When you tell RuPaul Charles that he's made drag queens acceptable with his hugely popular, award-winning reality competition show, "RuPaul's Drag Race," he quickly lets you know that's not what he's out to do.
"By who? Who's accepting them? Drag is naughty. Drag is not politically correct," he told "CBS This Morning" Wednesday. "Honestly, I don't really want it to be acceptable. Drag is dangerous. It's political. It's funny. It breaks all the rules. And that's what makes it exciting."
Now in its 11th season, the Emmy-winning series pits its contestants against each other in challenges that include lip-sync battles, designing their own high fashion outfits and creating music videos as they vie for the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar."
Though he may take issue with his role in normalizing the once-fringe world of drag, it's impossible to deny the cultural phenomenon the show he helms has become. Fans of "Drag Race" are more than just fans, they're diehards whose fervor for the show have helped move many of the show's signature phrases like "sashay away" – what RuPaul says to eliminated contestants – into the mainstream lexicon.
"I think the show speaks to the dreamer," RuPaul said of his diverse fanbase. "Anyone who's ever had a dream of doing something that society or their parents would probably not approve of, our show helps young people navigate some tricky waters and these kids on our show and this competition reality show have been through everything … and also, I think at its core, our show is about the tenacity of the human spirit."
But RuPaul's success with "Drag Race" didn't come out of nowhere. He first gained recognition with his hit 1992 song "Supermodel," which turned the performer into a pop culture star and popularized the phrase "you better work." In the more than two decades since, RuPaul has appeared in over 50 movies and TV shows and recorded a duet with Sir Elton John. Still, he says he didn't set out to make "Drag Race" work or even do drag in the first place. It just worked – and paid the bills.
"I set out to follow my heart and do what I wanted," he said. "Drag wasn't something I was compelled to do. It was something I realized I was good at it and I could maybe pay the rent with it, too … It turned out that other people liked it and I thought, 'sure, why not.'"
But following one's heart isn't so easy – something RuPaul believes the contestants on his show know better than anyone.
"I think it's the most political thing you can do on this planet. Most people don't have the moxie to do that and watching our show I think gives people some tips on how to follow their heart and what to do when faced with opposition," he said. "But let me tell you something. Life is hard, no matter if you are gay or straight, in drag, not in drag. Life is hard. And, you know, a lot of people in my generation sort of made the world baby safe for their kids so when their kids go out in the real world, they don't know how to manage sharp edges, so to speak. So you gotta prepare yourself for those sharp edges."
RuPaul also offered some details about what it was like inside Monday's extremely exclusive, camp-themed Met Gala party, which he described as basically a "fancy bar mitzvah."
"You know, you go, you have your picture taken, you sit down for a very expensive meal and people are schmoozing, you know, and then there's entertainment," he said. "Cher performed. I got to DJ. My first song I played was 'Dancing Queen' by Abba. So it was a bar mitzvah."