Michelle Visage and World of Wonder's Fenton Bailey share how RuPaul's Drag Race changed the game for reality television

For the second year in a row, iconic LGBTQ series and fan favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race is nominated for a Primetime Emmy in the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program category and this year it could make LGBTQ and TV history. Only three shows have received the Emmy Award in this category since it was introduced in 2003: The Amazing Race, Top Chef, and The Voice. While all of these programs have featured LGBTQ contestants, no television show has featured as many diverse LGBTQ people and has covered LGBTQ issues in quite the same way that Drag Race has.

  [Check out all of the LGBTQ-inclusive nominees for the Primetime Emmy Awards here]

RuPaul’s Drag Race is nominated for an impressive 12 Primetime Emmy Awards including a nomination for RuPaul in the Outstanding Host category, which he has won for the past two years. This year, RuPaul’s Drag Race could become the first program in TV history to receive the Emmy Award for both host and program in the same year.

The show is no stranger to awards shows. It received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2010 and was nominated again this year. Since its premiere nearly a decade ago, RuPaul’s Drag Race has received an MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Reality Series and a Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming. RuPaul received a 2107 Critics Choice Television Award for Best Reality Host and the show was nominated multiple times for Best Reality Series - Competition.GLAAD also recently announced that Drag Race judge Ross Mathews would receive the Davidson/Valentini Award at the GLAAD Gala in San Francisco on September 15 for his work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance.

RuPaul’s Drag Race airs on VH1 and is produced by World of Wonder (WOW), a media company run by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, which has been behind some of the loudest and most groundbreaking LGBTQ content in television, film, and online. WOW’s content includes such seminal LGBTQ content as Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, Becoming Chaz, TransGeneration, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, School's Out - the Life of a Gay High School in Texas, Transamerican Love Story, Out of Iraq – all of which have been recognized with at the GLAAD Media Awards. They’ve also produced the Million Dollar Listing franchise for Bravo, Wishful Drinking, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster, Tori & Dean, and many more incredible films and TV shows.

GLAAD asked LGBTQ ally and Drag Race judge Michelle Visage, along with Executive Producer Fenton Bailey, for their reactions to the show’s Emmy nominations in advance of the show possibly sashaying away with multiple gold statues this year.

Michelle Visage:

Michelle Visage on RuPaul's Drag Race

WHEN HISTORY LOOKS BACK ON THIS MOMENT IN POP CULTURE, WHAT DO YOU THINK RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE’S LEGACY WILL BE?

The legacy will be that it’s the show that broke the mold! We have had many queer-centric and gay television shows over the decades. I thank God for the shows like Soap, Ellen, Will & Grace, Modern Family, Transparent, Queer as Folk, The L Word, Noah’s Arc… I could go on, going back to the Norman Lear days, but I won’t really push it! But, my point is, I feel like RuPaul’s Drag Race has everyone talking. And they’re talking not just about drag, but important topics such as drag culture, queer culture and history, persecution, suicide, rape, racism, eating disorders, conversion therapy, the hate behind religion, bigotry and all of the things that happen every day that most people turn a blind eye to.

Drag Race doesn’t edit those moments out. They highlight them because those things matter! Drag Race has helped hundreds of thousands of people understand their identity, whether we’re talking about gender, sexuality, or even just their place in society. It’s also helped so many heteronormative people understand the beautiful souls around them, like their kids, grandkids, or even gay friends that maybe they wouldn’t have understood before seeing Drag Race.

WHAT’S SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ON THIS JOURNEY BEING A PART OF THE SHOW?

The social impact it’s made, around the world! Listen, I knew it would be a big deal when they asked me to do it for season one. I knew it because I know what drag means to me. I felt it in my gut. But, I had no idea the global impact it would have and that makes me so incredibly happy. Everyone needs Drag Race in their lives!

WHEN RU WAS FIRST NOMINATED, HE SAID THAT HE WAS GLAD THE INDUSTRY WAS TAKING NOTICE, BUT THAT’S NOT WHY HE DOES ANYTHING THAT HE CHOOSES TO DO. AND THIS YEAR, THE SHOW HAS A COMBINED 12 NOMINATIONS. HOW HAS EMMY RECOGNITION MADE A DIFFERENCE?

