RuPaul: The Many (Non-Drag Queen) Entertainers Who Inspired Him

RuPaul is the most famous drag queen of our time but, oddly enough, he took inspirations from lots of entertainers who weren’t drag queens. Interestingly, RuPaul sees all of them as outsiders even though they each made it to the top of the entertainment industry. He even got to work with his greatest idol.

RuPaul | Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

David Bowie

According to Variety, RuPaul cites David Bowie as an influence. Bowie wasn’t a drag performer, however, he typified the androgyny of the glam rock era. There’s definitely a similarity between his statuesque style and RuPaul’s. RuPaul even met Bowie’s daughter, Lexi, who is a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Mama Ru shared his profound feelings on that experience.

“I was beyond — beyond — obsessed with David Bowie,” he told Billboard. “From the time I was about 14 throughout the rest of my life. To think that David Bowie’s kid was on our set … [T]he fact that I’ve lived long enough in my life to have this turnaround to where David Bowie’s kid was obsessed with something I was doing was really crazy.”

“Blackstar” by David Bowie

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Mama Ru was particularly moved by Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. “It’s beautiful. It just made me miss the fact that he couldn’t do more. In hearing that album and its jazz undertones, I thought, ‘Oh my god.’ I would have loved to hear him do a standards album or a proper jazz vocals album.”

Cher

Cher was another influence on RuPaul. Though not as androgynous as Bowie, she was androgynous in her own way. In fact, her first single caused a scandal because people though Cher was a man singing a love song about another man. 

“Believe” by Cher

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There are definitely similarities between Mama Ru’s dance songs and Cher hits like “Believe” and “Strong Enough.” Interestingly, Cher would be a major influence on one of the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Chad Michaels. 

Diana Ross

According to Billboard, Diana Ross was RuPaul’s greatest idol. Most of us don’t get to meet our idols but RuPaul met Ross. In fact, he appeared in one of Ross’ music videos.

“I Will Survive” by Diana Ross

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Specifically, he appeared in Ross’ video for her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” It felt perfectly natural for Mama Ru to be in the video. After all, sassy, empowering dance music is RuPaul’s musical bread and butter, and “I Will Survive” is the original empowering dance hit. Fittingly, “I Will Survive” was later used in a lip-sync battle during an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

According to Variety, Mama Ru discussed why Bowie, Cher, and Ross mattered so much to him. “They were unlikely superstars and outsiders in their own way,” RuPaul said. “Just knowing that they existed helped me achieve my stardom and helped me to keep going during the times when I didn’t have a lot going in my way.”