After the extensive success enjoyed by RuPaul’s Drag Race in the US including 11 standard seasons, 4 All-Stars seasons and multiple award wins, the show made its long awaited debut in the UK in October 2019 and it has now been renewed for a second season after a positive reception from fans across the world.
Drag culture is not something new to the UK. Dame Edna Everage featured on UK stage and television from as early as the 1970s and Lily Savage was the popular host of entertainment show ‘Blankety Blank’ from 1997-2002 alongside a diverse club scene with a wide array of queens, cis-gendered queens and drag kings of all ages.
The calls of UK drag race fans were finally answered in December 2018 when it was announced that the show would be making its debut in 2019 on BBC Three with RuPaul at the helm in his usual roles of host and judge. However, whilst excitement was rife at this announcement it was not without fears as to whether the casting would “exclude underrepresented voices in the community.”. He cities, for example, Victoria Sin as an assigned-female-at-birth non-binary artist.
It was later announced that Michelle Visage would be accompanying him alongside well-known British comedian Alan Carr and Irish television presenter Graham Norton who would alternate each week. A whole host of celebrity guest judges were also confirmed as appearing over the season including Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall and the Spice Girls’ Geri Horner. With the ever-growing popularity of the original US show, fans and critics certainly had high expectations of the UK counterpart.
The first cast features 10 queens; Baga Chipz, Blu Hydrangea, Divina De Campo, Crystal, Sum Ting Wong, Cheryl Hole, Gothy Kendoll, Vinegar Strokes, Scaredy Kat and The Vivienne; who represent a variety of styles however the casting was met with criticism as 8 out of the 10 contestants were white, however, the competitions did defend casting choices arguing the cast as chosen on merit.
Instead of competing for a prize of $100,000 dollars and a year’s supply of Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics, the UK queens are competing for a starring role in a new digital series as the BBC is publicly funded and does not allow sponsorship or adverts.
Challenges to date have included some of the favorites of the US competition including Snatch Game and the ‘reading is fundamental’ mini-challenge with other challenges including creating couture garments from ‘car boot sale’ items and acting in a ‘Downton Draggy’ mini-challenge as we see the show being tailored to cater for the British audience. Further added ‘British’ elements include the ‘RuPeter Badge’ awarded to the main challenge winner each week and the
So far The Vivienne and Baga Chipz are emerging as front runners however this can quickly change and an underdog can come through to win. As we enter the closing stages of this first season, how has it been received thus far?
A recurring criticism of the drag race franchise is that the ever increasing amount of seasons without any breaks is causing the format to tire however Rebecca Nicholson for The Guardian remarked that “For those of us who have stuck with Drag Race for the last decade, this new incarnation could be the shake-up that was needed.” and that after the first episode she believed it “promises to be a very British Drag Race after all” after many of the jokes made in the first episode alluded to UK based celebrities or included UK slang. A similar sentiment was shared by Season 6 Drag Race Alumni Courtney Act who tweeted “I think the show has gotten back to its roots”
The show was also well received by other US Drag Race alumni including Phi Phi O’Hara who tweeted “RPDR UK and DR Thailand are better than US….yup I said it lol” and Shea Coulee who tweeted “@dragraceukbbc was SOOOO AMAZING! Loved @IsSumTingWong ‘s Queen Elizabeth look SLAYYYYYYED!!!!”
The final episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is set to air on BBC at the end of November 2019 with the UK season expected to return at some point in 2020 however next year drag race fans will also be able to get their fix from the first celebrity drag race which was recently announced to also be aired in 2020 featuring many drag race alumni including Alyssa Edwards, Kim Chi, Trinity the Tuck and Trixie Mattel.
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