RuPaul’s Drag Race received eight Emmy® nominations. Here is our comprehensive FYC guide to Season 9 as we ask voters to consider RuPaul’s Drag Race.
If you were on social media on the morning the Emmy nominations were announced, you would have seen the internet explode. Fans rejoiced as RuPaul’s Drag Race received eight Emmy nominations. The Television Academy recognized the show in a major way with nominations for Outstanding Reality Competition Program and Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition Program. This year, we saw the show moving from Logo TV to VH1, giving the show a much wider platform. Its season opener featured Lady Gaga appearing as a guest judge and, with over one million viewers tuned in, setting a Drag Race record.
The appeal of RuPaul’s Drag Race goes beyond the LGBT community. Each girl comes on the show, and we learn their stories and their heartbreak as they share their souls. The audience connects with the cast in a way no other show can. Empowerment and acceptance are messages that extend beyond the LGBT community and are something any viewer and anyone can relate to.
It is the show we all need in Trump’s America.
Drag Race becomes the perfectly fabulous antidote to today’s political climate. Not only is it forward thinking and progressive, but the show also gives you hope about fitting in when you feel like an outsider. Its messages of self-love and acceptance are more than relevant. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a fresh, fun and entertaining sight each week, and so we present our RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 For Your Emmy Consideration featuring the creators and producers Randy Barbato, Fenton Bailey, Tom Campbell. The Drag Queens – Aja, Eureka O’Hara, Valentina, and Sasha Velour. The judge- Michelle Visage.
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s friendship dates back to the 80’s where they met in the NYU film program. They produced albums and set up World of Wonder in 1991 to manage careers. Among the careers they managed was RuPaul. RuPaul shot to fame with Supermodel (You Better Work) and achieved international stardom as a drag queen.
At World of Wonder, the duo produced documentaries and features including The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for HBO, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures , and Inside Deep Throat.
Tom Campbell, an executive producer at World of Wonder and on RuPaul’s Drag Race, says they approached RuPaul almost ten years ago to discuss the idea of doing a non-scripted show.
“Ru said very adamantly that he’d do anything but a reality competition show,” Campbell said. With RuPaul nixing the idea, the trio went off and came up with fun ideas. Presenting them to Ru, he stopped them and said, “You know what we need to do? A reality competition show.”
And so, RuPaul’s Drag Race was born.
“In a very short time, with all of our puny minds, RuPaul’s Drag Race the title came out of our mouths. The idea that they could lip sync, but they won’t just lip sync, they’d lip sync for their lives.” Campbell said. “Ru had had this unparalleled career in drag and he was ready to share that legacy and build an army of drag queens and give them that opportunity to become America’s next drag superstar.” He continued, “It all coalesced in a very short period of time with a handful of people. We pitched it everywhere thinking finally that drag has arrived it was 2008. It was still a little bit ahead of its time. We ended up pitching it to Logo and they bought it.”
At the end of each episode, the bottom two poorest performing queens are asked to lip sync for their lives. It’s without a doubt a nail-biting moment and highly thrilling throw down. How did it begin? Barbato explains, “We did a show, Viva Hollywood and on that, we came up with the device for the bottom two. It was a competitive reality show and each week someone got eliminated. The device for revealing who’d go from the bottom two was that they’d have to act out a death scene from a telenovela.” He says, “They’d both fall down stairs or they’d get poisoned and the one who died would be the one who was eliminated. It was dramatic and unusual.”
As the show was coming together, they realized RuPaul’s Drag Race would need to have an ending where the stakes were amped. “It all came together,” Barbato said. The show needed a Viva Hollywood moment. “Drag Queens don’t die, they lip sync for their lives.”
And so, each week, the bottom two contestants duel it out in a lip sync contest where only the best queen survives.
We reflect on some (it was hard narrowing it down) of the many highlights that made RuPaul’s Drag Race brilliant. Even after nine seasons, it continues to raise the base and deliver one of its biggest and strongest seasons ever.
Valentina’s Lip Sync
When talking about Season 9 highlights, there’s one moment still has everyone talking. There were great lip syncs, and there was Valentina’s lip sync. A fan favorite, Valentina fell to the bottom two after being paired with Nina Bonina Brown. The song was Ariana Grande’s Greedy, and Valentina was there on stage wearing a mask. Yes, we all sat there waiting for that mask to come off in true Valentina style, but it didn’t happen.
Recalling that moment, Campbell says, “Sometimes cynical viewers think reality TV shows are all scripted and predetermined and the heavy hand of the producer. That could not be further from the truth when it comes to RuPaul’s Drag Race. I think all of us from Ru and the producers and the viewers saw this bright light coming out of Valentina and thought this girl could go all the way. She’s really talented, and the judges always respond really well to her. That week it was undeniable that she had to lip sync for her life. The fact that she did not know the words. We watched it in the same way that the viewers watched it, and we thought, surely she was going to take the mask off. Knowing Valentina, she’ll take it off at this super dramatic time, and it goes on and on.”
