RuPaul Andre Charles (born November 17, 1960), best known mononymously as RuPaul, is an American actor, drag queen, model, author, and recording artist, who first became widely known in the 1990s when he appeared in a wide variety of television programs, films, and musical albums. Previously, he was a fixture on the Atlanta and New York City club scenes. Usually billed as RuPaul Charles, he has played men in a number of roles, and makes public appearances both in and out of drag.
RuPaul is noted among drag queens for his indifference toward the gender-specific pronouns used to address him—both “he” and “she” have been deemed acceptable, as he has said: “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.” He hosted a short-running talk show on VH1, and currently hosts the reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race. RuPaul is also known for his hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.
1960–92: Early life and career
RuPaul was born in San Diego, California in 1960. His name was given to him by his mother, a Louisiana native. The “Ru” came from roux, an ingredient used in gumbo. RuPaul struggled as a musician and filmmaker in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1980s. He participated in underground cinema, helping create the low-budget film Star Booty, and an album by the same name. In Atlanta, RuPaul often performed at the Celebrity Club (managed by Larry Tee) as a bar dancer or with his band, Wee Wee Pole. RuPaul also performed as a backup singer to Glen Meadmore along with drag queen Vaginal Davis. RuPaul’s first prominent national exposure came in 1989 with an extra role dancing in the video for “Love Shack” by The B-52’s.
In the early 1990s, RuPaul worked the Georgia club scene and was known by his full birth name. Initially participating in genderfuck-style performances, RuPaul performed solo and in collaboration with other bands at several New York nightclubs, most notably the Pyramid Club. He played opposite New York City drag performer, Mona Foote (Nashom Benjamin) in the one act Sci-Fi parody “My Pet Homo” written and directed by Jon Michael Johnson for Cooper Square Productions. He appeared for many years at the annual Wigstock drag festival and appeared in the documentary Wigstock: The Movie. In the 1990s, RuPaul was known in the UK for his appearances on the Channel 4 series Manhattan Cable, a weekly series produced by World of Wonder and presented by American Laurie Pike about New York’s wild and wacky public-access television system.
1993–97: Supermodel of the World, Foxy Lady, and Ho, Ho, Ho
In 1993 RuPaul recorded dance/house albums which included Supermodel of the World. They were released through the rap label Tommy Boy, spawning the dance track hit “Supermodel (You Better Work)”. The music video was an unexpected success on MTV channels, as grunge and gangsta rap were popular at the time. The song peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. It further charted on the UK Singles Chart, peaking on the top 40 at #39. The song found the most success peaking at number 2 on the U.S. dance music charts (known as the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart). Airplay, heavy rotation of the music video on the MTV network and television appearances on popular programs like The Arsenio Hall Show popularized the song.
His next two singles/videos, “Back to My Roots” and “A Shade Shady (Now Prance)” both went #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and furthered his campy persona. Between them, “House of Love” was released without a video. It failed to place on any U.S. charts, despite rising to #68 on the UK Singles Chart.
RuPaul caused a controversy at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards when he presented an award with actor Milton Berle, who performed a different type of drag early in his career. The two had conflicts back-stage, and when Berle touched RuPaul’s false breasts, RuPaul ad-libbed the line “So you used to wear gowns, but now you’re wearing diapers”. A surprised Berle replied, “Oh, we’re going to ad lib? I’ll check my brain and we’ll start even”. The press portrayed the exchange as a crack in the “love everyone” message RuPaul presented, and as a young newcomer treating a legend poorly. RuPaul would later describe the situation in his autobiography, describing Berle’s behavior backstage as sexually inappropriate and rude. He did regret the situation, saying: “Of course, what I should have done backstage is told him ‘Get your dirty hands off of me, you motherfucker!’, and then gone out there and been Miss Black America”. That same year would also mark his biggest hit on the UK Singles Chart, a remake of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Elton John, which went to number seven. It was around this time that RuPaul co-hosted the BRIT Awards in London, also with Elton John.
