For 11 seasons, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been entertaining audiences with outrageous outfits, memorable lip syncs and witty one-liners. Since its launch in 2009, the series has gone on to become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, winning multiple Emmys and inspiring countless other reality shows. But even the most dedicated of fans may not be aware of what really goes on behind the scenes of the show.
From the auditions to the backstage drama, here are some interesting facts about “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you probably never knew.
It Only Took One Try To Sell The Show
RuPaul told Us Weekly that it only took a single pitch meeting to sell the show. The series first aired on the Logo network. It has since moved to VH1.
RuPaul Names This Contestant As A Standout From The Entire Series
The series has featured dozens of queens on its shows, but RuPaul has said that one contestant, in particular, has stood out to him because of her simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring story.
“Because the kids are so courageous and their stories are so rich, they bring such a unique story every single time,” he told Vulture. “I always think about Roxxxy’s story when she revealed she was abandoned at a bus stop as a 4-year-old. It’s usually their stories that surprise me of how resilient and strong they are.”
The Contestants Are Given iPods With The Lip Sync Songs On Them In Advance
The “Drag Race” contestants have to do a bit of prep before each challenge, but they get a head start on the lip syncing. At the beginning of the season, the queens each get an iPod with the season’s songs on it. However, they don’t know what tracks will be chosen or which week they will be used.
Contestants Are Kept Completely Isolated During Filming
During the production of “Drag Race,” the contestants are essentially cut off from the outside world. Phones are forbidden, and everyone is kept in separate hotel rooms. Production has even been known to put tape on the doors to know when a queen left her room.
One Contestant Was Disqualified For Not Staying Secluded During Filming
Willam Belli was disqualified from the competition after she failed to meet production’s demands for seclusion. Her husband was caught paying visits to her room, which is against the rules (although she later contested this report). That incident reportedly spurred the door-taping strategy that production later adopted.
Contestants Have No Idea Who Else Is Competing On The Show
The contestants aren’t just secluded from the outside world — they’re also isolated from each other. None of the queens meet or even learn who else is competing before the show.
It Takes Six Hours For RuPaul To Get Ready For Each Show
RuPaul puts a lot of effort into his look for the show. The host once told “Hollywood Today Live” that it takes him and his former makeup artist Mathu Andersen six hours to get into his drag look.
“I could do it in an hour,” he said, “but we like to take six hours. Mathu [Andersen] and I, we get back there, we start at 6 in the morning, we have tea, we eat, we dance…we look at the outfits, we just get into it.”
The Queens Are Given A List Of Outfit Themes Before The Season
Ever wondered how the contestants know what to bring to the competition? It turns out they receive a lengthy list of possible themes and outfits to prepare for challenges and the runway. However, the list only gives vague ideas, no specifics, and not all of them are actually used during the competition.
There’s A Reason Contestants Wear The Same Outfit During All Their Confessionals
From season six onwards, contestants are required to wear the same one or two outfits during all of their confessionals. Why? It makes it easier to edit clips from two different sound bites together, known as “frankenbites.” Prior to season six, it was often glaringly obvious when various testimonials were spliced together, as contestants’ outfits would suddenly change even when the audio never cut out.
The Queens Have to Walk the Runway Twice
On air, it looks like the contestants only get a single chance to walk down the runway. But during filming, they actually get to perform their strut twice — once with music and once without, so that the judges can deliver their commentary.
Contestants Have Accused RuPaul Of Staging His Commentary
Over the show’s run, there’s been some question as to whether RuPaul’s witty commentary is scripted, rather than off-the-cuff, as it’s presented on air. Season one contestant Tammie Brown publicly slammed the host in the past, claiming that all of his clever lines are fed to him through an earpiece while filming.
Season four’s Willam Belli later seemed to back up the claim, writing in an online post, “I look forward to appearing on a game show again, maybe even for World of Wonder — but this time as a host who doesn’t wear an earpiece and gets told what to say.”
Phi Phi O’Hara’s Arrest Prevented Her From Appearing On Season 1 Of ‘All Stars’
Phi Phi O’Hara was supposed to return to the series for the freshman season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.” However, she couldn’t compete because she got arrested. As she told Vulture, “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.”
O’Hara made her comeback on season two of “All Stars” instead.
The Youngest ‘Drag Race’ Winners Were Both 21
Tyra Sanchez and Aquaria are tied for the title of the youngest winners of the show. The former was crowned the winner in season two when she was only 21. Several seasons later, Aquaria became the season 10 winner at the same age.
