Tom Campbell interview: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ producer
As one of the first shows to resume production after the pandemic brought life to a stand-still, the show was learning protocols as they went along. But according to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” producer, Tom Campbell (nominated for Best Competition Program), it was a minor inconvenience that everyone was happy to go along with. “Everyone, I think, was so excited to be back together, to be able to work, that people were very compliant, wore masks, paid attention to the distancing,” he tells Gold Derby in our Meet the Experts: Documentary and Nonfiction panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). It didn’t strike them how seriously they were taking the safety measures until a very secure site became a COVID hotspot. “When we finished our last episode, it was the same time that the COVID invaded the White House and we realized that we had a better COVID protocol at ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ in Sylmar than they did it the White House!”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” first premiered in 2009 with the goal of finding the next big drag superstar in America. The show recently finished its 13th season and has firmly embedded itself as a prominent part of pop culture. The show has inspired multiple spin-offs including “RuPaul’s Drag U,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked” as well as several international versions of the show. It’s also become an Emmy powerhouse in recent years, amassing 48 nominations (including nine this year) and 19 wins. The show has won Best Competition Program for the last three years and RuPaul has won Best Reality Host for the past five years.
Campbell is still surprised at how popular the show has gotten. He also remembers one of the main instances that made him realize the level of popularity that the show had ascended to when “Will & Grace” co-creator, Max Mutchnick, served as a guest judge on season four. “A friend of his the day after his episode aired called him from Vietnam–it was before streaming–to say, ‘I saw your episode. It was great.’ It was leaking out!” Finding out that people were illegally downloading episodes showed how much of a phenomenon the competitive program had become. “With the advent of streaming and it being kind of this cult thing among queer people and queer people in the industry.”
When thinking of who would be his most ideal people to serve as guest judges on the show, Campbell understands that his answer may be underwhelming to some but doesn’t apologize for it. “We have wanting to have Cher on the show. We love Cher. We respect Cher. You know, with all due respect, Cher is a drag queen.” Campbell’s other dream judge, Diana Ross, has a special status in Campbell and RuPaul’s long friendship. “RuPaul and I love Diana Ross and love the movie, ‘Grease,’ more than anything, and that’s how we bonded at a cocktail party in the nineties.”