RuPaul was signed to a modeling contract for MAC Cosmetics, making him the first drag queen supermodel. Various billboards featured him in full drag, often with the text “I am the MAC girl”. He also released his autobiography, Lettin’ It All Hang Out. He promoted that book in part with a 1995 guest appearance on ABC’s All My Children, in a storyline that put it on the set of Erica Kane’s talk show “The Cutting Edge”.
The next year he landed a talk show of his own on VH1, called The RuPaul Show, interviewing celebrity guests and musical acts. Diana Ross, Nirvana, Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, Mary J. Blige, Bea Arthur, Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton-John, Beenie Man, Pete Burns, Bow Wow Wow, and the Backstreet Boys were notable guests. His co-host was Michelle Visage, with whom he also co-hosted on WKTU radio. On one episode, RuPaul featured guests Chi Chi LaRue and Tom Chase speaking about the gay porn industry.
Later in the year he released his second album, Foxy Lady, this time on the L.A.-based Rhino Records label. Despite his growing celebrity, he failed to chart within the Billboard 200. However, the first single “Snapshot” found success in the dance market and went to number four on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. It also enjoyed limited mainstream success, charting at number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 (which was his second and only other Hot 100 entry to date). The second single “Little Bit of Love” only charted at number 28 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The album featured covers of a 1981 Diana Ross song “Work That Body”, co-written by Paul Jabara and “If You Were a Woman and I Was a Man”, originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler. Because of his strong fan base within the gay community, RuPaul has performed at gay pride events and numerous gay clubs. During this time RuPaul helped launch the return of WKTU radio in New York City and would serve as host (with Michelle Visage) of the morning show until 1998.
In 1997 he released his third album, a Christmas album entitled Ho, Ho, Ho. He has had guest appearances in many films, including both Brady Bunch movies, in which he played Jan’s female guidance counselor. In 1997 RuPaul teamed with Martha Wash to remake the classic disco anthem, “It’s Raining Men”. The song was included on the 1998 compilation CD RuPaul’s Go Go Box Classics, which was a collection of some of his favorite dance songs by other artists; this would be his third and final release through Rhino Records and a major record label. It was during this time that he appeared in Webex TV commercials and magazine ads. In 2002 he recorded with Brigitte Nielsen, credited as Gitta, the Eurodance track “You’re No Lady”.
2004–07: Red Hot, ReWorked, and Starrbooty
In 2004, RuPaul released his fourth album, Red Hot on his own RuCo Inc. Music label. It received some dance radio and club play, but very little press coverage. On his blog, RuPaul discussed how he felt betrayed by the entertainment industry, particularly the gay press. In one incident, it was noted that the magazine Entertainment Weekly refused to review the album, instead asking him to make a comedic contribution to a fashion article. He likened the experience to “a black person being invited to a party, but only if they’ll serve.” Despite his apparent dissatisfaction with the release, Red Hot showed RuPaul returning to the top of the dance charts in the US with the lead off single “Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous” hitting number two on the dance chart. The second, “WorkOut”, peaked at number five. The third and final single from the album “People Are People” a duet with Tom Trujillo peaked at number 10. The album itself only charted on the Top Electronic Albums chart, where it hit number nine. When asked about this in an interview, RuPaul said, “Well, betrayed might be the wrong word. ‘Betrayed’ alludes to an idea that there was some kind of a promise made to me, and there never was. More so, I was disappointed. I don’t feel like it was a betrayal. Nobody promises anything in show business and you understand that from day one. But, I don’t know what happened. It seemed I couldn’t get press on my album unless I was willing to play into the role that the mainstream press has assigned to gay people, which is as servants of straight ideals.”
On June 13, 2006, RuPaul released ReWorked, his first remix album and fifth album overall. It features reworked versions of songs from his back catalog, as well as new recordings. The only single released from the album is a re-recording of “Supermodel (You Better Work)”, reaching number 21 on the U.S. dance chart. June 20, 2007, saw the release of Starrbooty (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) in the United States. The single “Call Me Starrbooty” was digitally released in 2007. The album contains new tracks from the singer as well as interludes with dialogue from the movie. The film was released on DVD in October 2007.
