Jazz Tangcay catches up with casting directors Ethan Petersen and Goloka Bolte to Discuss Casting ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’
For the past seven seasons, Ethan Petersen and Goloka Bolte are the recipients of thousands of auditions tapes. Drag Queens around the world send them videos, hoping to catch their attention, hoping to land on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Each year, the duo spend hours watching those auditions, looking for that something special. It’s important to Petersen and Bolte and it’s important to RuPaul’s Drag Race that the cast is religiously, racially and socially inclusive. They’re not just looking for America’s Drag Superstar, they’re looking for that Queen who will inspire the younger generation, someone who that young kid at home watching the show in Nebraska can look up to.
Petersen and Bolte received an Emmy-nomination for casting while the show received 14 nominations in total. I caught up with them to discuss the importance of casting RuPaul’s Drag Race.
This season we had Plastique Tiara, Mercedes and Soju. What was it about them that stood out among the thousands of audition tapes that you went through?
Goloka: I just want to say it’s super important for RuPaul’s Drag Race that we have a racially, socially and religiously inclusive cast. These particular three queens really showcased the new face of Drag. They really represented their heritage and bring bold and unapologetic diversity.
We loved that Plastique and Soju were both Asian immigrants who represent their culture in a unique and fabulous way. Soju is Korean. Her K-pop princess look really made her stand out. Plastique is so young and so talented. Mercedes is such a talented queen and performer, but she also had this incredible and unique back story. It was really exciting to showcase her on season 11.
What is it that you look for when you scour through every single one of those audition tapes that lands your way?
Goloka: It is a labor of love.
Ethan: There are so many elements to this show that we have to look out for. They need to be amazing TV characters, but on top of that, they need to sing and be something different. They need to make their own outfits. They need to act. They need to have a story that is so important to share with the world.
In these audition videos, these queens shed their skin when they make their videos. They do have a story to tell, but at the same time, they’re showcasing so many different facets of their talent in a short short video for us to watch. It really depends on the video and the queen. Every video is so different. Sometimes, they go all out, and they make this amazing and beautiful presentation. Other times, they send us something raw. It’s their story they look for and how they present themselves as a drag queen. We also look at them out of drag.
Goloka: We also look for people who are really open about sharing their story and their point of view. One of the most magical things that happen on Drag Race are those moments of vulnerability and those breakthroughs that you see.
The process of applying for Drag Race is pretty rigorous. You can look at the audition tape as the first challenge to get on the show. The ones who make it on the show have really wowed us. They’ve shown they have a great personality. They’ve shown they have these multitudes of skills. They’ve shown that they have something really interesting and a unique voice to the show. You can usually tell in the first few minutes.
What is it like for you to watch that journey and seeing the Queens go from that audition, being picked out, and to that finale?
Goloka: We’re like proud parents.
Ethan: What’s so unique about this show, this is a celebration more than a competition. For us as casting directors, to see that metamorphosis that they go through on the show, for us, it’s fun. We’ll go back and watch that audition tape to see that journey.
They come in one way, they grow on the show, and they get to know each other. They grow as individuals through Mama Ru and the judge’s critiques.
Goloka: It’s exciting for us to watch. We watch the show as fans. Sometimes, they’re exactly who you expect them to be, and sometimes there are a ton of twists and turns.
What is it like for you, when you know some little kid in Nebraska is watching the show, and what does that mean to you as casting directors knowing how important the show is to that kid, but to the millions of young kids watching this?
Ethan: One of the biggest gifts of Drag Race is the effect it has had in the world. For all the young viewers, these Queens are people that they really get to look up to and to have that in the world that we live in today is so important.
These kids watch these Queens, and they have someone who they inspire to be. At school, they might be different and be picked on, but they have someone in mainstream media who they can look up to, and that is one of the biggest gifts of working on the show and casting the show because we are finding global superstars, but we’re also finding people who inspire a younger generation which is so important.
Goloka: To add to that, I think one of the really great things through so many people watching the show is that they are at home with their parents. Young people are super progressive, but they are actually exposing an older generation to the world of Drag. I love it when parents tell me they’ve become fans of the show, especially when it’s dads.
The whole message of the show is about love and inclusivity. The fact that our show helps start really important conversations at home and opens people’s minds and hearts, we love being a part of the magic.