Say 'Amen!' to RuPaul, your new queen of daytime talk
Winfrey. Tyra Banks. Ellen DeGeneres. You know you’ve made it in the realm of daytime talk when your last name becomes irrelevant. Luckily for drag-superstar-turned-Emmy-winning-reality-host RuPaul, he’s already risen to iconic status with one of the most recognizable mononyms in Hollywood. Now, as Ru caps a lifetime of preparation to launch a self-titled foray into afternoon gab 20 years after blazing a trail for queer people in the format with VH1’s The RuPaul Show, he’s ready to take his rightful place on the throne among the daytime elite.
“I feel like this is a job I’ve been rehearsing for the past 50 years,” the 58-year-old tells EW of the program, which incorporates his lifelong love of exploring the grit behind the tenacity of the human spirit via celebrity interviews (Paula Abdul, James Corden), style segments, comedy skits, and, of course, crying it out on stage across its three-week test run. “I grew up watching Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas…. The major difference here is that my point of view is broader, with less margins. I’ve always thought outside the box: Who would’ve thought I could become a star in Hollywood as a drag queen? And I have emerged as the queen of motherf—ing drag! The voice of our talk show has that same, broad aesthetic!”
RuPaul premieres Monday, June 10 on Fox stations in New York (WNYW FOX 5 at 7 p.m. and WWOR My9 at 5 p.m.), Los Angeles (KTTV FOX 11 at 6 p.m. and KCOP My13 at 8 p.m.), San Francisco: (KTVU FOX 2 at 2 p.m. and KTVU Plus 13 at 3 p.m.), Houston (KRIV FOX 26 at 3 p.m.), Phoenix (KSAZ FOX 10 at 2 p.m.), Minneapolis (WFTC My9 Plus at 8 p.m.), and Charlotte (WJZY FOX 46 at 10 a.m.). Read on for EW’s full Q&A preview of the show’s first 15 episodes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m so excited to see you back on a talk show after you broke new ground in the format back in the ‘90s with The RuPaul Show. Why is 2019 the right time for you to revisit this territory?
RUPAUL: I’ve always wanted to go back to it. In fact, I feel like I never left it. On Drag Race, I interview the girls and get to know them, and all those questions I ask are from my own natural inquisitiveness. We’ve also done a podcast [What’s the Tee?] for several years now. As a kid, I used to watch talk shows and I loved them so much. Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas… I feel like this is a job I’ve been rehearsing for the past 50 years.
How does this new show embody the person you’ve become over the years?
It’s changed as I’ve changed. I always follow my heart when I interview someone and go with the rhythm of the conversation. The conversation today is different. We’re at an interesting place in history. With this talk show, we have an opportunity to help guide people and help them navigate these tricky waters we’re in right now — not just politically, we’re talking about navigating an emotional life on this planet that can be very difficult.
How will this particular show help them do that?
Drag Race is about the tenacity of the human spirit. That’s why it connects with people, and that’s what I’m interested in. The same goes for the talk show. I’m interested in stories of strength and how people who think outside the box are able to navigate their lives and be inspired to get up every morning and leave the house. That’s what the talk show is about: Having those fundamental discussions about what motivates you to keep doing it.
What are some specific examples of guests or topics you’ll cover that reflect that?
Every interview is about that: All roads led to that same topic. All the people who know me and have been around me know that’s the only game in town. How are you doing it, how are you able to manage this life? On Drag Race, we deal with some heavy topics, but still we’re able to laugh about it in the next breath. That’s been a survival technique for outsiders — sweet, sensitive souls — since the beginning of time. We’ve been able to look at the irreverence of life and have fun with it and not take everything so seriously. That’s a vital, integral part of every conversation I’ve ever had, whether there’s a camera there or an audience or just two or three people.
Judging by the previews, you make quite a few people cry on this show. Why do you think people open up to you so easily?
