RuPaul Andre Charles (born November 17, 1960), known professionally by his mononym RuPaul, is an American actor, drag queen, model, author, television personality, and recording artist. RuPaul was born and raised in San Diego and later moved to Atlanta to study performing arts. He settled in New York City where he became a popular fixture on the nightclub scene.
RuPaul achieved international fame as a drag queen with the hit song "Supermodel (You Better Work)" from his album Supermodel of the World (1993) and later dueted with Elton John on the song "Don't Go Breaking My Heart". In 1996, he became a spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics, raising money for the Mac AIDS Fund and becoming the first drag queen supermodel. The same year, he landed his own talk show The RuPaul Show which ran for two years on VH1 before co-hosting the morning radio show on WKTU with Michelle Visage. He has since released the albums Foxy Lady (1996), Ho, Ho, Ho (1997), Red Hot (2004), Champion (2009), Glamazon (2011), Born Naked (2014), Realness (2015), Slay Belles (2015) and Butch Queen (2016), and made appearances in films including Crooklyn (1994), The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) and But I'm a Cheerleader (1999). RuPaul has also published two books: Lettin' It All Hang Out (1995) and Workin' It (2010). His reality television series RuPaul's Drag Race, which follows RuPaul in his search for the next drag superstar, has produced eight seasons and inspired the spin-off shows RuPaul's Drag U & RuPaul's All Stars Drag Race on LGBTQ network Logo TV. He is also a host on television shows Skin Wars, Good Work and Gay for Play Game Show Starring RuPaul.
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 stated in his autobiography: "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." RuPaul has also played men in a number of roles, and makes public appearances both in and out of drag. In 1999, RuPaul was awarded the Vito Russo Award at the GLAAD Media Awards for work in promoting equality in the LGBT community.
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, which is the term for the base of gumbo and other creole stews and soups. When his parents divorced in 1967, he and his three sisters lived with their mother, Toni Charles.
At the age of 15, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with his sister Renetta to study performing arts. In the ensuing years, RuPaul struggled as a musician and filmmaker 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 United States 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 gender bender-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 the dance/house album Supermodel of the World. It was 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 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, where it peaked at #2. Radio airplay, heavy rotation of the music video on MTV and television appearances on popular programs like The Arsenio Hall Show popularized the song.
|“||What other people think of me is not my business. What I do is what I do. How people see me doesn't change what I decide to do. I don't choose projects so people don't see me as one thing or another. I choose projects that excite me. I think the problem is that people refuse to understand what drag is outside of their own belief system.||”|
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 being contrary to 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 cover 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 "A 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 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 sixth 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, What's The Tee?, and Skin Wars
RuPaul and Revolucian both confirmed through their Twitter and Instagram accounts that they had been working on an upcoming seventh 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. In August, he joined the reality competition show Skin Wars acting as a judge.
2015: Realness, Good Work and Slay Belles
On March 2, 2015, RuPaul released his eighth studio album entitled Realness. The release coincided with the premiere of the seventh season of RuPaul's Drag Race. In April, he launched and began hosting a new show, Good Work, a plastic surgery-themed talk show for E!. In October he released his second Christmas album (and ninth studio album) Slay Belles. The album contains 10 original Christmas-themed songs and features collaborations with Michelle Visage, Siedah Garrett, Todrick Hall and Big Freedia. The album charted at number 21 on the US Billboard Dance chart.
2016: Gay for Play and Butch Queen
In January 2016, it was announced RuPaul would present a new game show for Logo TV called Gay for Play Game Show Starring RuPaul which premiered on April 11, 2016 after RuPaul's Drag Race. In February 2016, RuPaul announced his tenth album, Butch Queen. It was released on March 4, 2016, just prior to the premiere of the eighth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. A song from the album, "U Wear It Well" was featured in the teaser campaigns for the season and was later officially released as the first single on iTunes on February 29, 2016. The album charted at number 3 on the US Billboard Dance chart, marking his highest position on this chart to date.
