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!