Surprisingly, RuPaul was pretty resistant to the idea of producing and hosting a reality show. RuPaul’s longtime friends and business partners, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, approached him with the idea for a drag-centric reality show back in 2004. However, RuPaul turned it down because he didn’t like the mean-spirited nature of reality television that was so common back in the early 2000s.
Thankfully, RuPaul changed his mind a few years later. He told Vulture that Obama’s presidential campaign convinced him the time was right to bring drag into mainstream public consciousness. He was initially afraid that a reality show would cast drag culture in a demeaning or ridiculing light, but Fenton and Randy’s production company, World of Wonder Productions, made sure that didn’t happen.
RuPaul Returns as “Starrbooty”
Back in the roaring 80s, RuPaul wrote, directed, and starred in a series of three films that are now collectively coined “RuPaul Is: Starbooty!” The films were made on a non-existent budget with his friends while he lived in Atlanta. RuPaul decided to dip his toe back into the entertainment industry by reviving his decades-old character in a reboot film.
The resulting movie, “Starrbooty,” was written entirely by RuPaul and was released in 2007. The film follows RuPaul’s character, Starrbooty, who is a secret agent and supermodel on a mission to save her kidnapped niece. The movie unashamedly calls back to RuPaul’s original drag persona, which was much more racy and sexual than his polished, family-friendly persona of the late 90s.
Upon the release of “Starrbooty,” RuPaul began getting back out into the public eye. “Starrbooty” was shown at LGBTQ+ film festivals throughout 2007, and RuPaul attended almost every festival to personally introduce audiences to the film. The movie was the perfect combination of camp, comedy, and throwbacks to vintage drag, so it’s no wonder film festival audiences loved it.
“Starrbooty” soon became a cult classic. RuPaul distributed the movie himself after companies backed out of making a DVD distribution deal with him. Overall, this controversial indie film marked the beginning of RuPaul’s second ascension to fame because it put him back on his fans’ radars.
Shopping Around for a Network
Once RuPaul agreed to create “Drag Race,” producers faced another challenge. They had to shop around for a television network that would proudly broadcast a reality TV series featuring a cast full of queer representation and drag queens. World of Wonder Productions originally envisioned Ru’s showbiz comeback on a prestigious network like E! or Bravo. The reality was much different.
RuPaul’s producers, Randy and Fenton, pitched to E! and Bravo, but both networks turned them down. The two producers told Vulture in a 2017 interview that the networks loved the concept but were afraid to air a show about drag. Despite the stigma, Ru and his team persevered. They eventually signed on with Logo, a network that gave them the creative freedom to create the show they envisioned.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Debuts
The premiere of the very first season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2009 would change Ru’s life and career forever. Logo, a sister network of VH1, launched what would become a cultural phenomenon that is still going strong today. The first season became Logo’s most successful show, which is no surprise.
The initial season of “Drag Race” is a lot different than newer seasons. There were only nine contestants competing to win a $20,000 cash prize. Although the show eventually evolved to include larger prizes, celebrity guests, and way more contestants, the inaugural 2009 season laid the foundation for RuPaul’s greatest hit.