22 things you didn’t know about ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Drag queens from 'RuPaul's Drag Race' on red carpet, posing
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ Pacific Press/Getty Images
  • “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been on the air for 12 years.
  • Behind the scenes, queens have only 90 minutes to get ready and are cut off from the outside world.
  • The winners don’t find out they took the crown until the show airs.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

RuPaul said it took only one pitch meeting for the show to be picked up.
RuPaul Charles out of drag in a pink suit a bowtie
RuPaul. Andrew Kelly/Reuters
RuPaul Charles told Us Weekly in 2012 that it only took him one pitch meeting to sell the show to its first network, Logo.

It now airs on VH1 and Paramount+. 

There’s one common phrase that many aspiring contestants say when they audition.
Rupaul's drag race contestants sitting on chairs dressed in drag
RuPaul said nine out of 10 say it. Jim Spellman/Contributor/Getty Images
RuPaul said he looks most for authenticity when auditioning queens, but that there’s one phrase that always cracks him and the other judges up because of how common it is during the process. 

“Nine out of 10 of the people who audition for our show, they’ll say these words—and it’s funny ’cause we all laugh every time we hear it—they say, ‘Honey, I will cut a b—-!'” he told Vanity Fair in 2017.

Initially, some members of the crew thought they were taping a real race.
Camera men behind the camera on set of 'drag race'
The crew was confused in season 1. VH1
Apparently, some members of the crew took the show’s name a little too literally at first. 

“We did have quite a few crew members who found things surprising,” lighting director Jenny Bloom told Billboard in 2018. “They would come in and wonder where the quarter-mile [of the drag race] was. Or at one point, I had a crew member come up to me on their first episode, with all the queens lined up on stage, and he whispered in my ear, ‘So they’re all dudes?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of the concept of the show.'”   

While taping the season, the queens are completely cut off from the outside world.
Cast of drag queens sitting on couches on set of 'ru paul's drag race'
Contestants are cut off from the outside world. VH1
While “Drag Race” is being filmed in Los Angeles, the contestants are secluded, queens in season two of “All Stars” revealed in 2016. They aren’t allowed to have phones, they’re kept in separate hotel rooms, and sometimes production will even put tape on their doors to know if a queen has left her room.

In fact, one former queen, Willam, was apparently disqualified in 2012 after her husband visited her hotel room. She later insinuated that this wasn’t the exact reason for her departure. 

At the start of the season, contestants are handed an iPod featuring each of the lip syncs.
Peppermint on stage with a mic in hand
The queens know all the lipsync songs. Santiago Felipe/Contributor/Getty Images
It takes a bit of preparation for each week’s challenge, so at the beginning of the season, the contestants are given a “packet” of the songs, season seven’s Jaidynn Diore Fierce said in 2015. However, they only know a couple of days before the performance which exact song will be picked. 
The queens get two chances to walk the runway.
Vanjie on the stage at rupaul's drag race
Contestants walk the runway twice. VH1
The show makes it look like the queens only get one chance to sissy that walk, but they actually get two. At a Q&A in 2013, Shangela said the contestants walk once with music and once without so that the judges can voice their quippy commentary the second time around.
It takes RuPaul six hours to get ready.
Rupaul in drag holding up book
RuPaul takes hours to get into drag. Mark Mainz/Getty Images
RuPaul makes being a drag queen look effortless, but in reality, a lot of time is spent transforming. The TV star told “Hollywood Today Live” host Ross Mathews that it took him and his former makeup artist, Mathu Andersen, a whopping six hours to get him ready for filming.

“Mathu and I, we get back there, we start at six in the morning, we have tea, we eat, we dance … we look at the outfits, we just get into it,” RuPaul said in 2016.

But the contestants are typically only given 90 minutes to get into drag.
The Vivienne on red carper with blonde wig
The Vivienne only had 90 minutes to get ready. Karwai Tang/Getty Images
“Imagine working until the early hours of the morning, having two hours sleep, then having to get up, film other stuff, and finally having an hour-and-a-half to get in drag,” The Vivienne told RadioTimes in 2019.
RuPaul reportedly wears sweatpants when sitting behind the judge’s table.
Utica on stage of 'drag race' wearing a head piece made of balls
Utica roasted RuPaul for wearing sweatpants. VH1
In the most recent season, Utica (pictured) was roasting RuPaul and said, “RuPaul, you are such a fashion icon, if you could stand up for us please.”

