After strutting from Logo to VH1, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s ninth season premiered Friday, March 24. Critics say it’s as fabulous as ever—with a fierce cast delivering a whole new level of charisma, nerve, and talent. Viewers agree. The season premiere drew nearly 1 million viewers, more than any other episode of Drag Race. It was the most-watched show on cable TV that night, besides the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. The divas dominated Twitter, as well, trending worldwide and garnering the highest Twitter volume in Drag Race history.
There’s never been a better moment for Drag Race to sashay into so many homes. In a tumultuous time for the LGBT community, Drag Race delivers the inclusive spirit that Emmy-winning host RuPaul Charles has fostered since the show’s 2009 debut.
“[Drag Race is] a glorious array of socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, and ethnicities,” wrote Queerty’s Chris Kelly. “Ru isn’t just waving a rainbow flag. She’s championing the actual rainbow.”
Drag Race’s inclusive spirit resonates beyond race, gender, and sexuality. Underneath the elaborate wigs and heavy makeup, contestants eschew conventional standards of beauty. On Drag Race, you don’t have to be thin, light-skinned, or young to be a star. This season, a 22-year-old contestant competes against a 52-year-old. Another contestant, Eureka O’Hara, is a plus-sized performer.
As guest-judge Lady Gaga pointed out on the show, “Good for [O’Hara] for embracing her size and going with horizontal stripes. This competition is often about confidence as much as talent and she has both in spades.”
Meet the cast:
While the art of drag is is not necessarily related to sexuality, Drag Race resonates with the LGBT community.
“Along with this new and greater visibility, the show has also served as an inspiration for the queer community and moved people across the country to come together on Monday nights to watch the show,” writes The Huffington Post’s James Nichols of the show’s lasting effects.
Drag Race’s widespread popularity has helped catapult drag to the mainstream, and with it, LGBT identity.
Remember Miley Cyrus’s day-glow posse of backup dancers at the 2015 VMAs? The group consisted of 30 drag queens, including some former Drag Race contestants such as Carmen Carrera, a transgender woman (and the first transgender Victoria’s Secret model).
This season, Drag Race has its first openly-transgender contestant—Peppermint, a fixture on the New York drag scene. She spoke to Logo’s NewNowNext about how the Drag Race sisterhood reacted when she told them about her gender identity.
“I felt totally loved and accepted,” said Peppermint. “Can I get an amen?”
The inclusiveness of Drag Race reflects a social ethos that is stitched into Viacom’s core. Earlier this year, Viacom networks won six GLAAD nominations for shows that bring awareness to the LGBT community and its struggles (as well as triumphs).
Like these shows, Drag Race isn’t overtly political. It showcases each contestant’s individuality above all else. It focuses on flaws as much as talent. There are tears, catfights, and false eyelashes. Drag Race is as unapologetically excessive as it is incredibly entertaining. And that combination has earned it a large and growing fanbase.
And that kind of distraction is apparently welcome in a climate of endless political news, as the show’s VH1 ratings suggest. In an interview with Vice, RuPaul discussed the show’s increased relevance in today’s political climate.
“It’s to remind people not to take life too seriously and that this body you’re in is temporary,” said RuPaul. “You are an extension of the power that created the universe, and the mission statement [of the show] is to experience life…Use all the colors, touch all the toys and lick all the candy! Do it all. There’s no judgement, right or wrong.”