Jason Tseng

RuPaul's Drag Race Premiers

Filed By Jason Tseng | February 05, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: drag queens, gay television, gay tv, LOGO, reality shows, RuPaul, RuPaul's Drag Race

RuPaul, easily America's most famous drag queen extraordinaire premiered her new reality program, RuPaul's Drag Race on LOGO. Move over Bravo! RuPaul has just cemented LOGO as the home of screaming queens and shade throwing fierce biotches, at least for the next few months as the show steams through this cycle.

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When I heard about the pending release of this reality program, I was cautiously excited about the whole affair. Having been indoctrinated into my campus queer community via ad nauseum repetitions of But I'm a Cheerleader screenings, RuPaul was forever ingrained into my mind as a fabulous performer. But I wasn't sure how this incarnation of the famed drag performer would translate to reality television. My reaction and some recaps from monday's episode after the jump...

When I heard that RuPaul was doing a drag queen reality show, I became elated. When I heard it was produced for Logo, I was decidedly un-elated. I don't mean to bash on the one gay television channel widely available on cable television, but they haven't exactly been known for their consistency in production value. Aside from Rick & Steve and the occasional documentary, Logo for me has been the home of Queer as Folk reruns... which, frankly, I can do on my computer with no commercial breaks. Did anyone else see the New Now Next Awards? I was horrified by such categories as "Because You're Hot" award. There was really no explanation for the methodology in the selection of the winners, or even how the nominees were chosen. And the cramped setting of some tired bar in New York hardly oozed the glamor and elegance of an awards ceremony, that should really only be set in a large theatre space with a proscenium and everything.

But RuPaul's Drag Race broke through all of my doubts and merged everything I love about reality television into one fabulous streak of genius. This, my friends, is event television.

race.jpgWe are introduced to the contestants, 9 lucky ladies who will be competing for the title of America's top drag queen. It is refreshing that the producers mixed in a little diversity in the drag queens, but it does feel a bit repetitive sometimes. I definitely confused Shannel and Jade several times during the show. I also was sorely disappointed that no one's name seemed to be particularly pun-y. Something like Ida Nevaseyneva would have just made me leap for joy. My current favorites are easily Ongina, Nina Flowers and Tammie.

Ongina is wonderful in her andro-drag Asian betch-fest. Although I agree with the judges that their needs to be more of a transformation and illusion in her drag persona.

I love Nina Flowers because she goes from his hard-core tat whore dude in a muscle shirt into this super fab punk-rock drag diva.

And finally, Tammie... just because watching a train wreck rubs me in a schadenfreude kinda way. But I do like that her drag persona is this time-displaced Betty Boop meets Blanche DuBois on speed. What's not to love?

I'm not entirely sure what these queens are competing for... there's a title, they get to be in a parade, and there's a cash prize somewhere in that hurried grab bag of cross-promotion swag. But I'm pretty sure that the contestants could be competing for a pastrami on rye and they'd still wanna be there, just for bragging rights.

I'm also a little unclear on the format of the show. RuPaul and her producers seem to have crafted a skillful amalgam of America's Next Top Model and Project Runway. I believe the polite word is "homage," but the judges table at the end of the episode was so radically similar to Tyra's Top Model set up it's a little eerie. And someone needs to tell the director of photography to cut it with the soft lens. Get that vaseline off that camera! It's just distracting and makes the whole show scream 90s high school glamor shot, shoulder pads and all. Exhibit A:

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But I did immensely enjoy the "Drag on a Dime" challenge. These bitches can sew, strut, and best of all lipsynch. Oh, this wouldn't be a Drag reality program with out the "Lip Synch for your Life" segment. I just hope they switch up the song every episode. While I love RuPaul's new single... the shameless cross-promotion is a touch desperate.

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Nina Flowers rightfully won with her delightfully retro floral punk ensemble. The hair is flawless, and definitely partied like it was 1999. Victoria's sorry unflattering dress got her booted. I was sad to see the only lady of size get the first axe, but grrrl. You gotta bring it if you want to survive in this fish pond.

I thoroughly look forward to next week's installment. I hope you are too! What did y'all think?


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I very much dislike RuPaul, and won't be watching this show. It's not that I have a problem with drag performers in general, although most T people don't feel a great connectivity to the drag community, but I have a big problem with RuPaul himself.

One reason is his support of comedian Chuck Knipp, who performs as Shirley Q. Liquor. This character is an insult to women of poor economic circumstance, women who are single parents, African-American women in general, and transgender people in general. I have personally taken efforts to stop performances of SQL in Louisville, and will do so again when he attempts to perform here. RuPaul has made his support of Knipp's character very clear and open.