2008–10: RuPaul’s Drag Race and Champion
In mid-2008, RuPaul began producing RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality television game show which aired on Logo in February 2009. The premise of the program has several drag queens compete to be selected by RuPaul and a panel of judges as “America’s next drag superstar”. The first season’s winner was BeBe Zahara Benet, and first runner-up Nina Flowers was chosen by fans as “Miss Congeniality” through voting via the show’s official website. In publicity preparation for the new show, RuPaul made appearances as a guest on several other shows in 2008 including as a guest judge on episode 6 of season 5 of Project Runway and as a guest “chef” on Paula’s Party.
In March 2009, RuPaul released the album Champion. The album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums as well as number 26 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. It features the dance singles “Cover Girl” and “Jealous of My Boogie”, both anthems from the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Logo’s second annual NewNowNext Awards in 2009 were hosted by RuPaul. There he performed “Jealous of My Boogie (Gomi & RasJek Edit)”. In March 2010, RuPaul released his second remix album, Drag Race. The album features remixes of songs from the 2009 album Champion.
2011–13: Glamazon, make-up and perfume line
In April 2011, coinciding with the finale of season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul released his fifth studio album Glamazon, produced by Revolucian, who previously worked with RuPaul on his album Champion. The album charted on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart and the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart at #11 and #8 respectively. In July 2011, RuPaul released another remix EP entitled SuperGlam DQ, which features remixes of tracks from Glamazon, remixes of the “Drag U Theme Song”, and a new song, “Sexy Drag Queen”. Starting in June 2011, the second season of RuPaul’s Drag U aired. In late 2011, promotions for season 4 of Drag Race began. RuPaul made appearances on The Rosie Show and The Chew, and also attended a Drag Race NY Premiere party at Patricia Field’s store in New York. Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on Logo on January 30, 2012, with RuPaul returning as the main host and judge. After season 4 ended, TV.com declared that it was the best reality TV show on television.
In the fall of 2012, the spin-off RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race premiered after a large fan demand. The show featured past contestants of the previous four seasons to compete. Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on January 28, 2013, with a 90-minute special and RuPaul returning as the main host and judge. On April 30, 2013, RuPaul released a single “Lick It Lollipop” featuring Lady Bunny, who RuPaul previously collaborated with on Champion. On October 25, 2013 RuPaul reported via Twitter that the new album will be released in January 2014.
In fall of 2013, RuPaul joined forces with cosmetic manufacturers Colorevolution to launch his debut make-up line featuring ultra-rich pigment cosmetics and a beauty collection. Released alongside the line was a unisex perfume entitled “Glamazon”. Talking to World of Wonder, RuPaul said: “Glamazon is for women and men of all ages and preferences who share one thing in common: They are not afraid to be fierce. For me, glamour should be accessible to all, and I am committed to helping the world look and smell more beautiful.” The line was exclusively sold on the Colorevolution website in various gift sets.
2014: Born Naked and What’s The Tee?
RuPaul and Revolucian had both confirmed through their Twitter and Instagram accounts that they had been working on an upcoming sixth studio album. Born Naked was released on February 24, 2014 to coincide with the premiere of the 6th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Prior to the premiere, an album of RuPaul cover songs performed by the Season 6 cast was released on January 28, 2014. The covers album is titled RuPaul Presents The CoverGurlz and contains RuPaul songs from 2009–2013. To further promote the Drag Race season premiere, RuPaul, representing Logo TV (and parent company Viacom) was chosen to ring the NASDAQ closing bell on February 24, 2014. The week of its release, Born Naked reached number one on the iTunes dance album chart. The following week it placed at number 4 on the US Billboard dance chart and number 85 on the Billboard 200 chart. In a profile by The New York Times it was revealed that RuPaul is currently working on a porcelain statuette of his likeness. On April 9, 2014 RuPaul and Michelle Visage released the first episode of their podcast, RuPaul: What’s the Tee? with Michelle Visage.