START your engines! RuPaul’s Drag Race is coming, with more sequins than Strictly and camper than Christmas.
The Emmy-winning search for the next drag superstar is a sensation in the US, where it has run for 11 series and won a feverish cult following.
Now RuPaul is bringing his show to our shores, joined by judges Graham Norton, Alan Carr and Michelle Visage – currently on Strictly.
From tomorrow night, ten drag queens will compete to show who has the most “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent”.
Eagle-eyed readers might spot something risque about that list. And yes – it is deliberate.
The winner will whizz off to Hollywood to star in their own digital series.
Previous series are available on Netflix. But if you have never seen it, here is Emily Fairbairn's ultimate guide for beginners.
God save our queens!
IT is the drag version of modelling contest Next Top Model – with a bit of fashion design reality show Project Runway thrown in.
But Drag Race is much funnier and far sillier than either of those shows.
Each week, contestants slay their way through a series of challenges designed to test their drag expertise.
Make-up skills, fashion sense, sewing abilities, comedy chops, singing, dancing and acting all come under the microscope.
Each episode ends with a catwalk finale, when the queens must design and create their own outfit, riffing on a theme set by RuPaul.
In the first instalment of this run, he challenges them to serve “Queen Elizabeth II realness”.
The panel of judges then deliver their critiques, leaving RuPaul to decide the episode’s winner – when the two in contention must “lip-sync for their life”.
This involves miming to a gay anthem, while dancing, slutdropping and anything else necessary to leave your rival in the shade.
The victor is told, “Shantay, you stay!” while the loser is fondly ordered to “sashay away”. Their Drag Race dreams are over.
The process continues each week until just one contender remains. Expect plenty of tantrums, catfights and fabulous costumes along the way.
Just who is Ru?
THE performer called “Mama Ru” by contestants on his show is without doubt the most famous drag artist in the world.
RuPaul Andre Charles, 58, from San Diego, California, was a fixture on the New York club scene in the Eighties and Nineties.
He scored a minor hit in the US charts with the track Supermodel in 1992 and has released no fewer than 14 albums, hosted his own talk show and appeared in multiple movies.
Among his pearls of wisdom, Ru says: “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
He is bitchy but not mean, irreverent, provocative and glamorous – which all his proteges aspire to.
IF you don’t know your shade from your sashay, it is time to mug up.
Drag Race is home to a fabulous array of catchphrases, slang and unlikely jargon. Here are some of the sayings that crop up most often…
Fierce – possessing a powerful or beautiful quality
Fishy – a drag queen who could pass for a biological woman, used as a high compliment
Gag – react intensely, usually from shock
Padding – cushions used to create the illusion of hips, legs or boobs
Read – wittily expose a rival’s flaws
Realness – authenticity
Sashay away – how RuPaul dismisses a queen from the competition
Serve – present oneself in a certain way, such as: “I’m serving glamazon realness.”
Shade – bitchiness; “throwing shade” is to insult someone
Shantay, you stay – how RuPaul confirms which queen from the bottom two stays in the contest
Sick’ning – beyond awesome, so good you make everyone sick
Sissy that walk – walk with sass
Slay – win or be the best
The T – truth, news or gossip
Werk – strut or perform
Yaaaas – a term of encouragement
YOU might recognise Ru’s right-hand woman Michelle Visage from Strictly.
She is his real-life bestie and has been a judge on the US version of Drag Race since its third series.
Joining Michelle will be Graham Norton and Alan Carr, who will appear on a rotating basis.
Alan said: “It’s nice, for once in my life, to not be the campest one in the room.”
The panel will be completed by a weekly guest judge.
Cheryl Tweedy, Game Of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix, Geri Horner, Chewing Gum actress Michaela Coel and former big-screen Spider-Man Andrew Garfield are all lined up.
One judge RuPaul wanted but couldn’t get is Meghan, who was heavily pregnant during filming.
