RuPaul’s Drag Race has been slaying the Emmys for the past couple of years, winning two trophies for Outstanding Reality Competition Program while host RuPaul Charles snatched his fourth consecutive Emmy last year for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program. The show made history — or “herstory” — in 2019 as the first series to win Outstanding Host and Outstanding Reality Competition in the same year. This year, Drag Race was nominated for 13 Emmys, while the behind-the-scenes aftershow Untucked, where all the tea is spilled, earned two nods. RuPaul could potentially make history with a 5th win for host.
Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees shined a light on the super-talented team of women behind and in front of the scenes of the reality drag competition and how they make this show “werk.” Michelle Visage (judge/producer), Mandy Salangsang (EP), Michelle Mils (EP), Jamie Martin (lead editor), Ashlei Dabney (field producer) and Kendra Pasker (lead editor, Untucked) talked about how, in 12 seasons, Drag Race has grown into a cultural phenomenon and has had an impact on the cultural and social landscape.
“I think the show in and of itself has been important and always been important from where it started to where it has gone to now,” said Visage. She added that when the series started in 2009, it was a “little engine that could” and no out-of-the-box cultural phenomenon, but it has since skyrocketed in popularity.
“It has slowly grown because it was a little queer television show made by queer people for queer people and it was on a queer network that, at the time, finding it was very special because not everybody had Logo television,” she said. “It was a little gem and it started growing bigger, bigger and bigger.”
Visage added, “The fact that it has lasted this long is a gift not only to us but to the world.”
Drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community are political in their existence. That said, Mills pointed out that when it comes to amplifying voices of the othered and intersectional narratives, Drag Race has been ahead of the curve.
“We’ve been doing this since day one since I have been on the show,” said Mils. “I feel a lot of the queens later [in the series] have told stories that their parents accepted their drag because they watch Drag Race.”
Mils said that the show has given shine and humanity to different LGBTQ narratives that the masses aren’t used to seeing. They balance that with the fun, drama, shadiness and “the draginess” of the competition. This is something that wasn’t entirely common on TV when Drag Race first started.
“We are seeing more on TV, but when we started, there was much less that you were hearing people from the community featured — not on the sidelines,” Mils said.
Dabney added, “We allow them to be themselves and have those emotional moments and to have that transparency where the stories really tell themselves.” She said that they drop in on the queens’ journey and the show is a “make it or break it” moment in their lives as they follow dreams.
She points out that the show isn’t necessarily trying to send an intentional message, but it is a huge platform for voting, LGBTQ rights, civil rights and other issues. As far as the queens’ journeys and stories, Dabney said “it all weaves in together with what everyone is going through on our own journey, and it’s really powerful when we get to infuse that into their stories.”
The series’ team also talked about how they pulled off a virtual season finale after production was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
Salangsang gave credit to the “resilience and resourcefulness of the queens.”
“They understood the importance of what they were doing for their fans who needed the hope that the queens bring and their laughter, and they nailed it. They made us all so proud,” she said.
Check out the video above, and click here to watch all of Sunday’s Contenders TV panels.
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