When you look at people on the street or in traffic and it looks like they’ve got it all together…. I remember thinking why do I feel so out of the loop? As I grew up and got to know what people are really going through, I realized nobody has the instruction book. Everybody’s faking it! What happens on our show is we get to break that fourth wall of human illusion and see what’s going on with people. Most people are hurting, depressed, or suffering with addiction, a symptom of a much deeper issue. We get to those deeper issues. Having said that, we also laugh! I’ve found that laughter is the greatest spell you can cast, and it takes the weight off of the seriousness of life. So, yeah, there are tears on our show, but there’s mostly laughter. We’re shedding light in the dark places of the human experience…. It’s how I’ve been able to manage a career in show business since 1982. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Aside from show business, as a human on this planet, I’ve been able to navigate a tricky life, especially with doing drag, which our culture thinks of as subversive and weird — Not as weird as it has been thanks to Drag Race!
Are we going to see you in drag on this talk show?
Bitch, you are thirsty! You see my black ass in drag every week on Drag Race [Laughs]. You never know! We’re just starting out. I’ll never say no, but, s—, haven’t I given you motherf—ers enough!?
We just want what we love from you! We’ve seen white women, white men, black women — Tyra Banks and Oprah, of course – rule this format, but I don’t recall a queer black man inhabiting this space before. Why do you think it’s taken this long to happen, and does that intimidate or invigorate you?
I don’t know why it has taken so long. It’s happening now, maybe. This is a summer test run, and America will decide whether they want to see this show continue. It may not be the time. Who knows. I’ve had so much fun doing this. It’s a blast, and I was honestly born to do this show. Whether it takes off with an audience, that’s a different subject.
Who are you speaking to on this show and why? Drag Race speaks to a more specific demographic than a syndicated talk show does.
In America, there’s an emerging voice that hasn’t had the chance to flex its muscles. I think that the face of America has changed, especially with so much divisiveness out there. That voice is going to be heard far more than it ever has been before, and our show speaks to that voice and gives it a platform. Young people who watch Drag Race and their parents who see it at DragCon, they are not threatened by different colors, sounds, tastes, or smells. That’s where our show comes in.
Listen, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel The wheel is fine as it is. We do talk and have fun, and we do all the things you’re used to, but we’re using a different, more open aesthetic. Gay pop culture — the gay aesthetic — has become the pop culture norm today: the vernacular, the clothes, everything that was specifically gay culture is now everyday pop culture, and the voice and aesthetic and vernacular we use on our talk show employs all of those things, but without abandoning the talk show format that people know so well. I grew up watching talk shows. The major difference here is that my point of view is broader, with less margins. I’ve always thought outside the box: Who would’ve thought I could become a star in Hollywood as a drag queen? And I have emerged as the queen of motherf—ing drag! The voice of our talk show has that same, broad aesthetic!
I also saw that you’re bringing Michelle Visage back. Does she have a larger role here like she did on The RuPaul Show? Will you bring back the skits you guys used to do?
We’re still shaping our show. Michelle is a big part of it, and Ross Mathews is a big part of it, too. I wanted to convey the concept of having a tribe and an open conversation. One of the most important tools I’ve found in navigating a life is having a tribe of people who, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, can help lift the others up when dark clouds arise. So, the subtext to our show is a tribe of people who help one another reach their goals; That’s why Michelle and Ross are important aspects of our talk show — the same with the audience. They’re an integral part, and it’s important for people watching to feel like there’s an intimacy there. It’s not like us trying to crack jokes and make punchlines with people who just happen to be promoting a movie or a book. It has to do with the community. There’s so much divisiveness in the world right now, and I wanted a sense of that. We’re laughing, there are going to be skits, everything! We do that on Drag Race: we break format, but at the same time, we’re having all this fun, and telling stories with paint and powder. A lot of depth comes from that because people feel comfortable enough and intimate enough to tell their story, and in doing so it helps all the people who are watching around the world!
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