International Women’s Day seems a fitting occasion to celebrate the technicolour extravaganza of femininity that is RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has moved out of the shadows of cult hit to mainstream acceptance, as several of its stars prepare to embark on a world tour.
Several series in, RuPaul’s Drag Race remains a heady cauldron of high-octane glamour, constant drama and fluid identity, where fantasy and reality blur to fascinating and literally dazzling effect.
Cutting across a whole host of spectrums including age, race and gender, appearance and identity can be erased or added, in what is highly addictive escapism for both contestant and viewer, and showing that drag can be nuanced, smart and subversive rather than just one-dimensional cabaret.
Contestants across all series have become stars by adopting a new persona, and as fan favourite Sharon Needles has said: “Drag has gone from my passion, my therapy, my necessary hobby, to my livelihood, my career and my source of income.”
It also seems that drag mirrors fame in being a mask that uncovers the face, with RuPaul saying: “Drag doesn’t change who are, it actually reveals who you are.”
Nor is it a million miles from what so many performers in other trades do already, changing their names, appearance and identity in their bid for glory and attention.
For some of the show’s stars, the flamboyant attention-grabbing looks make for an understandable response to backstories of tragic family rejection, where the real person is still hard to find in the limelight under a distracting veneer of makeup, heels and much more besides. An armour of strength to mask the vulnerability, something that anyone who has worn bright lipstick or high heels to help get them withstand the day can understand.
RuPaul, a pioneer in drag when it was still a radical part of the counterculture, elevates the show beyond mere glamour, providing regular sage and often moving wisdom to contestants, but more often that not it has much broader resonance.
Not least her advice to aspiring drag queens, for example. “Don’t spend so much time trying to get people to like you. If your intention is kindness and love, you have nothing to worry about.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons 2016 Extravaganza Tour, hosted by series judge Michelle Visage with “an allstar cast of past winners, finalist and fan favourites from each season” starts in March 2016.