How RuPaul Became the World’s Most Famous Drag Queen and Changed LGBTQ+ Representation
When you think of RuPaul, I bet many things come to mind. Drag icon, supermodel, and musician are just some of the notable titles earned by the long-running star. The Drag Race creator is also a trailblazer in the LGBTQ+ community. RuPaul has definitely paved the way for drag representation in mainstream media and has 19 Emmy Awards to show for it. In 2017, he was included in the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. Considering his mark on pop culture, it’s not hard to see why.
How RuPaul Andre Charles Became RuPaul
The icon was born RuPaul Andre Charles on November 17, 1960, in San Diego, California. Growing up, he was raised in the Brewster Projects of Detroit, Michigan. In 1967, his parents divorced and he moved to Atlanta, Georgia with his sister. Using her wardrobe, RuPaul first began to experiment with cross-dressing, emulating stars like Diana Ross and Jane Fonda.
In Atlanta, Ru attended the Northside School of Performing Arts. Though he didn’t graduate, his education was a giant step toward wetting his feet in the world of performance and show business.
In 1982, the rising star submitted a photo of himself to a local TV program called The American Music Show. Before long, he appeared on the show regularly with his newly formed band, RuPaul and the U-Hauls. From there, RuPaul appeared in the low-budget film, Star Booty, which he later titled his 1986 musical album.
The dynamic diva continued his rise to stardom after moving to New York City. RuPaul’s first prominent national exposure came in 1989 when he appeared as a dancer in drag in the “Love Shack” music video. After many nights headlining drag events, he decided to further his musical career and record a demo. In 1992, Rupaul’s hit single, “Supermodel (You Better Work)” skyrocketed to the top of the charts.
Musical Success and Rise to Stardom
The song is still prevalent to this day, and even serves as a popular sound on TikTok. The success of the hit got the attention of cosmetics giant MAC. The mainstream makeup brand offered RuPaul a modeling contract, making him an actual certified supermodel. With this platform, he was able to raise money for the MAC AIDS Fund in 1994, becoming the first drag queen to land a major cosmetics campaign. From there, more gigs, exposure, and money came rolling his way.
Overall, RuPaul has gone on to release 14 studio albums, including Supermodel of the World, Foxy Lady, Champion, and You’re a Winner Baby. Following the success of “Supermodel,” Ru’s next two hits “Back to My Roots” and “A Shade Shady (Now Prance)” both took the top spots on the Billboard Dance Music charts.
In 1995, RuPaul released his autobiography, Lettin’ It All Hang Out. He promoted the work on a guest appearance of ABC’s All My Children. The following year, the drag star landed a talk show on VH1 called The RuPaul Show where he interviewed celebrity guests and musical acts. Diana Ross, Nirvana, Olivia Newton-John, and the Backstreet Boys were notable guests. Ru’s co-host was none other than Michelle Visage who sits beside him today on the RuPaul’s Drag Race panel.
The Rise of The Drag Race Franchise
In 2009, the first season of Rupaul’s Drag Race debuted on the Logo channel. On the show, Ru plays the role of host, mentor, and head judge as drag queens compete to be crowned “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Each week in the competition, contestants are given a variety of challenges. At the end of each week, the bottom two competitors must engage in a “Lip Sync for Your Life” battle. In the end, only one queen is selected to move forward, while the other must “Sashay Away.”
The success of the series has spanned the course of 13 seasons and inspired a number of spin-offs. Untucked and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars are just two examples, not to mention the number of international versions the franchise holds. The U.K., Canada, Thailand, Australia, Spain, Italy, Holland, and the Philippines have all been touched by RuPaul’s influence.
Overall, the show has earned tremendous accolades. Between Emmy, GLAAD Media, and Critic’s Choice Awards, it’s safe to say that RuPaul’s empire has obliterated boundaries. Because of Ru, LGBTQ+ representation has greatly advanced within mainstream media. Whether you’re gay, trans, cis, or anywhere in between, the world of Drag Race has a place for you, and that’s all thanks to the one and only RuPaul.