Willam Belli Accused The Show Of Creating Unsafe Conditions
Belli also once accused of the show of having poor set conditions and providing little food.
She told In magazine, “This set was rife with un-taped wires underfoot, non-regulated food breaks (like $75 to feed 12 men after a 14 hour day). Sharon subsided on bread dipped in ranch for a month while filming because her vegetarian food needs were never met. Major safety issues and human rights violations that any union rep woulda s— themselves over.”
The Show Has Featured Major Pop Stars As Celebrity Guests
“Drag Race” has had a slew of notable celebrity guests, including some of the world’s biggest pop stars. Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande have all made appearances on the show.
RuPaul Revealed Contestants Often Say This One Phrase While Auditioning
Given how outlandish and over-the-top the show is, it stands to reason that the audition process for the contestants is equally memorable. According to RuPaul, there’s one phrase that is hilariously common among the aspiring queens.
“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.
The Finale Is Filmed Multiple Times
The show actually films multiple versions of the finale — one that shows each of the top three or four contestants winning the crown. Since the finale is filmed in front of a live audience, this prevents both the audience members and the contestants from revealing any spoilers. This strategy prevents anyone from finding out the real winner until the episode finally airs.
Some Have Accused The Show Of Being Rigged
In 2015, a Reddit poster who claimed to have inside information on “Drag Race” suggested that lip sync battles are edited in favor of the contestants who production prefers and that the order of elimination is used to create more intriguing storylines. Past contestants and fans have made similar accusations in the past. A shocking “All Stars” finale in 2018 once again prompted questions about whether the show is rigged.
RuPaul Believes ‘Lip Sync Battle’ Is A ‘Drag Race’ Rip-Off
The art of lip syncing is a major part of drag culture, as brought to life by “Drag Race.” So when Jimmy Fallon launched “Lip Sync Battle” as a bit on his show and later as its own spin-off on Spike, many pointed out the parallels between both series.
When asked to comment on “Lip Sync Battle,” RuPaul told Vulture, “It’s a poor ripoff of our show. Regular, straight pop culture has liberally lifted things from gay culture as long as I can remember. And that’s fine, because guess what? We have so much more where that comes from.”
The Series Has Won Multiple Emmys
Since its inception, the show has earned a ton of awards-season attention. It has been nominated for a whopping 23 Emmy Awards and won nine. Their most recent wins occurred in 2018, when the show took home both Outstanding Reality Program and Outstanding Host for Reality/Reality Competition Program for RuPaul.
Every Winner Has Released Music, With Only One Exception
All of the “Drag Race” winners have released music (either individually or as part of a collaboration) at varying points in their careers, with the exception of one. Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio has yet to release her own single, but that doesn’t mean she’s not musically inclined. As recently announced, she is set to make her London theater debut in the musical “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.”
RuPaul Considers The First Season The Pilot Of The Show
Even some of the most loyal fans of “Drag Race” haven’t seen the show’s very first season — and that may be for the best. Season one, while only eight episodes, boasted some seriously questionable production value. It’s perhaps best known for its use of the “Vaseline filter,” which was placed on top of all the footage and made everything look slightly blurry.
RuPaul himself has poked fun at the freshman season, even saying that he considers the entire thing more of a pilot than a legitimate season.
The Show Has Inspired Multiple Spin-Offs
If you can’t get enough of “Drag Race,” there are plenty of spin-offs to keep you entertained. The series’ accompanying aftershow, “Untucked,” airs directly after each new episode and often features unseen footage. You can also watch “Whatcha Packin’,” a web series that began as the feature’s judge Michelle Visage interviewing the recently eliminated contestants.
Looking for a quick recap? “The Pit Stop” airs on YouTube after each episode and typically features former contestants discussing the show’s latest events.
The Series Has A Strange Connection To Charles Manson
What could “Drag Race” and Charles Manson possibly have in common? It turns out the two do share a strange link. “Drag Race” is taped on a soundstage in Simi Valley, in the same area that was home to the Manson family, as well as several other notable events (including the Rodney King trial).
RuPaul has previously acknowledged the sketchy history of the show’s setting, telling Vanity Fair, “We’ve come to cleanse the whole area of its checkered past.”
The Whole Season Is Shot In Only Four Weeks
Though a season of the show airs over the course of several months, it doesn’t take anywhere near that long to film. Each “Drag Race” episode only requires about two to three days of content. An entire season is typically shot in about a month.