“Isn’t it like a Costco-sized bag of Skittles?” drag superstar, singer and TV personality RuPaul said about her new book, “Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Style. ”
Come to think of it, it is: You can actually taste the rainbow while reading it.
“It took me five weeks of sitting in my kitchen with my computer with the blinds drawn just lifting up my skirt and flying,” she said. “You’re probably going to say, ‘Ru, you are such a whore for piggybacking all your products onto the show.’”
No. Not really.
RuPaul may have timed her book/life manual/drag manifesto to hit the streets around the same time as the second season of her reality competition, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But it’s 2010, and you’ve got to make your fortunes wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. So surely no one at PGN thinks of RuPaul as a whore.
“Well, it’s true,” she said.
We stand corrected.
Anyway, with her cult following in film and music, the new book and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” back for a second season (not to mention a GLAAD Award nomination for best reality program), could it be that RuPaul is on the verge of a multi-media empire on par with the likes of Oprah and Tyra?
“I don’t think that way,” she said. “I’m too old to think like that. I’ve got to stay in the moment. The secret of my success is staying in the moment. I’m having a great time today. You should see what I’m wearing.”
We asked. We were kind of impressed. But then we got back to the task at hand: getting to the dirt.
For instance, over the years PGN has interviewed a number of people who have had shows on Logo and have characterized the network as, shall we say, aggressively frugal. So we wondered out loud if RuPaul and company were able to squeeze more out of the network now that “Drag Race” is a hit.
“It’s a fledgling network,” she said. “It’s not NBC or HBO but it’s trying, and we really stand a good chance to make the network bigger with our show, which is really going to elevate the network to another level. But nobody has got a lot of money.”
Still, “Drag Race” does appear to be a bigger and better machine than it was the first season. This time around, there are more competitors but, at first glance, you might wonder if they can compete with the diverse talent that was on display last time.
“There are so many different shades, angles and techniques,” RuPaul said about the queens competing this season. “Are they more diverse? I don’t think so, probably because we have more. Last season we had nine. This season we have 12. The kids this time, they’re younger, so they have a different approach to representing drag. The first season the kids were diplomatic. They knew they were representing drag, which had been underground for a decade, really not in the mainstream, so they were diplomatic, and they knew they had to be on their best behavior. This time around, not so much. These bitches are ruthless. There, I said it.”
The casting is kind of ruthless too. “Drag Race” contestants range from veteran performers with years of experience to raw talents that only have a few months of drag experience under their wigs.
That’s not exactly fair, do you think?
“Fair is a subjective term,” RuPaul answered. “It’s based on the potential and how they added to the ensemble. Fair is not really fair.”
If the first episode is any indication, both experienced and new performers alike are ready to pull out all the stops, which usually means doing a gratuitous split whenever it looks like another drag queen has you beat in a challenge.
“That’s an analogy for life,” RuPaul said. “If you didn’t get what you want, upstage everyone else. The winner isn’t always the winner. Look at Bush in 2000. Santino [Rice, fashion designer] is one of the judges on our show. He didn’t win the ‘Project Runway’ that he was on, but he was the one that everyone remembers because he, in essence, did the splits. “[Victoria] ‘Porkchop’ [Parker] got a lot of mileage out of being the first one chopped. That’s what I told the girls in the reunion special. You have to seize the moment. This isn’t about who won or who’s No. 1. Fuck that shit. You have to seize whatever opportunity, which is what I have done in my career. The whole show is based on how I’ve approached show business. I tell them all, ‘You may not be No. 1 but you can make it work for you on several different labels if you really get into it. Winning isn’t always how you win the game.’”
Given that sentiment, it’s not surprising that RuPaul doesn’t have any crossover aspirations for the show. Having worked on shows for bigger networks like VH1, which was home to her talk show in 1996, RuPaul said mainstream TV and press acceptance of “Drag Race” doesn’t matter to her.
“The mainstream press has always been a challenge when it comes to me, who uses femininity as a palette or a venue,” she said. “You have to understand the mainstream press has an agenda, as all press has an agenda. But if the agenda has to do with the status quo and making sure people feel secure in the choices they have made in their lives, then you’re going to be up against a lot of people who disapprove of what I do. People are very afraid of what they don’t understand. A lot of people don’t want to understand it because it would force them to reevaluate the choices that they made.”
The contestants aren’t the only aspects of “Drag Race” that got an upgrade. The list of celebrity judges has also gotten bigger and better, with personalities like Kathy Griffin, Cloris Leachman, Debbie Reynolds, Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Collins, Kathy Najimy and Henry Rollins.
Wait. Hold up. Like they said on “Sesame Street”: One of these things is not like the other.
“I’ve known him for years,” RuPaul said of the punk-rock icon. “I did a record with him 15 years ago that never came out. He is fashion-forward and intellectual. It’s so refreshing to be around people, gay or straight, who don’t get caught up in bullshit and what people are supposed to do. You’re not your religion or your clothes or the car you drive or the city you live in. Some people are clever enough to transcend all that. We have two Academy Award winners and it just goes on and on. That’s what drag is about. Hopefully, I get to teach a new generation of young people who really don’t know what drag stands for. It’s about tearing down that bloody bitch of a bearing wall and putting a window where it ought to be.”
A few of the bearing walls that recently faced the RuPaul wrecking ball were in some famous political houses. In “Workin’ It,” a photo of RuPaul depicts her version of election night: She appears as both Barack and Michelle Obama. She also recently did her own take of Sarah Palin in a photo spoofing the former Alaska governor’s new book, “Going Rogue.”
RuPaul said she’s happy to be alive in a time in history when she can use drag to promote a political message.
“Drag throughout the ages has always been witch doctors and shamans who make fun of society,” she said. “That has always been the role of drag in any culture. It’s to remind people that they are not who they think they are. This may get too deep: You really are an extension of the power that made the whole universe. Drag is there to tell people: Don’t take yourself too seriously. So political figures who parade themselves around as the moral authority are prime targets for this kind of parody. It’s a perfect match. There have been sketchy times where speaking your mind politically could get you Dixie-Chicked, but it’s eased up recently.”
We were starting to get worried that RuPaul’s success in television and books was going to keep her away from the studio, but (no pun intended) she set the record straight.
“I’m getting back in the studio next week,” she said, “whether the songs get played on the radio or not, I just dig it. I love music. I love collaborating with people.”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 2” premieres at 9 p.m. Feb. 1 on Logo. “Workin’ It” hits bookshelves on Feb. 2. For more information, visit www.rupaulsdragrace.com.
Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].