Hot off their Emmy win for RuPaul’s Drag Race, producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato bring us Dancing Queen. When Justin Johnson better known as Alyssa Edwards strutted into to Workshop of RuPaul’s Drag Race in season five, Edwards became an instant fan favorite. It wasn’t just the fans who sat up and took notice, Bailey and Barbato did too, and that’s when the idea to give Edwards a spin-off show.
The journey to Dancing Queen took five years. “Was this a drag show? Was it a dance show? What is this?” Barbato says, explaining that some broadcasters and people were hesitant to the idea. “Netflix looked at it and said, “What is it? It’s great. Just do it.”
The show made its debut last month on the streaming service and fans have relished in it. Twitter has been abuzz with love for the show as we get an insight into Alyssa Edward’s world. It’s a fierce, compelling and original show that is highly worth a weekend binge if you haven’t seen it yet. Grab your dancing shoes and stream Dancing Queen now!
You are Emmys winners! What was that like to finally hear RuPaul’s Drag Race called on Emmy night?
Fenton: I couldn’t quite believe it. The first thing on hearing it was to make a mad dash for the stage because we were quite far back. So, we were worried about the clock running out before we got to the stage.
Randy: I told all the women on the team, they might want to consider taking their shoes off because in the event we won, everyone would need to get on that stage and we would need to run, but it was so epic and emotional. It’s been a journey that’s taken over ten years and not just for the entire team, but for Fenton, Ru, and myself, we’ve known each other for nearly thirty years, it was cathartic in a way that is unimaginable, unrepeatable, and a once in a lifetime moment.
Dancing Queen has been loved, the fan reaction to it has been outstanding. At what point did you look at Alyssa and realize there was a show there?
Randy: When Alyssa walked into the Workroom of RuPaul’s Drag Race I remember in the control room, she walked straight towards the mirror to look at herself, and we kept the camera on that one. We were all pretty obsessed with her from day one. When we discovered her real-life situation that she lived in Mesquite. She created this family that includes her gay friends, the kids she teaches, and the moms. There’s’ this incredibly unique and authentic life that she leads that seemed like a TV show and it just seemed so obvious. Not only was she a star, but there was a whole world she created in a Red State that just seemed like it needed to be on television. We tried to make that show for quite some time.
Fenton: After taping Drag Race, we shot the sizzle reel. The whole idea was that we thought, wouldn’t it be great if her companion series kicked off on Logo TV? That was the whole pitch. That’s how long we’ve been trying to sell it.
Randy: We spent several years trying to persuade people that it would be a good TV show. Finally, at one point we decided to just make it. We were going to make it for WOW Presents Plus and finance it ourselves. We started filming it and after I watched some of the footage I thought, “Wait a second.” I reached out to some of the people at Netflix and they at that point said, “Oh my Gosh! Yes. Let’s do this.” We had actually committed to doing a series for WOW Presents Plus and they came in and offered to finance it.
How else was Netflix a support system for the show?
Randy: Netflix has been an amazing partner for this project. I think the reason so many people were hesitant was that for some people and some broadcasters they weren’t sure what to do. Was this a drag show? Was it a dance show? What is this? Netflix looked at it and said, “What is it? It’s great. Just do it.”
For a first season, often you can overanalyze and overthink something and kill it in the process. Instead, they let us sprinkle some fertilizer and begin to grow this. They were incredibly enthusiastic, nurturing and they gave us and the project space. We just can’t wait to start a second season because it reminds me a lot of when we did the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and we thought it was such a great idea that we need to grow this. We need to go to the next season because if you look back at the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, it was a little bumpy. Not to say that this is, but that’s where I feel we need to go with Dancing Queen.
I think it’s so important at this cultural tipping point that we are at, where so many countries seem to tipping off in some Fascistic direction, that there is something like Alyssa to inspire kids and to let them know that they aren’t alone. To let them know that they’re talented, creative, and that they don’t deserve to be persecuted, oppressed or murdered.
Let’s talk about the filming aspect, how long did you spend filming?
Randy: We filmed on and off for almost a year. It was about ten months. Justin will probably say we spent five years. [laughs]. We spent about a year putting it together.
Drag Race has become a cultural phenomenon and now Dancing Queen is on Netflix. What has it meant for you to have shows like this out there, especially for youngsters to see and relate to?
