“It’s Like a Puzzle Piece”: ‘THR Presents’ Q&A With ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Creatives on ‘Moulin Rouge’-Inspired Musical Episode

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“There is nothing else that I work on that allows me to express myself completely in the way that this show does,” says Leland of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, which this year wrapped its 14th season. “I still pinch myself and cannot believe that this is my job.”

The mononymous songwriter, Drag Race season 14 finalist Angeria Paris VanMicheals, lead editor Jamie Martin and songwriter Gabe Lopez joined The Hollywood Reporter’s Hilton Dresden for THR Presents, powered by Vision Media, to discuss the latest season of the Emmy-winning reality competition series.

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Leland, who composes the series’ original music with collaborator Lopez, says that an exciting prospect of the most recent season was the annual “Rusical” titled “Moulin Ru,” inspired by the Baz Luhrmann movie musical and subsequent Broadway show. “Creating ‘Moulin Ru’ was definitely a labor of love [and] one of the most challenging as far as songwriting projects,” said Leland. “Each is a mashup, just like in Moulin Rouge, [with] three or four different songs that fit the theme of that specific moment in the plot.” The songs were sourced not just from RuPaul’s own catalog of original songs, but also from moments seen throughout the previous 13 seasons of Drag Race and its spinoff series RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK

“I have to be honest: At first, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this this is gonna be a lot,’ ” admitted Angeria, who made it to the final five of the season along with fellow queens Bosco, Daya Betty, Lady Camden and season winner Willow Pill. There are high stakes for any Drag Race contestant, particularly for the Rusicals — not only are they trying to stay in the competition, but they also have to work alongside the cast and crew to pull off an incredible show. 

“It’s like a puzzle piece, all these moving components being put together,” said Lopez of orchestrating selections from RuPaul’s catalog in Moulin Rouge‘s particular style. “And it’s a competition, so you’re trying to make it fair for everybody. Every number needs to be at the same mark.”

Editor Martin said the Rusical episode was a season highlight: “It was probably my favorite episode of the season. … It’s a beautiful marriage of the reality component really boosting up the competition opponent of this episode.” Martin added that the strong personalities on stage was a wealth of material, and it offered a chance to play with new camera angles not previously seen on the show. “That head-on angle of the girls coming out from the corner of the stage … was so true to what Moulin Rouge is.”

Martin also said that the season finale, which for the first time featured five finalists vying for the crown and gave each queen a solo performance of an original number, was an exciting piece to cut together. “Part of kind of my philosophy [for] editing this show is that you treat each scene like a dinner table scene, where there might be a conversation happening between a few people, but you want to incorporate the other voices in the room however you can,” said Martin, noting that the episode was filmed in front of a live audience in Las Vegas. “That’s this other huge component at the dinner table. … Everyone was just so alive. It’s always really exciting to to get to incorporate a live audience, which we haven’t had been able to do in a few years.”

Angeria added that the Vegas finale was a breath of fresh air for the series, which typically ends each season with a lip-sync battle between the queens. “This [was] the last opportunity to be able to just give that one showstopping performance that just says who you are and what you’re trying to say like to the audience,” she said, adding it was a “high-pressure” moment to perform an original song written with Leland and Lopez. “Actually having the audience back, having my parents and in the front row cheering me on, doing this song that was written just for me — it was just incredible.”

This edition of THR Presents was brought to you by VH1.

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