EW exclusively unites Shea Couleé, Jaida Essence Hall, Lawrence Chaney, Priyanka, and Envy Peru for a roundtable discussion on Pride Month tokenization and where drag is headed next.

By Joey Nolfi
May 06, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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Five of the fiercest queens in the world huddle together on a Zoom call in April, when RuPaul's Drag Race season 12 winner Jaida Essence Hall's phone rings, interrupting the group's thoughts on the state of their industry. Despite the task at hand, she picks up anyway. Time is money for these bankable dolls, and when opportunity rings, true heads of state answer the call.

Such is life for the global icons, each of whom has won a franchise title in the past year, and whose reigns advanced the visibility and commercial might of their field. With crowns also came magazine covers (Drag Race Holland's Envy Peru), sponsorships (Canada Drag Race champ Priyanka), runway gigs with Rihanna (Hall and All-Stars 5's Shea Couleé), and even a British top 40 hit (UK's Lawrence Chaney).

Drag Race
'RuPaul's Drag Race' winners Lawrence Chaney, Shea Coulee, Symone, Jaida Essence Hall, Priyanka, and Envy Peru unite for EW's LGBTQ+ Pride issue interview.
| Credit: Courtesy of Lawrence Chaney, Shea Coulee, Jaida Essence Hall, Priyanka, and Envy Peru; Symone photo shot by Max Bronner.

"I'm glad people are realizing our art is actually art," Hall says. "Sometimes it takes a while, but we're worth it."

So much so that Paramount+ has banked on Drag Race's core audience jumping from VH1 to its subscription service to watch beloved queens of seasons past compete on All Stars 6 this summer.

"We see the fandom [as] one of the most passionate around the world," says Nina L. Diaz, president of content at MTV Entertainment.

Series co-creators and World of Wonder production company founders Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey feel the brand's worldwide expansion — it spans 10 iterations — speaks to a "universal" hunger for drag. The season 13 premiere of the U.S. original was seen live by a record 1.3 million viewers across six networks, and Friday-night episodes would trend on Twitter almost every week.

"I think about the person that I needed when I was young, that was such a driving force. When I got the call, I was like, you're going to be that person in a way that inspires hope," season 13 champion Symone previously told EW of spearheading the show's expanding footprint. "It can be done, and I'm going to do it. So, I want to continue those journeys and breaking those molds and being in those rooms that we're not necessarily seen in. I want to be on TV, I want to act, I want to host, I want to tour, I want to see the world, I want to do it all."

And there's room for more. Paramount+ also greenlit Queen of the Universe, a Eurovision-style contest starring queens from different countries. "It's a singing competition like no other," Barbato and Bailey tease in an email. "Of course, they're never simply singing. There's always a show to go with it!"

It's important to Couleé that such ventures don't feel "tokenized," like corporate America's tendency toward public LGBTQ content and promotion for June and June only.

"We do have these opportunities, but a lot of the time, they want to start coming around this time of year to be like, 'We got this budget for Pride, we'd love to have you,'" she recalls. "That's great, but I also have bills the other 11 months of the year. As much as I'd love to stretch myself thin on 10 different Pride projects, how about you come at me like an artist?"

With its reigning court of global winners, RuPaul's Drag Race made a monumental case for queer people of color getting serious coin after the show: Of the six worldwide finales that have aired since 2020, five have been won by non-white competitors.

Hall says she felt people trying to "discredit the hard work" she and her sisters did "by saying [our crownings were] a statement," but it's essential to see their excellence succeed organically.

"It wasn't just, 'Wow, a person of color won and I can win,' it was 'Wow, people of color can slay the game, do incredible things, and win deservingly,'" Hall says, while Peru — the first Peruvian champion in Drag Race history — feels that blending so many winners from different backgrounds "brings our community together. If there's a small boy from a small village watching Drag Race, it gives them hope under bright lights."

Under the spotlight, Priyanka wants people to see that "I'm gay all year round.... Hire me for a fall campaign or for your Christmas launch. It's up to us — the leaders who have the crowns — to educate people higher up."

That tenacity, Hall jokes, makes queens the "roaches of the universe." She continues: "No matter what you do, baby, we're going to be around. We're not going anywhere, ever!"

Except, maybe, all the way to the bank.

Watch EW's full LGBTQ+ Pride roundtable discussion with Couleé, Hall, Chaney, Peru, and Priyanka above.

Note: This interview was filmed prior to Symone's crowning on the April 23 RuPaul's Drag Race season 13 finale.

Subscribe to EW's BINGE podcast for full recaps of all 13 seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race, featuring exclusive interviews with the season 13 top four, Jaida Essence Hall, Trixie Mattel, Katya, Peppermint, Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, Sasha Velour, and more.

To read more from EW's 2021 Pride Issue, order the June issue of Entertainment Weekly — with covers featuring Lil Nas XMj RodriguezBowen Yang, and Lena Waithe — or find it on newsstands beginning May 14. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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