Emmys, Emmys, Emmys across the board
Only three shows have won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. That’s right: The Amazing Race, Top Chef, and The Voice have split 15 years’ worth of trophies since the category’s 2003 inception. But, “during these turbulent political times,” RuPaul says, Drag Race is overdue to take its rightful crown. “Drag Race showcases two things that the world needs now more than ever: escapism and the tenacity of the human spirit,” he tells EW of his fabulous TV juggernaut, which deservedly scored a further 12 Emmy nods this year for its 10th season filled with topical conversations on racial equality, sexual assault, and of course plenty of wigs, glitter, and showgirl glam. “They are the marines of reality television,” producer Tom Campbell adds of 2018’s breakout cast, arguably the most dynamic crop of contenders on any reality series in recent memory. “If the show wins, it’s really a testament to the queens.” In the gallery of exclusive behind-the-scenes photos ahead, RuPaul, co-judge Michelle Visage, season 10 contestant Miz Cracker, and Campbell tell EW why RuPaul’s Drag Race — the best reality show on television — deserves all the Emmys, henny.
A unique royal court reigned over season 10
Between All-Stars 3 and season 10, fans endured six months of non-stop RuPaul’s Drag Race programming in 2018 — including mammoth musical challenges and runway eleganza larger than Alyssa Edwards’ wig. It was the spirit of resistance and non-conformity inside 14 ladies, however, that captivated us week after week. “RuPaul’s Drag Race…. is very little about boys who dress up in girls’ clothing,” Visage says. “It’s very much about grit, integrity, heart, power of perseverance, and the power of love.” Speaking on the queen’s real-world impact outside the show, Campbell continues: “They do everything: They dance, they sing, they lip-sync, they do beauty transformations, they do fashion, they have to act, and they have to market themselves. What we put them through in a season is truly remarkable and there’s no coincidence that we’ve launched…. stars around the world, and they’ve helped regenerate and rejuvenate the gay club economy because we have something to leave our houses and celebrate.”
The cast captured lightning (laced with sequins) in a bottle...
Season 10’s queens created — and ruled — their own kingdom thanks to their willingness to discuss topical (yet in some ways, still taboo) community subjects like racism, rape, and gay conversion therapy — all issues that came to light thanks to outspoken contestants like The Vixen, Blair St. Clair, and Dusty Ray Bottoms. “I don’t think we solved any problems on our show, but we certainly brought a light to them and showed the queens living through all of that and surviving to make beauty in this world. It’s this huge, uplifting message that touches everybody,” Campbell says. “We don’t wallow in our victimhood. There’s a lot to be victimized by in today’s world…. I think one of the markers of the drag community, of the gay community, the LGBTQ community; we rise above it and we take tragedy and turn it into something life-affirming. As much as we talk about those heavy things, we don’t get stuck there. And that’s not being superficial; it’s life as a celebration. Let’s have fun while we’re living through this not so easy world. Let’s bring some color, fun, and magic.”
Adds RuPaul: “Under the glitz and glitter, our drag queens are sweet and sensitive souls. They bravely discuss the obstacles they have encountered as they try to navigate their way through a patriarchal society. This season alone, our queens opened up about their personal experiences…. in the process, their stories become our stories.”
...shepherded to TV screens by RuPaul's keen casting eye, of course
Though the season 10 girls deserve praise for raising the bar for season 11’s contestants, there’s a science behind good Drag Race chemistry, and this year’s is a testament to RuPaul’s intuition as host and bona fide casting queen. “He handpicked every single one of those queens. He’s gotten a lot of sh— over the years, and he’ll tell you: [People said] he’s not black enough or he’s this or he’s that, and he has fought those things,” Visage observes, noting that Ru deserves to win his third Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality-Competition Program now more than ever. “I think that’s why he casts people who have a story to tell. The story is super important and Ru related to that in many ways, but I also think Ru is a person who will take responsibility for his actions and his past and wants to teach these kids how to do the same thing.”
“RuPaul’s not just a host who was hired,” Campbell continues. “This is built around his career and his message, which is 25 years in the making and it is remarkable and I don’t want to take it for granted that RuPaul has marketed drag around the world.”
