If there were any doubts that RuPaul is superhuman, they were erased the moment he took the stage at OZY Fest in Central Park on Saturday, July 22, and successfully identified the precise shade of a woman’s lipstick from a distance of 30 feet. Any fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race already knows you can’t put anything past Mama Ru, and his seemingly bottomless reserve of knowledge and wisdom was on full display during his 40-minute chat/Q&A session during the festival (which is a mixture of lectures, town halls, screenings and musical performances).
Aside from an eagle eye for makeup, Ru also flaunted his Wikipedia-esque pop culture mastery during the chat, pointing out with relish that he was onstage in Central Park 34 years to the day that Diana Ross famously performed there during the rain.
Ross is Ru’s No. 1 diva, but he devoted much of his OZY Fest appearance to his No. 1 inspiration — David Bowie. But as with all things Ru, nothing he said was quite what you’d expect. Instead of a pat story about how the gender-bending, persona-swapping rock icon inspired his own approach to life, Ru explained that the key moment in his life was when he realized his dream to follow in Bowie’s footsteps was actually holding him back. Instead of imitating Bowie, he came to a conclusion that Bowie’s life could serve as a sort of “northern star” to guide him and not a blueprint; that mental dawning opened what he described as “ancient doors” within him to a deeper self knowledge and love. “Listen to the stage directions from the universe,” Ru instructed the crowd.
In his case, that meant drag. RuPaul admitted he originally started drag as a one-off gimmick for his punk band, and despite it having a major impact on those he encountered, he didn’t quite accept it as his bullet train to fame until he was able to free himself of the idea that his path in life must mimic Bowie’s.
Of course, RuPaul did eventually get famous via his music in the ‘90s and then through his conversation-dominating, culture-shifting TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race in the last decade (he does, however, balk at the idea that drag is now mainstream, something a few cultural critics have claimed even though drag queens can’t walk down most American streets – New York included — in drag without endangering their personal safety).
As for that TV series, Ru spilled some tea by confirmed the show’s next season would begin filming Friday, July 28 (“So I won’t be having any pizza slices in New York,” he deadpanned). But RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t the only TV project on his horizon – he and J.J. Abrams are currently shopping a TV series about his pre-fame NYC life in the early ’80s. That process involves showing industry folks a sizzle reel that includes real-life footage of him traipsing around Manhattan in the Reagan Era, which anyone can see by typing “RuPaul 80s” into YouTube. But despite the footage being so easy to find, Ru says he’s avoided watching it for years – until now, that is, when he’s forced to sit through it every time they pitch the show.
“I never watched it for good reason,” Ru says. “I was selling myself short to make everyone else love me [back then].” Eventually, RuPaul cracked the code: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” That Dorothy-like journey (realizing the power to achieve your dreams wasn’t in a far-off city, but within you all along) will be the focus of the TV series… if it gets made. And for that, we’re crossing our toes inside our ruby slippers.