Campbell, like the audience, waited and waited until Ru stepped in and asked Valentina to remove the mask, at which point it became clear that Valentina did not know the words.
“Not to be dismissive, but it really does have 14 words in the whole song,” Campbell added.
What was she thinking? This all-important intense moment. Barbato describes what it was like inside the control room, “You can hear a needle. Everyone is involved, so invested, and everyone is standing and blocking people to watch the monitor. When that happened we were in a state of shock. It’s dramatic on TV, and it’s as dramatic when you’re filming it.”
Valentina admits being in shock with what happened that night she failed to lip-sync for her life, and the moment RuPaul sent her packing. “I was in a true state of shock. I was almost non-responsive because I didn’t know where I was, what I was feeling, or seeing. I was really in this moment and I had everything in front of me and RuPaul said, ‘Don’t fuck it up.’ I fucked up.”
Appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race is also a learning experience for the queens. It’s not just the audience who gets to learn about the contestants. The queens learn about themselves. For Valentina, the lesson learned was simple. “I learned that not only am I human but there was so much that I had to prove from that moment about me as a performer and we’ve all had that moment where we’ve had everything right in front of us and we just freeze.”
Keeping positive, Valentina says, “I’ve had a lot to prove and I get to live my life, go on tour and lip sync doing it to songs I love and through the lens I choose.I learned about being prepared.” She is still able to laugh about it, “From there, I’ve been so remembered, it’s the most remembered lip sync for all the wrong reasons.”
Eureka O’ Hara Goes Home
In a shocking twist, Eureka O’ Hara was sent home with a knee injury.
Campbell says, “When she was injured, we kept thinking we were losing our top queens. The result is the Top 4 were amazing. It’s weird when you take certain players out, how the whole composition of the competition shifts. It became the most exciting competition we’ve ever had.”
On the shocking elimination, Eureka O’Hara didn’t realize the full extent of her injury until a PA on the show noticed how swollen it was, “ I felt my knee pop, but in that moment, I think the adrenaline was so high from the excitement that it didn’t matter.” O’Hara did much more than just pop a knee. She tore her ACL. “We went through the MRI and it was downhill from there. I’m not sure, I’m still judging it,” she says, able to make a joke about it.
In a RuPaul’s Drag Race first, O’Hara was sent home.
“Ru had already called me safe. I thought I was going to crutch my way to the top. (Eureka spent the whole of Episode 5, “Reality Stars: The Musical,” on crutches). When she called me to the front, I was in shock. What do you say to RuPaul, you don’t argue, you don’t throw a fit. You say, ‘Yes ma’am, I understand completely.’ The hardest part was I was really in my head about it and felt defeated because I didn’t get to win or lose. I felt this amazing opportunity happened and it was torn away from me. I was so dramatic for a little while and realized that I was getting healthier and taking care of my body.”
The good news is that O’Hara is back and will be seen on Season 10 of Drag Race. Judge Michelle Visage, who has been on the show since 2011, explains the organic pocess of the reality show. “What they did was brilliant. I didn’t know it was going to happen. I don’t like seeing things before we’re meant to see them and then go out with a formed opinion. I like seeing things as they’re shown to me.”
Visage, like O’Hara, didn’t know the full extent of the injury, “I knew she was injured but I knew that it was impossible to do this show with an injury. You can’t be given special attention.” Looking to Season 10 and O’Hara’s return, Visage anticipates that the competitive nature of the girls will surface more than ever. “I’m very excited for Eureka to be back on Season 10. She has the advantage of I know what I’m going to do. Other girls will be ‘Fuck that, I ain’t letting that bitch do that.’ ”
The Emmy Episode- Oh My Gaga!
In the Season 9 opener, Lady Gaga enters the workshop in full costume, and the queens think she’s a contestant. Gaga was the first guest judge of the season.
Lady Gaga and RuPaul have a connection that dates beyond the first episode. Campbell explains, “Her connection to Ru is genuine. A few years ago she did The Muppets, and she called Ru to be a part of the show. He did. She talked about how Supermodel and Love Yourself got her through dark times when she was a kid and that inspired her. There’s a lot of people who have inspired Lady Gaga, and she’s very generous with telling us who that is. RuPaul is definitely on that list. Her being on the show was spectacular.” The idea to have Lady Gaga come out as an “impersonator” was a team effort: “She was so game to do it,” Campbell said. “She wanted to do something special.”