Ru said: “The invitation is still open for season two.”
THE art of drag is so much more than just putting on women’s clothes. That is why Ru tests his wannabes’ credentials with a broad range of challenges.
Some of the regular favourites from the US version are expected to pop up in the episodes filmed over here.
These include the reading challenge, launched when Ru declares: “The library is now open.”
No books are involved. “Reading” in this context means revealing uncomfortable truths about each other, treading a fine line between witty bitchiness and out-and-out cruelty.
Then there is the Snatch Game – a Blankety Blank-style contest in which the queens drag up as showbiz icons.
They will be joined by telly stars Lorraine Kelly and Stacey Dooley when they compete.
Other challenges incorporate singing – for which they will be coached by British singer-songwriter MNEK – and dancing, calling on the services of Strictly Come Dancing star AJ Pritchard and his Love Islander brother Curtis.
It really is the Olympics of Drag.
THE show is massive around the world – having won an incredible 13 Emmy awards.
Drag Race is big business too, with world tours and DragCon conventions featuring appearances by contestants drawing thousands of fans and shifting millions of dollars worth of merchandise.
It has been credited with bringing drag to the masses and shining a spotlight on LGBTQ issues.
Behind the contestants’ outrageous personas are often heartbreaking human stories.
Issues raised by contestants on previous series include living with HIV, struggling with family rejection and deciding to transition.
Ru says: “Millions of people from around the globe – young, old, gay, straight and everything in between – relate to the queens’ struggles and triumphs.
“The bond between them and the viewers is profound.”
Now that is what we call fierce.
…and those ten lovely ladies
RU handpicked his ten lovely contestants, who he says embody the “rich past and bright future of UK drag”. They are:
Baga Chipz, 29, from West Bromwich, says her interests are gin, tonic, Coronation Street and sex. She says: “Viewers will be speechless. Or maybe utter one word – trollop.”
Belfast’s Blu Hydrangea, 23, describes her look as “high fashion from outer space, with Muppet realness”. She watched Drag Race as a child and says Ru introduced her to drag.
Divina De Campo, 35, from Brighouse, West Yorks, says she is “classy, sassy and a little bit brassy”. You might recognise her from appearances on The Voice and The Real Housewives Of Cheshire. This queen has always wanted to be famous.
Crystal, 34, is originally from Canada but has lived in London for the past ten years. She performs aerial circus, can crack a whip and puts out cigarettes on her tongue. She says: “Like my namesake, I’m sparkly, transparent and cheap.”
Sum Ting Wong, 30, from Birmingham, loves to sing. She admits: “I can’t be a singer out of drag. I am a Chinese male who’s overweight and losing his hair. I’m never gonna make it like that, so drag helped me.”
Essex girl Cheryl Hole, 25, is in tribute drag act Gals Aloud. She says her secret weapon is her dance moves, adding: “Girl, you better watch out – because I’m gonna bring the exclamation mark of the dance moves to the dance floor!” Quite.
Though geeky and shy in real life, Gothy Kendoll, 21, from Leicester, says she wants to move away from the “old battleaxe” style of drag with a dark and intimidating look.
Acid-tongued Londoner Vinegar Strokes, 35, describes herself as a “dragtor” – a drag queen who acts. She has starred alongside Michelle Visage in the West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and says her style is Tina Turner meets Lizzo – another American singer – meets Kat Slater.
Country gal Scaredy Kat, 19, from Wiltshire has been doing drag for less than a year and isn’t gay. She (he) even has a girlfriend. Though Kat has never performed before, she says: “Ru picked me and I’m here for a reason.”
The Vivienne, 27, from Liverpool, has crossed paths with Ru before. Four years ago she was crowned Ru’s Drag Race Ambassador to the UK. Her key talent is impersonations, doing everyone from Kim Woodburn to Donald Trump.
- RuPaul’s Drag Race UK begins tonight on BBC Three, exclusively on BBC iPlayer.
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