As for Ru's so-called music, remember that a good music producer with a Macintosh running Protools can make anyone sound like they're able to sing. Ru's so-called music happens as a result of electronic wizardry, not an ability to sing or play an instrument with virtuoso skill. I put him in the same category as Paris Hilton, Tonya Harding, or Ashlee Simpson - people who are celebrities, but celebrities for what reason, nobody knows for certain, and certainly not celebrities for reasons of their own talent.

So, no, I don't welcome RuPaul's new show, but watch if you wish. This is America, after all, and I recognize that RuPaul's records probably outsell those of serious musicians who actually have musical ability. For my take, if this is indicative of what's on Logo, I'm glad it's not available on my cable package.

One reason is his support of comedian Chuck Knipp, who performs as Shirley Q. Liquor.

I'd agree with this reason. I think Ru is great entertainment, but her stance in favor of blackface is simply intolerable.

What Polar says.

I have no idea why he gets a free pass on the Knipp thing - Melissa Etheridge got questionned much more closely on her support of dialouge with Rick Warren.

And after his covering for the Dallas Voice's use of "tranny" - I dread how much more license he'll be giving folks to use it in the general public. That'll help folks get work - ofcourse he can just wipe off the levels of pancake and go home never having to deal with that on the subway or on job interview. Maybe he can provide cover for Rush & his Obama comments next. Anything for a buck.

A mess in a dress.

I had no idea RuPaul had this much controversy surrounding her! Hopefully Drag Race will raise awareness of the transgender/transexual community and serve as a jumping off point for a lot of educational conversations. It just sucks that those conversations will have to start off with re-education.

As for RuPaul's "singing," no one ever accused him of having musical talent. Just like the legion of Morning Musume grads that go on to have very successful careers as... famous people, so too do the likes of Paris Hilton, etc go on to exploit their innate talent for staying in the public eye, despite having little or no detectable "talent." No one accused Lance Bass and his biography of stealing potential sales from real writers and the debate of whether a successful commercial venture is an affront to artistic endeavor is another conversation entirely.

RuPaul's Drag Race is definitely all about preformativity, and I'm excited by it. As someone who's only dabbled in drag I don't conflate gender-play and trans issues, but maybe they need to be, especially if they share potentially incisive terminology. I can't wait for episode #2 and Bilerico summary #2.

As someone who's only dabbled in drag I don't conflate gender-play and trans issues, but maybe they need to be, especially if they share potentially incisive terminology.

Here here, Kuhnsy. I don't think RuPaul ever presents herself or attempts to represent the trans community. While many trans people emerge from drag performers, drag to me is a definitive performance style that evokes gender play and transformation.

Also a lot of people seemed to be miffed about the use of the word "tranny" by RuPaul or other drag queens. While I actually tend to dislike the word, I know of a lot of well-informed trans people who rally around the term as an edgy fuck-all trans-and-proud identity.

This resonates particularly strongly with me because I do not identify as gay, but rather as queer. Many LGBTers severely look down upon using the term queer as a rallying political identity because of its incendiary past. But I like it even more because of it. I also find it less binding and more inclusive.

"I had no idea RuPaul had this much controversy surrounding her! Hopefully Drag Race will raise awareness of the transgender/transexual community and serve as a jumping off point for a lot of educational conversations. It just sucks that those conversations will have to start off with re-education."

The controversy he's ginning up is another tired marketing ploy. Hopefully - it won't be used to "raise consciousness" - Ru doesn't identify as transgender, transsexual or female - hence I respect his identity as a man in my pronoun choice.

If I have to start a discussion with re-education based upon the misrepresentations of someone who has the platform to speak - for a different community yet - I'm screwed from the start.

Like most entertainers - he should shut up and entertain. I really don't care to hear Paris or Lance's political analysis. Nor do I care to hear them speak for other communities.

Sure, lot's of people come from the drag community to the transgender communities, lot's stay in both, lot's go from the transgender community to the drag community and many straight people are part of all of them.

But - if you're going to say that gender expression only represents play & you can only access these feelings through the distancing of humor - you might consider that you may have some unacknowledged needs that require this psychic distance. You might consider that portraying gender variance or different gender idntities as only an opportunity for humor or entertainment divorced from real world needs & lives has real effects for others. The presentation of gender expression variance as only fit for the stage is a distancing measure used by society also. It serves needs as well.

I enjoyed the show, though the bad lighting, excessive soft focus and poor camera work/editing annoyed me. In the "Lip Synch for your Life" segment it was a bit hard to judge the relative performances. Note to the producers: You don't see "Project Runway" doing lots of music video quick cutting during the runway segments.

