Class in session

Ru & crew, back for ‘Drag U,’ Season 2

RuPaulThere’s a difference between a TV show that is intentionally cheesy and one that induces cringes by mistake. Thankfully, RuPaul’s Drag U knows exactly what it’s doing, laying the puns on thicker than Jujubee’s makeup. They can still induce groans, but at least we’re all in on the joke.

After all, Drag U is all about the fun side of our favorite competitive drag queens. Leaving (most of) the drama over at the Drag Race, each week queen “professors” (including Season 1 winner Bebe Zahara Benet, pictured) are tasked with making over three ordinary women and unleashing their inner divas, complete with drag personas and styling. On the line are sorta-fabulous prizes like jewelry, a vacation and a cash prize of $3,166.17 (seriously).

But it’s what the women gain in self-esteem that’s the most valuable parting gift, and don’t think the producers don’t know it. In the first episode alone, one of the women is trying to overcome the pain of having her ex-husband end their marriage via email; she, of course, learns “to love herself again” with the inducement of wigs and outrageous makeup. That’s some powerful Oprah-level stuff, but Ru, “Dean of Drag” Lady Bunny, guest judges like Beverly Johnson and the rest of the girls give advice that’s equal parts sassy and sincere.

The result? Incredible transformations at the end of an hour of deliciously fluffy television — and every one of these straight gals owes it to the gays. For anyone in withdrawals since Drag Race ended, or in love with makeovers, or just interested in learning more about one contestant’s husband’s “diesel mangina,” the second season of Drag U is more than deserving of a season pass on your DVR.

— Steven Lindsey

Premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Logo

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Bunny hop

Lady Bunny comes out! (as more than a drag queen DJ)

LADY BUNNY
Axiom Sushi Lounge,
4123 Cedar Springs Road.
June 3 at 8 p.m. 214-443-3840.

………………………

The Lady Bunny is most recognizable as that funny queen who created Wigstock, or as the DJ spinning at a circuit party in full drag. But the lady has a lot on her mind that’s not all fun and games. Though she’s never far from the sass.

“I really like to talk about issues because there is a lot of fluff on TV,” she says. “How great would it be if a gay channel would take on gay issues? I’d love that. Hear that, Logo?”

Bunny, who has practically made Dallas a second home lately, returns for a double gig this weekend: On Saturday, she shares the bill with Tony-nominee Kelli O’Hara as the DJ for the Dallas Theater Center’s Centerstage benefit. But Friday she returns to her performing roots for a birthday dinner and roast at Axiom Sushi Lounge at the ilume. And she knows the fish jokes should be easy that night.

“I am that tacky,” she laughs. “For me, I love sushi but drag and dinner only mix if there’s a girdle handy.”

Bunny is deeper than she usually gets credit for. Seeing Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart on Broadway forced her to recall activism then vs. now. Minus the makeup and music, Bunny is impassioned about that which affects LGBT people today.

“I think that gay people have to a large extent lost their fight,” she says. “I don’t really know how putting ‘Equality’ as your middle name on Facebook, or a piece of tape over your mouth, helps. I can’t see how these trendy campaigns substitute for hard work.”

She’s also inspired by her work as the Dean of Drag on the upcoming season of RuPaul’s Drag U. With an increased role this time out, Bunny still keeps the camp but adds heart for her makeovers. Real life women get makeovers, but also come with dramatic back-stories.

“These women, they give up everything for their kids and their man,” she says. “I cried a few times. It made me appreciate that nurturing vibe that mothers have. I don’t think gay men know that kind of sacrifice. This season has been a real eye opener.”

For now, she snarkily warns of her own eye opener Friday.

“Well, I have this delightful tribute to Burlesque,” she says. “Did you see the movie? Ugh.”

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Drag Race’ tour hits S4 this month

As anyone who watches the show knows, one of the perks of winning RuPaul’s Drag Race is that the victor gets a victory lap … around the country. Raja will come to Dallas as part of the Drag Race/Absolut Vodka Tour later this month — on my birthday, no less. (Hold the applause.)

The tour kicks off in Denver on the 14th and goes to eight cities; the only Texas stop will be at Station 4 on Wednesday, May 26.

In addition to Raja, other queens from the show (names are not yet available) will be on hand, as will Absolut mixologist Justin Winters. We’re holding out hope someone from the “Pit Crew,” pictured, will make it, too. Sigh.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Casting under way for Season 4 of ‘Drag Race’

The bodies that Raja walked over while clawing her way to the top of RuPaul’s Drag Race aren’t even cold, and already the team is looking for more contestants for Season 4, which will begin airing in early 2012.

World of Wonder and Logo have begun their nationwide search for America’s next drag superstar — a title that, this year, came with a $75,000 cash prize and a lifetime supply of cosmetics. And since only the returning Shangela was on deck to represent Texas in Season 3, it’s about time we added some Lone Star glam to the mix.

