RuPaul built a drag empire -- now it’s time to pay attention

You better work!

(Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for World Of Wonder Productions) (Tristan Fewings, 2020 Getty Images)

The best reality TV show has been on for more than 10 years, and it seems most of mainstream America hasn’t even watched it.

We’re not talking about anything on Bravo or E! -- we’re talking about a little show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race” that first aired in 2009, back when then-President Obama was in his first term and Instagram wasn’t even an app yet.

Since then, more than 100 drag queens have sashyed into the Werk Room to launch their careers, and the show has gone on to win 13 Emmy Awards, including two for Outstanding Competition Show.

And all of this wouldn’t be possible without the brains (and wig) behind the operation, RuPaul Charles, or more affectionately known by the queens on the show, Mama Ru.

RuPaul’s success wasn’t created overnight.

After years of slumming it in the underground clubbing scene in the ’80s and ’90s in New York City, RuPaul met mild success with the creation of his very own talk show on VH1, where he got to dish about pop culture and interview his idols, like the one and only Cher.

RuPaul became the most recognizable drag queen in America, but it wouldn’t be until the premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” that Ru and his empire were taken to the global level.

The premise of the show is pretty simple: RuPaul and his esteemed panel of judges are searching for America’s next drag superstar.

Depending on the season, about 12 to 14 queens from all over America compete, week in, week out, in events that will challenge their acting, singing, dancing and comedy chops -- all the while serving up incredible looks on the runway.

The show mixes glamour, camp, and a little bit of kitsch to poke fun at the reality TV competition genre (the first few seasons of the show were basically a spoof on “America’s Next Top Model”), yet it serves up a show that is original and like nothing else on TV.

The success of the show goes to RuPaul, who has been breaking barriers his entire career. It’s hard to imagine an out-and-proud drag queen becoming such a success, let alone a drag queen of color to become the face and name of the art of drag.

RuPaul doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, either. He has a scripted series on Netflix called “AJ and the Queen,” and has done 14 seasons of “Drag Race.”

RuPaul has obviously inspired generations of young queer people to live their most authentic lives, but he’s also made it easier for people who may not at first have been accepting of the LGBTQ+ community to come around and realize that people are just people and love is love.

It’s like what RuPaul says at the end of every episode of “Drag Race:” If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else?

This story was first published in 2020. It has since been updated.

About the Author:

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.