Modesty may not be a common trait in award recipients, drag queens or anyone wearing a pink polka-dot suit, but when RuPaul’s Drag Race host RuPaul received his Emmy statuette, his initial sentiment was a rather shocked, “I really didn’t expect this.”
“Drag Race clicked from the very start. This show at its core is about the tenacity of the human spirit and I think everyone can relate to that,” Ru told Vegas Seven in an interview leading up to the festival (read the full story at VegasSeven.com/RuPaulInterview) RuPaul Andre Charles has gone from a gawky kid in San Diego to a gender-bending teen in Atlanta to fixture of the New York underground scene to Supermodel of the World and now, Outstanding Host of a Variety, Nonfiction or Reality Program. But, for him, it was “a special night, not just for me but for all of the young people around the world who dance to the beat of a different drummer.”
Drag Race may be about men dressing up as women, but it has more genuine humanity than any other reality show. The queens may stride the runway in bulletproof glamour, but backstage they share stories of overcoming pasts in which they were isolated, rejected and afraid. While they may read each other to filth, they also support each other, whether it’s one contestant giving another a waist-cincher and words of encouragement or a winner falling to her knees before the runner-up, saying “I don’t deserve it”—and said runner-up pulling her up, sobbing, “You do, mija, you do.” And RuPaul mostly takes a back seat to her girls until it’s time to glide out in a breathtaking gown to administer praise and criticism—not to flaunt Ru’s ego, but to build up theirs. Björk, one of the show’s many celebrity fans, watches Drag Race with her daughter because she says, “It’s really life-affirming—but obviously hilarious.”
RuPaul’s message of acceptance isn’t just for the LGBT community, but includes outcasts of all stripes. It’s a philosophy he’s embraced since he was part of Atlanta’s pan-everything art scene back in the ’80s. In the days before the internet, you couldn’t find community with like-minded outsiders across the world; you had to make do with whatever outsiders were in your immediate vicinity—punks, nerds, gays, lefties, people of color and random weirdos banded together to have each other’s backs. The new-wave warpaint may have evolved into MAC’s finest maquillage and the tiny club stages may have become millions of TV screens, but Ru is still reaching out to the misfits. As he said at the presser, “These young people now have people to help them navigate their own unique stories, and I think that’s really what this show is about.”
I met RuPaul once, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, specifically Lower Manhattan. I was walking with a friend down Avenue A and noticed a tall, striking gentleman strolling toward us. He knew my friend, small talk and introductions were made, and, even though Ru’s name was only familiar from The Village Voice and wheat paste flyers, I recall that I was simply so impressed with him. Even back in the waning days of the first Bush administration, on a street full of bodegas, launderettes, cheap breakfast joints and corrugated storefronts, RuPaul glided down those stained sidewalks like he was on a red carpet or a runway. There was a lot of tinsel floating around New York City back then, and even more shiny gum wrappers, but RuPaul Charles was—and is—a freaking star.
Catch RuPaul at 4:10 p.m. on Saturday, September 24, on the Troubadour Stage.