The host responded by flipping the drag queen off. 

If you don’t know the rumors, then this moment may not have made any sense. It’s widely discussed that RuPaul often wears sweatpants while sitting behind the judges’ table. 

Bob the Drag Queen all but confirmed that fact in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2020.

“It is a known fact that RuPaul’s dresses are in two chunks,” Bob the Drag Queen said. “Sometimes she’ll work the runway and take off all of her padding and put on some sweatpants and Ugg slippers and walk around the studio. Everyone knows this. RuPaul gets out of drag from the waist down to sit behind the table, which I would, too!”

He didn’t want to get rid of “She-Mail,” which many viewers took issue with.
Rupaul 2018 emmys
RuPaul wanted to keep ‘She-Mail.’ Dan MacMedan/Getty Images
Many took issue with the former segment “She-mail,” a play on “America’s Next Top Model’s” “Tyra-Mail.” The segment seemed to be a play on an anti-trans slur. The segment has since been eliminated, but RuPaul said that was not his doing. 

“I would not have changed it, but that’s their choice,” he told The Guardian in 2015. “Our intention was always coming from a place of love. On paper, you cannot read intention, so it was actually hurtful. First of all, drag is dangerous. We are making fun of everything. But when someone doesn’t get the joke or feels offended by it, it’s a lose-lose situation, because you can’t explain a joke. It isn’t funny if you explain it.”

 

The mini-challenge known as “Reading” got its start in the documentary “Paris Is Burning.”
Symone reading on drag race with fingers outstretched and wearing sunglasses
Symone reading on ‘Drag Race.’ VH1
“Paris Is Burning” was released in 1990 and followed the ballroom scene of Harlem in New York City. In the documentary, drag queens introduce the idea of “reading,” or playfully making fun of somebody. 

RuPaul introduced this art form into almost every season of “Drag Race,” saying, “Reading is fundamental.”

RuPaul faced more controversy when he said he didn’t want transgender queens to participate in the show.
Gottmik in a red and yellow look and black wig on the set of drag race
Gottmik. VH1
RuPaul has also faced controversy for using an anti-transgender slur in 2012 and for saying that he would “probably not” have brought on a trans woman like former contestant Peppermint if he knew that she was transitioning.

“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big F-you to male-dominated culture,” he told The Guardian in 2018. “So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

He has since apologized for that comment and has welcomed openly trans contestant Gottmik on the most recent season of “Drag Race.”

 

Despite how glamorous it looks on TV, former contestant Willam Belli has claimed it wasn’t so pretty behind the scenes.
Willam Belli with sunglasses on and hand framing her face
Willam Belli has been critical of the show. Santiago Felipe/Contributor/Getty Images
Though the queens make it look easy, former contestant Willam Belli — who was disqualified from the show in 2012 — accused the show of poor set conditions and providing little food.

“It was different from what I was used to working on,” she told In Magazine in 2013. “… Sharon subsided on bread dipped in ranch for a month while filming because her vegetarian food needs were never met.”

RuPaul used to roller skate off-camera while filming the first few seasons.
RuPaul on a go cart with michelle visage
RuPaul loves to have fun on set. Santiago Felipe/Contributor/Getty Images
The competition is serious business, but that doesn’t mean that the host doesn’t have a little fun. Lighting director Jenny Bloom told Billboard in 2018 RuPaul used to rollerskate around the set in the show’s early seasons and make the crew laugh. 

“There’s so many things that made it on camera to be proud of, but a lot of my favorite moments are things that never make it on air,” Bloom said in the interview. “Back in season two and tree, Ru used to roller skate around the set when there weren’t any sets being built. And you can never forget the best sound in the whole world is hearing RuPaul laugh from somewhere off in the distance.”

His famous line “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?” was inspired by his mother.
RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Ross Matthews, and Carrson Cressley behind the judges table on 'Drag Race'
RuPaul says the same line every episode. VH1
From behind the judges’ panel, RuPaul says the same line at the end of every episode of “Drag Race.”

