It’s just a TV show. And a reality show, at that. Yet despite rising homophobia and hate crimes, the LGBTQ-inclusive drag-queen competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race” not only remains popular but is actually expanding from the gay-oriented Logo to the more mainstream VH1, where season 9 premieres Friday at 8 p.m. Episodes will then encore on Logo.
“This is our 11th cycle [including two all-star seasons] and we don’t seem to be going away anytime soon,” says RuPaul, 56, the impresario of a drag empire that has also included the behind-the-scenes show “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked,” the women’s-makeover show “RuPaul’s Drag U” and the “Gay for Play Game Show Starring RuPaul.”
How does he — and RuPaul is indifferent to which pronoun one uses — explain this expansion in the face of new difficulties confronting LGBTQ individuals since the election? Philosophically, it turns out.
“It’s not just homophobia or xenophobia or sexism or racism,” he says. “That darkness is always a component of our planet. And it’s now having a big resurgence. But that darkness is just a huge fear, and it knows that we as a human race are moving forward and its power is diminishing — so this is the last big gasp for that darkness. Darkness cannot survive in the presence of light, and our secret weapon is our love, our movement, our light, our ability to open our hearts. . . . I gotta tell you, kiddo, we as humans are moving forward, not backward.”
And that’s true, he says, even in red states, from where a couple of this season’s contestants, including Johnson County, Tennessee’s Eureka O’Hara, hail. “The South has always had a place in its culture for eccentric behavior. And the South has always been a mecca for drag queens,” says RuPaul, a Louisiana native who lived in Atlanta for 11 years. “New York has never had a really big drag community, but the South has always had that.”
And it’s not like he would change the show to appeal to broader demographics. “No,” RuPaul says with laugh, “we are drag queens — we don’t try to ‘appeal’ to anybody. We do our thing — that’s what makes our show fascinating; we dance to the beat of a different drummer. We don’t try to fit into anything. That’s not what we do.”
It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have music star and cultural icon Lady Gaga on the season premiere. “She wrote to me years ago wanting to be a judge on the show,” RuPaul says. “She got her start in nightclubs in the Village in New York and this is her tribe. It took this long for us to coordinate our schedules so it could work out. And that’s true of all of our judges: The most difficult part of our show is coordinating schedules for our judges.”
“Drag Race” — for which he’s just won the Emmy Award for outstanding reality-show host — is already working on its next season. And RuPaul himself, who in January married his longtime partner Georges LeBar, remains busy with numerous guest spots, most recently on CBS’ “Two Broke Girls” and in the Netflix comedy series “Girlboss,” premiering next month. His 11th studio album drops Friday — titled, as if anyone doubts his willingness to take a stand — “American.”
“It’s really about reclaiming the American creed,” he says, “which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Actually, reclaiming it, because it’s been hijacked by a used-car salesman.”