RuPaul Worked Behind the Scenes at ‘Drag Race’ Queens’ Shows Years Before the Series Premiered

RuPaul has become a household name over the past decade thanks to his Emmy-winning reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Before Drag Race, however, RuPaul was a hardworking drag queen who did just about everything a drag entertainer in those days could.

RuPaul Charles of 'RuPaul's Drag Race' attends AOL Build Speakers Series
RuPaul Charles of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ attends AOL Build Speakers Series | Robin Marchant/Getty Images

RuPaul’s career before ‘Drag Race’

RuPaul’s first major exposure to the general public was as an extra in the music video for The B-52’s 1989 hit single “Love Shack.” In the early 1990s, RuPaul worked the club scene in Atlanta and New York, and was a frequent guest at the popular Wigstock drag festival.

RuPaul launched his music career in 1993 with his album Supermodel of the World, fronted by the smash single of the same name. He continued to release songs in the mid-’90s such as “Back to My Roots” and “A Shade Shady (Now Prance).” In 1996, he hosted his own talk show on VH1, The RuPaul Show, with none other than his squirrelfriend Michelle Visage.

RuPaul became disillusioned with the entertainment industry in the 2000s, as he felt he was reduced to a punchline and the butt of a joke rather than a talented artist and performer.

Silky Nutmeg Ganache, Trinity K. Bonet, Eureka, A’keria C. Davenport, Ginger Minj, Pandora Boxx, Jan, Jiggly Caliente, Scarlet Envy, Ra'Jah O'Hara, Kylie Sonique Love, Yara Sofia and Serena ChaCha of 'RuPaul's Drag Race: All-Stars'
Silky Nutmeg Ganache, Trinity K. Bonet, Eureka, A’keria C. Davenport, Ginger Minj, Pandora Boxx, Jan, Jiggly Caliente, Scarlet Envy, Ra’Jah O’Hara, Kylie Sonique Love, Yara Sofia and Serena ChaCha of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars’ | Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Paramount+

RuPaul worked with Venus D-Lite, Delta Work, and other ‘Drag Race’ queens before the show

In a 2021 interview on Joseph Shepherd’s Exposed, Drag Race season 3 queen and renowned Madonna impersonator Venus D-Lite reflected on when she first met RuPaul.

The date was August 5, 2002 — the night of her first-ever drag performance. “I had performed as Marilyn Monroe, because it was the 40th anniversary of her death,” she recalled. What took her aback that night was looking to see who was working the spotlight for the queens from the DJ both.

“Here’s a funny fact. Guess who was doing spotlight that night?” she said. “It was RuPaul. RuPaul was there and she was doing spotlight.”

D-Lite explained that at that time, RuPaul loved to involve himself in local drag shows in any way he could, usually behind the scenes. “[RuPaul has] talked about it: she liked to go and sit in the DJ booth and offer to help put spotlight on the girls,” she said. “So she was there. Delta Work was working with me that night in the cast; also Raja.”

“It was kind of a crazy omen of things to come,” D-Lite quips.

) RuPaul accepts Best Host for "RuPaul's Drag Race" onstage during the 2021 MTV Movie & TV Awards: UNSCRIPTED
RuPaul | Kevin Mazur/2021 MTV Movie and TV Awards/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS

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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ became a worldwide phenomenon

The first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered in 2009 with a cast of unforgettable queens such as Ongina and BeBe Zahara Benet. D-Lite revealed that many queens that went on to appear on subsequent seasons — such as Raven, Chad Michaels, and D-Lite herself — initially turned down offers from production to join the cast of the first season.

Fast forward a decade later and RuPaul’s Drag Race has several Emmys to its name, as well as a wide array of international spinoffs from Thailand to the UK.