HBO's reality drag series We're Here, created by Stephen Warren and Johnnie Ingram, may have been groundbreaking and GLAAD Award-winning, but not even it was impervious to the effects of the ongoing global pandemic. And while the first season got off to an inspiring start, the future of the show was almost up in the air after production halted when most of the world went into lockdown.
Luckily, the folks at HBO and the show's queens -- Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O'Hara, and Shangela -- were able to roll with the punches and come back for a bigger, even more heartfelt second season of the show, which sees the drag legends traveling to conservative pockets of small-town America to help LGBTQ+ folks find community and love where they least expect it.
"I think that we all had some pretty big obstacles," Bob says of the challenges that she has experienced this year as a continued result of the pandemic. "2021 is kind of an extension of 2020, and I think that reconnecting, getting back in the world, and overcoming our global trauma surrounding the coronavirus" were high priorities.
"My dreams have continued to come true this year: being able to showcase myself on All Stars [season] 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race, and the new season of American Horror Story: Double Feature, and wrapping season 2 of HBO's We're Here," Eureka adds. "Every step of my journey this year has reminded me that regardless of my size, shape, or anything in between, I do have a place in this industry. Regardless of any barriers or obstacles I've had to face in my career, I continue to walk the path for plus-sized individuals...or waddle. It just shows that hard work and passion is really what it takes to make your dreams come true."
"In 2021, in the midst of still navigating through a global pandemic, I was able to navigate challenges, work within tough guidelines and still complete a really phenomenal season of our HBO show We're Here," Shangela says. "The largest obstacle I've ever faced has been learning to wholeheartedly love, accept, and value myself. Growing up in a place that didn't offer me much visibility or affirmation for being gay led to me to believe I wasn't worthy of the freedom that comes with true acceptance. I work daily on strengthening my core of self-love so that I can truly share that with the world." --Raffy Ermac, Photo Johnnie Ingram HBO
Gottmik became a transformational figure on season 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race, where she made history as the first trans male contestant (Gottmik prefers she/her pronouns in drag). Her makeup, fashion, and winsome personality charmed fans, the judges, and RuPaul himself, earning her a spot in the Top 4 and making drag's most visible stage a more trans-inclusive space.
"I would describe the work I do as a physical manifestation of the punk rock movement and 'crashing the cistem,' no matter what form of art I am partaking in at the time -- whether it's fashion, painting, makeup, music -- nothing inspires more than that chaotic, in-your-face, rock-n-roll vibe of dismantling the patriarchy," Gottmik declares.
Reflecting on the past year, Gottmik says she is proud she was able to "tell my story on such a huge platform. The way I have been able to connect with so many people this past year has been mind-blowing, and I still can't believe this is my life."
"I went through years of self-hatred and sadness because I was scared of what other people would think or how they would react, but I realized that the people that are meant to be in your life will be there no matter what as long as you're truly happy," she adds.
And the sky's the limit now. "I want to try everything," Gottmik says. "I am a very open person both mentally and spiritually, and I've learned that the best things happen when you just trust the universe." -- Daniel Reynolds, Photo Marco Ovando
In winning season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, Kylie Sonique Love became the Comeback Kid, returning to the franchise after a decade (she first appeared in season 2!) and beating the odds to snatch the crown. The Georgia native's story is even more inspiring because she made herstory as the first transgender winner in a U.S.-based Drag Race -- a milestone in a franchise that has a troubled history with trans inclusion. Moreover, her final lip-synch -- in which she trips but gracefully tumbles head over heels into a somersault to complete the number -- is one of the most iconic saves in the reality competition's run.
Love's head is still spinning from the events of the past year. "I know what it's like to lose it all and win it all back," she says. "COVID was extremely hard [on] entertainers, as I was homeless, jobless, moneyless. Winning Drag Race completely changed everything, as I saw all...the hard work and love that I've put towards my goals and dreams pay off. I am grateful for all the ups and downs, as they have allowed me to truly appreciate who I am and everyone who believes in me."
Love hopes her story inspires others to reach for the stars and "hits in a deeper place than just the show -- as far as me being transgender, and that people can see themselves accomplishing their goals no matter what their circumstances are," she says. "I also hope that my experiences that helped me heal can help others in a similar way, as that was always my intention as I shared them on the show. I never went on Drag Race to win but rather to challenge myself. Winning was simply a cherry on top. Winning is temporary but the growth that I had on the show will stay with me my whole life."
So, what's next for the reigning All Stars champion? "The world is what's next for me!" -- D.R., Photo Alexander Fost