RuPaul’s Drag Race became a cult favorite from the moment the TV show debuted on Logo in 2009, and it has grown in popularity every season since. But this was the year when the groundbreaking reality series made herstory — infiltrating every area of pop culture, hitting all-time ratings highs and setting RuPaul’s DragCon attendance records, and ousting Game of Thrones as Reddit’s most popular TV show. Clearly, Drag Race is here to shanté and stay.
As the year comes to a close and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 premieres this week, let’s take a Ru-vealing look at how this series [Gia Gunn voice] ABSOLUTELY slayed 2018.
RuPaul Charles, the hardest-werking man in show business, had already deservedly scooped up two Emmys for Outstanding Host for Reality or Reality-Competition Program in 2016 and 2017, and he won a third hosting Emmy this year. But in 2018, the show garnered a whopping dozen overall nominations and won five — including Outstanding Reality-Competition Program, beating out more mainstream opponents like The Amazing Race and The Voice. “We celebrate people who dance outside the box, and those are my favorite kind of people,” RuPaul said in his acceptance speech. “Those stories need to be told, and I think there is value in those stories for everyone, not just drag queens.”
“I think there is a big message to be sent,” RPDR judge Michelle Visage told Yahoo Entertainment, “and the message is the message that the community’s been fighting since the beginning — since [LGBTQ activists] Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, everybody we’ve lost to the AIDS virus, and all the great brothers and sisters before us, that have fought for equality and a voice. When you try to tell us we don’t matter, we fight louder, we fight stronger, and we fight harder. This award is a voice for all those people who don’t have one.”
Two stars are born
Lady Gaga generated Oscar buzz for her A Star Is Born performance, of course — but two RPDR comedy queens, Shangela and Willam, stood out so much in the movie’s hilarious drag bar scenes that they nearly upstaged Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Gaga, an avowed Drag Race fan and Season 9 guest mentor, actually handpicked Shangela for the film, and director Cooper described Willam’s largely ad-libbed performance as “gold.” Is it too late to campaign for Shangela and Willam to receive Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations?
Category is … Pop-Star Realness
Many of the show’s “140 drag queens released into the wild,” to quote RuPaul’s 2018 Emmy speech, made inroads in mainstream music (following in the stiletto-shod footsteps of Ru himself, who scored a breakthrough Billboard hit 25 years ago with “Supermodel of the World”). And these talented queens were singing, not lip-syncing, for their lives.
For instance, quirky country queen and autoharp aficionado Trixie Mattel’s sophomore album, One Stone, went to No. 1 on iTunes’ Singer-Songwriter chart and Billboard’s Heatseekers chart; she received glowing coverage from NME, NPR and Rolling Stone Country; she landed an endorsement deal with Fender guitars; and she was even praised by Miley Cyrus and Kacey Musgraves, who both expressed interest in collaborating with her. (Side note: Musgraves will be a guest judge on All Stars 4.)
Additionally, Season 6’s fan-favorite punk-rocker Adore Delano was the cover girl on Alternative Press’s first-ever Pride issue, and Season 10’s self-declared “Broadway baby,” Blair St. Clair, became the first Drag Race contestant to top Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums Sales chart with her debut album, Call My Life.
Peppermint: A breath of fresh Broadway air
Speaking of Broadway babies, Season 9 runner-up Peppermint, who is trans, became the first openly trans woman to star on Broadway, playing Pythio in the Go-Go’s’ new jukebox musical. “Head Over Heels is very open and accepting and celebratory of different types of existences, different identities and different bodies,” Peppermint told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Our world is much better off; I think my life is much better off knowing that there are folks who are coming up to me at the stage door and saying that they’re so happy and proud to see someone that they resonate with, whether it’s the character I play or me as a trans woman.”
Do your thing on the runway
Drag Race ’s most glamazonian alumni rubbed glittering padded shoulders with fashion’s elite this year. Fashion Week darling and Season 7 winner Violet Chachki became the first drag queen to star in a major lingerie ad campaign, walked in two Moschino fashion shows, starred in a Prada ad campaign and posed in Thierry Mugler couture for a calendar shot by renowned photographer Ellen von Unwerth.
Season 9 winner Sasha Velour collaborated with Opening Ceremony on a fashion show that also starred RPDR alumni Shea Couleé, Jiggly Caliente, and Miss Fame and featured a surprise performance by Drag Race Season 10 guest judge Christina Aguilera. (“[Opening Ceremony] has told us that we belong here. They told us that we can belong in these clothes,” Velour told the New York Times.)
Reigning queen Aquaria modeled for H&M’s Moschino collaboration and Season 9’s Aja became the face of H&M’s new Pride OUT Loud campaign, and Trixie Mattel and Miss Fame debuted their own makeup lines as well. Surely Mama Ru, the supermodel face of M.A.C’s first Viva Glam campaign back in 1994, would be proud.
The TV library is open
RuPaul’s Drag Race wasn’t the only television show on which these queens reigned. Season 7’s Ginger Minj appeared in Jennifer Aniston and Dolly Parton’s Netflix film Dumplin’; All Stars 2 winner Alaska starred in the final Sharknado movie; Season 5’s Alyssa Edwards got her own Netflix docuseries about her Texas dancing school; Alyssa’s protégé, Laganja Estranja, went far as a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance; Season 4’s Jiggly Caliente had a role on Ryan Murphy’s critically acclaimed Pose and appeared in a Saturday Night Live “GP Yass” skit with Peppermint (Jiggly is also trans, making the pair the first trans women on SNL); Season 3 winner Raja and RuPaul made cameos on The Simpsons; and a new cartoon superhero series voiced by Trixie, Ginger, Shangela and Willam, Super Drags, debuted on Netflix.
Additionally, it could even be argued that Drag Race influenced a much more conservative reality TV competition, American Idol, this year. Ada Vox spent the entire ABC reboot season in drag queen mode — full hair and makeup, glamorous gowns, high heels — and she made it to the top 10. That’s a long way from American Idol Season 7 a decade ago, when the above-mentioned Adore Delano competed as 17-year-old Danny Noriega and alienated viewers because he was reportedly “too flamboyant.”
And, over on the other side of the pond, Drag Race Season 6 top three finalist Courtney Act absolutely dominated British airwaves as the winner of Celebrity Big Brother, the host of dating show The Bi Life, and the star of her own Christmas special on Channel 4.
And we have even more must-see TV to look forward to in 2019! RuPaul will star in a Netflix comedy series based on his own life, AJ & the Queen; Season 9’s own Miss Congeniality, Valentina, will star alongside Vanessa Hudgens and Tinashe in Fox’s live musical production of Rent; and, speaking of British television, there will be the long-awaited premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. on BBC Three. You betta watch.
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 premieres Dec. 14 on VH1.
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