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 RuPauls Drag Race are gorgeous. Whats 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 dont need lotion, Ru. Im self-basting.
Anyway -- they were in love with it. They said, Were are so going to keep watching this! What do you think it is about drag queens thats 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 were taught to not like them anymore. But there is a part of us that will continue to like them and thats our spirit. Our spirit will always enjoy beautiful textures. And thats what makes drag so fantastic and thats what everyone can relate to.
I love how the show operates on two levels: on the one hand its a straightforward reality competition with challenges and winners and losers, but its also so campy and youre obviously making fun of -- either lightheartedly or not -- Americas Next Top Model and Project Runway. What kind of research did you do to get ready for the show?
Ive been researching my whole life. Drag really is about irreverence -- its 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 didnt understand at the time but I so understand now: He said, Ru -- dont 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?
So what do you keep in mind to pull off a fierce Tyra impersonation?
I dont impersonate Tyra. [Laughs]
Oh come on now.
[Laughs] I dont impersonate anyone! Ive always done myself.
But -- but -- some of the show is definitely inspired by Americas Next Top Model, right?
Some of those looks youre throwing? Dead-on Tyra.
Oh, I get it. Youre being coy.
Im honestly not! Thats what you brought to it -- I didnt 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 Worlds Greatest Drag Queen Who Doesnt Have To Tuck, who would win?
Thats some competition there because both are very smart, determined women. I think it might be a dead heat. I dont think either would survive. Thered probably be some kind of implosion.
What was it like mentoring and judging this pack of drag queens?
It was light guidance. These girls -- the fact that they are there means theyre fierce and at the top of their game in this business. So they didnt really need that much mentoring. They just needed some guidance in terms of focusing on what the challenge at hand was. But they didnt need much.
How has drag changed in the last 15 years since you first burst out on the scene?
Drag really went underground during the Bush administration and its ready to come back in the Obama administration and its really great because it speaks volumes about our culture. Drag became less funny in the past 10 years. It became more serious where people were really focused on looking real rather than trying to make fun of or be irreverent or have a wink. Because during the times of fear that weve experienced in our culture in the past 10 years, the sense of humor is the first to go.
So severe, right?
Oh my God, its crazy. Thats why the fact that this show is on the air is such a great thing. Not just for me and television but for our culture -- it signals a real shift.
It seems like a real celebration in many ways. I didnt want the first episode to end. How has your life changed in the last 15 years?
Ive actually had time to really appreciate my success of years earlier. When all that was happening to me I could appreciate it but I had to work. I had to work really hard all the time. So in the past few years -- I went off television in 1998 -- 10 years ago. In all those years Ive had a real opportunity to spend time nurturing my personal life, which is really important for you to appreciate your professional life. Im older and I have real gratitude for all the gifts Ive been given and I do not take them for granted. The fact that I even still work today is pretty miraculous.
When you started out back in the early 90s you were really the first drag queen to show up on peoples radios and TVs -- especially in Middle America. And because of that you became a kind of activist -- whether or not you wanted to be. Was that part of the plan? Or was that just a byproduct of your fame?
It wasnt part of my plan. My plan was to come to the planet, have a great time, and go out with a bang. If other people could get something out of my experience I say, Rock on Lady! Lift up your skirt and fly! Ive had a lot of fun and I want to continue to rock this human experience.
Do you feel like a role model?
I dont feel like one -- I know that I am one and I acknowledge that and I appreciate that and I love it. But I dont do things because they will inspire people. I do things because I feel inspired.
Youve had hit singles, youve had your own talk show, youve traveled the world, now you have your own reality competition, you were on Walker, Texas Ranger --
Which was of course the pinnacle of my success --
Of course. So what else is left on your list of things you want to accomplish?
Im going to your house to Rock. Your. World. [Laughs] Im a creative person, there are lots of things I might do: I havent come out with my own line of clothes, I havent produced anyone elses music, I havent put together a girl group, I havent designed a car. Theres still lots for me to do. But first up is really bringing along some of the other girls from the show to be stars. No one has come for my crown and I wish someone would. I wish there were more [drag queens] because it would make it more interesting for me. So first up is finding Americas next drag queen superstar.
RuPaul's Drag Race premieres on LOGO on February 2 at 10:00 PM ET/PT.