“It’s a mantra,” he told NPR in 2020. “You need touchstones and totems. And, actually, it’s a tradition my mother passed on to me, which is having sayings that can help realign you in this life…But it plays on the insecurities that every human has, which is – are they going to like me? Do I smell? Do they not like me because I smell? So these mantras are set to align you with the truth of who you are, which is – you are love, and you cannot give something that you do not have.”

When Lady Gaga appeared on the show, she gave the queens so much constructive feedback that the producers apparently wanted her to wrap it up.
Lady Gaga and RuPaul on set of 'Drag Race'
There have been many featured guests. VH1
“Drag Race” has had some amazing celebrity guest judges in the past, including Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, and Ariana Grande.

When Lady Gaga appeared on the show in 2017, she gave the queens extra feedback on their performances when the cameras stopped rolling.

“When she came back into the [Werk] Room, she really came back with some constructive feedback and criticism, but that was preceded by a nice, pretty good conversation,” one of the queens, Peppermint, said on Entertainment Weekly’s BINGE podcast in 2020.

Sasha Velour added that Gaga was giving them so much feedback, “there was even a moment when the producers were kind of like, trying to get her to wrap it up, because she had hand-written notes about each and every one of us, and she went through, took her time, and gave individual feedback to each of us sitting right there.

“They were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to get back to filming!’ And she was like, ‘No, I’m going to finish this!'”

After appearing on the show, many of the A-list guests also appear on RuPaul and Michelle Visage’s podcast “What’s The Tee?”

 

Phi Phi O’Hara said she was supposed to be on season one of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars,” but then she got arrested.
Phi Phi O'Hara on stage at 'rupaul's drag race'
Phi Phi O’Hara was supposed to be on season one. VH1
Phi Phi O’Hara, who first appeared on season four of “Drag Race,” made her comeback on season two of “All Stars,” but it turns out she was actually supposed to be on season one. In an interview with Vulture in 2016, the queen revealed she couldn’t compete because she got arrested.

“I got arrested for some stuff that was on my background, stuff that I didn’t take care of, so that was the reason I couldn’t do the first season — because my background check came up dirty,” she said.

The winner of “Drag Race” finds out they won with the rest of the world when it airs live.
Symone being crowned the winner of drag race
Symone taking the crown. VH1
Although it may seem like the winner is being crowned in the final episode, the show’s producers film multiple endings with the final two or three queens, having them act out a winning moment. This is so that no spoilers are leaked between the taping and the air date. 

This means the final queens get to watch the finale live to see who RuPaul chose to wear the crown. 

There are many heartwarming videos of the winning drag queen finding out they took the crown.
Aquaria Met Gala 2019
Aquaria was the winner of season 10. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Most times, the final queens host a viewing party at a gay bar to watch the final episode. They typically go backstage to watch the crowning and finally found out who won. In most seasons, someone films the winner’s reaction, and it’s always a heartwarming moment. 

When Aquaria won season 10, she can be seen in a video, holding hands with her fellow contestants before breaking down in tears when she heard her name.

Tyra Sanchez and Aquaria are tied for the youngest “Drag Race” winner.
Tyra sanchez on the left in drag and aquaria on the right in drag
Tyra Sanchez and Aquaria were both 21. Frazer Harrison and Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Tyra Sanchez because the youngest person to win “Drag Race” when she took home the crown at just 21 years old in season two. She held the record until season 10, when Aquaria, also 21, beat out Eureka and Kameron Michaels for first place.
Despite the fact that RuPaul is now the most awarded Black artist in Emmys history, he once said he didn’t want any awards.
RuPaul holding up one of his emmys
RuPaul wasn’t always so thrilled with the award. Steve Granitz/Getty Images
Despite famously telling Vulture in 2016 that he’d rather “have an enema than an Emmy,” RuPaul has since received 11 Emmy awards for the show, breaking an Emmy record for Black artists.

Plus, “Drag Race” has won the best competition show for four consecutive years. 

 

The show has produced several spin-off and companion series.
A drag queen sitting on a couch on 'rupaul's drag race untucked'
One of the shows is ‘Untucked.’ VH1
If the main show isn’t enough for you, you can also sink your teeth into “Untucked,” a companion show that airs after the main show and features behind-the-scenes footage; “Whatcha Packin,'” where judge Michelle Visage interviews the eliminated queen from each week; and “The Pit Stop,” a YouTube series that airs featuring two former contestants or celebrities, discussing the events of the show.