Queen of the Road

2.1.2009

By Noah Michelson

His first hit, 1993's "Supermodel of the World," commanded that anyone within earshot of a radio or TV had "better work!" and since then RuPaul has been quick to take his own advice. In the last 15 years the world's most famous -- and fabulous -- drag queen has continued to heat up the dance floor, had his own talk show, starred in numerous films (The Brady Bunch, But I'm A Cheerleader, Starrbooty) and serving as the first-ever spokesperson for M.A.C Cosmetics' VIVA Glam Campaign, helped raise more than $30 million for the M.A.C AIDS Fund.

Now, after taking some much deserved time off, RuPaul is back and hunting for some new blood to help jump start the flagging drag community. His new LOGO reality show, RuPaul's Drag Race, pits nine of the world's fiercest performers against one another for the chance to win the title of America's next drag queen superstar -- not to mention $20,000, a boatload of M.A.C products, and a feature photo spread in Paper magazine. We caught up with RuPaul to find out how he stays looking forever young, why drag went underground during the Bush era (and why he has great hopes for its resurgence), and to determine -- once and for all -- who is the bigger drag queen: Tyra Banks or Beyonce.

Out: Your promo shots from RuPaul's Drag Race are gorgeous. What's your secret? Are you drinking the blood of virgins?
Yes. The blood of virgins and Photoshop -- keep it real, keep it hood.

I watched the first episode in a living room full of straight people --
Did you watch it with a palmful of Jergens lotion?

I don't need lotion, Ru. I'm self-basting.
[Laughs]

Anyway -- they were in love with it. They said, 'We're are so going to keep watching this!' What do you think it is about drag queens that's so alluring for straight people?
Everybody loves shiny, pretty things whether they align themselves with some political affiliation or some religious affiliation. We come to this planet and we love all the great, sparkly, beautiful things and then we're taught to not like them anymore. But there is a part of us that will continue to like them and that's our spirit. Our spirit will always enjoy beautiful textures. And that's what makes drag so fantastic and that's what everyone can relate to.

I love how the show operates on two levels: on the one hand it's a straightforward reality competition with challenges and winners and losers, but it's also so campy and you're obviously making fun of -- either lightheartedly or not -- America's Next Top Model and Project Runway. What kind of research did you do to get ready for the show?
I've been researching my whole life. Drag really is about irreverence -- it's about taking the piss out of everything. My whole personality is to take the piss out of everything. My 10th grade teacher told me something that I didn't understand at the time but I so understand now: He said, 'Ru -- don't take life so seriously.' And that has served me so well -- a sense of humor and a tube of lipstick have taken me to the top of the world.

Have you met Tyra Banks?
Uh-huh.

So what do you keep in mind to pull off a fierce Tyra impersonation?
I don't impersonate Tyra. [Laughs]

Oh come on now.
[Laughs] I don't impersonate anyone! I've always done myself.

But -- but -- some of the show is definitely inspired by America's Next Top Model, right?
Nope. Nope.

Some of those looks you're throwing? Dead-on Tyra.
[Laughs mischievously]

Oh, I get it. You're being coy.
I'm honestly not! That's what you brought to it -- I didn't bring that to it.

Right. Right. Got it. Speaking of Tyra, if we put Tyra and Beyonce in a cage and had them duke it out for the title of 'The World's Greatest Drag Queen Who Doesn't Have To Tuck,' who would win?
That's some competition there because both are very smart, determined women. I think it might be a dead heat. I don't think either would survive. There'd probably be some kind of implosion.

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