Not even a global pandemic dimmed the light of the fierceness of the Emmy-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The iconic VH1 reality drag queen competition aired its Season 12 finale virtually, served another season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars and shot Season 13 — all during a time when the world was shut down and navigating Covid as well as a global racial reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement.
During Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted awards-season event, Shea Coulee (Season 9 finalist and All-Stars Season 5 winner), Jaida Essence Hall (Season 12 winner), Symone (Season 13 winner) and choreographer extraordinaire Jamal Sims talked about their experiences on the show, the sickening dance routines and how the queens have used their platform to amplify their voices and celebrate Black excellence.
“I think something that has always been at the heart of RuPaul’s Drag Race has been seeing people overcome obstacles in adversity to achieve success and stardom,” said Shea. “I feel like there’s no greater obstacle to overcome than a global pandemic unlike we have seen in the last century, and us being able to come into people’s living rooms every single week has allowed us to connect with people on such a deeper level… specifically for Black queens during the BLM movement this past year because it has mobilized so much more.“
After being crowned the winner of Season 12, Jaida said her following has grown and that social media is super-important when it comes to using her platform.
“I have always been vocal in my community about what’s important to me and being a Black melanated queen, but being on Drag Race and having this new audience that’s seeing me… my voice is amplified. Because of that, I am able to reach out to more people for them to understand who I am and where I’m from.”
Freshly crowned Season 13 winner Symone became an immediate favorite with her looks that represented the epitome of Black excellence and culture. From a gorgeous drag look to a stunning dress that bolstered the Black Lives Matter movement, Symone maximized her voice on the show.
“My drag in general and how I choose to express myself was my way of speaking and communicating. We filmed a little bit after the George Floyd incident so I had known going in I had a really unique perspective and opportunity to really say what I wanted to say whether was through my fashions or on the show with what I was saying,” she said. “I had fun with it, but I also took it seriously. I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted to say, and I did it in a way that I felt would get across.”
Sims has been teaching queens dance routines for numerous seasons of Drag Race. Most recently, he choreographed numbers for the memorable “Madonna Rusical” from Season 12 as well as Season 13’s “Lucky” routine. For the latter, he had to teach choreography with on-set Covid parameters — and he still managed to slay.
“I love this show so much,” he said on the VH1 panel. “It brought me so much joy — that’s the way I feel every time I walk onto set to work with everybody.”
When teaching choreography on the show, Sims has a full plate. At times, he has two hours to teach 12 queens a routine. He only has 10 minutes with each to learn their portion of their dance and after that, he doesn’t see them until the following morning. It’s not much time, but he manages to make it work.
“I want y’all to win!” admitted Sims. “I’m a fan! I’m not there to challenge you to be something you’re not. I want to shine the light on you.”
Check out the panel video above.