RuPaul Andre Charles (born November 17, 1960), better known by his mononym RuPaul, is an American drag queen, television judge, recording artist, author, and model. He is best known for his reality television series RuPaul's Drag Race, and has been lauded as one of the most famous drag queens in mainstream media history.
RuPaul was born in San Diego, California, to Ernestine "Toni" (née Fontenette) and Irving Andrew Charles, who were "poor country folk" from Louisiana. They would fight violently, and RuPaul marks the death of his childhood by their divorce in 1967. He first realized he was different from other people when he was five, and during high school he began questioning himself because he "felt like neither [a boy] or [a girl], and looked like something altogether different." At one point, his sister Renetta cut out a newspaper clipping regarding transgender woman Christine Jorgensen's medical transition, telling him that he "should read about this."
According to RuPaul, he officially started his show business career with a 1982 appearance on The American Music Show, where he would go on to make frequent appearances. In the early 1990s, RuPaul often performed with his band, Wee Wee Pole, at the Celebrity Club in Atlanta.
In the mid-1980s, RuPaul left the South and headed to New York City and became part of a new festival known as Wigstock. He, his Atlanta roommate Lady Bunny (who launched Wigstock), and others would perform in drag primarily in the East Village area, with the festival eventually growing. RuPaul's flamboyance and ease on stage made him a hit club dancer, and by the end of the decade he was dubbed the Queen of New York.
In 1991, RuPaul was signed to a recording contract by Tommy Boy Records, and two years later his debut album, Supermodel of the World, appeared. He found a hit with the single "Supermodel (You Better Work)," which reached the Top 50 of the pop charts and No. 2 on the dance club charts. RuPaul would remain a club fixture over the years with other hits like "Snapshot" and "WorkOut." A 1993 duet with Elton John on a remake of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" also drew attention, becoming a U.K. Top 10 hit.
RuPaul returned to the recording studio for the album Foxy Lady (1996), which he soon followed with the holiday release Ho Ho Ho (1997). Although he would not release another album until Red Hot (2004), RuPaul continued to appear in film and on television. He hosted a variety television program, The RuPaul Show (1997–98), was a frequent guest on talk shows, and took on minor acting roles.
Beginning in 2009, RuPaul hosted and coproduced RuPaul's Drag Race, a reality television show that named "America's next drag superstar." The popular program was credited with reviving RuPaul's flagging career, and he won Emmy Awards (2016–21) as the show's host. RuPaul's Drag Race also received the Emmy for best competition show (2018–21). His eponymous talk show and a UK version of Drag Race both debuted in 2019. RuPaul's recordings from the early 21st century, which were often featured on the show, included Glamazon (2011), Born Naked (2014), Realness (2015), Butch Queen (2016), and American (2017). RuPaul also co-created the TV series AJ and the Queen (2020– ), in which he played a drag queen traveling across the United States, accompanied by a 10-year-old girl. The comedy aired on Netflix.
RuPaul married his longtime partner, Georges LeBar, in 2017. The two met at the Limelight nightclub in New York City in 1994.
RuPaul has been criticized for transphobia in the past. In 2011, Lance Bass apologized for using a slur, noting its use in RuPaul's Drag Race. RuPaul expressed his disagreement with the need for an apology during an interview, stating that "no one has ever said the word [...] in a derogatory sense" and that those who get offended when the slur is used against them need to change their mindset.
In 2014, former contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race expressed discomfort with the language used by RuPaul in his workroom announcements. Particularly, the line "You've got she-mail," which resembled a derogatory term used against trans women. Producers removed the line, and it was officially replaced with "She done already done had herses" the following year for season seven of the show. A year later, RuPaul was asked about this change in an interview with Vulture, where he stated that he had nothing to do with the change, going on to say, "We do not stand on ceremony, and we do not take words seriously. We do take feelings seriously and intention seriously, and the intention is not to be hateful at all. But if you are trigger-happy and you're looking for a reason to reinforce your own victimhood, your own perception of yourself as a victim, you'll look for anything that will reinforce that." He was also asked about drag's relationship to the trans community, to which he said, "I think it's a boring topic. I don't really want to talk about that because everybody wants to ask about that. It's so topical, but they're complete opposites. We mock identity. They take identity very seriously."
During an interview with The Guardian in 2018, he was asked whether he would allow a trans woman who had gone through gender-affirming surgery to participate on RuPaul's Drag Race, to which he replied, "Probably not. You can identify as a woman and say you're transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we're doing. We've had some girls who've had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven't transitioned." After receiving backlash from fans and former contestants on social media, RuPaul responded with a now-deleted tweet saying, "You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics." He issued an apology soon after: "I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers."
- RuPaul is indifferent to which gender-specific pronouns are used to refer to him and once quipped, "You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me." He has also played male roles and makes public appearances in both male and female drag.