Ru has always, 100%, marched to the beat of his own drum. So, when he says that, you can bank on it. He was told for many years he wasn’t good enough, black enough, straight enough, white enough, or man enough, so after years of hearing that, one takes matters into one’s own hands. And thank the gay Gods he did! With that said, we are so honored at these nominations! Can you imagine? Our little gay TV show making all the big boys quake in their stiletto boots?! What an honor! You hear the “it is an honor just to be nominated,” but, no joke, it really is!

THE SHOW OFTEN RAISES IMPORTANT CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SOCIAL ISSUES INCLUDING RACE - WHAT’S BEEN YOUR TAKEAWAY FROM ALL OF THAT?

My takeaway is, it needs to be heard! These are real-life stories being played out in a real-life setting, not a scripted TV show. These stories come from the heart and we need to hear these people. I am not privy to the stories until they air for the most part unless it’s a confession like Roxxxy’s, Blair’s, or Monica’s, which happen on the main stage, and my heart breaks along with the rest of the world. I also look at these queens with such love and admiration for living and airing out their truths. This is when the real healing begins.

WHAT DIRECTION WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE SHOW HEADING IN, IN THE COMING YEARS?

There really is no end in sight! Drag is everything is everywhere. I would love to see us keep expanding and growing along with the art of drag. Contrary to popular belief, I am here for all of it! I am honored to judge such talent.

Fenton Bailey, Executive Producer of RuPaul’s Drag Race:

WHAT WERE CONVERSATIONS LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST CONCEPTUALIZED THE IDEA BEHIND RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE?

From concept to production everything about this show has an infectious joy. That said, it took ten years to find a home for the show because everyone - even within our own community - saw Drag as niche, as marginal. Randy and I had almost given up but when Tom Campbell joined World of Wonder he pushed really hard and one of the many amazing things about Tom is just how persuasive he is.

DID YOU EVER ENVISION A DAY WHEN IT WOULD HAVE THIS MUCH OF A CULTURAL IMPACT?

It’s not possible to calculate or control how an audience receives any piece of work. If only it were!  While we are so thrilled that the show and it’s message has been embraced worldwide, we daren't take our eye off making the best possible show.

WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO QUEENS WHO DREAM OF BEING ON THE SHOW?

Apply!  All we are looking for are queens with charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.

WHAT HAVE ALL OF THESE EMMY NOMINATIONS MEANT FOR THE SHOW? – THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY OF IT ALL?

It’s all good and an incredible honor to receive twelve nominations almost ten years in. It shows how audiences and our peers are recognizing drag as the incredible art form it is. Forget a triple threat, drag queens are sextuple threats... they sing, they dance, they sew, they do beauty / hair / make-up, they act, and handle their own social media without breaking a sweat. Also, it shows how Chris McCarthy and Pam Post have nurtured the show at Logo and now VH1, finding ways to help it grow without ever hindering the creative passion of the time!

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE SHOW’S FUTURE?

“You’re born naked and the rest is drag” is something that Ru has always said. It’s completely true. The fact that each and every one of us is born naked, and the fact that everything that follows is part of creating an identity makes drag an idea we can all relate to - after all, we've all been doing it all our lives!  Sometimes we are asked if we are worried that it might become too mainstream. But what could be wrong with that?! If those in the White House lip-synced for their lives - sashay away! - the world could be a much happier place.

WORLD OF WONDER IS BEHIND SO MANY SHOWS AND FILMS THAT HAVE RECEIVED GLAAD MEDIA AWARDS FOR OUTSTANDING LGBTQ CONTENT INCLUDING BIG FREEDIA: QUEEN OF BOUNCE, TRANSAMERICAN LOVE STORY, BECOMING CHAZ, AND OF COURSE RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE. WHY IS LGBTQ-INCLUSIVE PROGRAMMING SO IMPORTANT TO WOW AND WHAT IMPACT DO YOU HOPE IT HAS? HOW HAS IT EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?

We’ve always been drawn to people who live their lives out loud.  Each and every one of us is unique. Trying to fit in, to be like everyone else, to be normal, is not why we are here. Gay or straight we are all a little bit queer. People who embrace that queerness and give the finger to this oppressive and false idea of normality are the ones who inspire us to tell their stories. Because they bring joy and inclusiveness to the party which is critically important at a time when divisiveness, hate, and persecution are the values of the current regime.