Goloka Bolte and Ethan Petersen interview: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ casting directors
“Normally, on one reality show you look for one or two things. With this we’re looking for like eight,” exclaims “RuPaul’s Drag Race” casting director Ethan Peterson. He and fellow casting director Goloka Bolte have earned two consecutive Emmy Awards for bringing beloved drag queens to the screen. Before a queen can rocket to stardom on the hit reality series, they must first make an impression with these two creatives. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
The key to scoring a slot in the “Drag Race” competition is a killer audition tape and this pair of casting directors watches them all. “We’re looking for those authentic voices, queens who really know who they are and bring something fresh and new to the table,” explains Bolte. She admits that in order to get through the inundation of audition reels there are “a lot of late nights in pajamas,” but the hours are worth it. Season 14’s finale saw five queens compete for the crown, a record number for the series and a clear indication that casting had chosen a powerhouse group of performers. For Bolte, their talent was clear from the beginning. “They really showed their unique style, their unique point of view,” she notes.
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Peterson points out that “Season 14 was a season that we cast in the height of the pandemic.” So in addition to the stories this pair often hear in auditions about coming out and self discovery, they also heard all manner of tales about how difficult it was to survive the shutdown as a queer person and drag artist. That context gave the season a unique feel which will likely never be replicated.
As for the fandom’s conspiracy theories about a “villain edit,” these casting directors are adamant that they don’t look to fill any preconceived roles when selecting queens. “Here’s the thing, they’re drag queens,” states Petersen, “they all kind of got a little sass!” Bolte laughs in agreement, adding: “we cast them for their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent; and they cast themselves as the villain.” While the pair might glean a sense of how a queen may approach the competition, casting simply boils down to how well each potential contestant showcases their drag and their personality.
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Besides, who wants to focus on a villain when the series is full of so much love and inclusivity? Season 14 proved to be a huge year of trans visibility on the show. Competitor Kerri Colby arrived on the scene as the only out transgender woman, but contestants Kornbread, Jasmine Kennedie, Bosco, and winner Willow Pill also came out as trans either during or immediately after filming. “We’re incredibly proud of the fact that Season 14 was so trans inclusive and that the show is giving people a platform,” says Bolte. “Anything we can do to help promote acceptance, love, inclusivity, is incredible.” Petersen concurs, gushing that “it’s so satisfying as a casting director and as a gay man to see the queens just be themselves. They’re really putting themselves out there and doing it in such a touching way.”
The journeys of these queens, whether it is by way of their performance skills or in personal growth, is how these casting professionals find joy in their work. Bolte is drawn to the emotional breakthroughs which the series is famous for. When she sees a queen push past a major barrier, she confesses that there is a feeling of “I got to be even a small part of making this happen.” For Petersen, the most thrilling moments often arrive in the finale. “To see them go from a casting tape on my computer screen, to my home television with an audience,” he muses with astonishment, “I feel like I’ve been a part of their entire journey.”