I can’t think of a TV series that has ever captured the attention of the gay community quite like Rupaul’s Drag Race has. Now preparing for its seventh year, the show has gone from strength to strength, bringing its stars into the public eye, and even seeming to spearhead a whole new era of drag in gay communities around the world.
Unlike major network shows like Will and Grace, who wanted to be gay, but couldn’t be too gay (‘straight’ actors were purposefully chosen to play the two main gay male roles, though Sean Hayes, who played Jack, later came out) Drag Race still has the underground feeling of a show truly made by gay people, for gay people. Even now, while being considered a huge success, ask any straight person at work about it, and chances are, they’ve never heard of it. Ask a young gay guy, and chances are he can run down his top ten contestants. However, as the show grows bigger and bigger, this is changing, and we are seeing more and more well-known straight celebrities popping up as guest judges and gushing over the show on social media.
The show is not only growing bigger in America but across the world. It is now syndicated on networks in numerous countries, as well as of course online, being available on Netflix across Europe and South America, and one side effect of the show’s international success is that the queens are coming with it! If you follow any Drag Race contestant on social media you can see that, whether they won the show or not, they’re getting booked for plenty of shows and public appearances in the aftermath. At first this was pretty limited to North America, but now we are seeing the queens able to plan worldwide club tours. In Manchester, England, the home of Gay Homestays headquarters, this seemed to start with one or two very rare appearances, but now, word has apparently got round that partying with us Brits is a whole lot of fun (and no doubt lucrative…) and now they’re all coming over!
The Drag Race stars have proven so popular here that the AXM club, in the heart of Manchester’s gay village, has managed to build a semi-regular night around the idea, which has already seen Willam, Detox, and Adore Delano visit the city, with Courtney Act, Bianco Del Rio, Alaska and Michelle Visage already booked to follow. Last weekend, we headed down to the Adore Delano night to check it out.
The night always seems to be on a Sunday – I think the queens probably get booked to come over to London for a Saturday night and then we steal them up to Manchester the next day before they have a chance to fly away again! The night was sold out and there was already a large huddle around the stage area when we arrived. Before the performance, the club was playing out their regular selection of gay club hits mixed with some Drag Race related songs – and the show’s popularity could really be felt when everyone in the club started going crazy for contestant Alaska’s single ‘Your Makeup Is Terrible’ – a room full of people shouting along every word to this song that never has and never will be played on British radio, as if it were a huge hit. Adore herself was so impressed with the sight that she even ran onto the stage (to huge cheers) to take a video to send to Alaska, before running backstage to finish getting ready.
Delano is a singer, in fact the most successful musician in Drag Race history – her debut album hit #59 in the USA, charting higher than even Rupaul’s latest album. So, there was no trace of the classic drag queen lip sync performance. It was a real rock gig, and the chaotic personality of the ‘punk rock mermaid’ shone through, with her coming out asking the crowd which of her songs we wanted her to perform, (to which she was met with a reply of incomprehensible shouts of every song on her album at once), stopping one song half way through and saying she wanted to do a different one instead, and walking into the crowd and crowdsurfing. There was no finessed drag pageantry here, rather, an unpredictable ball of party energy. And it was a LOT of fun.
After the show, those that paid a little extra had the opportunity of a ‘meet and greet’. The experience was similar to that of a busy roller coaster – you queue for an hour for something that seems to last for a few seconds, and the wait to meet Adore did seem long. But when you got to the point where you could actually see what was going on, you could see why. I’ve been told by people who have been to see some of the other queens how they said hello, got their picture, and were moved along, but Adore, cocktail in hand, never seemed to stop talking. On the show, she never seemed to be one to think much before she spoke, and I can only imagine the variety of things she was saying to people. She spent most of her time with me telling me how much she needed a pee.
As well as cities across the USA and Canada, this year Adore Delano will be appearing in Barcelona, Dublin, Stockholm, Brighton, London, Amsterdam, Glasgow, Vienna and returning to Manchester.