“RuPaul’s Drag Race” producers and World of Wonder co-founders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato just snatched their fifth Emmy award for outstanding reality competition program and are riding high from Season 16 logging the series’ highest-rated season premiere in six years. Bailey can’t quite believe that the show is still gaining momentum.
“The more mature audience still loves it. They know they can count on falling in love with all these new artists and they can count on us as producers keeping it fresh,” Barbato says. “But young kids are discovering it. My 10-year-old kids have friends in their class who are watching it.”
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The momentum for the show extends into its global ambitions. There are currently 20 international versions of “Drag Race” and counting. “UK vs. the World” Season 2 is close to launch, and later this year, the Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Italy show will be coming to WOW Presents Plus (World of Wonder’s streaming platform) exclusively globally and in their original territories. Also returning “Drag Race Canada” – Season 5, “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Down Under” – season 4, “Drag Race Thailand” – season 3, “Drag Race Philippines,” – season 3, “Drag Race France” – season 3, “Drag Race Espana” -season 4, and much more. Including original programming with new shows such as “Hey Qween,” “Drag Race Vegas Live Untucked” and “House of Laffs.”
Speaking with Variety over Zoom, Bailey and Barbato sat down to discuss the Emmys, the growth of their streaming platform and the state of the “Drag Race” franchise.
It’s been over a week since the show won an Emmy. Fenton you missed the ceremony, where were you?
FENTON BAILEY: I was in London because we just finished DragCon UK. It was the first time we ever did a live show on WOW Presents Plus and we streamed the pink carpet. We had over 180 queens from all over the franchise and it was our most successful original show ever.
RANDY BARBATO: It felt like the first time and part of the excitement was that all the queens from Season 15, the producers who worked so hard, Ru, all the judges and TS Madison were all there. And it was so exciting to celebrate it with everyone. Ru reminding people why this show is so important, particularly right now — it felt special and so memorable. We don’t like getting heavy and political with the show because the existence of “Drag Race” alone is our politics. But it’s hard to ignore given the climate right now. And that’s why at the end of every episode, we have the Queens reminding people to vote. So it felt truly special.
The show and its franchises reach so many people. What does it mean to be putting out the show worldwide when there is a rise in hatred against the drag community?
BAILEY: At a time when dictatorial voices seem to be gaining a platform, it’s great that this show exists to put out a counter-voice — one that is of inclusion, rather than exclusion, and of love, rather than hate. There’s a drag community in every country and they face different challenges. But often those are the same fundamental challenges of bigotry, prejudice and fear. It’s great people can watch the show. It reveals that these campaigns targeting drag queens and the trans community are rooted in falsity and are based on lies. Fundamentally, the joy of the show is for everyone.
BARBATO: The success of WOW Presents Plus illustrates that there’s a global appetite for these voices. We had an 18% growth in January and a 96% retention since the launch in 2017. So it’s not only a growing audience, but it’s one that’s committed to the content. What’s super exciting is we’ve had big hits with “Drag Race Mexico,” “Drag Race Brazil” and “Drag Race Germany,” which are going to be available exclusively on WOW Presents Plus in those regions.
As someone who watches the show, I love that the platform is a one-stop shop for all things “Drag Race.” It’s easy to find any iteration of the franchise where I need it.
It’s that and all sorts of “Drag”-adjacent programming. People might say, “That’s a lot of ‘Drag Race,’” but as Ru has always said, and I hope he never stops saying it: “You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” It’s universal. There’s been talk about streaming being difficult and challenging. But I think there’s room for different kinds of streaming experiences. WOW Presents Plus is a specialty streamer and anyone who wants to watch it is going to enjoy it. And it’s cheap at $4.99 — less than the price of a latte, but so much more.
People pay because they want the content. How did you find that sweet pricing point?
BARBATO: We’ve always been committed to making it as cheap as possible. We grew up in the East Village wondering how we’re going to pay rent every month, so we know how to make things lean. We pass on the savings to the consumer. With the global explosion of “Drag Race,” there’s also this global explosion of amazing artists. It’s like a whole new genre in the entertainment industry. So one of the super exciting things about WOW Presents Plus is it allows us to feature more of them, and to provide more TV time. Whether it’s “Drag Race Live Untucked on the Vegas Strip,” is premiering in a few months.
BAILEY: “All Stars: España” just launched and it’s the first international version. “Drag Race Belgium” Season 2 is coming. Its an opportunity to showcase queens from all over the world in different ways.
What about your documentary work? What have you been up to in that space?
BARBATO: We are busier than ever in the doc world and we are inches away from being able to announce some new projects.
BAILEY: In the meantime, “Thailand” and “Philippines” Season 3 are coming back. “France” and “Spain” Season 4 will be back. So, we’ve got 10 versions coming up on WOW Presents Plus.
“Drag Race Thailand” needs to start shooting this month because “The White Lotus” starts soon. There needs to be a crossover.
BAILEY: We have to get Parker Posey.
Can we talk about Paramount and the shows there?
BAILEY: They are great partners. We’ve had 15 years on the air, which is in no small part due to Viacom and Paramount.
BARBATO: Chris McCarthy has been amazing in identifying the power of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and growing it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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