By Lawrence Ferber
On Jan. 24, the third season of Logo’s hit “RuPaul’s Drag Race” exits the gate at full speed, and it’s running on some seriously premium fuel this year: fiercer contestants; more elaborate challenges; higher profile guest judges including LaToya Jackson, Sharon Osbourne, Lily Tomlin, Margaret Cho and Chloe Sevigny; and a game-changing surprise to be unveiled in the 90-minute premiere episode.
Yet again ruling the proceedings both in and out of drag, RuPaul – who will release a new album this spring – dished about contestants old and new, the effects of sleep deprivation on drag queens (hint: emotional breakdowns) and what else is in the works.
What do you make of season three’s group of contestants, and how do they differ from their predecessors?
The honest to God truth, they’re so much more skilled, and also on an even-keeled level. These kids came with their A-game like I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if it’s our casting or what’s happening with the girls out there since the show debuted, but these kids are skilled. And the bonds they forged early on with each other is probably the most amazing element.
Yet again the first challenge is a photo shoot with Mike Ruiz. Do you forgive him for his ridiculous hair on “The A-List: New York”? It looked like a bowl of lubed squid ink pasta.
(Laughs) I’ve heard people talk about it. But I don’t know because I’ve never seen it. That’s funny!
Can you share a behind-the-scenes factoid about Season 3 that may enhance our viewing experience?
Well, we’re working on so little sleep; the schedule is so fast because we’re basically shooting every day. It’s tough, grueling. So these kids come on the show and think, “I’m fierce and bad,” but can you do it day-in, day-outs for 15 hours per day? It may look like everyone’s relaxed, but nobody’s getting any sleep at all.
One typically isn’t very detail-oriented when sleep deprived, correct?
No, they’re not, and they’re drawing on a lifetime of experience because this show’s challenges are based on things I had to do on a daily basis in my own career. Anyone in the business has to be multi-tasking and wear a lot of hats. You can’t just be good at one thing. We do something, “Queens in Space,” where the kids shoot competing trailers for a sci-fi movie and it is hilarious. Most people think, “I can do this,” but you have to come with some acting skills, the ability to take direction. Our challenges put them through it, they really do.
Did the selection process change this season, or was there a shift in emphasis as far as the kinds of queens you looked for?
It doesn’t change. The truth is we’re looking for showgirls. We want girls who work at doing drag for money, for a career. The things we ask them to do, a novice wouldn’t be able to. We’re looking for them to be marketing execs, managers, designers, strategists, performers, models, you name it. And the novice wouldn’t be able to do that. They’d buckle. And throw in the sleep deprivation and schedule, and you have to be in it to win it. This can’t be something you do on the side.
One contestant already buckles under the pressure and breaks down in the first episode. Did that happen a lot, and how do you typically respond to it?
They definitely break down because of sleep deprivation. Emotions are very fragile because they’re in a new environment; we’re putting them through the paces, and I have to give them pep talks from time to time: “This is your opportunity, the world is watching.” You can’t say, “Oh, I feel like I didn’t get my chance.” Well kiddo, you are on now. You are on. There are no second chances – you have to bring it. Maybe you’ll get another chance somewhere else, but it’s time now.
How much do you miss saying “Pan-dor-a Boxx”?
I miss (all the former contestants), actually, because even before they’re on the show, we’re living with audition tapes. It’s a lot like casting a play – we have to have the sassy one, the ingenue, the sweet one. And sometimes the person in the role of the sweet one gets swapped out for someone else who works better in the ensemble, so we are actually living and loving and feeling these girls way before they even get to Hollywood, and then when they’re dismissed it’s heartbreaking to me.
How has this show changed your life since its inception?
Well, I pretty much have to stay in L.A. For almost 30 years I’ve had a nightclub act I performed around the world constantly. And the last gig I did was October 2009. With both shows it’s really kept me here in L.A. working. And I love L.A. That’s the biggest difference. I’m also an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, so I’ve had to spend a lot more time with people than I normally do!
What other projects are in the works?
I’m writing a sequel to (my 2007 film) “Starrbooty.” The challenge is I want to do it G-rated but nastier, more subversive. In the immortal words of Elvira, there’s nothing wrong with G-rated movies as long as there’s lots of gratuitous sex and violence.