The 90s mainstay now stars in ''Drag Race,'' a reality series that's one part wigs, one part falsies, and one part Tyra

By Tanner Stransky
February 27, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

You better work,” RuPaul famously said in her 1992 dance hit ”Supermodel.” And now, after a 10-year break from the spotlight, the drag superstar is heeding her own advice. She’s hosting the incredibly addictive ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ (Mondays at 10 p.m. on LOGO), a campy competition series that can best be described as America’s Next Top Model with bigger wigs, bigger boobs, and a lot more waxing. On the (high) heels of her new success, EW asked Ru to reveal her five rules for making a comeback.

1. Don’t Call It a Comeback
Instead, tell people that ”you’ve stepped away from the canvas, as my good friend Valerie Cherish says,” suggests RuPaul, referencing Lisa Kudrow’s tragicomic character from HBO’s The Comeback. Ru says her disappearance reflected the political climate: While the Bush administration ruled, RuPaul hibernated, serving up just two poorly received albums and an under-the-radar supermodel action flick called Starrbooty. ”It wasn’t a meltdown or anything,” she says. ”It really had more to do with understanding the temperature socially. Now” — in the Barack Obama era — ”it’s the perfect time to reemerge.”

2. Give Pop Culture a Drag Makeover
Yes, there are supposed to be glaring shades of Top Model and Project Runway reflected in Drag Race. Dressed as a man, RuPaul channels Runway mentor Tim Gunn while advising contestants in their workroom. (The catchphrase: ”Don’t f— it up.”) Later, she transforms into a heightened version of Tyra Banks for the elimination portion of the competition. ”All drag is a sampling of pop culture,” RuPaul says. ”My whole image is one part Dolly Parton, one part Cher, three parts Diana, and one part David Bowie. If you’ve seen pictures of Tyra, you’d think she was sampling me.” So who’s the chicken and who’s the egg in this scenario? Unfortunately, Banks declined to help clear things up for EW.

3. Keep Looking Fabulous
With a slammin’ body and glowing skin, RuPaul looks better today than when she stormed the scene 20 years ago. What’s the trick: daily jogs? A supersecret Master Cleanse? Creative lighting? (After all, the judging-panel scenes look like they were shot with an iPhone camera smeared with Vaseline.) ”I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I eat good,” RuPaul says. ”Sometimes I cheat on the diet — you know, I’m human.” (Her indulgence? ”I love brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts.”) Still, there are definitely smoke and mirrors involved. ”It’s all about the lighting!” she says. ”I’m the friggin’ star of the show!”

4. Bring Along Your Entourage
Drag Race‘s lineup of judges (both guest and permanent) reads like a gay fever dream: fashion journalist Merle Ginsberg, Project Runway villain Santino Rice, designer Bob Mackie, and homo-friendly actresses Tori Spelling and Lucy Lawless. ”These are people I know, people I trust, and people who understand what I’ve done in my career,” explains Ru. And if they understand her career, they should easily be able to help her pick the next drag superstar, right? Which brings us to…

5. Crown an Heir to the Wig
Now 48, RuPaul knows that she can’t drag forever, so she’ll anoint the queen with the most ”charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent” in Drag Race‘s March 23 finale. Finding a successor ”would be interesting for me and the world,” RuPaul says. ”It would signal our cultural evolution. I think someone could surpass [my fame].” With the success of the show, it’s possible: LOGO isn’t rated by Nielsen, but Drag Race has gotten enough buzz to land a rerun spot on sister network VH1; Web traffic on has ignited since the premiere; and Brian Graden, president of entertainment at MTV Networks (LOGO’s parent company), says, ”This is the widest hit we’ve had to date.” Adds Ru: ”I’ve earned my champion, I’ve earned the right. It’s the emancipation of RuRu.”


Host Aesthetic
Drag Race: Intentional drag
Top Model: Unintentional drag

Drag Race: ”The time has come to lip-synch for your life!”
Top Model: ”You’re still in the running toward becoming [pause] America’s Next Top Model.”

Bitchy Sound Bite
Drag Race: ”This is no time to relax and untuck!”
Top Model: ”Name brand don’t mean it’s right!

Typical Contestant Names
Drag Race: Ongina, Rebecca Glasscock
Top Model: Shandi, Fatima, Fo, Aminat

Biggest Issue
Drag Race: Mammal toe
Top Model: Surviving Tyra’s ”makeover”

Signature Challenge
Drag Race: Reading from a TelePrompTer during an Oprah-inspired challenge
Top Model: Reading CoverGirl copy in a foreign language

Divalicious Guest Judges
Drag Race: Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams, Pussycat Dolls creator Robin Antin
Top Model: Clay Aiken, Simon Doonan, Betsey Johnson

Winner Takes Home
Drag Race: $20,000; Paper magazine spread; headlining spot on nationwide Absolut Pride Tour
Top Model: $100,000 CoverGirl deal; Seventeen cover shoot; modeling representation