Isn’t it amazing how many reality shows are now on TV? Networks seem to favour them as a cost effective means of filling their program slots and as we continue to tune into them, why not? From train wrecks to star watching, there seems to be at least one that we all tend to discuss around that proverbial water cooler.
One that continues to build upon its audience and is a constant emotional roller coaster ride is “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”. After five seasons and with one “All Star” series now under its belt (pun intended) the momentum continues. Spin offs are making it a growing franchise. Over 15 countries around the world are now tuning in and making it the number one show for Logo TV. Launched in 2005, it is the first advertiser-supported commercial television channel in the U.S. geared towards the LGBT community. In Canada “RPDR.” can be seen on the OUT Network.
Hosted, mentored and created by the multi-talented Ru Paul Charles, the public now gets to bare witness to what goes into donning an alter ego and creating a drag stage presence. It is absolutely fascinating to see the process these contestants go through. It is an art form that many of us, gay or straight, know very little about, leading up to the “Lights, Camera, Action”moment! Remember in Victor/Victoria when Julie Andrews pulls off the beaded skullcap making the audience gasp and believe she is actually a man after her big debut? Until this series premiered in 2009 we did not have a true depiction or real comprehension of all that was involved in being a true drag artist. What a drag!
Drag Race not only exposes this quirky centuries-old art form but also enlightens us as to the personalities that opt to pursue this art form as a source of livelihood and means of self-expression. The show itself is also rooted in poking fun at the current format in mainstream reality shows, game shows and even soap operas. It miraculously elevates the offbeat moments from sketchy into kitschy hilarity.
From high camp to harsh reality, tears of laughter can quickly turn to tears of sadness. A viewer can be reduced to tears hearing some of the personal trials and tribulations many of the contestants have been through. Family, bullying, finances, health, self-esteem and even inside rivalry are just a handful of hardships that pop up throughout.
In the first season, Ongina (Ryan Paola) bravely came out to the world, revealing her HIV status. There was not one dry eye on the set and trust Ru Paul to be a source of comfort and support, making it a true example of what reality TV can be. Since then, Ongina has become a positive spokesperson and advocate for the cause which has included a MAC ad campaign and a television series revolving around living with HIV. She also continues to lend her support to a number of other gay-related causes.
Throughout the various challenges of each episode it is not just their talent that we get a glimpse of. Their insight on each other also makes for great TV viewing. From the old school inspired performers to the avant-garde newbies, tensions rise as the competition gets whittled down. This was a prevailing story line throughout season five that climaxed with 25-year-old Jinkx Monsoon snatching the title of “America’s next Drag Super Star”. Regardless of winning, many of the contestants are able to capitalize on the exposure, continuing to build upon their own unique talents.
Modeling, acting, singing, comedic skills, celebrity impersonations and even drag transformations on the least expected (though very game) are all part and parcel of the challenges the contestants are faced with. Eachweek, a winner is determined while the bottom two are forced to “Lip Synch for their Lives”, determining who is eliminated.
There is a panel of judges, including Ru Paul, that are either resident or celebrity guest stars. Initially, the celebrities were gay or gay friendly “B” list artists. Featured global celebrities are now part of the routine as they too manage to surprise us with their presence and wit. The prizes have also escalated per episode as well as for the season’s winner (from $20,000 yo $100,000)! A global tour, ridiculous amount of cosmetics and a smart little vaycay are also awarded to the winner. Fans go online and vote for Miss Congeniality.
Since the Stonewall Riots that took place in New York in 1969 drag queens, have been front and centre in lending their support to causes near and dear to their hearts. The first Gay Pride marches in 1970 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were the beginning of today’s global Pride celebrations. DQ’s were also the first to raise attention, awareness and funds for HIV and AIDS and continue to do so on oodles of local and international stages.
On June 2nd, 2013, Ru Paul responded succinctly to derogatory slurs posted by Amanda Bynes, (Hollywood’s latest…Hot Mess). “Derogatory slurs are always an outward projection of a person’s own poisonous self-loathing.” At the end of every episode and since episode one of season one, Ru says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else! Can I get an Amen?” All on set respond, dancing ensues and then credits.
Sashay! You Stay!!!!
Wherever you are…best wishes for a Safe and Happy Pride. Sashay away!