'One hundred queens are out there, so hide your pocketbooks, because they're coming,' the multihyphenate entertainer tells EW

By Joey Nolfi
Updated March 14, 2016 at 06:41 PM EDT
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RuPaul's Drag Race

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As dynamic as it is outlandish (at least to mainstream audiences), the art of men performing in clothing and makeup generally associated with women — otherwise known as drag — and all of its facets are difficult to classify under a single creative umbrella, let alone fit into an hour-long episode of compelling TV. Still, that hasn’t stopped arguably the most prominent drag queen working today, RuPaul, from trying — at least 100 times — since 2009.

Last week, the eighth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality competition series that pits drag performers from around the country against each other for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, premiered on Logo. The series’ 100th episode marked a milestone for the LGBT-focused network, garnering the series’ highest ratings for a season premiere in nearly three years. The premiere was up 6 percent from the last season to nearly 1 million total viewers across encore presentations, and was streamed over 1.5 million times online.

“Drag has always been revolutionary,” RuPaul tells EW. “[We’ve had] 100 episodes [and] eight seasons, [but] the thing I’m most proud of is being able to launch the careers of so many genius, creative critters.”

With steadily increasing ratings and popularity on the Internet (a network rep tells EW that LogoTV’s Web traffic was up 357 percent following the premiere), RuPaul’s Drag Race has carved a niche for itself in a market dominated by mainstream competition programs like Survivor and The Bachelor.

Drag Race showcases the alternative, and has fostered a dedicated fan base that supports contestants’ careers long after the show has ended. From Australian Idol’s Courtney Act (Shane Jenek) to celebrity makeup artist/America’s Next Top Model star Raja (Sutan Amrull), the roster of former contestants who’ve competed on Drag Race encompasses relative unknowns to pre-established entertainment personalities, and they often translate post-show momentum into career longevity. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see Drag Race alums performing together after the end of their respective seasons, whether it’s on the upcoming Battle of the Seasons variety tour, which will visit 66 cities around the world with a rotating cast of former contestants, or RuPaul’s Drag U, a spin-off series that featured various Drag Race graduates giving women a drag-sized makeover. RuPaul’s Drag Race puts everyone — regardless of experience — on the same playing field on and off the air.

“What makes the show so interesting is that [the contestants] come with their own stories,” RuPaul says. “There’s no way we could anticipate what’s going to happen.”

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No matter their background or level of experience, the contestants generally refer to RuPaul as “Mama Ru” as he guides them through challenges aimed at highlighting a different skill necessary for succeeding as America’s Next Drag Superstar. And success they’ve found; season 6 standout Adore Delano (also known as American Idol contestant Danny Noriega) notched an album at number 59 on the Billboard 200 in 2014, while season 3’s Carmen Carrera is signed to Elite Models and has appeared in magazines like W and Glamour. Miley Cyrus even got in on the Drag Race action, bringing popular contestants from the show onstage with her during a performance of “Dooo It!” at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.

“They all remind me of myself when I was starting out. They’re ambitious, they’re bonkers, and they don’t let society tell them what they should or should not do,” RuPaul says. “I’ve slapped [season 2’s] Tyra Sanchez, I’ve put [season 7’s] Pearl in her place. I’ve dismissed some bad girls — in fact, so much has happened on this show, but because these amazing creatures come with their own stories to tell … and when it comes your time to go, bitch, you gon’ go. Ain’t nothing gon’ change that.”

Following last week’s premiere, 11 queens from the current season still face that fate of potential elimination, including a Britney Spears impersonator, Derrick Barry, an avant-garde artist named Kim Chi (Sang-young Shin), who describes himself as a “live action anime character who works as a high fashion model,” and a comedian known professionally as “Bob the Drag Queen” (Christopher Caldwell).

“One hundred queens are out there [because of Drag Race],” RuPaul says. “So, hide your pocketbooks, because they’re coming.”

A new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Logo. Watch highlights from RuPaul’s interview with EW in the video above.

Episode Recaps

RuPaul's Drag Race

RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.

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