RuPaul: Queen of Drag, author, actor, supermodel, recording artist, television host
RuPaul Andre Charles (born November 17, 1960), known professionally by his mononym RuPaul, is an American actor, drag queen, model, author, television personality, and recording artist. Since 2009 he has hosted and produced the drag queen reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, for which he won an Emmy in 2016. RuPaul is noted among drag queens for his indifference toward the gender-specific pronouns used to address him—both “he” and “she” have been deemed acceptable, as stated in his autobiography: “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.” He has also played men in a number of roles, and makes public appearances both in and out of drag.
RuPaul was born in San Diego, California in 1960. His name was given to him by his mother, a Louisiana native. The “Ru” came from roux, which is the term for the base of gumbo and other creole stews and soups. When his parents divorced in 1967, he and his three sisters lived with their mother, Toni Charles.
At the age of 15, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with his sister Renetta to study performing arts. In the ensuing years, the young star struggled as a musician and filmmaker during the 1980s. He participated in underground cinema, helping create the low-budget film Star Booty, and an album by the same name.
In Atlanta, RuPaul often performed at the Celebrity Club (managed by Larry Tee) as a bar dancer or with his band, Wee Wee Pole. RuPaul also performed as a backup singer to Glen Meadmore along with drag queen Vaginal Davis. RuPaul’s first prominent United States national exposure came in 1989 with an extra role dancing in the video for Love Shack by The B-52’s. – Watch for the stunning supermodel’s appearance in the video below:
In the early 1990s, RuPaul worked the Georgia club scene and was known by his full birth name. Initially participating in gender bender-style performances, RuPaul performed solo and in collaboration with other bands at several New York City nightclubs, most notably the Pyramid Club. He played opposite New York City drag performer Mona Foote (Nashom Benjamin) in the one act Sci-Fi parody My Pet Homo written and directed by Jon Michael Johnson for Cooper Square Productions.
He appeared for many years at the annual Wigstock drag festival and appeared in the documentary Wigstock: The Movie.
In the 1990s, RuPaul was known in the UK for his appearances on the Channel 4 series Manhattan Cable, a weekly series produced by World of Wonder and presented by American Laurie Pike about New York’s wild and wacky public-access television system.
In 1993 RuPaul recorded the dance/house album Supermodel of the World. It was released through the rap label Tommy Boy, spawning the dance track hit “Supermodel (You Better Work)“. The music video was an unexpected success on MTV channels, as grunge and gangsta rap were popular at the time. The song peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. It further charted on the UK Singles Chart, peaking on the top 40 at #39. The song found the most success on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, where it peaked at #2. Radio airplay, heavy rotation of the music video on MTV and television appearances on popular programs like The Arsenio Hall Show popularized the song.
“What other people think of me is not my business. What I do is what I do. How people see me doesn’t change what I decide to do. I don’t choose projects so people don’t see me as one thing or another. I choose projects that excite me. I think the problem is that people refuse to understand what drag is outside of their own belief system. ” — RuPaul
His next two singles/videos, Back to My Roots and A Shade Shady (Now Prance) both went #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, and the song House of Love was released without a video. It failed to place on any U.S. charts, despite rising to #68 on the UK Singles Chart.
RuPaul involved in a slight controversy at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards when he presented an award with actor Milton Berle, who performed a different type of drag early in his career. The two had a bit of a conflict back-stage when the elderly Berle boorishly grabbed RuPaul’s false breasts. RuPaul ad-libbed the line “So you used to wear gowns, but now you’re wearing diapers.” A surprised Berle replied, “Oh, we’re going to ad lib? I’ll check my brain and we’ll start even.” The press portrayed the exchange as being contrary to the “love everyone” message RuPaul presented, and as “a young newcomer treating a legend poorly.” RuPaul would later describe the situation in his autobiography, describing Berle’s behavior backstage as sexually inappropriate and rude. He did regret the situation, saying later: “Of course, what I should have done backstage is told him ‘Get your dirty hands off of me, you motherfucker!’, and then gone out there and been Miss Black America.” That same year would also mark his biggest hit on the UK Singles Chart, a cover of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Elton John, which went to number seven. It was around this time that RuPaul co-hosted the BRIT Awards in London, also with Elton John.
RuPaul was signed to a modeling contract for MAC Cosmetics, making him the first drag queen supermodel. Various billboards featured him in full drag, often with the text “I am the MAC girl”. He also released his autobiography, Lettin’ It All Hang Out. He promoted that book in part with a 1995 guest appearance on ABC’s All My Children, in a storyline that put it on the set of Erica Kane’s talk show “The Cutting Edge”.