Miz Cracker likens her sisters to edible treats because... well, you'll see
“One of the most important things about Drag Race that a lot of people forget is that the set and the lights are provided, but it is the girls who bring hair, personality, costumes, memorize lines, and do all of the labor. It is 100 percent our blood, sweat, tears, money, time, creativity, originality, and thought,” Miz Cracker, who placed fifth during season 10, says. “RuPaul’s Drag Race is a Tupperware container, and the drag queens bring all of the food. The show deserves to win because of what the girls this season brought to it and I think it’s important to remember that. We weren’t provided with all of this stuff: This is stuff that we brought from our hearts, from our homes, and from our wallets. So it’s the season 10 girls that make season 10…. that’s what makes it different from any other show, where those things are provided. We brought that.”
The Vixen lit a fire that has yet to extinguish, all in the name of raising awareness about racism in the fandom
“I think Vixen’s conversation is valid, important, and necessary,” Visage says. “I think the fandom needs to be responsible for that as well. Not to take anything away from what she was saying, but it got really ugly this year. And there were ugly things said about Eureka’s size, too, and so much hate being thrown against her. The things that I saw from our fandom mortified me and it gets to a point of being hateful, and that’s not what this show represents at all. We have to be responsible for ourselves, and there’s something lacking. People need to check themselves before they say such vile things, but I think the Vixen needs to keep doing what she’s doing…. I think it’s important, and the fandom definitely needs to hear what she’s saying.”
Season 10's challenges tributed gay history and looked toward the future
“The Last Ball on Earth,” Campbell answers when asked to weigh in on what was season 10’s standout runway challenge. “We usually have the balls later in the season…. [But here] it was 11 queens giving 3 looks each. So, there were 33 runway looks…. When 11 queens came around the runway 33 times…. it’s something new, something mind blowing. It really is a sporting event!”
While The Last Ball on Earth saw 11 ladies serving a trio of futuristic looks, another monumental season 10 achievement saw seven contestants paying performative tribute to a community icon.
“I also loved Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical. Cher is one of Ru’s incredible passions. I think all gay people know Cher, but we’re always trying at the same time to expose different generations of gay people to different generations of artists and explain what they mean to us personally and as a movement,” Campbell says.
Under all of its social responsibilities, Drag Race is a good old-fashioned party unlike anything else on TV
“It’s also opening a dialogue up about the persecution and the marginalization of trans people, of queer people, of gender non-binary and gender fluid people…. Gay conversion therapy, religion, all these things that are taboo and affect everybody in queer culture but are rarely talked about, especially on a TV platform that isn’t hard news,” Visage notes. “It encompasses everything that is so important to a queer child’s life and even those who aren’t children but have suffered silently and haven’t had anybody to talk to or understand what they’ve gone through. And that’s what makes the show really special.”
Campbell agrees, but sees a glistening lining to the show’s critical, serious message of progression.
“I would like to think that a rising tide lifts all ships, and the attention that Drag Race gets, I’m hoping that helps broaden opportunities for other LGBTQ+ people,” Campbell concludes. “It’s about joy, laughter, and color. There’s heavy stuff to talk about, but it’s all in the context of celebrating life. It’s what the show’s about. It’s our agenda as producers: celebrate the art of drag, and along the way there’s laughter and tears and a lot of emotion packed into every episode.”
Basically, season 10 represents peak Drag Race excellence
“Last year [with] the trans movement, I thought it would be a perfect time for us to make a statement, and The Voice won. It’s like, okay, of course it won. Either that or The Amazing Race wins all the time,” Visage explains. “At the end of the day I think our voices — especially now, because last year we were under the current administration, but it hasn’t been as much buffoonery as it is now — as an LGBTQIA+ community, are more important now than ever before to be united, loud, and strong. Us winning this year would really be a loud statement to the world.”
Speaking to the old guard of the reality competition series category, Visage further likens Drag Race‘s trajectory to that of the very community it represents after it jumped from Logo to VH1 in 2017: “It’s almost like the only time in history this has ever been done. The show started very small on our beautiful sister network for queer programming, and that’s what we are: a queer-based television show serving the community. It very slowly grew every year with higher ratings…. And we’re still getting higher ratings for season 10. And that’s kind of like the community: it’s always been very small and quiet, and it got louder and louder until Stonewall burst the doors open…. it’s symbolic in many ways.”