RuPaul Does Dr. Phil on Drag U

Many thanks to Alyssa for asking me to help tend the shop while she’s off in the Alaskan wilderness. I can’t wait to hear the stories she brings back.

I was hooked on RuPaul’s Drag Race after the first episode. In addition to watching the transformations of each superdrag diva, it’s really refreshing to see a realilty show that embraces its theatricality and inherent campiness. The catfights and tears maybe weren’t all real, but every queen on the show had real talent–those girls put in serious work with their makeup and costumes. When I heard that LOGO was creating another drag show, I was all in. Until I heard the premise.

Drag U is a show that helps women discover their fierceness, with makeovers conducted by the mistresses of illusion, former Drag Race contestants. RuPaul is the women’s camp counselor and drill sargeant–and while he hasn’t appeared in drag in the first three episodes, he’s also a mother figure. It’s a show that teaches women to celebrate their womanhood. And the teachers are men.

I have to admit to being a little uneasy about that at first–how could a man teach a woman how to be…a woman? And drag is all about illusion, about creating someone new and larger than life. Every week, three contestants are cinched and painted and pressed into hyperfemininity, a caricature. What life lessons are women supposed to learn here…?

Oddly–and maybe even successfully–Drag U attempts to give women a chance to unveil their wildest, most fantastical selves. The competition portion of the show includes a live audience of the contestants’ family and friends. RuPaul plays host to this talk show, introducing each contestant’s new persona and asking her how she’ll use what she’s learned in real life. It’s like a weird cross between Dr. Phil and American Idol, each woman experiencing self-discovery through fake lashes and sequined gowns.

Of a piece, the show is a fun and daring take on the images of women on TV. That drag and gay culture are becoming mainstream is an encouraging sign–and maybe it’s a sign that gender roles aren’t as fixed as they’ve been in the past. A man may not be able to teach womanhood, but he can teach fierceness.