Despite having a very public persona, Rupaul keeps his private life to himself. The only time he appears in drag is when he is getting paid. He has revealed in interviews that he has been with his partner, Georges, for 19 years, and that Georges runs a 50-acre ranch in Wyoming.
|Title||Details||Peak chart positions|
|Supermodel of the World||109||—||1||—||—|
|Ho, Ho, Ho||—||—||27||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|1993||Saturday Night Live||Himself (in drag)||Guest Star, Episode: "Charles Barkley/Nirvana"|
|1995||In the House||Kevin|
|1996–98||The RuPaul Show||Himself (in drag)||Host, 100 episodes|
|Nash Bridges||Simone Dubois||2 episodes|
|1998||Hercules||Rock Guardian||episode "Hercules and the Girdle of Hyppolyte"|
|Sabrina, the Teenage Witch||Member of the Witches Council/Hair Dresser|
|Walker, Texas Ranger||Bob|
|2001||Popular||Sweet Honey Child|
|Port Charles||Madame Alicia|
|2002||Son of the Beach||Heinous Anus||credited as RuPaul Charles|
|2008||Project Runway||Himself (in drag)||Guest judge, Season 5, Episode 6|
|2009||Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World||Tyler|
|2009–present||RuPaul's Drag Race||Himself (in and out of drag)||Host/111 Episodes|
|2010||Ugly Betty||Rudolph, Emcee of the Cabaret|
|2010–12||RuPaul's Drag U||Himself (out of drag)||Host, producer|
|2012, 2016||RuPaul's All Stars Drag Race||Himself (in and out of drag)||Host/Judge, producer|
|Life With La Toya||Himself (out of drag)|
|Lady Gaga and the Muppets' Holiday Spectacular||Himself (in drag)||Guest performer: "Fashion!" alongside Lady Gaga|
|2014||The Face||Himself (out of drag)||Guest Judge|
|Mystery Girls||Emillo||Guest star, Episode: "Bag Ladies"|
|The Comeback||Himself (out of drag)||Guest star, Episode: "Valerie Films A Pilot"|
|2015||Harvey Beaks||Jackie Slitherstein||Guest star, Episode: "Harvey's Favorite Book"|
|Bubble Guppies||Drag Snail/Costume Boxing Judge||Guest star, Episode: "Costume Boxing"|
|2016||The Muppets||Himself (out of drag)||Episode: "Got Silk?"|
|Gay for Play Game Show Starring RuPaul||Host|
|1987||RuPaul Is: Starbooty!||Starbooty|
|1995||The Brady Bunch Movie||Mrs. Cummings|
|Wigstock: The Movie||Himself|
|Blue in the Face||Dancer|
|To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar||Rachel Tensions|
|Red Ribbon Blues||Duke|
|A Mother's Prayer||Deacon "Dede"|
|A Very Brady Sequel||Mrs. Cummings|
|1998||An Unexpected Life||Charles|
|But I'm a Cheerleader||Mike|
|2000||The Eyes of Tammy Faye||Narrator|
|The Truth About Jane||Jimmy|
|For the Love of May||Jimbo|
|2001||Who is Cletis Tout?||Ginger Markum|
|2006||Zombie Prom: The Movie||Delilah Strict|
|2008||Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild||Tyrell Tyrelle|
|2016||Hurricane Bianca |
|1983||The Blue Boy Terror|
|American Porn Star|
|1999||Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World||Daryl.com|
|2006||Zombie Prom||Delilah Strict|
|2008||How We Got Over|
'RuPaul: What's The Tee? With Michelle Visage' debuted on April 6, 2014. Ru-Paul co-hosts the with longtime friend and fellow ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ judge Michelle Visage. The bi-weekly show features RuPaul and Michelle’s thoughts on the behind the scenes of RuPaul's Drag Race, life advice, beauty tips, and conversations with featured guests from all corners of the entertainment world among other topics. The show is available on the , , , and .
Awards and nominations
|1993||Best Dance Video – "Supermodel (You Better Work)"||1993 MTV Video Music Awards||Nominated|
|1999||GLAAD Vito Russo Award||GLAAD Media Awards||Won|
|2010||Outstanding Reality Program – RuPaul's Drag Race||21st GLAAD Media Awards||Won|
|Best New Indulgence – RuPaul's Drag Race||NewNowNext Awards||Won|
|2012||Best Reality Show Host - RuPaul's Drag Race||Critics' Choice Television Award||Nominated|
|2012||Best Reality Show Judge/Host - RuPaul's Drag Race||TV.com's Best of 2012 Awards||Won|
|2013||Best Reality Show Host - RuPaul's Drag Race||Critics' Choice Television Award||Nominated|
|2013||Best Dressed Reality TV judge - RuPaul's Drag Race||Entertainment Weekly||Won|
|2013||Best Reality Show Judge/Host - RuPaul's Drag Race||TV.com's best of 2013 Awards||Won|