Billboard Pride had the rare opportunity to peek behind the curtain ‘Drag Race,’ from an incognito RuPaul to “modesty cups.”
“I’m a tough bitch,” Michelle Visage smiled. Even after explaining that I couldn’t breathe a word about my on-set experience until the episode had aired, Ru’s closest squirrel friend remained zip-lipped on what to expect on season 10 RuPaul’s Drag Race. After all, the show has transformed into a cultural phenomenon, and Visage knows that fans are eager to take even the smallest spoilers to .
Still, it was an incredible privilege to be invited to the studio for a behind-the-scenes look at Drag Race. Not only was I greeted by World Wonder co-founder Randy Babato, producer Thairin Smothers (my most fabulous tour guide for the day), Visage and Ross Mathews, but Ru swung over for an unexpected “hello” in his floral, yellow suit — he had just finished giving the top 6 advice ahead the day’s challenge. Of course I froze up, speechless — I was in the Emerald City and Ru was the all-powerful Wizard Oz.
I was then escorted to my dressing room, where I kikied with Ross Mathews about how big Drag Race has gotten. He pointed to last year’s Saturday Night Live skit: “To be mentioned on that show means that our show is in the zeitgeist. But they were so complimentary! That wouldn’t have happened ten years ago. I would have been afraid that we would have been the punchline — and we weren’t!”
Then, the set visit. First up, I stood behind the iconic one-sided mirror for a front row view Monét X Change beating her face. I had previously seen Monét perform several times at Industry in Hell’s Kitchen and was elated to see she had made it onto the show. (Here’s hoping her NYC sisters Pixie Aventura and Bootsie Lefaris will follow in future seasons.)
After that, I got to live out every gay man’s fantasy by walking down the infamous runway. Sadly, photos weren’t allowed on set, but I assure you I sissied the heck out that walk.
Finally, they brought me to the set Breastworld, where I watched the top 6 queens film the day’s main challenge. Given the way past queens have talked about tomfoolery from producers, I hoped to see something juicy. But alas: the weakest links during the taping, Eureka and Kameron, ended up in the bottom 2, while Monét and Asia, who nailed their roles, were showered with praise on the main stage.
Though nothing scandalous happened, I still learned plenty during my behind-the-scenes look at Drag Race. Here are my five biggest takeaways.
1. The crew loves their job
If there was one thing that stood out during my set visit, it was that the people behind the scenes were just as excited to be there as the contestants. The crew was all smiles during a run through the Breastworld skit, and the art department received endless compliments from their colleagues on the set’s colorful design. The only bit drama behind the scenes was when two Pit Crew boys missed their cues during the rehearsal because they were busy flirting.
Also worth noting: I learned that the Pit Crew were required to wear “modesty cups” under their briefs, designed as a safeguard to ensure we don’t see any…silhouettes…on screen. Rude.
2. Ru is omnipresent
Michelle and Ross may have been in the directors’ chairs, but during a few run-throughs, an incognito RuPaul — decked out in athleisure and a beanie — watched from behind the camera. It’s unclear if the queens knew he was there or not, but his presence makes sense: it’s his show, after all!
3. Michelle is kept in the dark
When talking to Michelle, I asked if we’d finally see a romance unfold this season. To my surprise, she had no idea: “They keep me out the storyline on purpose because I am meant to judge these queens unbiased,” Visage shared. “If I get to know them or their storyline or their personality, I could somehow judge them differently — not that I would. But the producers are] preventing that from even being an option.”
4. The production team pays attention to social media
When I visited the set in early September, stories about season 9 queens’ lack gratitude towards fans were circulating on . I asked Ross and Michelle if the season 10 girls were being warned to watch their behavior.
“I don’t believe there’s been anything done from a production standpoint, but everyone’s paying attention — we all see,” Mathews said. “So I hope that the season 10 girls have checked Twitter so they can check themselves before they wreck themselves.”
“I don’t know if anybody can do anything to stop a lack humility,” Visage added. “That’s up to the person. I will say that these kids have got to realize that when this show goes away one day — which inevitably it will one day, whether it’s season 20 or not — they’re going to be back to where they were. So being humble now is much more important than begging later.”
5. These queens are pros
The final six made it this far because they were true pressionals — that was evidenced several times during my set visit. Aquaria showed up to the set with an umbrella prop, which she popped open during a line about “shade.” And Eureka — though fumbling her lines — kept her energy at 100 percent, staying in character and miming her role in the background through scenes where the camera didn’t come close to approaching her.
Most impressive, though, was Asia O’Hara. Given that her character didn’t arrive until the end the scene, she stood quietly in the wings — in heels — for over two hours before a stagehand fered her a stool. And given her winning performance in the scene, she wasn’t focused on discomfort; she had her eyes on that $100,000 cash prize, honey!