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Judas Priest just got nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and now it turns out that their frontman, Rob Halford, wants to add another achievement to his long résumé. Sitting with Yahoo Entertainment to promote his new holiday album, Celestial, the metal legend reveals that he’d love to be a guest judge on the Emmy-winning talent show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Get all the drag queens in full-on metal. Let's do it, Ru!” Halford declares, addressing RuPaul directly. Considering that Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, of Rock Hall of Famers Blondie, once guest-judged a punk-themed Drag Race episode, this may not be that far-fetched a request. And of course, a “Hell Bent for Leather” lip-sync would be epic.
“I am a RuPaul's Drag Face fan,” Halford chucklingly tells Yahoo Entertainment, adding more seriously: “I just love that show just for every emotional dimension of what's being presented… the interaction, and the support, and the fun, and the bitchiness, and all this kind of stuff. It's great. It's a beautiful insight to a part of our world and it's really important. It has a tremendous amount of value.”
Halford, who came out as gay in 1998, continues: “Show like Ru's show, or the Queer Eye show, these things are wonderful opportunities for people that don't know about us. Just to look and listen and learn. That whole thing about we are your bus driver, we are your nurse at school, we are your judge court. We're their airline pilot. We are everywhere. Just taking away and destroying this horrible pushback that we have. Even today we're about to get to 2020 and we still have to talk about this. Particularly in this current climate here in the U.S. it's terribly, terribly difficult. Especially what's going on in Washington. Let me quickly say I'm not an American citizen yet; I'm working on it. But when I say ‘we,’ I mean we as people, as family here in the U.S. We've been practically ignored by this current administration. We were forging so far ahead with the previous administration, and now we are pushed to the sidelines, and I think that's a terrible disservice. It's insulting. And thank God that [Trump] won't last forever.”
There’s no debating that Halford makes for good television. When he came out 21 years ago, he did it live on MTV — a totally unplanned, spur-of-the-moment decision. “Even now if I think back, I can hear the producer's clipboard falling on the floor,” Halford chuckles. “After I did the show, I said, ‘Oh my God, I just came out in the strongest possible way. … What's going to happen?’” Halford was thrilled and relieved when he received “an incredible amount of support and love and great messages,” rather than backlash, from Judas Priest fans. “It was just tremendously uplifting, and again, empowering. It gives you all the strength you need when you step forward and make that statement.”
Of course, many fans weren’t surprised, having long interpreted Halford leather/chains/studs ‘80s attire — a look that went back to Priest’s early days, when out of necessity the band members bought their stagewear at an S&M shop called Mr. S in London’s Red Light District — as his way of tipping off the public about his homosexuality. But an amused Halford insists that wasn’t his intention.
“The irony is that for so many years I was this ‘leather guy’ that went out onstage, and it never crossed my mind for one moment that this had any kind of connection to my sexuality,” he says. “To me, it just looked good. It looked cool. It looked right. It's crazy, because people felt that there was some kind of subliminal intent there by looking that way, and it was never the case.”
Halford says that coming out in the 1980s it would have been difficult for him, “being in this strong, powerful, alpha-male heavy metal band. ... To have made that kind of statement at that time, there would've been a lot of pushback.” While the’80s pop scene had flamboyant gay stars like Boy George, it was “a very, very strong kind of masculine-dominated time” in metal. Halford admits that as the decade progressed and makeup-spackled, gender-bending hard rock bands like Motley Crue and Poison — which he actually thought sort of looked like “guys in drag” — became MTV superstars, he found their mainstream popularity confusing.
“That was always very interesting to me, as a gay man that was still in the closet, seeing these guys,” Halford muses. “Of course it was just the balance, I guess, visually from almost an androgynous look of these musicians, but there were always girls in the background, or in the video, or that kind of texture and atmosphere. … I will say this, though: You've got to give kudos to those guys, because in some respect they did open the door a little bit to the acceptance. … They did some good there. They in a way kind of either put the key in the lock, or turned the lock slightly for where we were going to go next.”
But there’s no doubt that Halford really turned the key, and he smiles as he talks about the “really, really beautiful” and sometimes “quite heartbreaking” letters he has received from grateful LGBTQ fans. “It gave me some more power to remain where I'm at — and to just go out there now, as an openly gay metalhead singer,” he says with a smile.
Now Halford just needs to go out there and get in the Hall of Fame — and on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12.
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