“Don’t ‘Judge’ Me”
So, this week I met one of my icons.
You know the one, the most Googled drag queen on the internet.
The multiple Emmy Award-winning host of RuPaul’s Drag Race since 2010.
The recording artist who blasted into the public’s consciousness way back in 1993 when he released “Supermodel (of the World)” on the unsuspecting masses.
Yep, that one.
On Thursday, July 19, 2018 I happened to be in L.A., working in production for Nickelodeon’s 2018 Kids’ Choice Sports Awards at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California. Immediately after the show, I jump into my rental car and creep onto the dreaded North 405 Freeway during rush hour. Kids, do not try this at home. You will get frustrated and scream at cars in front of you, in back of you, and all around you. Certainly not a relaxing experience. Grimacing with determination, I turn the radio up louder, roll the windows down, prop my left arm out the window and sing along at top volume to my favorite songs. Come on, how else am I to soldier through a 25 MPH trek up to some godforsaken city named Sylmar?
As I inch my way closer to the soundstage where RuPaul’s Drag Race is currently shooting All Stars Season 4, a sharp sliver of anticipation slices through my tummy, which isn’t pleasant since I have to pee. The drive has not been a short one, and I’m already late as it is; my friend Ross Mathews just texted me that the queens have already strutted down the runway. Oh, did you catch the nonchalant way I dropped that name? You all know and love him as one of the permanent judges on the show, but in reality, that little bugger has been a pal of mine since he was about 14 years old … which means I have known him for over 25 years.
When I finally pull into the soundstage parking lot, a woman rushes out to greet me. “Are you Dario?” she asks. I nod. “Let’s hurry, you’re late.” I grab my bag, lock the car and follow her through a door that leads into a small, dark office. “Here,” she says, shoving a clipboard into my hands that holds a document for me to sign: an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). I should’ve known. Once one of those documents has been signed, your lips are sealed. If anything gets out about the show that films that day, they can trace the leak back to me. They needn’t have worried, though; I would never put Ross in that position, so I sign where I’m told. “Come on!” she whispers dramatically, pulling me away down another corridor.
“Wait!” I cry. “I’m sorry, but I have to go to the bathroom. I’m dying.”
“Okay. Hurry. There’s the bathroom,” she says, leading me through another office and pointing at a door.
I race inside, slam the door shut and lift the seat up so as not to leave any piss sprinkles in my wake. When I do so, however, I notice two dark pubic hairs coiled on the toilet rim. Shuddering, I try and ignore them as I relieve myself, briefly wondering if I should wipe the pubes away with some toilet paper. But since they’re not mine, and I’m in an awful hurry as it is, I just flush when I’m done, zip up, wash my hands and open the door to hurry outside. To my utter surprise, RuPaul’s best friend and fellow judge on the show, Michelle Visage, storms in past me, muttering that she must use the bathroom as well.
As the production assistant leads me away to the soundstage, I almost stop to retrace my steps and run back to the bathroom. Oh my fucking god, I think, the one-and-only Michelle Visage is going to see those pubes on the toilet and think they are MINE. Unfortunately, I didn’t put the toilet seat back down since I was in such a rush, obviously having no idea that a super famous television personality was going to come barging in after me. I groan inwardly and try to brush it off, but just like those two pesky hairs, I can’t seem to wipe my embarrassed worries aside. Poor Michelle had to put that dirty toilet seat down by herself, no doubt disgusted that I must possess an unruly pubic bush that sheds.
Shaking my head, all I can do is follow the PA though a labyrinth of corridors until we come to the stage where the magic happens.
I’m here. At RuPaul’s fucking Drag Race.
As one can imagine, it’s a bit surreal. I glance at the brightly lit stage and the iconic runway as I’m led to a small, darkened side area to the right of the judges’ panel, where there are some fold-out chairs and a video monitor to watch the proceedings. I sit down and a cute guy next to me whispers hello and introduces himself as Raymond Braun. I recognize him immediately, introduce myself, then say a quick greeting to CJay, Ross’ best friend, who is sitting behind me. As Ross already explained via text, I have missed the runway portion of the show, which is a total drag (pun intended), but they still need to shoot some b-roll footage and start the lip-sync smackdown “for – your – LIFE!” (Insert echo effect here.)