It was an iconic moment in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“We were all flabbergasted because I don’t know about them, but I thought she was an actual real drag queen. I thought she was a competitor. I had no idea. She walked in, painted and was wearing the highest heels and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this bitch has it in the bag.’ She takes off her mask and it’s Lady Gaga, and I thought, ‘Oh OK.’ Some girls had to clarify that she wasn’t actually competing,” Aja, eliminated in Episode 7, said recalling her reaction to seeing Gaga enter the workshop.
O’Hara certainly had the same reaction. “I definitely thought she was a drag queen. I’m that person that has to see it to believe it. Everyone was freaking out and I thought, ‘That was just some tiny little gay boy and y’all are crazy.’ I ended up looking like the crazy one when it turned out to be Gaga, and I started crying like a crazy person.”
Sasha Velour, who won Season 9, recalls being told they would have to prepare a Lady Gaga look for the first challenge and whether they would get to meet her. “So, imagine, we wake up at the crack of dawn, get painted, and it’s the most important paint of our lives and wait around. I step into this room and I’m in front of the other drag queens, in front of the camera for the first time in my life, and Lady Gaga walks in.”
And yes, she too had her doubts wondering if it was really the Bad Romance singer or if it was a contestant. “I thought this is surely the end of days. At first, I thought it was her, then I thought it wasn’t her because she surely couldn’t be there. I kept thinking is she or isn’t she? I went through that for ten minutes, and I look at my face. I look exhausted by the confusion. She was so nice and showed us how important drag is to her art and to her life.”
During the episode, O’Hara broke down and Campbell said, “I don’t think there’s any other celebrity when Eureka cried and said, ‘You saved my life’ that has that impact as an ally in the LGBT community. Not only did she judge and hang out with them, she was the one who insisted that she wanted to go backstage and talk to them. The Untucked was this master class from Lady Gaga who took it so seriously but had so much fun.”
Valentina adds, “Being with Gaga was amazing because she was so interactive. She is the kind of superstar that makes you believe. She went out of her way to spend time with us. She had notes and no one told her to do that, but she felt inclined to know every one of us. She paid attention to what we were presenting and it was an honor to be in her presence.”
Sasha Velour’s Rose Petal Reveal
It was the smackdown of all smackdowns as Sasha Velour and Shea Coulee go head to head in a lipsync to Whitney Houston’s So Emotional. The Rose Petal reveal is a fan favorite when it comes to re-living highlights.
Sasha Velour previously auditioned for Season 8 and was rejected. It forced Velour to quit her day job and focus on doing drag full time. “I could see the change in my own ability, my own belief, my focus and my drive. When I put that audition together for Season 9, the runway was filmed in my bathroom. The interview was filmed in the corner of my living room that looks organized. I felt I was ready to compete and the timing was perfect,” Velour said.
Velour said, even though she had been listening to the three songs repeatedly, there was something about the Whitney Houston song that struck a chord with her.
“I feel that song is about feelings of love and joy, but also sadness and desperation.” The idea to have the rose petals and crushed roses was something Velour found beautiful. “The idea of crushed broken roses coming out of every part of your body came to me. It was such a beautiful image to me. Metaphorically, I feel that happens to me all the time that there are more feelings coming out of this glove.”
The stakes were high, and Velour was lip syncing for her life. “I only tried it one time in the hotel. I had one batch of rose petals, and I picked them up off the carpet the next day. I wasn’t even 100% sure I was going to be able to pull it off. I was backstage stuffing rose petals everywhere, and I stepped on stage and thought, ‘Here we go.’ ”
The iconic moment where the show’s finale format changed with the final four lip syncing for the crown paid off and Velour went on to win in the showdown.
The finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 ended on a ratings high. The switch from Logo TV to VH1 was highly significant, gaining momentum in its ninth season, exposing the show to a much broader audience. Visage said, “It’s an anomaly” to see the show become so popular.
O’Hara feels the recognition the show is getting is a great way to fight discrimination. “The show is getting the recognition from other communities and I believe the way to fight discrimination is by exposure. People are afraid of what they don’t know. If they can be exposed a little bit at a time, then maybe that persecution can be diminished.”
Campbell said, “Drag Race is on the front line of seeing what it’s like. A lot of shows have gay representation, there is no show that I’m aware of that is full of gay people, you have every color and shade of the rainbow represented. Wherever they come from they learn from each other and inspire each other and the viewers love that.”
Valentina added, “World of Wonder has created a beautiful formula for entertainment. They found a great cast of personalities that were there to entertain you with the glamor, consider the drama and the serious issues that we brought up. Through that, it’s reaching a broader audience. There’s no show like RuPaul’s Drag Race. We really are the best reality TV show, in my opinion, on TV.”
With all these eleganza extravaganza highlights of what made Season nine undoubtedly the most entertaining show on TV, we ask you to consider RuPaul’s Drag Race when voting for:
Outstanding Reality Competition Program
Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition Program
Outstanding Picture Editing
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked
The time has come. Start your engines and may the best man or woman slay!