Randy Barbato interview: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and ‘Untucked’ producer
“For all of us, there’s a little bit of ‘wait, is this real?'” declares executive producer Randy Barbato about how the TV academy has once again enthusiastically embraced “RuPaul’s Drag Race” with nominations across the board. For our recent webchat he adds, “we’re incredibly passionate and we love our job, so to be recognized and celebrated is like icing on the cake, it really is, because we all work so hard, because we’re so inspired by the queens and this idea of them working on a show where we can share their talents with the world. I can’t think of a better job actually!” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has become a global phenomenon and an Emmy powerhouse over the last few years, having won Best Competition Program the last four years running (nominated again this year), with legendary drag icon RuPaul having won the last six consecutive Emmys for Best Reality Host (with a possible seventh next month). The “mother ship” series is up for eight Emmys this year, while its behind-the-scenes offshoot “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked” is up for Best Unstructured Reality Program (which it won last year). Popular spinoff “RuPaul’s Drag Race Allstars,” which brings back fan-favorite queens to battle it out all over again is up for reality series picture editing, and even co-producer and mainstay judge Michelle Visage‘s short form series “RuPaul’s Drag Race Whatcha Packin’ with Michelle Visage” is up for Best Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series.
Barbato co-founded his World of Wonder production company with Fenton Bailey, which has shepherded the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” empire since its premiere in 2009, back when it was a barely-known mini-budget niche reality competition for the drag community. Over the years, as the show has become bigger and better and after its switch from LGBTQ-focused Logo to mainstream cable outlet VH1, it has skyrocketed in popularity to become arguably the most successful and popular competition program on the air. The concept is relatively straightforward: a group of talented drag queens compete in challenges to win over host RuPaul to win a cash “tip” of thousands of “doolahs” (i.e. a big cash prize) along with a crown and the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Each episode of the show features a main challenge, after which the queens perform in a themed runway show, where one is generally declared the winner, while usually two others are announced to be up for elimination. The bottom two must then go head-to-head and lip-sync for their lives, where the winner may “shantay you stay” instead of the dreaded “sashay away.”
Over 16 episodes Season 14, 10-time Emmy winner RuPaul put 14 queens through their paces with comedy roasts, game shows, mini and maxi challenges, musical numbers, soap opera spoofs and lip-sync smackdowns to find “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” In the end, only five queens remained with a chance to snatch the coveted crown, and in the breathtaking climax of the dazzling grand finale episode, it was Willow Pill that triumphed over Angeria Paris VanMichaels, Bosco, Daya Betty and runner-up Lady Camden, as she proved to Mama Ru that she had the right mix of “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.” “There are times where there is not a dry eye in the control room,” Barbato admits. “As you get deeper into each season, and this always happens; number one, you don’t know what’s going to happen and we fall in love with the queens, all of them, and every episode the deeper it gets, the cuts are the deeper.”
“Untucked” has also become the perfect companion for the main show, an access-all-areas pass to the drama that you don’t see on the runway — the backstage bitchiness, catfights, struggles, tears and secrets. It has become essential viewing for fans because it allows a glimpse into each contestant’s mindset, as we watch them roast each other, have heart to hearts, cry and laugh. We then ultimately follow each eliminated contestant as they pack their belongings, write a goodbye message in lipstick on a mirror in the “werk room” and then leave the set.
“Untucked” soared last season when contestant Jasmine Kennedie unexpectedly came out as a trans woman on the show. It was a moment that would have vindicated Barbato, who was one of the producers right at the beginning that recognized the boundless potential that “Untucked” represented. “We’re documentary filmmakers, that’s what we do and that’s how we started World of Wonder, so ‘Untucked’ carries that tradition,” he explains. “There’s so many spectacular moments, but that moment where Jasmine Kennedie reveals and shares the fact that she’s trans, this was an unbelievable moment for everyone in the room, and everyone in the in the control room. It really was like one of those moments that I couldn’t even explain it, just really, I will never forget that moment.”
* please note that references by Mr Barbato to “season 15” during the interview were inadvertent, and should be noted as “season 14”.