Season 11 starts with a couple Emmys in hand for VH1 series

The eleventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race got going on VH1 February 28, and a nifty group of guest judges take the stage this season. They include Miley Cyrus, who was on the premiere, Joel McHale, Lena Waithe, Wanda Sykes, Natasha Lyonne and Tony Hale.

Cyrus “came in ready to play,” according to Randy Barbato, exec producer.

Also lined up for a special guest appearance this season is MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “Ru is a huge fan of Rachel’s,” said Barbato. “She was super-fun to work with.”

Fifteen contestants fight it out for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” RuPaul hosts, and Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley and Ross Matthews do some judging. The winner gets the title, and $100,000.

Eleven seasons represents a pretty good run for a series. “I love that people are so engaged and talking about the show,” said Barbato. “The headline is, people are still enthusiastic. People seem happy.”

Barbato likens RuPaul’s Drag Race to, yes, a drag queen. “it’s endlessly reinventing itself,” he said. “It’s endlessly entertaining.”

He said the show continues to appeal to new viewers, who tune in expecting one thing--a “freak show,” Barbato said--and find a real affinity for the contestants. “They connect with, and fall in love with, the cast,” he said. Cast members, he adds, are marginalized for much of their lives, then get to celebrate their artistry on the show.

The contestants include Brooke Lynn Hytes of Nashville, Mercedes Iman Diamond of Minneapolis, Scarlet Envy of New York and Silky Nutmeg Ganache of Chicago.

The show made some history in the fall when it snagged Emmys for outstanding reality-competition program, and for outstanding host of a reality program.

The guest judges schlep to an out-of-the-way place to shoot the show. Barbato won’t say where it is in the interest of avoiding spoilers, but said it’s a good 45 minutes outside Los Angeles. Guests “can’t phone it in,” he said.

Last season’s guest judges included Christina Aguilera, Shania Twain and Lena Dunham. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, turned up on Drag Race a year ago. Pelosi, in fact, was the only guest judge to have the entire Drag Race crew surround her for a photo.

“It was a pretty special moment,” said Barbato.

RuPaul’s Drag Race will continue for some time. The producers don’t think about an end date, Barbato noted. “I can’t see it not going on. The future without Drag Race is like a future without sunshine,” said Barbato.

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