The next year he landed a talk show of his own on VH1, called The RuPaul Show, interviewing celebrity guests and musical acts. Diana Ross, Nirvana, Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, Mary J. Blige, Bea Arthur, Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton-John, Beenie Man, Pete Burns, Bow Wow Wow, and the Backstreet Boys were notable guests. His co-host was Michelle Visage, with whom he also co-hosted on WKTU radio. On one episode, RuPaul featured guests Chi Chi LaRue and Tom Chase speaking about the gay porn industry.
Later in 1996, he released his second album, Foxy Lady, this time on the L.A.-based Rhino Records label. Despite his growing celebrity, he failed to chart within the Billboard 200. However, the first single, Snapshot, found success in the dance market and went to number four on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. It also enjoyed limited mainstream success, charting at number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 (which was his second and only other Hot 100 entry to date). The second single A Little Bit of Love only charted at number 28 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The album featured covers of a 1981 Diana Ross song Work That Body, co-written by Paul Jabara, and If You Were a Woman and I Was a Man, originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler. Because of his strong fan base within the gay community, RuPaul has performed at gay pride events and numerous gay clubs. During this time RuPaul helped launch the return of WKTU radio in New York City and would serve as host of the morning show until 1998.
1997 was a busy year for Rupaul as he released his third album, a Christmas album entitled Ho, Ho, Ho, and guest appearing in many films, including both Brady Bunch movies where he played Jan’s female guidance counselor. That year he also teamed up with the great Martha Wash to remake the classic disco anthem, It’s Raining Men. The song was included on the 1998 compilation CD RuPaul’s Go Go Box Classics, which was a collection of some of his favorite dance songs by other artists; this would be his third and final release through Rhino Records and a major record label. It was during this time that he appeared in Webex TV commercials and magazine ads. In 1999, RuPaul was awarded the Vito Russo Award at the GLAAD Media Awards for work in promoting equality in the LGBT community.
In 2002 he recorded with Brigitte Nielsen, credited as Gitta, the Eurodance track You’re No Lady.
In 2004, RuPaul released his fourth album, Red Hot on his own RuCo Inc. Music label. It received some dance radio and club play, but very little press coverage. On his blog, RuPaul discussed how he felt betrayed by the entertainment industry, particularly the gay press. In one incident, it was noted that the magazine Entertainment Weekly refused to review the album, instead asking him to make a comedic contribution to a fashion article. He likened the experience to “a black person being invited to a party, but only if they’ll serve.” Despite his apparent dissatisfaction with the release, Red Hot showed RuPaul returning to the top of the dance charts in the US with the lead off single Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous hitting number two on the dance chart. The second, WorkOut, peaked at number five. The third and final single from the album People Are People a duet with Tom Trujillo peaked at number 10. The album itself only charted on the Top Electronic Albums chart, where it hit number nine. When asked about this in an interview, RuPaul said, “Well, betrayed might be the wrong word. ‘Betrayed’ alludes to an idea that there was some kind of a promise made to me, and there never was. More so, I was disappointed. I don’t feel like it was a betrayal. Nobody promises anything in show business and you understand that from day one. But, I don’t know what happened. It seemed I couldn’t get press on my album unless I was willing to play into the role that the mainstream press has assigned to gay people, which is as servants of straight ideals.”
On June 13, 2006, RuPaul released ReWorked, his first remix album and fifth album overall. It features reworked versions of songs from his back catalog, as well as new recordings. The only single released from the album is a re-recording of Supermodel (You Better Work), reaching number 21 on the U.S. dance chart. June 20, 2007, saw the release of Starrbooty (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) in the United States. The single Call Me Starrbooty was digitally released in 2007. The album contains new tracks from the singer as well as interludes with dialogue from the movie. The film was released on DVD in October 2007.
In mid-2008, he began producing what many have called the greatest thing ever to be seen on television, RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality television game show which aired on Logo in February 2009. The premise of the program has several drag queens compete to be selected by RuPaul and a panel of judges as “America’s next drag superstar.” The first season’s winner was BeBe Zahara Benet, and first runner-up Nina Flowers was chosen by fans as “Miss Congeniality” through voting via the show’s official website. In publicity preparation for the new show, RuPaul made appearances as a guest on several other shows in 2008 including as a guest judge on episode 6 of season 5 of Project Runway and as a guest “chef” on Paula’s Party.
In March 2009, RuPaul released the album Champion. The album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums as well as number 26 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. It features the dance singles Cover Girl and Jealous of My Boogie, both anthems from Drag Race.
