RuPaul has an armful of Emmys that prove his hosting magic, but on June 10, the undisputed queen of RuPaul’s Drag Race ditched the accoutrements (wigs and stilettos) to test the waters on daytime television.
The do-it-all 58-year-old debuted RuPaul, a weekday talk show on select Fox Television stations for a limited three-week run, and he’s brought couch-surfing guests like James Corden, presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker, Paula Abdul, Adam Rippon, Billy Eichner and Bachelorette Hannah Brown along for the ride. Also in the building — Stage 10 at Warner Bros. Studios to be exact — but on a daily basis are Drag Race staples and members of Ru’s inner circle Michelle Visage and Ross Mathews.
Days ago, when The Hollywood Reporter visited the set for a taping, Visage and Mathews were just as laser specific with their commentary as they are on the Drag Race judges table. This time, the subject was not a queen’s runway presentation but their pal’s potential on daytime TV, a field that, come fall, will be more crowded, with entries from Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall.
“This is his arena,” said Visage, who speaks from experience, having appeared opposite RuPaul on his VH1 talk show in 1996. “This is where he belongs. It’s like coming full circle. Ru has evolved so much as a human and he’s grown with it, but he also instinctively knows what to do.”
Echoed Mathews: “Sitting here on Day One, I saw Ru come out and host the first episode, and I said, ‘There is somebody who is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.’ Ru has such a clear vision of what this show is, the message, the kind of product that he wants to put out in the world. This is watching somebody at their prime doing what they’re meant to do.”
Audiences in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Houston, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Charlotte will get to watch Ru in action as part of the limited run, which is executive produced by Jill Van Lokeren (Michelle Obama’s Becoming book tour, The Oprah Winfrey Show), Drag Race and Ru insiders Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato and Tom Campbell for World of Wonder, along with Telepictures, a unit of Warner Bros.’ unscripted and alternative TV.
It was Van Lokeren who told THR that she had no plans to play the daytime TV game again after working with Winfrey for 23 years. But then she met with RuPaul.
“I’ve done the best talk show with the best talent, the best ratings — tippy top of the mountain. So for me, personally, my dream was not to do another talk show — until I met RuPaul, because honestly, I can’t say it loud enough: He has what it takes. Beyond the skill and the talent, he’s a natural-born producer. And at this time, this moment in the world with everything he stands for, to me, it’s why I’m here right now. I can’t even tell you how much I believe in him — his voice, his message, his mission, his personality, his humor. It’s exactly what is missing in the world.”
What is his mission? To get the answer, THR went straight to the source by sitting down with the TV veteran to talk about his vision for RuPaul on daytime, why he had to bring Visage and Mathews along with him and, if the show gets picked up, how will he manage the sure-to-be bonkers schedule.
When you decided to do this talk show, what were your prerequisites?
The same as always, and this really was a continuation of dialogue that was started many years ago. How are you, fill in the blank person, navigating your life? How are you managing to get up every morning, get out of bed and do it all over again? Life is hard. I’ve been on the planet for a few years now, and it seems more difficult than ever. Being a part of the dialogue with solutions is important to me.
Let’s talk about this set. It has a very cool, almost retro vibe. Tell me more about putting this together.
This set looks like the living room in my house. My house was decorated by the set designer on Drag Race — it’s all the same colors. I like brightness. I like openness. I like seating where people can actually have a dialogue and feel comfortable. I’m not afraid of colors. It’s important for that dialogue to say all shapes, sizes, colors are welcome here.
When the show starts, you come out and there’s a fun segment with “Slay of the Day.” But other than that, there’s not a lot of bells and whistles in terms of games or contests, etc. Was that an intentional decision on your part?
Yes, I didn’t want to have a hype person. Michelle and Ross come out and they talk to the audience, but I didn’t want to have this person, this fake circus-like atmosphere. I know I’m enough. The conversation that we have is engaging enough. Plus I didn’t want to wear the audience out. I’ve done shows where the audience is exhausted even before the camera rolls.
Did you watch any other daytime TV to get caught up on what the competition is like right now?
No, I speak fluent television. I grew up in front of the television and I practiced for this job from the time I was 5 until now, really. We had that talk show 23 years ago on VH1. We filmed 100 episodes of it, and the dialogue has never stopped. What we talk about on this couch right here are the same things we talk about in my living room and have continued to talk about all the time, every day in every situation. What are you doing that keeps you motivated to get out of bed every morning? I want to be part of the conversation to shed light on some of the dark areas.
Since you brought it up, what are you doing to manage your life? And what else do you want to conquer?
I manage to do this by keeping a balance in my life, keeping my eye on what I came here to do, which is experience life. It’s as simple as that: to experience life. The way I keep that balance is I pray, I mediate, I stretch, I exercise, I dance, I sing. I recognize how fortunate I am and I’m grateful for it. Those are all things that help keep a balance. My saboteur is always in my peripheral vision; it’s always right there. It will never go away. I fortify and nurture the other voice that is there to remind me that I am an extension of the power that created the universe and that I’m experiencing humanity. No judgment. It’s all good. And that voice tells me, “Don’t take everything too seriously.”
It’s nice to see your team here — World of Wonder and Michelle and Ross. What is it like for you as the host to look out and see them sitting across from you? Was that always the plan to have them join you?
It’s important for the viewers at home, for the kids watching to see that you need your tribe. When I was a kid, I grew up in front of the television, and I knew my tribe existed out there when I saw Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS in probably ’72 or maybe ’71, because they weren’t taking life and everything too seriously. They made fun of everything. That was enough to me say to myself, “Go have fun, play with all the toys. Don’t take it too seriously.” So having my tribe with me is symbolic for the people who are watching but also how I’ve been able to manage to get this far, because I’ve created a family with Randy and Fenton and World of Wonder and all those guys I’ve worked with for 30-plus years. I don’t know if it would be possible without that kind of support.
Will you have any of the drag queens from Drag Race on the talk show?
Probably, yeah. It’s all part of the same message. Use the colors, express yourself. You are courageous and you are an example of what is possible. That’s the most important aspect of this show. Here I am, I’ve been in show business for a long time. Even for 11 years before people knew who I was, I was doing talk shows on public access in Atlanta and on stage. It’s important for people to know how to navigate this life. They walk around like they have the instruction book, but most people don’t. They’re faking it, and I want this dialogue to be a part of what the instruction book would actually say.