Bob the Drag Queen on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ His New Film, and Drag in the Age of Trump
With his new movie, ‘Cherry Pop,’ coming out, we talk to the reigning winner of ‘Drag Race’ about Pride Month, whether drag is a political act, and who should win the new season.
It’s been a little more than year since Bob the Drag Queen sashayed—purse first, of course—down the runway at the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 finale, wearing the crown anointing him America’s next drag superstar.
It’s been quite the year.
Bob, whose real name is Caldwell Tidicue, is the first winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race—a title that explodes a drag performer’s visibility and gives them an unrivaled megaphone for their message—to reign during Donald Trump’s presidency, a political climate that has given the show a palpable sense of urgency and meaning.
As Season 9 contestant Farrah Moan told The Daily Beast at the show’s season premiere party, “I think when someone like Donald Trump becomes president and all these things start happening, it would scare me if I was a kid. I think it would be really special for me as a kid to be able to watch people be gay as hell, all that they want, in the real world and do big things like this.”
In addition to being America’s second-most visible drag queen in the age of Trump—RuPaul will always be No. 1—Bob is also starring in a new film, Cherry Pop. Co-starring fellow Drag Race alums Latrice Royale, Detox, and Tempest Dujour, the film takes place during a small divey gay bar’s drag show, in which a new queen is set to perform for the first time. (Cherry Pop will kick off NYC Pride on June 19 as part of OutCinema, before premiering in L.A. and San Francisco in July.)
And with Season 9 of Drag Race set to announce its winner on Friday and it being Pride Month, we talked with Bob about the film, when he popped his drag cherry, doing drag in today’s political climate, and, of course, who he thinks should fill his heels as the new winner of Drag Race.
Does it feel different being on a film set with other drag queens versus being on Drag Race with them?
Well RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality TV show and the stakes are higher, because essentially one person is going to be paid a lot more than everybody else and the goal is to get that money. On a movie set it’s a lot calmer. There’s no competition. It’s not as stressful.
What was the vibe on set?
It felt like a gig. No one was competing with anyone else. You’re working together instead against each other.
How close is your character Kitten to you when you’re performing as Bob?
Pretty similar. I played the character years ago when I did the short film probably like five or six years ago. It’s pretty close to my actual self, because that’s what the director actually wanted.
The movie is about a drag queen popping his cherry, performing for the first time. Do you remember the first time you did it?
My first time being in drag was during gay pride. I was wearing these hooker boots. I was wearing this flat wig with bangs, and a skirt as a dress. I went to a lesbian party because I was with my lesbian friends. Eventually my feet hurt so bad that I was literally crawling home at the end of the night because I couldn’t stand the pain.
Do you remember your first time performing in drag?
My first time ever performing in drag was at the New York Comedy Club. I was doing stand-up. It’s actually online. The video is called “Funny Drag Queen, Part One.” My first time performing was a lot better than my first time just being in drag, because I was doing what I love to do, which is perform.
How did you look the first time you did drag?
I didn’t look good. It was not a good look. It was pretty bad, actually. But I looked as best as I could have with the skills that I had. I certainly wouldn’t want to look like that today. If I saw a queen who looked that I would probably think she looked real bad. (Laughs.)
Do you remember how you felt doing it for the first time? Were you nervous?
It was pride, so you know—during pride everyone has more courage than normally. I just thought of it as, “I’m at pride! Living my dreams!” I definitely regretted it once I got home because my fucking feet hurt so bad. I don’t know if I’ve had pain that bad since.
Does pride feel different to you this year, given all that’s going on in the country? I mean this week we observed the anniversary of the Pulse shooting.
Not to me, to be honest. This is not the first time that the gay community has been through turmoil or loss. Pride feels different than it did when I was 19 years old. But that’s not because of what the state of the world was. It’s because I’ve matured and I’ve learned a lot about my queer culture since then.
You’re ending your year as the reigning winner of Drag Race. Does pride feel different when you’re the reigning queen?