I was saddened to see the token older/bigger queen get the ax first, though I can understand why since she accumulated three strikes against her -- lackluster photo shoot, stumbling (apparently more than once) during the lip synch and the sorry-ass dress. Though since that was the first time she'd ever sewed, it would've been nice if they'd cut her a little slack on that and let her make to next week.

As far as RuPaul, I totally disagree with her take on Shirley Q. Liquor and think it seems to be out-of-touch with what most black people think about it. But I think she's got "standing" to express an opinion on the subject given that she's black.

OTOH, what annoyed me about her whole "it's OK to call trans people 'trannies'" thang was that 1) she's someone, who as far as I know, primarily self-identifies as someone a gay man, not trans; and 2) was justifying it being applied to other people (over their objections), not justifying her using it as a self-identifier.

As far as drag queens, drag kings, faux queens, faux kings and anyone else whose doing it just for gender play/performance calling themselves "trans," I think there are potential issues of appropriating identities -- akin to Posh Spice saying that she loves Teh Gayz so much that she is one herself. I.e. it smacks of cherry picking the fun/edgy/etc. aspects of a particular identity without also having to take on the burden of, or feel much empathy for, the less fun aspect of that identity.

But that's a whole other debate.

FWIW, crossdressers get accused of that sort of appropriation vis a vis those born female and I think there are some CDs who do show a mix of "grass must be greener" thinking combined with a bit of obliviousness about what it's like to be truly treated as a woman. But given CDs are the vast "dark matter" of trans universe, who are deeply closeted, it's not surprising that there can be this sort of disconnect. My experience is that the rare CDs who venture out into the world (particularly beyond "safe spaces" which includes gay/lesbian bars) tend to get a quick reality adjustment.

Or why I declined to enter the "Miss Gay SF" contest when I was asked. I may have forfeited my "straight card" with anyone who knows that I put on a dress (whether that's for drag or for crossdressing), and I may think that "hetero queer" is a label that fits me. But neither I think qualifies me to call myself "gay."

Doh!

There's a missing phrase from my post, I meant to say that "given CDs are the vast "dark matter" of the trans universe, most of whom are deeply closeted" -- i.e. not all of us.

No, Lena, definitely not all of us.

Let us also recall the old lines about CDs, lines which often end up true:

"CD now, TS 5 years from now"
"The difference between a straight and a gay crossdresser is about 6 drinks."

Sorry, I can't separate RuPaul's show from his endorsement of Shirley Q. Liquor. I don't respect him on any level.

Hi

I regret that I was a contestant in the RuPaul’s Drag Race. I finished 31st out of 950 contestants. As the so-called contest went on it was more obvious, that RuPaul’s show was not in the best interest of the transgender community. As the weeks went by I found out more of what was to be expected if I had won a place on the show. I love to entertain but I am no clown a lot of my friends dropped out because they felt as I did. We as the transgender society are a proud people. We fight everyday just to survive. I know I just don’t speak for myself but all transgenders deplore this type of low down exploitation of our sisters.

I also watched the Show. Ru Paul should be ashamed. The respect I had for you went to the bottom. To treat a person in public like she did Victoria Pork Chop Parker. Victoria is a well-respected performer and did not deserve the comments about her weight and age. If I were Victoria, I would have bitch slapped you and made it a real reality show. As a result I will never watch anything or go to any event where Ru Paul is involved.

Thank You
Janice Covington Allison.
www.transcarolina.org

I've never seen Shirley Q. Liquor perform and doubt I ever will. So no comment there.

To me Drag Queen and Transgendered are in totality different camps. IMHO

As far as RuPaul goes I think he has a right to do and say whatever he wants to, as anyone else does in the USA.

IMO he has worked hard to build the career he has and wouldn't compare him to a born into wealth "celeb" like Ms. Hilton.

He had many first's as a drag performer, first drag queen to be signed to a cosmetic contract as a spokesperson for M.A.C. cosmetics. First D.Q. to appear in a national ad for products unrelated to drag, Harvey's Bristol Creme, L.A. Eye-Works, etc.

I read that he was performing in New Orleans long before anyone ever knew who he was as a blue haired punkrocker/drag queen and I'm sure has faced his share of discrimination for that...much less as a gay person of color. I give him credit for forging ahead and having a #1 dance hit as a music performing drag artist. Plus he had his own talk show on MTV.

I also give him credit for just getting into that corset and those high heels constantly.

I've only met RuPaul once so am not a good friend but I have been aware of his career for a long time and have been entertained by him. And always look forward to seeing what he will do next...so yes I tuned in to his new show and will watch it again.

Also I know he has performed many times to raise money for gay causes. So I say thank you RuPaul!