Few of them, in 2009, imagined the glorious future of a drag queen contest launched by the North American cable channel Logo TV, in a setting that resembled a strip theater, lit by rough and blurry image seemed to be trying to lend some luster to this low-budget affair dubbed “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” named after RuPaul Charles (b. 1960), the first drag queen to achieve international notoriety.

Twenty-five years earlier, this native of San Diego (California) was one of the protagonists of a New York underground scene between grunge and punk. A 1.93m wiry creature, RuPaul (who kept his original first name and didn’t care if it was male or female) was staying on the top floor of the Jane Hotel, a decrepit establishment on the banks of the Hudson, and would do the four hundred blows between appearances at the Wigstock drag festival or the Pyramid Club.

This era was documented by Nelson Sullivan (1948-1989), an employee of a classical sheet music store during the day, a video artist the rest of the time, who frantically accompanied and filmed his clique of drag queen, trans and mostly gay. All chronicled by the indispensable journalist Michael Musto – also a member of the crazy gang – in the weekly The Village Voice.

Dancing hits

These dozens of videos shot with a camcorder, which retrace the years of bohemian and destroyed New York in the 1980s, have been preserved and restored on YouTube, on the 5ninthavenueproject channel. RuPaul, who doesn’t like to talk too much about the “crash” period of his life, became a New York celebrity a few years after Sullivan’s death.

His first successes as a singer with dance hits (which he uses a lot in his shows) and, from 1996, the show “The RuPaul Show”, on the VH1 channel, made him known to a wider audience. This talk show, one of the first to be presented by an openly gay personality (and transvestite, moreover), receives celebrities throughout a hundred episodes. We already note the presence, alongside RuPaul, of his great friend Michelle Visage (born in 1968), who has since been associated with almost all of his projects and achievements.

As his fame grew outside of music and the talk show through appearances in various shows, TV series and movies, RuPaul premiered on Logo TV on February 2, 2009, the first season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. This was followed the following year by the first of a long list of spin-off programs, “RuPaul’s Drag U,” in which drag queens gave ordinary-looking women a makeover.

In 2022, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is in its fourteenth American season and has, since its transfer from Logo TV to VH1 in 2017, benefited from much more substantial resources. The top (or most memorable) contestants have been invited to run for the title of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars every year since 2012. Better, this year, only the winners of previous seasons can compete: as the deputy Sandrine Rousseau would say, “there is level”.

International star

Thanks to these scripted reality shows, RuPaul made known and, above all, progressed the profession of drag queen, whose circuit in clubs across the United States is very intense. Like their mentor, some of the winners of previous seasons have acquired international fame on stage and on screen: Bianca Del Rio, Jinkx Monsoon or Trixie Mattel (whose Discovery broadcasts in the hilarious Trixie Motel series).

Very quickly, franchises are created abroad, under the label “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (in this case RuPaul is the host of the program) or, simply, “Drag Race” (without the participation of the creator). RuPaul, rewarded with multiple statuettes, at the Emmy Awards in particular, become extremely wealthy and considered one of the most influential African-American people, is now an international star.

After Thailand (2018), the United Kingdom (2019), Canada and the Netherlands (2020), then Australia (2021), Spain (2021) and many other countries have followed suit for an identical adaptation. Including France, which launched its first episode on Pride Day, Saturday June 25, produced by Endemol France and Shake Shake Shake.

French viewers familiar with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” are numerous: they watched by various subterfuge the first American seasons, then, more widely, from 2018, when the first thirteen seasons were made available by Netflix (with subtitles). often laborious titles). They will therefore not be surprised to find copied and pasted its structure and its original principles.

comic tests

Candidates present themselves one after the other in drag, while remarks collected in the well-known “confessional” mode of reality TV shows make them react outside of drag. Among the ten to run, we note a transgender candidate: unthinkable, there is still little, the presence of trans people (especially women, but also men, like the formidable Gottmik in season 13) is now proven, while RuPaul , creating controversy, had long been opposed to the thing.

Events, almost always comical, follow one another: singing, dancing, creating outfits, imitations of famous people, parodies of television shows, etc. And the dreaded ordeal of the “lip synch” (playback) which, at the end of each show, sends the loser home (unless an exceptional decision of the jury – which happens every season).

To mark the French paw, we will not have avoided the caricature by installing a pink Eiffel tower at the entrance to the stage and by imposing a first test, a shooting session, in the form of French Cancan. No wonder: “Drag Race” likes to force the line, and not only that of Rimmel.

RuPaul not being in the game, his dual role (in drag during the final rounds, non-drag as part of the “Atelier”) is held by the Frenchman Karl Sanchez, Nicky Doll under his artist name, installed in the United States, who appeared on season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” but was eliminated after the fifth of ten episodes. In view of the first episode, it is clear that he takes his role as master of ceremonies with guts.

One of the most untranslatable things in English is probably the defrosting of more or less twisted puns uttered by the members of the jury (in France, the journalist Daphné Bürki, the singer and dancer Kiddy Smile, Nicky Doll and, as a guest of the first episode, the couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier) during the clothing parades on stage. For this French edition, the jokes, written on purpose, are quite funny, testifying to the care taken in writing.

The first episode, broadcast on June 25 at 8 p.m. on France.tv Slash, then at the end of the evening on France 2, obtained a good score: 1 million spectators, to which must be added the 100,000 connections that followed for three days on the platform. This success convinced France Télévisions to rebroadcast each episode of “Drag Race France”, available from 8 p.m. on Thursday on France.tv Slash, and the following Saturday on France 2, at the end of the evening, after “Fort Boyard”.