By Joey Nolfi
November 20, 2019 at 09:11 AM EST
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Aj and the Queen

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  • TV Show

She done already done had her spot in the history books.

As announced Wednesday morning, RuPaul — Emmy-winning host of RuPaul’s Drag Race and former EW cover girl — has become the first drag queen to land a Vanity Fair cover, appearing on the front page of the publication’s January issue in support of the upcoming scripted Netflix series AJ and the Queen.

Shot by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, the stunning image sees Mama Ru wearing nothing but a sky-high wig (draped over one shoulder), a pair of shiny earrings (complete with matching bracelet), and a glistening leotard covered in jewels, while the accompanying interview teases the 59-year-old drag superstar’s first leading role in a scripted television series in his multi-decade career.

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Credit: ANNIE LEIBOVITZ for Vanity Fair

Speaking on AJ and the Queen, which the LGBTQ icon stars in, co-created, and co-wrote with The Comeback and Sex and the City mastermind Michael Patrick King, RuPaul said the idea for the show arose from Drag Race’s increasing audience of “13-year-old suburban white girls.”

RuPaul leads the series as Robert Lee, a performing artist known by his drag name, Ruby Red, who has dreams of opening a club of his own before a hustler scams him out of his life savings, forcing him to hit the road to make extra cash at clubs around the country — all with a stowaway 10-year-old girl (played by newcomer Izzy G.) in tow.

“This show isn’t about a drag queen in a kids show. This is about a kid in a drag queen’s show. It’s edgy, and it has some dark themes in there,” Ru told the publication. “It was something I was eager to explore. To prove to myself that I’m not dead inside. I proved to myself that I could pull those emotions up. It’s intoxicating.”

It wasn’t just emotions RuPaul pulled up during the AJ shoot; He also performed rigorous dance moves so much that he rendered himself incapable of standing for an entire day.

“He had to throw his hair around to a song, and he really throws himself into s—t. He threw his head around like Ann-Margret slash go-go girl for, like, 12 takes. Next day, he couldn’t stand up because he dislodged one of his inner ear crystals,” King remembered. The solution, he explained, wasn’t a day off of work, but instead saw RuPaul shooting his scenes sitting down instead of standing up.

“Our humanity, our laughter, our sense of irony. Fashion. Everything. It’s all in there. I couldn’t be more proud,” RuPaul added, while King continued: “After [Ru] saw the first episode, he turned to me and said, ‘I thought this was going to be the show where I revealed myself to the world. It turns out it’s the show where I reveal myself to myself.’”

The article also quotes Michelle Visage, RuPaul’s longtime friend and collaborative partner, who also holds a seat on the Drag Race judging panel, as indicating that “parents come up to me [now] and say [the show] helped them understand their queer child a little bit more” — especially as the franchise expands to the United Kingdom (the RuPaul’s Drag Race UK finale airs Thursday on WOW Presents Plus) and Canada (Canada’s Drag Race premieres in 2020) in addition to its U.S. run on VH1.

Still, despite global domination, RuPaul doesn’t feel that the spirit of drag culture will (or should be) be appropriated by the masses.

“A superficial aspect of drag is mainstream. Like, the ‘Ooh, girl’ or ‘Hey girlfriend!’ or ‘Yaaas.’ That’s mainstream culture,” he explained. “But true drag really will never be mainstream. Because true drag has to do with seeing that this world is an illusion, and that everything that you say you are and everything it says that you are on your driver’s license, it’s all an illusion. Most people will never in their lives understand what that is. Because they don’t have the operating system to understand that duality.”

AJ and the Queen premieres Jan. 10 on Netflix, while RuPaul’s Drag Race is expected to return to VH1 for season 12 and All-Stars 5 in 2020.

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Aj and the Queen

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