Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of traveling to Milwaukee with friends to attend a performance by one of my favorite stand-up comics. Roy Haylock, better known as the offensively outrageous Bianca Del Rio, was crowned America's next drag superstar at the conclusion of Season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race in May 2014. Since then, Bianca has taken her "Don Rickles in a wig" persona on the road, on screen, and online, headlining stand-up tours such as Rolodex of Hate, Not Today Satan, and Blame It On Bianca Del Rio, starring in feature films like Hurricane Bianca and the forthcoming Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate, and gracing World of Wonder's YouTube channel with her "Really, Queen?" vlog.
By almost any metric, Bianca is one of the most successful, or at least one of the most high-profile, contestants to ever vie for the RPDR crown. And in the time-honored drag tradition of "reading for filth," the series has given her the opportunity to spread a self-professed "message of hate" to the global masses. But would the "expert on nothing with an opinion on everything" be who she is without RPDR?
Like any other reality TV talent competition, contestants come to RPDR with varying degrees of already-established celebrity and/or (sub)cultural cache. While Bianca does prove herself an equal opportunity offender in reading Lady Bunny on "Really, Queen?," her taunts are thrown with tongue firmly in cheek, simultaneously acknowledging an entrenched standing in the drag community and a long-standing friendship with one of its supreme grande dames.
Indeed, for as much as Bianca may amusingly attempt to untether her fame from the legacy of "Mama Ru" and her sisters, Drag Race has and continues to function as both a platform and gatekeeper for visibility and fame. If American Idol and its reality competition ilk have taught us anything, we've learned that you don't need a grand prize to see your star rise. Win, lose, or draw, that "big break" continues to have currency. Because for as much as Bianca may protest against throwing light (or perhaps even shade) on the subject at the start of her performances, we'll always know what she means by snidely sneering against "that show."
Beyond Drag Race
Thanks for your post, Andy! I really appreciate your notation of how Bianca negotiates her relationship to the show. Curious for your take on what she could do (if anything) to further disentangle her brand from the show, if it's desirable or possible?
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