If you want to lip-sync for your life, send an email to DragRace4Casting@gmail.com. And don’t fuck it up.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lady Raja

Raja
SHANTAY, SHE STAYED | Raja Gemini was announced this week as winner of Season 3 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’

‘Drag Race’ winner Raja had to keep a poker face for 8 months, but now she welcomes the papa, paparazzi

RuPaul’s Drag Race crossed the finish line this week, and the best woman won. Sutan Amrull, better known as Raja Gemini, kept her eye on the prize since the first episode and ended up being crowned the next drag superstar.

This 6-foot-3 Los Angelo, who is part Dutch and part Indonesian, is no stranger to reality television, having appeared on America’s Next Top Model as the show’s principal make-up artist and serving as Adam Lambert’s face painter for his tour. In short, Raja knows glam and glitter on the road.

After winning a close race, Raj was crowned the winner and rose early the day after to chat about his experience on the show.
— Jerry Nunn

Dallas Voice: How do you feel now that the experience is over? Raja Gemini: I don’t think it has really hit me. I have been keeping the secret since August, even from my parents. I didn’t even talk to my mom about it. She seems to have known, though. She said, “A mother always knows…”

Do you think the judges were fair? I think for the most part the judges were fair. I think Delta Work should have stayed longer. I don’t think they really understood her humor.

Did you have a favorite celebrity judge? There were a few of them. I couldn’t believe that my season had two of my greatest idols: Vanessa Williams and Jody Watley. Jody Watley was a style icon for me since I was a boy in junior high. I wanted to wear giant earrings when I saw her. For her to be there as one of the judges, and Vanessa Williams as well, was a really huge deal for me.

How old were you when you first did drag? Experimenting with it, probably about 15. I have been doing drag all of my life. I was that kid that played dress up all the time, wearing different sheets and dishtowels. I made costumes. I was really getting into it by 16 years old.

People are saying you were friends with RuPaul before the show. People have made a lot more [out of it] than it really is. I have been a makeup artist for a very long time and have crossed paths with a lot of people. Ru at one point lived in L.A. and was a big fan of the L.A. drag scene. She went to all of the shows and I would see her quite often. We weren’t friends where we would call each other up and talk about boy, financial or family problems — we were just aware of each other’s presence. That’s inevitable when you work within an industry. I wouldn’t even say that Ru and I were acquaintances.

Where did you learn makeup? I was actually an art student and went to University of Orange County in California. I tried to be a student and hated it. I decided to be a makeup artist and then a female impersonator!
What are your plans for the prize money?  Actually, I am going to spend it wisely. I am going to pay off all of my bills No. 1, and clean my plate. I will be able to focus on working now. I will be elaborating and creating a brand, if you will.

Some of the money must go back into your act and the latest outfit. You know, it really does. It is very true when they say, “You have to spend money to make money.” Drag is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. I am a pretty frugal drag queen and I love a bargain. I am definitely a thrift shopper. I love going to flea markets. It doesn’t always have to be that expensive.

Do you regret fighting with Shangela on the show? No, I love it. I love watching Drag Race and love, love, love watching Untucked as well. That’s my favorite thing! I watch it with all of my friends. We totally laugh and cackled at everything Shangela says. She is brilliant and super smart. She is a really great person. She has a bright future ahead of her.

So you don’t have beef with anyone on the show then? Not at all, not that I can think of…

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 3 finale tonight on Logo

The last lip-synch

Three queens stand before us before one goes on to become the next drag superstar. And wins $75,000 to pay of them bills because you know they’ve been piling up for these ladies. The winner will also headline the Absolut tour which has come this way before. This season’s crop may have been the most interesting and any of the three tonight could actually go on to become superstars…not fade away like the, um, last two, whatever their names were. Will it be Raja, Alexis or Manila sashaying away with the title — or going home untucked.

DEETS: RuPaul’s Drag Race airs at 9 p.m. on Logo. LogoTV.com.

—  Rich Lopez

More reality TV shows look to Texas for casting

Shangela

I received a call from Joe Pinzone, a casting producer for Leftfield Pictures with word of a TV show looking to add some gay flair. In-Laws sounds more than just your typical high-drama lowbrow affair (but keep reading) and it is on A&E. He tells me the premise touches on the relationships between family members and, yeah, the in-laws. He reached out to the Voice because they are definitely interested in finding a same-sex couple and how they deal with meddling mothers-in-law or disapproving family members — healthy relationships can apply as well, but it is TV:

Do you and your in-laws have different ways of doing things that can sometimes be frustrating? Do your in-laws old-fashioned values differ from your modern lifestyle?  Does the statement, “When mom says no, ask grandma” ring true in your family?  Do your in-laws do strange things that get on your nerves? Do you wish your mother-in-law wouldn’t baby your husband so much when she is around because when she leaves he won’t do anything around the house?

If you love your in-laws but want to learn to adapt to each other’s way of life, this is the show for you!

What’s more, you’ll get paid for participating. We know the Dallas market is prime for gay reality show participants (RuPaul’s Drag Race, The A-List), so I have a feeling that the perfect couple is out there. Pinzone says to either apply, to nominate a couple or just learn more, contact him by email or by calling 212-564-2607 ext. 2395.

