Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek
Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

How RuPaul’s Drag Race Pushed Glamour Mainstream

The producers at World of Wonder on bringing drag to the masses.

Film school buds Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato fell in love with the art of drag in New York’s East Village in the 1980s. “It deserved a bigger audience,” Bailey says. Fast-forward 30 years, and RuPaul’s Drag Race—the hit show made by the pair’s company, World of Wonder Productions—has brought one. Along with RuPaul, WoW produced DragCon in Los Angeles on April 29-30. Part fan fair, part trade show, the event was a testament to the appeal of drag to the masses. Says Barbato: “We have always been about the democratization of all media.”

RuPaul’s TV show has scored with a formula that pits fierce, larger-than-life drag queens against one another in a competition à la Survivor.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

One million viewers tuned in to the ninth season premiere on March 24, tripling VH1’s previous ratings for the time slot. “It’s a great example of culture caught up,” says Chris McCarthy, president of MTV, VH1, and Logo TV. “Queer culture drives mainstream culture.”

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Drag Race reaches 87 million cable households now that WoW has moved the show from Logo TV to VH1, almost doubling its potential audience. 

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Forty thousand attended the third DragCon in Los Angeles in April, which drew families, too. WoW will launch a sister drag confab in New York.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Detox, a hit on Drag Race’s fifth season, will get her own show on WoWPresents’ YouTube channel, which has almost 700,000 subscribers.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Pleaser brand shoes on sale.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

A bearded drag queen looking glamorous and testing the stereotypes of conventional drag.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Children enjoy story time in the Kid Zone.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

The right jewelry and bag help to complete a princess look.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

A drag queen stops to eat. Food trucks were in attendance.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

An attendee poses outside the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Drag Power Rangers.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

RuPaul collectible dolls for sale.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

DragCon attendees take a cigarette break while showing off their merchandise.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek

Vendors selling merchandise were busy, as were the cash machines.

Photographer: Michelle Groskopf for Bloomberg Businessweek