Fenton: I think it’s so important at this cultural tipping point that we are at, where so many countries seem to tipping off in some Fascistic direction, that there is something like Alyssa to inspire kids and to let them know that they aren’t alone. To let them know that they’re talented, creative, and that they don’t deserve to be persecuted, oppressed or murdered. What an amazing opportunity it is, with a global platform like Netflix that is available in almost every country in the world to beam that into people’s homes and get it into the hands of the kids who need that.
At the same time, I think there is something about drag that is not only universally relatable, but it also transcends language barriers. I think kids can watch it and get the message of light and love and laughter and all of those messages of perseverance and sticking with it. I don’t think you need to speak English to necessarily get that.
Randy: It’s funny because this show has so much in it. It’s a potpourri of fabulousness, but at the core of it is the heart of it and the heart filled relationship between Alyssa, her students, the parents, and that is the progressive element of the show. I think a lot of the stuff we produce and are attracted to is stuff that has a political aspect to it in a non-overt way. I think this show fits that perfectly because I think you see this outrageous character who seems like he should be living in New York or LA. But there he is in the middle of Mesquite, Texas waving his freak flag and he’s a family man. I think that will contribute to people’s evolving and understanding of how fabulous the LGBTQ community is.
What’s the biggest misconception people have of drag? What would you say to those parents who don’t want their kids watching drag?
Randy: Being a parent, I think part of my job is to encourage my children to be open and curious, kind and loving. I think that’s what drag does. I think drag teaches and educates and opens our mind. That’s the world most of us want to live in, not in a world that is closed off and surrounded by walls and encourages close mindedness. I think the biggest misconception is something for us to protect our children from or be fearful from when it’s the complete opposite.
Diversity is something we’ve all been talking about this year, more than ever. How, as filmmakers do you see we’re moving forward with the LGBTQ community?
Fenton: I think on one hand you could say the media is generally more receptive and there is more representation and more visibility, but at the same time that doesn’t mean however that there isn’t a lot more work to be done. At a time when the media is described as “the source of all fake news” or “the enemy of the people”, you can turn that increased visibility against the LGBTQ community. I think there’s no question that there is a target on our backs as there is a target on many other minorities in this country and that we should all be very worried about what’s going to happen under this illegitimate presidency and this authoritarian regime.
It’s great that the media has become much more representational but at the same time, the media is being made out to be an enemy and a creator of lies and falsehoods. It’s great that the media is more inclusive, but the national mood would not appear to be that way.
There are enormous strides happening for drag entertainers and trans actors and writers. There is progress and we have to keep moving forward and keep pushing forward so we arrive at a point where it’s not about inclusivity, it’s just reflective of the reality of the world that we live in.
It’s absolutely terrifying.
Fenton: It is terrifying. You know, whether it’s people who are born here who are going to be denied citizenships, or Jewish people or Muslim people, or people of color-
Randy: – It’s like two different countries in one. The good news is that the entertainment industry, I do believe, is moving forward and is progressing from Pose to Valentina being cast in Rent.
Fenton: To the beginning of A Star Is Born.
Randy: Bianca Del Rio opening Wembley. There are enormous strides happening for drag entertainers and trans actors and writers. There is progress, and we have to keep moving forward and keep pushing forward so we arrive at a point where it’s not about inclusivity, it’s just reflective of the reality of the world that we live in.
You mentioned earlier we’ll be getting a second season. Was that a tease?
Randy: It hasn’t been greenlit for a second season, but in our world it has. [laughs]. We’re waiting for an official greenlight. So, if people haven’t watched it yet, Now is the time.
OK, so what’s next? I swear you two are the hardest working producers I know.
Randy: We have this exciting new show called Backyard Envy that’s going to be premiering soon on Bravo which is going to do for gardening what Top Chef did for food.
Fenton: We have another show out now on Freeform called Hot Mess which follows the astonishingly cool and beautiful Luka Sabbat. I love it because Entertainment Weekly says, “We will never be as cool as this show.”
Dancing Queen is streaming on Netflix. Catch it now in all its toe-tapping, dragulosity!!
Don’t miss Hot Mess on Freeform and you won’t want to miss RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-slay Spectacular with Eureka O’Hara, Jasmine Masters, Kim Chi, Latrice Royale, Mayhem Miller, Shangela, Sonique, and Trixie Mattel on VH-1 On December 7