Suddenly, Ross comes bounding over, having seen me walk in. We greet one another with a familiar hug and proper air kisses, being that this is “Hollywood,” after all. We promise to meet up when he’s done filming for the day to go back to Ross’ house in Burbank and then out to dinner somewhere fabulous.
A few moments after Ross is back seated at the panel, however, I hear a voice calling out, “Daaario? Oh, Daaario??!!” I would recognize that distinctive voice anywhere.
It’s RuPaul’s voice.
RuPaul, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Drag,” is calling my name and summoning me over for a tête-à-tête.
In a daze, I feel myself stand up and walk over to the judges. I stop in front of them, peering up. Who knew that the judges’ table is so high up and that the lights are so blinding? Beautifully lit before me sit the Holy Trinity of Drag from left to right – Michelle Visage, RuPaul, and Ross Mathews. I’m gagging.
Ru is practically winking at me. Or maybe he’s winking at Ross. Whatever is going on, Ru wants to know who I am and how I know Ross. Perhaps my unusual name has piqued his interest, along with being one of Ross’ guests who Ru had never met before.
So, we chit chat.
Yes, I chit chat with RuPaul and Michelle Visage, standing before them in all my tattooed glory, and it’s off to the races we go.
Ru and Michelle obviously have deep ties to New York, so we gab like a couple of locals – they grill me on where I live, what my neighborhood in Brooklyn is like, and what’s going to happen when the L train shuts down for a few months’ time for repairs. Seriously, how did they even know about that potential subway furor? Not surprisingly, they are sweet and kind, totally informed, and great listeners, just like they are on the show. I am duly impressed and, somehow, not too starstruck after all. I guess meeting so many celebrities in my storied work life has really paid off. Ross doesn’t say a word, just grins down at me like the Cheshire Cat; I certainly feel a bit like Alice, who’s tumbled down a Hollywood-sized rabbit hole into a gorgeous drag Wonderland.
After several minutes of back and forth, two guest judges suddenly appear on opposite sides of the table to take their seats: one, a twink that I learn later is Australian actor, dancer, and singer Keiynan Lonsdale, and the other a gorgeous Olympic skier who just happens to be the “out” and outstanding Gus Kenworthy. Swoon. My heart skips a beat as we make eye contact when he sits down. On pure instinct, I blow him a kiss which is not something I’m prone to do. How cheeky of me! Luckily, he and Ross chuckle over my impetuous romantic gesture. I wave goodbye to the judges and then somehow make my way back to that little side area in the dark without stumbling over a snaking light cable or my own two feet at that point. Only when I sit back down do I marvel at what just transpired. Mere moments ago, I was literally chatting face-to-face with some of the most famous faces in the world – yes, the world – and lived to tell the tale.
Now you know my tale.
But that’s not all. I’m able to watch the final lip sync between all-star queens Trinity the Tuck and Manila Luzon to “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. Manila prevails and Gia Gunn is [using her nasal tone of voice] “absolutely” sent packing.
Bye, fresh tilapia!
And hello, Ross and Michelle in Ross’ dressing room after the show!
CJay snaps photos of me with the two judges, and I personally thank God that Michelle does not bring up the two pubic hairs on the toilet seat. I somehow manage to bite my tongue and not mention it myself since I’ve been stewing over it this whole time. Luckily, Michelle leaves us quickly to change and Ross showers me with some Drag Race merchandise while I shower him with compliments. Thank you, Ross! You’re an absolute angel.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Never meet your idols,” right? Well, don’t believe that. I got to hang with three of my drag idols, and they far exceeded any possible limitations. In effect, they told me, “Shantay, you stay.”
Now, dear reader, it’s time for you to sashay away.
And please don’t “Judge” me for being so fabulous.