reminded that this world we take so seriously is not the end all of our existence.

There are shows like 'America's Next Top Model' and others in the reality competition genre that are criticized for being mean to contestants. I find that while you are critical on your show, and you do try to create challenges the contestants will have to work at, you're not out to humiliate anyone. Are you trying to be careful in terms of how you treat contestants?
This show had been pitched to me for many years, probably 10 years before we actually did it, and there were several reasons I didn't want to do it before -- the first being the trend at that time, years ago, in reality TV, was mean-spirited. I didn't want to do anything that was remotely mean-spirited, especially to creative people who have really put their lives on the line to be artistic and be creative and think outside the box. So we start from the basis of encouraging these incredible creatures, these courageous mavericks. That's where we start, and then when we do criticize, we still do it with the knowledge that they are stars. The fact that they've been chosen for the show we never let them forget: "You're a star kiddo, you're here, you made it, and there are hundreds and hundreds of people who apply to this thing who don't make it."

People look at drag as being all about the surface, how someone looks, but you're a thoughtful, spiritual person. Am I correct to assume that to be a great drag performer you have to go more than skin deep? What do you think makes a drag queen really special?
They go hand in hand. This is the natural trajectory of drag. What happens is little boys feel different, feel outside the box. This is my story, and I figured, "Okay, I'm outside the box. I want to fit in. What can I do?" So I really studied what [other boys] were doing. How can I fit in here? After studying, studying, studying, I realized there's no way I want to be in that box. They're all so confined. Who wants to be in a friggin' box? So what happens then is to survive the mundane, boxiness of life you create fantasy, and you live in that fantasy, and I've devoted myself to beauty and love, the things that are wonderful about this material world.

You have to basically have one foot in the material and one foot in the spiritual world to live a balanced, sober life here. Otherwise, if you're unbalanced with whatever's on the cover of 'Us' magazine or trying to keep up with the Joneses, it doesn't fulfill. You can keep up with the Joneses. You can do 'Us' magazine. You can read all the gossip blogs you want as long as you have supplemented and fortified another side of yourself to keep a balance because the material world is a combination of ying and yang, black and white. You have to have the spiritual but also be grounded in what's happening in this material world, and that's the duality. That's why drag is important. It's male/female, it's one foot planted in both polar opposites.

Have you always been this enlightened, or was there a point in your life where things started to click for you?
The truth is, we all are, and it's not something you have to learn. It's something you have to remember. We are really the same thing. We're not separate from one another. We all have this. It's just part of what we are. What happens is this massive, collective daydream that we participate in, and we sort of forget. My friend is reading 'Animal Farm' again, and it's one of my favorite books because it's all about how we as a culture forget.

RuPaul's Drag Race season 3Let me ask you about Bebe and Tyra, who have both won previous seasons of 'RuPaul's Drag Race.' How has winning this show changed their lives? Do you keep up with what they're doing?
I do. They are working constantly. We have other shows that I can't talk about in development where they're a part of it. More than anything, they've had the opportunity to see themselves from a bird's eye view, and go, "Okay, I see what's going on with me." Actually, I meditate from time to time, and that's what happens every morning when I do it. I get to step back outside myself and go, "Okay, there you are, that's where you started, that's probably the natural trajectory, what do you want to do in this time?" And that's what having this experience is for them. They get to see their persona magnified and get to sort of conduct and plan where they're going to take it.

It must be interesting for you to watch the process the contestants go through on your show, and you must get attached to them. Do you feel like the contestants are part of your flock or your family?
Absolutely. There are no accidents. The fact that we've come together, you can't ignore that. In fact, everybody I come in contact with, even you, I have to be open to what the lesson is. Lady Bunny, I've known and worked with her for 28, 29 years, and what's interesting is I didn't know she'd be one person that I've known for that long. You never know. So I pay attention to those occurrences.

I am glad to hear you are still friends with Lady Bunny. I wanted to ask you about that. Before I let you go, are you planning to release a new album anytime soon?
We have a new album that we are rushing to get done. It'll probably come out in March.

The album is called 'Glamazon.'

I assume it's dance music.
Yes, it's dance/pop. It's what I love. With my brand, there are certain songs that work really well. Nobody wants to hear me sing about the dark night of the soul. [He laughs.]

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Craywulf...the show isn't about RuPaul. Its about the drag queens competing to be the best. So of course RuPaul isnt going to be "dressed" as much as you'd expect.

January 25 2011 at 1:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interesting interview, RuPaul is such unique entertainer as drag queen. Too bad he spends 90 percent of the show out of drag. The show has his Drag queen name all over it and yet he's only dressed for judgment panel.

January 24 2011 at 4:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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