• Not much for family drama, but all about the partying and drinking? Lost in Austin invites all kinds of peeps who are at least 21 years old to make a full out Tex-ass of themselves. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as one of the producers is behind Jersey Shore. You could be the next Snooki — provided you move to Austin:

Lost in Austin will feature a house full of outrageous Texans who will live it up in the ultimate pad in the heart of Downtown Austin as they rule the bar scene, rope in the hottest of the hot and drink anyone under the table.

This has glorious train wreck written all over it. Non-Austinites must supply a video of themselves via the website for casting which will be held in May.

—  Rich Lopez

A fuel-injected ‘Drag Race’

START YOUR ENGINES | Ru says being an ‘introverted extrovert’ is part of the secret weapon to a fabulous career.

RuPaul says sleep deprivation may be key to bitchy success as a Racer

RELATED STORY: Dallas’ Shangela is 1st returning contestant

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer
lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

On Monday, the third season of Logo’s hit RuPaul’s Drag Race exits the gate at full speed with a 90-minute premiere, and it’s running on some seriously premium fuel this year: Fiercer contestants, more elaborate challenges, higher profile guest judges (including Lily Tomlin, Margaret Cho and Chloe Sevigny) and the return of a Texas fave from last season.

Yet again ruling the proceedings, both in and out of drag, is superstar drag persona RuPaul. Ru, who has a new album due later this spring, sat down to dish about contestants old and new, the effects of sleep deprivation on drag queens (hint: emotional breakdowns) and what else is in the works for him.

Dallas Voice: What do you make of season three’s group of contestants and how do they differ from their predecessors? RuPaul: The honest to God truth, they’re so much more skilled, and also on an even-keeled level. These kids came with their A-game like I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if it’s our casting or what’s happening with the girls out there since the show debuted, but these kids are skilled. And the bonds they forged early on with each other is probably the most amazing element.

Yet again the first challenge is a photo shoot with Mike Ruiz. Do you forgive Mike Ruiz for his ridiculous hair on The A-List New York? It looked like a bowl of lubed squid ink pasta.  Ha! I’ve heard people talk about it. But I don’t know because I’ve never seen it. That’s funny!

Tell us some dishy behind-the-scenes factoid about season 3. Well, we’re working on so little sleep, the schedule is so fast because we’re basically shooting every day. It’s tough, grueling. So these kids come on the show and think, “I’m fierce and bad,” but can you do it day-in, day-out, for 15-hours per day? It may look like everyone’s relaxed, but nobody’s getting any sleep at all.

One typically isn’t very detail-oriented when sleep deprived. No, they’re not, and they’re drawing on a lifetime of experience because this show’s challenges are based on things I had to do on a daily basis in my own career. Anyone in the business has to be multi-tasking and wear a lot of hats. You can’t just be good at one thing. We do something, Queens in Space, where the kids shoot competing trailers for a sci-fi movie and it is hilarious. Most people think, “I can do this,” but you have to come with some acting skills, the ability to take direction. Our challenges put them through it, they really do.

Did the selection process change this season, or was there a shift in emphasis as far as the kinds of queens you looked for? Aside from the surprise 13th contestant, no one from Texas this year — last year there were three! It doesn’t change. The truth is we’re looking for showgirls. We want girls who work at doing drag for money, for a career. The things we ask them to do, a novice wouldn’t be able to. We’re looking for them to be marketing execs, managers, designers, strategists, performers, models, you name it. And the novice wouldn’t be able to do that. They’d buckle. And throw in the sleep deprivation and schedule, and you have to be in it to win it. This can’t be something you do on the side.

One contestant buckles under the pressure and breaks down in the first episode. Did that happen a lot, and how do you typically respond to it? They definitely break down because of sleep deprivation. Emotions are very fragile because they’re in a new environment, we’re putting them through the paces, and I have to give them pep talks from time to time: This is your opportunity, the world is watching. You can’t say, oh, I feel like I didn’t get my chance. Well kiddo, you are on now. You are on. There are no second chances — you have to bring it. Maybe you’ll get another chance somewhere else, but it’s time now.

How much do you miss saying Pan-dor-a Boxx? I miss [all the former contestants], actually, because even before they’re on the show, we’re living with audition tapes. We’re moving around who will work with whom. It’s a lot like casting a play: We have to have the sassy one, the ingénue, the sweet one, and sometimes the person in the role of the sweet one gets swapped out for someone else who works better in the ensemble, so we are actually living and loving and feeling these girls way before they even get to Hollywood, and then when they’re dismissed it’s heartbreaking to me. But I also know that they will come back. In some other form or show that we do, on the club circuit. I will see them again.

How has this show changed your life since its premiere? Well, I pretty much have to stay in L.A. For almost 30 years I’ve had a nightclub act I performed around the world constantly. Now the last gig I did was October 2009. With both shows it’s really kept me here in L.A. working, though I love L.A. I’m also an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, so I’ve had to spend a lot more time with people than I normally do!

What other projects are in the works? I’m writing a sequel to [my 2007 film] Starrbooty. The challenge is I want to do it G-rated but nastier, more subversive. In the immortal words of Elvira, there’s nothing wrong with G-rated movies as long as there’s lots of gratuitous sex and violence.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright