LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The newest season of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on VH1 has just begun. It's an all-star season. And the show has never been more popular. Each week, the queens perform in front of RuPaul and a panel of judges for a spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame and $100,000.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE: ALL STARS")
RUPAUL CHARLES: You need to show that your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent is bigger, fresher and better than ever - hashtag #AllStars3. Gentlemen, start your engines. And may the best all-star win.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just a warning to our listeners, expect some fresh language ahead as we sashay through the drag queen vernacular. Emmy-Award-winning host RuPaul Charles joins me now from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hello (laughter). So give us a snapshot. I guess no spoilers. But what's in store this season? Lots of fan favorites are back.
CHARLES: Yeah. You know, these kids have already been through the process. So they have an idea of what they're in for. So it's always interesting to see what they've learned from their first experience and what they're going to bring to this all-stars experience.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some people may not know this. But drag can vary dramatically based on where a queen grows up and what her strengths are. There are comedy queens and pageant girls and stunt queens and queens who do a lot with very little. How do you choose what to showcase in these different traditions?
CHARLES: Well, the cast is an ensemble. So we want to represent as many of those genres as possible. Now, when the show first started out, we couldn't do certain genres because they were a little bit too out there for your average viewer or someone who's new to the art of drag. So as the show has progressed, we've been able to introduce different genres that people may not be familiar with.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like what?
CHARLES: Well, when we initially started the show, we didn't do gender f-word, which is what I started out doing, which was smeared lipstick and a ratty wig and combat boots and really sort of a protest to the male-dominated culture that we live in and also a protest to the synthetic femininity that we all live with. But when we had Sharon Needles on - she was in the fourth season - she had the personality to usher that mentality into our competition. So it was because of her we've been able to allow other girls who possess that quality onto the show.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And in an NPR interview with Sasha Velour, last season's winner, Sasha said a lot of people still, quote, "expect drag queens to be masculine out of drag and hyper-feminine in drag." But this seems to be changing.
CHARLES: Drag isn't just - isn't about just looking like a woman or not looking like a man. It's an expression of shapeshifting. And we all have that ability to shape-shift and to - listen. You've heard it before. We are all God in drag. Now, most people can't accept that concept because it's too big a concept for them to accept. And they feel more comfortable where the roles are assigned to them, and they don't have to think that much. So the whole drag thing - it's a huge concept. It's not just, oh, look how pretty I am.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have a bone to pick, though. One of the contestants performs her routine in dance flats in the episode that I saw. And she gets called out by the judge, who is looking for heels. And I feel like I have to take a stand here. I feel that queens should also be free from the tyranny of heels. I want to know where you stand on that.
CHARLES: Well, I'll tell you where I stand with it. Flats are for quitters. I mean, it's as simple as that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh. That hurt. That hurt.
CHARLES: Well, life is difficult. Life hurts. Life is not easy. You have to decide if you're going to be a winner or a quitter.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my Lord. As you mentioned, I guess the drag scene has always been a place that pushes boundaries, specifically with identity. And there's so much talk now about labeling communities correctly so that they're seen and understood. How does that come into play in the show? You've had your first openly trans contestant. Where does the show fall in that conversation?
CHARLES: Humans like to put things in a box, so they can assimilate them and go, oh, OK. I got you now. But the truth is, in this life, you don't really have to understand everything, you know? And that's - there's such freedom in that. And I know that people who are artistic understand this very well.
Like the concept of God - I don't have to know what God is. I don't have to think of it as a male or a female. I just know that there is something I can sense. There is something. And I don't have to know what it is. And the same is true with gender and - I mean, I said it earlier. We are all God in drag. You don't have to choose anything. You could be whatever you want. And no judgment.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But many, I think, in the younger generation feel that, actually, it's important to have labels. It's important for those labels to be recognized. What is a transgender person? What is a queer person?
CHARLES: Recognized for who, though? I mean, you know, if you know who you are, who does - what does it matter? You don't want to give your power away to anyone else. They're not seeing me. It's, like, who cares if they see you? If you see you, that's all that matters, Dorothy. You had the heels on. Just click them. Click them, girl. Well, why didn't you tell me I had to click - all I had to do was click my - because you wouldn't have believed me. You had to find out for yourself.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does that mean that it's not important to have there be a discussion and a recognition?
CHARLES: Listen. I've been to the mountain top in this whole realm of things. I've been - lived in the outside - in the fringe for years. The truth is - and every ascended master will tell you the same thing. You create your life.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's your advice, then, to, you know, people coming up in this? What do you tell them?
CHARLES: It's the same story as the beginning - from the beginning of time. Know thyself. Understand what you really are, not your - the clothes you're wearing or what some pronoun someone is calling you - because, you know - start from the inside. Know yourself. Be yourself. Do what you want to do, just so long as you don't hurt anybody else. It's very simple.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I do want to ask you one more thing. In a recent New York Times article, several queens mentioned it's hard to get club bookings these days without having been on your show. And I think that's obviously a testament to the show's success. But you are now, I guess, a queen-maker. So what do you say to queens trying to make it in the drag scene who haven't been on your show?
CHARLES: You better get your act together, girl. You better step it up, honey. You better get up on this show. Listen. This is - it's business. This is not some democracy. Just because you have a pair of cha-cha heels and a pussycat wig - that you deserve - that's an ego thing. Everything's going to be fair. It's like, you know what? Let me tell you something, kids out there listening. Life is not fair. Life is not easy. You have to work for it. And if you're not willing to work for it, you will fade away.
And listen. All the challenges on our show are based on what I've done in my 35-year career - from radio to television to designing clothes to producing and writing - whatever, whatever. I do whatever it takes. That is the lesson not only for drag queens but for everyone who wants to be on this planet and wants to survive. You got to put the work in. You got to work. You better work.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much for joining us. RuPaul Charles, host of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on VH1 - that was amazing.
CHARLES: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERMODEL")
CHARLES: (Singing) You better work - cover girl - work it, girl. Give a twirl. Do your thing on the runway. Work - supermodel. You better work it, girl - of the world. Wet your lips...
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