×

Emmys: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Casting Directors Talk ‘Top Secret’ Audition Tapes, Trans Contestants

Ethan Petersen and Goloka Bolte, co-founders of the Casting Firm, are the keepers of the first door that drag queens have to sashay through to a land a spot on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

The duo, who have been casting the hit reality competition show for the last six of the show’s 10 seasons (and the upcoming 11th season), receive up to 3,000 applications from drag queens each season hoping to be crowned America’s next drag superstar. From there, 1,000 send in their audition tapes. By the time Petersen and Bolte are ready to present their choices to RuPaul and World of Wonder, they’ve dwindled the list down to just a few more than the 14 contestants who will get the chance to contour, death drop, and lip sync for their lives.

“To get this nomination for a show that represents the LGBT community, it’s huge for us,” Petersen says.  of the hit show landing 10 Emmy Award nods this year.

Bolte adds, “’Drag Race’ is like a bright light. It’s such a feel-good show. There’s so much love and positivity and that’s really what we all need right now.”

Variety spoke to Petersen and Bolte ahead of the Creative Arts Emmys with their second nomination for outstanding casting for a reality program.

What do you look for during auditions? What makes a good queen for “Drag Race?”

Ethan Petersen: They have to be dynamic, interesting and have a lot of talent. They have to be good at so many things. The queens are lip syncing, acting, dancing, singing, doing characters, sewing, showing comedy. They need to show that they can do all of that.

Goloka Bolte: We get about a thousand video tapes in and we personally watch every single one of them. So we are busy! We see a lot of the same girls every single year, and we get to see their growth.

EP: For the girls who audition year after year, we look at the acting challenges, the performances, seeing if their make-up has changed, seeing what sort of costumes they have now. Which queens has auditioned the most before they made it onto the show.

EP: We can’t say, but there are a lot queens that are on the show that have applied year after year. We encourage them to apply every single year.

Where are all those audition tapes?

GB: You’ll never know. It’s top secret.

EP: There are a lot of passwords you need to know to access them.

How important is diversity in the casting process?

GB: It’s definitely something we look for, both in different backgrounds and also in different types of drag and, different talents and skills. We want a little bit of everything. We want each member of the cast to feel a little bit different. So we definitely look for diversity.

And what do you say to the transgender contestants who want to be on the show? Are they welcome? (RuPaul faced backlash, but later apologized after telling the Guardian newspaper in March that he would “probably not” allow a trans woman who had already begun medical transitioning to be on the show.)

GB: Everyone is welcome to apply. We look for talent. We look for people who are amazing at the art of drag, who are great performers. We pitch the best of the best.

What does it feel like to see really young people becoming fans of the show and letting them know they could be who they want to be?

EP: When I attended RuPaul’s DragCon [the annual Comic Con-like convention for all things drag] for the first time, I walked in and there were kids everywhere. It really showed me the impact that this show has on young people. It’s one of the most beautiful things. They feel accepted and they have role models.

When are we going to see “RuPaul Celebrity Drag Race”? And who do you want to cast?

EP: [Laughs] No comment.

No comment on that one, huh?

EP: [Laughs] Goloka and I cast all the new queens, and that’s our role on the show. So, all that other stuff is really up to all the geniuses at World of Wonder.

Okay, so what are your drag names?

EP: I dressed up in drag not too long ago for a charity called Cycle For Survival which raises money for cancer research. My drag name is Viv, and I say it proudly.

GB: Mine is Lady Diamond. We are Viv and Lady Diamond!

More TV

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Mike Fleiss

    ‘The Bachelor’ Creator Mike Fleiss Accused of Attacking Wife

    “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” creator Mike Fleiss has been accused of attacking his wife Laura Fleiss at their home in Hawaii on July 4, according to documents obtained by Variety. The documents show that Laura Fleiss, who is currently pregnant, filed for an emergency domestic violence restraining order against her husband after he allegedly [...]

  • James Cordon Drag Race Handmaids Tale

    Emmys Trivia: 20 Surprising Facts From 2019's Nominations

    For a show that technically wasn’t eligible at the Emmy Awards in 2019, “The Handmaid’s Tale” did quite well this year. The Hulu drama picked up 11 nominations, including major ones like outstanding directing, writing, guest actress and guest actor, thanks to a quirk in the TV Academy’s Emmy rules. As previously noted, most of [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost

    'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost to Pop's Profile

    The core executive team at Pop TV expected to be disappointed, but they still gathered at the CBS-owned cable channel’s Playa Vista offices early Tuesday morning for the reveal of this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. They were not disappointed. “Schitt’s Creek,” the quirky comedy series that has punched above its weight for Pop since [...]

  • Beyonce-HOMECOMING-Netflix

    Beyoncé, Sara Bareilles Vie for First Emmys as Ramin Djawadi Looks to Reclaim Throne

    Beyoncé and Sara Bareilles could add Emmy trophies to their awards shelves this year, having been nominated in key music categories Tuesday by the Television Academy. Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” special on Netflix was nominated in six categories, and four of those include a nod for the pop superstar herself. Only one of those is in a [...]

  • Disney Content Sales President Janice Marinelli

    Disney Content Sales President Janice Marinelli to Depart

    Janice Marinelli, president of global sales and marketing at Walt Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international segment, said Tuesday that she would step down from her role after a 34-year career at the company. “It has been an honor to work for this company and a privilege to work with so many outstanding professionals,” said Marinelli in [...]

  • Dusty Slay

    Late-Night Bookers Take to the Internet in Search of Emerging Comics

    With Netflix releasing a comedy special every week and YouTube offering a portal into both cutting-edge performance and the best comedy sets in history, it’s never been easier for audiences to access an endless stream of standup. But for fledgling comics, there’s still no more game-changing showcase than a five-minute slot on a late-night talk [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content