I first watched RuPaul’s Drag Race when it first came out in 2009. I watched up to the second season but for some reason, I stopped following the show. Now, the show has become a pop culture phenomenon with the 10th season on the way and three All-Star seasons. I wanted to catch up and the only way I can appreciate the growth of the show was to go back to the start.
If you’ve been living under a rock, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality show where legendary drag queen RuPaul Charles is looking for the next drag superstar. Each season, he pits nine contestants against each other where they have to show their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent through different challenges.
The challenges can get campy. In one episode, the girls were asked to create a drag look on a dime. In another, the girls had to form a girl group and battle it out. My two favorite challenges were the one where they had to transform female fighters and where they had to create looks based on Absolut vodka flavors.
At the end of each episode, the two contestants who performed the worst had to lipsync for their lives. It’s incredibly entertaining.
The first season was filled with characters and my favorites were the regal BeBe Zahara Benet, the pinup girl Tammie Brown, the glamazon Shannel, the bundle of joy that is Ongina (a Filipina!), and the edgy Nina Flowers. I like how the show had good representation from people of color, but I suspect that this is a reflection of drag culture as a whole. I may be wrong but I noticed that the cast of Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning, a documentary on drag and ball culture, is mostly POCs.
The best thing about Drag Race is that even if their drag is mostly an illusion, it’s “realer” than most reality shows. It’s a combination of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway where they have to make their own clothes and present it on a runway, but it has a lot of heart and presents issues faced by the drag and LGBT communities.
Many scenes talk about the discrimination they faced growing up, both from their families and the society they live in. It’s here where we learn more about drag culture, from its history to the importance of having a drag mother and family. And while Drag Race is still a competition and there are catty one-liners, we see them lifting each other up and encouraging one another to keep on fighting.
At the center of the show is, of course, RuPaul. He is a great judge and seems to be more omniscient than most reality show hosts. He is always supportive, critiquing each look and performance in direct yet sensitive ways. In one key episode where a contestant reveals a secret, Ru lovingly says, “You all are sisters. We are all family. And if one of us is in pain, we are all in pain.”
I may not have agreed with the top three but I believe that the winner truly deserved it. Each week, she showed her elegance through her personality, her looks, and her style. I’m happy that she returned in a later season because I have friends who are fans but didn’t watch the earlier seasons. Everyone needs to see the stunning performance of this queen.
This season proves that these girls can handle everything thrown their way, from discrimination to makeup challenges. And I’m glad that the rest of the world has been swept by this show because it has taught us to celebrate individuality and to love ourselves. As Ru says over and over again, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are going to love somebody else?”