This is my second pride as the reigning queen. It’s been a year and a couple months at this point since I won. So it is my second pride as the queen of all queens. My concept of pride hasn’t really changed. My pride has always been about not just living without fear, but activism and living out loud. I said last year that living without fear is a form of activism, and I still believe it.
What does it feel then to have the platform as the Drag Race winner to spread that message?
I definitely have a bigger platform now than I did before I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race. More people certainly know about me. But my core values haven’t changed since before I won Drag Race.
There seems to be a higher sense of urgency and necessity of pride this year, with people wanting to rally in response to the shift in politics and the contentious culture we’re living in. Does the act of drag seem more inherently political now because of that, too?
Drag has always been extremely political. I think drag might be perceived as more political now, but I don’t think that drag has actually changed its stance on politics. RuPaul famously said, “Every time I bat my eyelashes it’s a political statement.” That is extremely true. A lot has changed in the world. Since Pulse happened, a lot of people’s mindsets have changed, but I don’t think it changed drag. Drag might be recognized as more political now, but drag has always been extremely political. Drag queens were at the Stonewall riots for crying out loud.
How has the growing popularity of Drag Race and the queens’ increased visibility changed the political nature of drag?
Drag is not changing. Drag is being recognized more, and there are more people doing drag. But the act of drag itself is still punk rock. It is still political. It is still what it’s always been, which is breaking the rules. But I don’t think that drag itself is changing. Does that make sense at all? Everyone thinks that all this drag you’re seeing on TV is the first time this has ever happened. There have always been drag queens like myself, like Sasha Velour, like Bianca Del Rio, like Thorgy Thor, like Kim Chi. It’s just that they weren’t as visible before. So I think that a lot of people think that because of this show a lot of types of drag are just being invented, but that isn’t the case. It’s just being showcased.
What effect does it have on our culture now that drag is more visible and more accessible and seen?
I don’t know if it’s having any effect on culture at large. It is in the homes of more Americans than ever now. I think people are learning things about drag queens and trans people that they didn’t know before because it’s being put out in no uncertain terms what trans is and what drag is and what it’s like to live these lives. I would say Drag Race is the most important show to queer culture ever because never in the history of television has a show had more drag queens, or more queer men, or more queer people of culture ever. What is happening is that people are getting a better understanding of what it means to be queer or to be trans.
When I talked to the queens from this season of Drag Race at the premiere they all vocalized their excitement to be doing drag on the show at this period in time especially, with Trump as president. They said that they found it very meaningful.
I think that it will be good for people to see what we do. But on the other hand, drag has always existed just fine in its own incubator without the world seeing it at this scale. It’s great that more people are seeing it, but I don’t think it will change drag. Drag itself is counterculture.
Quickly before you go, let’s talk about this season of Drag Race. What was your take on Valentina and the mask?
I thought she should go home because she didn’t know the words! That’s what it boils down to in this competition. You didn’t do what this competition asks you to do. You didn’t know the words to the lip sync, you gotta go home girl! I know there are a lot of Valentina fans who were like, “No!” But the truth is when you don’t do well in the challenge or on the runway or in the lip sync, you fail on all three platforms, you gotta go home!
What’s your take on the top four? Who’s looking strongest?
The top four is amazing. Let’s just start by saying that. I support RuPaul’s decision to keep all four because it is a tough decision. These girls are all good. Who did the best in the competition? The answer is obviously Shea Coulee. Who is my favorite queen? It’s Peppermint. She’s one of my heroes. I love her. She is just phenomenal. I learned so much about performing from watching Peppermint perform in New York City. The first time I ever did at a night club that wasn’t a comedy club, Peppermint was hosting the show. She’s a legend. She’s so professional. Before Drag Race she’d already traveled the world and done albums and released music videos. She is epic.
Oh that’s really cool. I didn’t realize the two of you had such a connection.
Trinity also won my heart this season. And Sasha Velour is just sickening. The first time I met Sasha, I thought to myself that this girl is really fucking special. Sasha was my early pick. Before the season even started I said that I thought Sasha was going to win.