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How the Political Divide Boosted ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ to Its Most-Watched Season Ever

Variety logo Variety 6/9/2017 Elizabeth Wagmeister
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RuPaul’s Drag Race” is having a moment.

In its ninth season, which tapes its finale Friday night, the drag queen competition is experiencing its most-watched season ever — a true feat for a series that’s heading into double-digital territory. Plus, this past year, “Drag Race” won its first-ever Emmy with a best host award for the man behind the drag, RuPaul.

For Season 9, “Drag Race” moved to VH1 from its original network, Logo, which no doubt helped viewership, but RuPaul also attributes the show’s surging ratings and increased awareness to the global political climate.

“The fact that we moved to VH1 where more people can see it, it’s more accessible to people. Logo is part of the most expensive cable package, so that limits people who wanted to see it, but couldn’t afford to see it,” RuPaul tells Variety of the Viacom network shift. He adds, “And then, politically, there’s a great divide in our country and around the world. The 20th century sensibility is clashing with the 21st century forward thinking, and I think our show epitomizes 21st century forward thinking.”

“Drag Race’s” current season began this past March, not long after Donald Trump was inaugurated into office, and since, the LGBTQ community has been critical of the Trump Administration. RuPaul’s series, he says, epitomizes freedom, hope and promise.

“It’s not just the kids who watch the show or follow it through social media, but what it symbolizes for people my age who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s is the promise of a free America that included the American dream,” RuPaul says. “There’s a correlation with what’s happening politically — the show represents a movement. People my age grew up with the promise of an America that was a global community and people who were cheering and praying for that to happen, and I think we’re clashing with the people who are afraid of that and cannot morph into the future. That’s what’s happening, and I think that our show is representing that forward-future.”

The show has seen a major uptick in its ratings since moving to VH1 with this season’s premiere officially ranking as the show’s most-watched episode ever, pulling in just shy of 1 million viewers, as well as a 0.5 rating in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Live+Same Day data. The ninth season has also been buzzier than ever, bringing in guest stars like Lady Gaga.

RuPaul says the elevated popularity is undoubtedly noticeable, especially at the annual bi-coastal DragCon convention, which heads to New York City for the first time this September, but most recently, drew 40,000 attendees in Los Angeles. “I hear it from them,” RuPaul notes, “And the fact that they’re showing up to this, that’s who’s saying the show speaks to them.”

While the increased audience is “absolutely” there, RuPaul does not feel added pressure to use his platform, even in a time of political turmoil. “My platform has always been to love yourself and to learn how to accept love from other people,” he says. “My platform has always been the self-evolution and the self-realization. I’ve always preached, ‘You’re born naked and the rest is drag,’ and that speaks volumes about what we’re doing here on this planet and what your mission statement is because that says focus on the love and the colors and the beauty and the music and the dancing and the singing and all the things that make life wonderful.”

As for this season’s two-part finale, which will have a special reunion episode, RuPaul teases, “There’s a big surprise that I can’t tell you about.”

And as for the future of the show? “Drag Race” has already been renewed for a 10th season, but RuPaul is hopeful for many seasons beyond that. “I’ve been in show-business for 35 years. I will run this show into the ground,” he quips. “I will be here until they decide they don’t want to pay for the show anymore. That’s just the old hoofer in me because the show must go on!”

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