Against all odds, RuPaul’s Drag Race is currently wrapping up its eighth season — nine if you count All Stars. A renewed Season 9 hitting the air a year from now is practically a given, and soon after the current batch wraps, All Stars 2 will give hungry fans something to tide them over until then.
That success all seems nearly unimaginable for a show that started out with no budget, no prestige, and no faith from mainstream networks. Since the first season aired in 2009, Drag Race has become a bonafide brand. RuPaul’s show is the star-maker machine for drag queens — getting on the show is the most surefire way to turn your weekend hobby into a paying career. In fact, it might even be the only way aside from a few social media success stories. Even already famous queens like Courtney Act and Bianca Del Rio haven’t been able to stay away from what the show offers — the potential for mainstream crossover.
Yet according to RuPaul, Drag Race will never get further than it already has. Sure, its list of guest stars have gone from unrecognizable ’90s one-hit wonders to the likes of Ariana Grande and John Waters; and you can’t count out the success of former contestants Willam and Detox with their “Boy Is A Bottom” parody.
Still, for RuPaul it’s hard to imagine a world where Drag Race can be taken for what it is in the mainstream. In a recent interview with Dateline ABC, he discussed how the core of the art of drag stands in stark contrast to what could be called palatable pop culture.
“I don’t think the show could ever go mainstream because drag is the antithesis of the matrix. You know, the matrix says, ‘Pick an identity and stick with it. Because I want to sell you some beer and shampoo and I need you to stick with what you are so I’ll know how to market it to you.’ Drag is the opposite. Drag says, ‘Identity is a joke.'”
RuPaul argues that shows like Drag Race can only exist within a certain spectrum of primetime television. Sure, a drag queen can be on major network TV, but it can never be in a way that addresses RuPaul’s core as a drag queen.
“I think that I haven’t been accepted in mainstream media outlets like The Tonight Show or Ellen or the late-night shows because the only way they could actually have a conversation with me is to make fun of me, or if they could somehow make a joke about what I’m doing.”
RuPaul’s show, on the other hand, gives drag a medium where it can fully express itself without worrying about softening the edges. Drag Race is also able to connect with a wide audience because anyone who has been an outsider, LGBT or not, can see a little bit of themselves in it.
“Drag Race is popular because at its core it is the story of the tenacity of the human spirit. We get to see these kids who have been pushed aside by society, who’ve made a way for themselves to be seen and to be great. And watching them thrive throughout these challenges is captivating, especially knowing their stories. And I know their stories because it’s my story. It really is the story of really everyone who thinks outside the box.”
You can catch the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 finale on LOGO Monday evening.
[Image via Ethan Miller/Getty Images]