There’s no denying that drag is big business right now. After 11 seasons and four All Stars series of RuPaul’s Drag Race, queens are dominating the mainstream, taking home Emmys, selling out Wembley and winning Celebrity Big Brother.
But as successful as the show has been, it’s easy to forget that drag is more than just being able to turn a sickening look. It’s about finding your place and identity, and sticking two fingers up to the world that tells you to look and act a certain way to fit in.
Enter Drag SOS. Not an anti-Drag Race, but a drag-themed show that offers a different look into the dazzling world that, let’s face it, we all want to be a part of.
The thing that will strike you most about Drag SOS is just how lovely it is. The Family Gorgeous, made up of Cheddar Gorgeous, Anna Phylactic, Lil, TeTe Bang and Liquorice Black, tour the country in a glittery bus to find those needing a bit of extra sparkle in their lives.
It covers all grounds, from a father struggling to bond with his gay son to a single mum who has lost her identity, to a woman who needs a confidence boost after her transition. Think Queer Eye but with drag queens.
There’s warmth and heart by the bucketload and the queens themselves aren’t immune to it either as they share their own stories. Their emotion shows this is more than just a reality show to them, it’s helping real people with real issues.
While giving Digital Spy a drag makeover, Anna Phylactic says: “There were lots of people just with so many amazing stories.
“I think the one that affected me most was a woman called Alison who we met in Dudley. It was just a really sad story because she had transitioned and then we were wondering whether her family would actually come and see the show.
“We’re all still in contact with them now.”
There is the argument that Drag Race tries to put all its contestants in one box. The earlier seasons especially heaped praise on the queens that looked ‘fishy’ and could work a runway, while the more camp acts would be criticised for not bringing enough glamour.
One of the advantages of seeing the returning queens come back for All Stars seasons is to see how they have honed their craft and really discovered who they are.
Drag SOS is all about the journey to that discovery, condensed into hour-long instalments of life-affirming journeys.
“That’s the fun of drag, now it’s got more popular everyone is just waiting to be perfect straightaway,” Anna says. “I feel like you need to take that time and experiment and work out what your drag is.”
The show sends the message that drag is for everyone, no matter your gender or sexuality – and no one puts it better than female Family Gorgeous member TeTe.
“When I started doing drag, no-one told me that I couldn’t,” she says. “When I started doing drag I didn’t see people who represented me so I decided to create it myself.”
Cheddar adds: “With TeTe being a woman, she’s the one all the people question and yet she’s the best drag queen around. She does absolutely everything. I can’t sew, she sews, does hair and make-up, entertainment.”
There’s no denying that RuPaul and her army of queens have shone a real light on the drag scene and brought it in to the mainstream. Anna doesn’t believe that a show like Drag SOS could even exist without Drag Race leading the way.
“When it first started, it was very much a niche programme with a very niche audience whereas now there are people that you don’t expect like people that are straight that have never been on the gay scene ‘yaassing’ and saying phrases from RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she says.
But Drag Race also does its job as a reality show very well, with heavy edits and an emphasis on catfights and behind-the-scenes drama. Now, that spotlight is expanding and showing there is more to the scene than bringing a reveal to the runway.
“I think people always think we are going to be mean or bitchy. I think for years that was how some people were but I have never been about that. I’m more about making connections with people and making it an enjoyable experience,” Anna says.
“I think the main thing is that we’re not scary. People do perceive us that we are a bit weird and scary and hopefully they see us as human beings.
“I hope people that feel a little different will maybe see themselves. Or when they see us running around Scarborough in big, silly heels they go, ‘Actually, maybe it’s alright if I do that’. That’s the main thing.”
Drag SOS begins tonight, Tuesday, June 25, at 10pm on Channel 4.
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