Logo’s second annual NewNowNext Awards in 2009 were hosted by RuPaul. There he performed Jealous of My Boogie (Gomi & RasJek Edit). In March 2010, RuPaul released his second remix album, Drag Race. The album features remixes of songs from the 2009 album Champion. In April 2011, coinciding with the finale of season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul released his sixth studio album Glamazon, produced by Revolucian, who previously worked with RuPaul on his album Champion. The album charted on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart and the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart at #11 and #8 respectively.
In July 2011, RuPaul released another remix EP entitled SuperGlam DQ, which features remixes of tracks from Glamazon, remixes of the Drag U Theme Song, and a new song, Sexy Drag Queen.
The second season of RuPaul’s Drag U started in June, 2011. Later that year, promotions for season 4 of Drag Race began. RuPaul made appearances on The Rosie Show and The Chew, and also attended a Drag Race NY Premiere party at Patricia Field’s store in New York. Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on Logo on January 30, 2012, with RuPaul returning as the main host and judge. After season 4 ended, TV.com declared that it was the best reality TV show on television.
In the fall of 2012, the spin-off RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race premiered after a large fan demand. The show featured past contestants of the previous four seasons to compete. Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on January 28, 2013, with a 90-minute special and RuPaul returning as the main host and judge. On April 30, 2013, he released a single Lick It Lollipop featuring longtime friend Lady Bunny, with whom he had previously collaborated with on Champion. On October 25, 2013 he reported via Twitter that the new album would be released in January 2014.
In fall of 2013, RuPaul joined forces with cosmetic manufacturers Colorevolution to launch his debut make-up line featuring ultra-rich pigment cosmetics and a beauty collection, alongside a unisex perfume entitled Glamazon. Talking to the website “World of Wonder,” RuPaul said: “Glamazon is for women and men of all ages and preferences who share one thing in common: They are not afraid to be fierce. For me, glamour should be accessible to all, and I am committed to helping the world look and smell more beautiful.” The line was exclusively sold on the Colorevolution website in various gift sets.
RuPaul and Revolucian both confirmed through their Twitter and Instagram accounts that they had been working on an upcoming seventh studio album. Born Naked was released on February 24, 2014 to coincide with the premiere of the 6th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Prior to the premiere, an album of RuPaul cover songs performed by the Season 6 cast was released on January 28, 2014. The covers album is titled RuPaul Presents The CoverGurlz and contains RuPaul songs from 2009–2013.
To further promote the Drag Race season premiere, RuPaul, representing Logo TV (and parent company Viacom) was chosen to ring the NASDAQ closing bell on February 24, 2014. The week of its release, Born Naked reached number one on the iTunes dance album chart. The following week it placed at number 4 on the US Billboard dance chart and number 85 on the Billboard 200 chart. The single Sissy That Walk, aside from being one of the most listenable tunes in the herstory of humankind, was nominated for Best Song Of The Year by the Independent Music Awards.
On April 9, 2014 RuPaul and Michelle Visage released the first episode of their podcast, RuPaul: What’s the Tee? with Michelle Visage. In August, he joined the reality competition show Skin Wars acting as a judge.
On March 2, 2015, RuPaul released his eighth studio album entitled Realness. The release coincided with the premiere of the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
In April, he launched and began hosting a new show, Good Work, a plastic surgery-themed talk show for E!. In October he released his second Christmas album (and ninth studio album) Slay Belles. The album contains 10 original Christmas-themed songs and features collaborations with Michelle Visage, Siedah Garrett, Todrick Hall and Big Freedia. The album charted at number 21 on the US Billboard Dance chart.
In January 2016, it was announced RuPaul would present a new game show for Logo TV called Gay for Play Game Show Starring RuPaul which premiered on April 11, 2016 after RuPaul’s Drag Race. In February 2016, RuPaul announced his tenth album, Butch Queen. It was released on March 4, 2016, just prior to the premiere of the eighth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. A song from the album, U Wear It Well was featured in the teaser campaigns for the season and was later officially released as the first single on iTunes on February 29, 2016. The album charted at number 3 on the US Billboard Dance chart, marking his highest position on this chart to date.
On July 14, 2016 it was announced that RuPaul was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. He would go on to win the award at the September 11 Creative Arts Emmy Awards Ceremony.
Outside the glamour and glitter of his public life, RuPaul lives a delightfully quiet, and quite normal, personal life. He has been with his Australian partner, Georges, since the mid 1990s, after meeting the 6’7″ Aussie while out on a dance floor. Georges runs a 50-acre (200,000 m2) ranch in Wyoming.
RuPaul’s message, since the beginning, has always been based in love, for oneself and for others. I think his personality and his message are both beautifully demonstrated in this wonderfully candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter, from August of 2016. Among his uplifting stories and spontaneous witticisms, he shares a very personal and emotional moment, after being asked about his favorite memories from his time with Drag Race.
… Everybody say “Love!”