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In an interview with Yahoo last month, dance music and pop culture icon RuPaul Charles expressed mixed feelings about his Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program, saying, “I’ve always lived my life outside of the status quo, and I’ve been able to become a name outside of the system. I really don’t expect to win… I feel like it’s almost like a gesture by the Academy to say, ‘Hey, we are a part of this forward movement.’ But they are still the establishment.”
Truth be told, the first-time nominee had reason to feel like an Emmy underdog, since he was representing RuPaul’s Drag Race, a fringe show about drag queens on Logo, a niche LGBT cable network. But Sunday, on night two of the Creative Arts Emmys held at Los Angeles’s Microsoft Theater, RuPaul surprised everyone — including himself — by winning the Emmy, beating out decidedly mainstream reality hosts Tom Bergeron (Dancing With the Stars), Steve Harvey (Little Big Shots), Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn (Project Runway), Jane Lynch (Hollywood Game Night), and even American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest.
“I haven’t landed yet,” RuPaul gasped backstage. “I can’t believe it. This is really so crazy. I really did not expect this… I’m still not sure if I won! I don’t know if I’m dreaming or not, because I’ve never felt like this before — maybe in a drug flashback or something.”
On a more serious note, RuPaul recognized that a win for Drag Race is significant in a year filled with social and political turmoil, from debates over bathroom bills to the tragic June 12 shooting at Orlando’s gay nightclub Pulse.
“It’s really about the girls [contestants], all the 100 girls who have come through on this show who are so brilliant. I accept this for them,” he declared. “The significance [of this award] is we hear the stories of 100 queens — actually now 112 queens [counting the 12 contestants who will appear on the show’s upcoming ninth season] — who get to tell their unique stories of survival. It’s so important for all the young people around the world who get to see this show to hear that there is a way for you to navigate this life. This show is like a map — it’s like an emotional map to navigate the life of people who dance to the beat of a different drummer.”
On another heavy note, RuPaul addressed the Sunday death of transgender entertainer and occasional drag performer Alexis Arquette, saying, “I knew Alexis, and Alexis lived her life from her heart, through her own authenticity. That is the best way to live this life, and I’m sure that when she looks back at this whole experience, she’ll say, ‘You know what? I did it right.’”
Obviously Ru is doing something right, to be recognized by the Emmys — but don’t assume his victory means his worst fear of “going mainstream” has come true, judging by some of his zingy Sunday night one-liners. In his two-part backstage interview at the Emmys, he attributed RuPaul’s Drag Race’s success to “the fact that all of the producers are gay!” and also joked, “I was quoted earlier, a few months ago, as saying that I’d rather have an enema than an Emmy… thanks to the Television Academy, now I can have both!”
Click here for a full list of all the Creative Arts Emmy winners, handed out over two ceremonies Saturday and Sunday in Los Angeles. The Primetime Emmy Awards will air next weekend, Sunday, Sept. 18, on ABC.