As he readies for the return of RuPaul's Drag Race this month, RuPaul sat down with NewNowNext to talk about the new season, memories of VH1's The RuPaul Show, and his new album American.
How did you land Lady Gaga for Season 9?
She tweeted me about three years ago saying she wanted to be on the show and really it just took us this long to coordinate schedules, which has been the bane of our existence doing this show. The hardest part of doing this show is coordinating the guest judges and schedules.
It just fell in line. It just fell together, it just worked. We tried to make it work for years and years before that, both parties, but this was the time.
The last time you were on VH1 was for The RuPaul Show. Do you have any favorite memories from the show?
Well, you realize that was 20 years ago [laughs], but the first episode I did of that show I had my idol on, Diana ross. I had her on the very first episode. That was pretty amazing. Of course loved having Cher on, we had a great time with her. Bea Arthur was another highlight for me. We actually became friends after that and in fact I still have her contact information in my phone, I can’t bring myself to delete it.
Would you ever do another talk show?
I would love to. We do a podcast, Michelle and I, so I’ve never really stopped interviewing people whether it’s on the radio or on Drag Race. I’m naturally inquisitive. When I’m back in the workroom with the girls, it’s kind of like a talk show.
With Drag Race being so popular are you afraid of drag finally going mainstream?
It never will because it’s the antithesis of the Matrix and the Matrix is involved in trying to sell people beer and shampoo. Drag does not sell beer or shampoo. Drag lifts the lid on the pretentious and the façade. Drag makes fun of the Matrix. That’s why it could never go mainstream. It going mainstream would be like asking people to deconstruct their whole belief system and people are not going to change or deconstruct their whole belief system.
Do you think doing drag is even more of a political statement now, given the current political climate?
Drag has always been political. Drag always challenged the status quo and I’m not talking about Washington, D.C. I’m talking about everyday human emotions. It challenges humans to see themselves as more than just what it says on your driver’s license. Drag challenges people to see themselves as who they really are, and this is the heaviest shit that people can’t really wrap their heads around.
Drag is there to remind you that you are an extension of the power that created the whole universe. Drag reminds you that you are not separate from me and that I’m not separate from someone in Africa. We are one organism on this planet. Our egos say “oh, you’re over there and I’m over here” but that’s a misperception.
Your 2010 book, Workin’ It, is a guide to life. What have you learned in the years since writing it?
Lots and lots of things. In fact I’m working on a new book right now. It’s an autobiographical format but throughout that format I infuse all of the things that I learned. It’s almost not like learning anything new, it’s actually like rediscovering things. The biggest thing in myself that has changed since then is probably letting go of judgment of other people, of other situations.
That has been the hardest part for me to grapple with in my life, letting go of judgment. Especially in today’s world, where it seems like we are going backwards and you just want to scream and dig your feet in and say “wait, we need to be going forward not backward!” It’s hard to stay away from judgment. Ill probably be grappling with that the rest of my life.
[The book is] still in its infancy—we’ll talk about it when it’s ready to come out.
In Workin’ Ityou have a list of a "never wear" items. Would you add anything to that list now?
Yeah, tons [laughs]. I think you should never walk down the street looking at the phone. I think that is the epitome of sleepwalking, it really is. If you read George Orwell’s 1984, it is absolutely what he’s talking about. Never wanting to take your eyes away from the Matrix. That is the scariest thing in the world. And metaphorically speaking how do you know where you have been and where you’re going if your eyes are planted in some screen. I mean it’s outrageous.
Your "glamazon" drag has always been iconic, but now you're turning heads in boy drag. How do you describe the RuPaul Charles look?
I don’t know if I can describe it. As a kid I liked colors and textures. I like to use all of the colors in the crayon box. For a man, the easiest thing to do in the world is to throw on a suit and just accessorize it with a gorgeous pair of shoes. I love suits and I’ve always loved suits. I don’t know if I can define it so to speak. It’s just really easy. I’m surprised more men don’t do it, don’t just throw on a suit, I don’t get it.
How did you feel about the "Lip Sync for Your Legacy" twist in All Stars 2?
That All Stars season was so fantastic. I think we really outdid ourselves on that and especially since we had the best of the best in terms of cast members. It was so good. As a fan of Drag Race it had me gagging every episode and I was there for the filming! So even watching it I would clutch my pearls so many times. It was amazing. It was like an Agatha Christie novel, so many twists and turns! I loved it. I can’t wait to do another one.
Can we expect any twists like that for the new season?
When you’re dealing with drag queens you’re always in for a bumpy ride. You’re always in for twists and stunts and drama. It just comes with the territory. You know, these kids don’t disappoint. Anyone who’s a drag queen has been through so much in their life. They’ve had to navigate so many social landmines they’ve become experts at navigation. These are brilliant, brilliant people and they are so fascinating to watch because of their experiences and then putting them in a situation where they have to compete against one another makes for the fireworks.
You have a new album coming out March 24, the day of the Season 9 premiere. Is that Remember Me Vol. 2?
No, Remember Me is a collection of my old catalog that I re-recorded. This new album, which is called American, is all-new material. The song "American" is a beck and call to reclaim what this country really stands for which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I think it’s so important now to do that. What we have that the other side does not have is love and spirit and dancing and laughter and joy of life. That is our secret weapon and this album is a beck and call to our kind to lead the charge and fight for true American democracy.
Was that the theme of the album before the election or did this come after election night?
Oh, this came after [laughs].
American by RuPaul is available now for pre-order now. Listen to a preview of the title track here.
RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 premieres Friday, March 24 at 8/7c, now on VH1. Pick up a copy of American the same day.