'RuPaul's Drag Race' Boss Shares His 5 Standout Season 12 Moments
We can safely say that RuPaul’s Drag Race is one of the best competition series on the small screen today.
The most recent installment of the reality competition program culminated in the crowning of Jaida Essence Hall as America’s Next Drag Superstar. It was celebrated as one of the best seasons in the show’s run thus far for its pool of diverse and skilled talent, a strong panel of guest judges, and the timeliness of the social and political themes discussed by its cast (despite being filmed in 2019).
This success has paid off tremendously: Drag Race leads all unscripted series across relevant categories with its robust slate of Emmy nominations (13 total across the franchise — 10 for Drag Race, two for Untucked and one for digital series RuPaul’s Drag Race Out Of the Closet). We know how deserved these many mentions are, especially given the strength and memorable moments of this most recent season. Emmy award-winning executive producer Tom Campbell couldn’t agree more.
Below, Campbell breaks down a few of the Season 12 moments, from some favorite guest judges to noteworthy maxi-challenges, he thinks ushered the series to its historic award nominations feat.
In recognition of the Emmy nominations, we want your take: What are five moments from Season 12 that really contributed to making Drag Race one of the best competition series on television and such a contender for this awards season?
Tom Campbell: Before I start, I have to say that I’ve been with the show since the very beginning. Every season has remarkable moments of heart, cheer, camp and beauty and fun. And every season that will come after Season 12 will be amazing too. The queens make it unique and special each year. But I have to say that with Season 12, there is something kind of magical.
Yes, there is definitely something rather outstanding about this most recent season. Fans everywhere easily recognized that and fell in love with this cast.
Absolutely. Individually, their talents shined, but they also work incredibly well together. And it really made for one of the more outstanding seasons. And on top of it, we ended up doing a finale in COVID.
But back to your question, first, I think Madonna the Rusical was an amazing moment. ... [It] really highlights a lot of the things we love doing on Drag Race. First of all, drag comes from pop culture and from a place of love and admiration. Among the staff and Ru and the judges, there is this incredible love of Madonna for years.
It took so much energy to put together — from the behind the scenes crew to the composition and music direction—and the queens really turned it out. We also love the idea that as much as we adore Madonna, there’s a whole generation of young fans and LGBT allies who don’t know that much about her or know her in a different context. So for us to pass down our “herstory” through the generations is something that we love to do on the show.
Gigi Goode won the Madonna challenge, if I’m not mistaken?
That was a really, really excellent performance. She struggled so much in rehearsals and then came out of the gate like a seasoned pop star!
Yes, Jan’s was really great as well! Everyone did very well. And Madonna is such a pioneer and an ally to our community, she has been for years, since the AIDS crisis on. She’s pro-sex and pro-woman. So all of that in one challenge, in one episode, is something that I thought was really outstanding and made us happy and proud.
What would you say is another moment from this season that might hold a candle to the Rusical?
We are very lucky that on Drag Race, our celebrity judges are always fans first. They really come to hang out and see the queens. And this past season we had outstanding guests — from Nicki Minaj, who came and gave her all, to Leslie Jones, who used to watch and live tweet the show. Even Whoopi Goldberg, who’s known Ru forever, came and spent two days with the queens. They were all amazing.
But the one guest that really blew us away and was a highlight of my life was AOC, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. And again, it all started with her tweeting, separate from us, about just how much she loved the show and how certain episodes and certain queens in the past helped her to get through. She emphasized that this isn’t just a show about drag or LGBTQ people, but the universal struggle of overcoming your fears and being the best you can be. Being your true self.
The fact that she took time out of her very busy schedule to spend time with us really shows that there are true leaders in our country. Some want to take away our rights, but others in their actions and in their visibility and connection, come to Drag Race, I think, to say “we hear you, we see you, you’re important” and to emphasize this is important now more than ever.
Let’s keep the ball rolling with more great moments.
This is a small moment, but I think a definitive one. During our presidential debate, “Choices 2020,” Jaida Essence Hall said “Look over there!” I over-post about political things on my own Facebook page, nothing to do with my job, and inevitably I put little captions on them. And many, many times since that episode, I have put “look over there!” to critique politicians trying to distract us from the truth, distract us from the facts. I think that was a spontaneous moment where she captured the Jaida “Essence” Hall of our political situation right now and a little whiff of how incredibly clever Jaida is.
It was so funny and random, but also very on point, the way that she satirized how lots of politicians tend to dodge the issue or ignore the question at hand. It was such a simple but quick-witted way to encapsulate that. A stroke of genius.
It means more every day. And Jeff Goldblum’s reaction also helped to solidify it as a great moment. “Look over there!”
What’s the next thing that really took this season over the top for you?
For many, many seasons, we’ve kept the finale as a big live event. A lot of people look forward to it. We realized in the time of COVID that we couldn’t safely produce the grand finale.
Before COVID, I would watch episodes in bars like a lot of other people do in the community, and it literally is like going to a sporting event and watching people scream and yell aloud at the screen. I think when we were all home alone, we couldn’t have that kind of connection. But Fridays, everyone in the community knew we were all watching and we could all be connected. And so we wanted to continue that for the finale.
But what that meant was everybody, from Ru to the queens to our producers to the roommates and boyfriends of our queens, we all had to pitch in, because we shot it remotely, we shot it safely. We sent computers and cameras and lights and backdrops and everyone assembled their own in home set.
If you’re familiar with that old movie Singing in the Rain, where they went from silent movies to talkies, it’s the same thing. We were making a TV show like any other day, except we were doing it at home, with a whole other set of regulations and a whole other set of technologies. We had satellite connections to all the queens, and I thought they rose to the occasion amazingly.
And like great drag queens, who are no strangers to being on the front line of adversities, whether it was at the Stonewall Inn or during the AIDS crisis or COVID, they showed up, they entertained, they took our minds off of it. It was a lot of sacrifice for them. I’m looking forward to when we can bring that cast together in front of a big live crowd, because they deserve that. But I think they turned it out and served. Not only did we have a great grand finale with great creative, we also had this big happy moment in the middle of a dark time.
One more moment?
This was Ru’s idea. We shot Season 12 in 2019. We’re always trying to think ahead and be current. And of course, there’s an election year coming up. What can we do? We wanted to be entertaining, not preachy. We don’t wallow in our victimhood. We bond over it and celebrate it. That’s what being LGBT is, and that’s our sensibility. That’s what drag’s about. We wanted to get a message out about voting with all of that in mind.
So it was Ru’s idea for the queens to hold up signs that read “register to vote at vote.gov.” And the queens came out at the very end and danced around the stage with those messages, and we let the music play. People watch Drag Race for things like fashion trends and different expressions and memes. But also in that same context, we can, I hope, make voting kind of sexy and a part of that scene. Not many people have that in their heads all the time, so we really wanted to remind our viewers of one thing: the most important thing you can do as a citizen is vote.
RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 13, TBA, VH1