“Strap in, strap on, get ready — this is humongo.”
That’s how celebrity judge Ross Mathews expressed his excitement at the New York premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 15, held at the Conrad Hotel in Downtown Manhattan.
One significant change this season is that the flagship series has jumped to MTV after airing on VH1 for the past six years, which brought MTV icons Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Jenni “JWoww” Farley to the red carpet to support their new network sisters. Polizzi revealed that their New Year’s goal is to serve as guest judges on “Drag Race.”
“VH1 is our sister, but now that RuPaul and all the queens are with us, we’re officially a unit,” the “Jersey Shore” star told Variety. “Me and Jenny, our 2023 goal is to be judges on the new ‘RuPaul.’ Let’s put it into the universe, it needs to happen.”
If asked to sit at the judge’s table, Polizzi teased that she’d match the sassy energy of the reality series.
“I love the performance and I love the sass,” Polizzi said. “I obviously love the whole look and everything, but I would go for the sassy performance. It’s gotta be a show for me.”
This season’s roster of celebrity guest judges includes Julia Garner, Harvey Guillén, Hayley Kiyoko, Janelle Monáe, Maren Morris, Orville Peck, Megan Statler, Amandla Stenberg and Ali Wong. Ariana Grande will return as a guest judge for the two-part season premiere.
“You could see that [Grande] had a true love for what we do,” said contestant Mistress Isabelle Brooks. “She was talking to people who were artists, and she saw that. We weren’t just like dancing monkeys to her.”
Other arrivals at the premiere included New York City council member Erik Bottcher, a member of the LGBTQ+ Caucus. Last month, Bottcher’s office and home were vandalized by protesters after he shared his support for Drag Story Hour events at local libraries. Two protesters were arrested for criminal trespassing, and a third was apprehended for physically assaulting one of Bottcher’s neighbors.
“I saw firsthand the face of hate in its purest form,” Bottcher said. “For the people who crossed the line — vandalizing property, committing acts of violence and visibly intimidating people — the message needs to be sent that that will not be tolerated. That’s why it was so important that the people who trespassed in my building were arrested. First Amendment, yes, but that’s not okay.”
Season 15 contestant and Nashville resident Aura Mayari emphasized that Tennessee is one of many states where lawmakers are considering bills to ban public drag performances.
“’Drag Race’ is about celebrating humanity, celebrating love,” Mayari said. “We’re here to expand that love to a lot of people. We’re just men that are cross-dressers — it’s not that serious.”
Contestant Salina EsTitties said the backlash against drag performances feels like a distraction from bigger political issues.
“There are people with guns that are shooting up schools, and no one’s getting down on gun control,” EsTitties said. “Drag queens aren’t hurting anybody. We’re gonna get louder and be more in your face, but we’re not throwing bullets, we’re throwing glitter.”
Said Mathews, “Drag and ‘Drag Race’ has always been political — Ru says she can’t blink her false eyelashes without making a political statement. Even though drag is as old as Shakespearean times, we’re now being used as this cultural wedge to divide people. That’s not what drag is about, and we won’t let them do it.”
He credited the reality series for highlighting the universal aspects of the drag queen experience.
“Yes, it’s drag queens competing to be the best of the best, but what it’s really about is the human heart,” Mathews said. “Expressing yourself and being your true authentic self to the best of your abilities — whatever that may be.”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” premieres Jan. 6 on MTV at 8 p.m.