How ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Survived a Crazy Season 14 With a Straight Queen and Fart Jokes
This story about “RuPaul’s Drag Race” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Fourteen seasons in and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is still sparking cultural conversations. Take the one that cropped up in January before the Season 14 premiere, when word broke that the long-running VH1 franchise would be introducing the show’s first straight male drag queen, Maddy Morphosis.
What, some fans of the show wondered, was a straight guy doing on a competition that is a celebration of the queer community?
“It’s not the first cisgender man who has auditioned for “Drag Race,” but it’s the first one who we felt like their drag was really authentic. It was really good,” executive producer Tom Campbell said. “Maddy challenged people in a really positive way and made for interesting conversations among my friend groups and the fans of the show. I think it challenges people to be more tolerant and more open-minded to the art of drag and who can perform it and why.”
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The level of care that goes into casting is just part of what keeps “Drag Race” fresh 13 years since it launched with the aim of crowning “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” What started as an under-the-radar program on Logo in 2009 has blossomed into a pop culture powerhouse that has helped make drag culture mainstream.
Along the way, the show has picked up 24 Primetime Emmys, including four for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program and five for host RuPaul.
As Campbell, who has been on the show’s team since its inception, puts it, “‘Drag Race’ is like a tree that grew through a crack in the sidewalk.”
New installments of the series always manage to feature surprising twists that keep viewers enthralled, and Season 14 was overflowing with them. There was the queen saved from elimination at the last minute when she discovered she was in possession of the coveted Willy Wonka-like golden candy bar. There was the time the contestants watched the playback of their drama challenge and learned, thanks to the addition of breaking-wind sounds, that the entire play had been littered with hidden fart jokes all along.
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And then there was the jaw-droppingly awful round of “Snatch Game,” where the queens attempt to impress RuPaul and the judges with their comedic celebrity impersonations. For the first time in the history of “Drag Race,” seven contestants performed abysmally. With only one queen, DeJa Skye, safe from the chopping block, the producers scrapped the plan for the following episode and replaced it with an entirely new concept: “LaLaPaRuza,” an episode-long lip-sync smackdown.
Pivoting quickly when things don’t go as planned has long been part of the “Drag Race” experience. “We always try to stay nimble,” Campbell said. “It’s a little crazy behind the scenes, but it’s worth it because we truly are as invested as people watching our (show). There are tears behind the scenes. There are gasps, screaming, yelling, whooping and hollering during the lip syncs.”
“If you had to bet on whether ‘Drag Race’ would make it or not, the safe money would have been that it wasn’t going to make it,” he added. “And the fact that it has and it’s a global phenomenon and keeps growing and keeps representing queer people and having them seen around the world is — it’s a miracle. It makes coming to work so easy and so fun.”