The Essential RuPaul: Herstory, Philosophy & Her Fiercest Queens by John Davis, Illustrated by Libby Vanderploeg (Smith Street Books 2016) $14.95; 95 pp.
The Queen has spoken.
Everyone listens because, well, how can they not? Her bearing, her stature, her very demeanor demand attention from all her subjects and in this new book, these queens have a lot to say.
When RuPaul Andre Charles was a little boy, his mother told him that he would be a star someday — she’d given him an unusual name, just so he’d stand out. That’s what he did, starting in his teens when he dropped out of the North Atlanta School of Performing Arts and began to “find his calling.”
On his way, he was a member of a punk rock band, he performed as a go-go dancer, hosted a talk show, and emceed local events in Atlanta.
Later, he moved to New York and acted in films. By 1989, after a few pauses in his fabulosity, he became “RuPaul the glamazon” and went on to even bigger fame in fashion, modeling, music, TV and cosmetics.
Following the 9/11 attacks, RuPaul briefly stepped back from show biz to “take a break,” but he couldn’t stay away long: in 2009, he launched RuPaul’s Drag Race, a television show that featured snarky judges and competitors in performance, sewing, comedy, and (of course) drag.
In this book, we meet some of them. There’s Santino Rice, a Drag Race judge whose comments cut like a razor blade; Adore Delano, whose last-minute debut came on YouTube after her creator, Danny Noriega, appeared on American Idol; Alaska, a “Tacky Blonde Bombshell” who hailed from the state she was named after. There’s Cameroon native BeBe Zahara Benet, who arrived following a modeling gig from “an unexpected no-show of a female model,” and drag housewife BedDeLaCreme has created her own cosmetics line, featuring cruelty-free products. Following her taping of Drag Race in 2010, Carmen Carrera is now a trans TV star. Cher impersonator Chad Michaels has been fortunate to perform with Cher herself. Manila Luzon’s first appearance was as Cruella de Vil, and performer Nina Flowers enjoys her own “day” in the Denver LGBT community.
The Essential RuPaul is one really quirky book. Despite that its subtitle promises “herstory” and more, there’s really very little here about RuPaul; four pages, to be exact, and one of those is almost totally just an illustration by artist Libby Vanderploeg. The rest of this book, alas, only has tentative relevance to RuPaul, through the drag queens that appeared on her show.
And that’s fine… if that narrow subject is what you want. Author John Davis does a good job in bringing together a bedazzling lineup of performers, but the list is frustrating in its incompleteness and the mini-chapters with mini-biographies are woefully short and quite repetitious. That, plus the misleading title may frustrate some readers but yet, fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race probably won’t care. They’ll enjoy this book no matter what.
And long live the queens..
— Terri Schlichenmeyer
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2016.