Rupaul’s Drag Race – Shantay, You Stay

Roy Ward

Ru Paul

Reality TV ain’t what it used to be. Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole abandoned the X-Factor, and then so did the audience, by the millions. The Voice struggled to keep its viewers interested after the judges’ chairs stopped spinning around. Big Brother quietly passed away in its sleep, joining Brookside in the Channel 4 afterlife, only to rise, zombie-like and drooling on Channel 5 a few months later. Semi-scripted screenfarts like Made in Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex seem poised to take the place of our formerly beloved reality shows, and suddenly the concept of Armageddon seems wonderfully comforting.

But with the click-clack of size 11 high heels and enough sequins to put a Kylie Minogue concert to shame, one reality show arrives to save the day – Rupaul’s Drag Race. And it just might be the greatest reality show ever made.

Imagine a show which combines the catwalk glamour of America’s Next Top Model with the creativity and sartorial talents of Project Runway, and which gets its contestants doing things that even the most fame-hungry Britain’s Got Talent reject would think twice about. Imagine that, and then add drag queens. Drag queens made to sing, ballet dance, act, wrestle, pose and perform to be whittled down to the last one standing, who will be crowned as America’s Next Drag Superstar by arguably the world’s most famous drag queen, Rupaul. Yes it’s ridiculous, yes it’s incredibly camp and melodramatic, but unlike every other show where the same could be said (and I’m looking squarely at you, Tyra Banks), it knows it.

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Look at the mawkish exhibitionism of the X Factor “Save Me” Song at the end of every results show – lots of earnest expressions into the camera and so much desperation you can almost smell it through the screen. When contestants on Drag Race are up for elimination, the same dramatic lighting shifts and whooshing sound effects occur as in X Factor, but when they are told that “the time has come for you to Lip Sync for your Life”, there’s no way you can keep a straight face. “It’s a show in drag,” says Randy Barbato, one of the show’s executive producers. “It gives you a wink. At its heart are these incredible artists.”

Across five seasons and one utterly brilliant All Stars miniseries, Rupaul’s Drag Race has introduced viewers the world over to a horde of incredibly talented drag artists and performers, from Las Vegas showgirls to avant-garde shocksters, actresses, impersonators, make-up artists and stand-up comedians. All of whom look fabulous (some more than others) in a full face of make-up, wig and high heels. Guest judge Pamela Anderson once quipped that “America’s Got Talent has got nothing on this show”, and once you’ve seen Ivy Winters strut the catwalk in stilts and butterfly wings, or watched Shangela reduce a comedy club audience to tears of laughter as a “postmodern Pimp-Ho”, you’ll be hard pressed to disagree.

The show airs around the world, including Canada, Australia, Israel, Sweden, across Latin America and in the Philippines. But not in the UK. Not anymore, at least. Back in 2009, E4 started airing the first season of Drag Race but later announced it would not continue to show further episodes, citing poor viewing figures. It was shown quite late at night, and with almost zero advertising, so colour me surprised that hardly anybody tuned in. I firmly believe that there is a larger potential audience now for Drag Race than there would have been back in 2009. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj – they all wear outfits and wigs that would put some drag queens to shame. We watch all sorts of terrible Stateside TV imports, from The Real Housewives to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Let’s face it – we need Rupaul’s Drag Race. Every friend I’ve ever introduced to Drag Race has been utterly entranced by the glitzy production values of the later seasons and the sheer entertainment value of the show itself. A Facebook page has been set up here to call for the show to return to British screens – if the networks know people will tune in and watch, they are much more likely to take these requests seriously.

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If you’re a UK-based fan of the show who, like me, is dying to get this reality show gem back on our TV screens, please make your voice heard – like the Facebook page for the campaign to bring it back across the pond and post a comment below. I know there are plenty of UK fans out there, we just need to show the networks that we’re out there and we want our reality shows fronted by a six foot four black man in a frock and a platinum blonde lace-front wig.

Good luck – and don’t fuck it up.

About Roy Ward

When Roy was 7 a girl tied him to a tree and tried to set him on fire. He now lives in Leeds with his boyfriend. These facts may be connected. Vada's Deputy Editor, he loves pop culture in all its forms, plus feminism; drag queens and Nigella Lawson. Find him on Twitter @badlydrawnroy.

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