Let Me Tell You: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Last term I interviewed Lawrentians about what pieces of entertainment and media got them through the summer of lockdown and isolation. This term, I’m doing the same thing, except it’s my turn. Each week, I’m giving my comfort food, pop culture and art suggestions for the dreary winter we’re facing. What’s something you can watch, read or listen to that takes your mind off the real world? Well, let me tell you.

“Drag is all over the world. It’s a phenomenon” sing the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13, and damn if they aren’t right. After 11 years on the air, the drag competition reality show hosted by legendary drag performer RuPaul Charles is one of the most popular shows on TV. It’s brought queer art and expression into the mainstream and is loved and watched by gays and straights alike. Every season boasts mega talented casts, entertaining stories and tries to keep its format fresh.  

This format is simple. Drag performers are given a challenge every episode: present their work and a runway look to the judges and one wins. Then two must “lip sync for their life” with the best performer of the two getting to stay in the competition and the other having to “sashay away.” Season 13, which airs its fifth episode tonight, January 29th, is shaping up to be new and dynamic. Thirteen seasons is a lot, and the Drag Race format has been all but beaten to death by the show’s producers over that time, so they try to mix it up every so often, just like what was done this season. Instead of having the queens show up and dive right into a challenge, they begin by putting them head-to-head in lip sync battles, with the winners getting to celebrate with cocktails and the losers sitting on a studio loading dock contemplating their fate. Queens work their butts off just to get on the show, and to be booted off before they can show what they’ve got is truly cruel, but it sure makes for good TV. 

Another standout this season is the cast. Drag Race is always full of colorful characters and this season is no different. From the loud, brash, New York queens whose reputations precede them, to a quirky midwestern seamstress from a small town; season 13 is one of the most diverse showings in recent memory. Contestant and celebrity makeup artist Gottmik debuts as the first trans man to compete on the show, paving new ways for trans queens, some of whom have had difficulty with the show in the past, as RuPaul has antiquated views on trans women doing drag. Hopefully, Gottmik will be the start of a new trend on Drag Race of trans expression and acceptance. My current favorite is Denali, a Chicago queen by way of Alaska. Her charisma is off that charts and is shaping up to be one of the fiercest performers to ever appear on Drag Race. 

The best thing about Drag Race is that it is unapologetic queer representation. Many have criticized it for its one-dimensional portrayal of queer culture, but in more recent seasons, this has been changing due to the more diverse casts who are able to share different facets of what it means to be a queer drag artist. Of course, all RuPauls references aren’t changing with the times, but the contestants are, and it shows in the storylines, the runway looks and the overall vibe of the show. At the height of its popularity, new and fresh performers are coming in and leading the program into a new era. It’s people being gay on TV — and all sorts of gay, all sorts of queer — showing young LGBTQ kids that there isn’t just one way to be queer or to express or perform gender. That is important stuff and can’t go unnoted.  

People go gaga over Drag Race, like they do a lot of other reality Tv, and, honestly, it’s for good reason. The series has managed to find ways to stay fresh and is changing every season due to its engaging and diverse contestants. If you want good entertaining TV, give it a watch tonight at 7 p.m. CST on VH1, it won’t disappoint.