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RuPaul: ‘Drag is a big f-you to male-dominated culture’

By Decca Aitkenhead

03 Mar 2018 · 12 min read

When RuPaul Charles was seven, one of his sisters comforted him with a promise. “Everyone who’s in charge of the world now,” she told him, “they’re all making it better, so that years from now everyone on the planet will have at least eight pairs of shoes.” Her prediction tells us something about the better world a young RuPaul dreamed of – and that, in the case of his own shoe collection, at least, turned out to be true. Before the boy was even born, a psychic had told his mother he would grow up to be famous, so she took great care to name him suitably. What neither his unusually prescient family – nor a single TV pundit – predicted, however, was that at the age of 57 he would be the star of what has been called “the most radical show on TV”.

RuPaul’s Drag Race was turned down by every network bar one when he first pitched the idea a decade ago. A pastiche of America’s Next Top Model, part talent contest and part reality TV, the format selects a dozen or so drag queens to compete in weekly challenges such as running up a Gone With The Wind-themed gown out of curtains. A judging panel of RuPaul and guests, who have included Lady Gaga and La Toya Jackson, scores the catwalk finales, looking for Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent (the acronym is not an accident), and the bottom two then “lip-sync for their lives” to a pop anthem, before the loser is eliminated.

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