RuPaul, Entertainment Weekly

Tony Kelly/Entertainment Weekly

Who better to cover Entertainment Weekly's annual pride issue than RuPaul?

The magazine is dedicating its June 23 edition to the world's most famous drag queen. After more than 30 years in the spotlight, the Emmy-winning superstar host looks back at his rise to fame—and reveals what's next. In the beginning of his career, RuPaul says, "Drag was a tool—it was the most punk-rock antiestablishment thing we could do. It had nothing to do with being gay, nothing to do with wanting to be a woman. It was about challenging the ideals of identity and making a political statement against the Reagan '80s and the existing drag community."

After moving from Atlanta to New York City in his early 20s, he became known as the Queen of Manhattan. A cameo in The B-52s' "Love Shack" music video gave RuPaul his first national television exposure. And as a result, Vh1 later green-lit his own variety series: The RuPaul Show.

RuPaul credits two other moments for making him a household name: a 1993 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show and a 1994 modeling contract with MAC Cosmetics. After a brief stint in L.A., RuPaul returned to New York, determined to prove he wasn't a one-trick pony. It was then that he decided to focus on a specific look—one that he still wears to this day. "I took the sexualized raunchiness out. The glamazon supermodel was a caricature that you could bring home to meet Mom and Dad. I was well-spoken," RuPaul, 56, says. "I was Miss Black America."

And, after the success of his dance single "Supermodel (You Better Work)," RuPaul was more famous than he'd ever dreamed. Like it or not, he became the face of the drag community. "I knew, based on the questions I was asked, that my days of having fun in drag were over," he says of the 1990s. "It was clear I had to represent a faction of society that didn't have a voice."

The RuPaul Show was canceled after 100 episodes in 1998, and so RuPaul decided to take a break—for eight years. "I had been hustling for so long, and I needed to move to L.A. to reclaim my own personal rhythm. I became sober. Therapy led me to understand why I do what I do," he says. "When I came back to show business, I was doing it for different reasons: color and music and love and laughter and beauty. All those reasons why I get out of bed in the morning."

In 2009, the first episode of RuPaul's Drag Race aired on Logo. Though he'd resisted reality for years, RuPaul realized this was a way to give back to the drag community. Currently in its ninth season (airing on Vh1), the competition series has more viewers than ever. But better ratings are not enough for RuPaul. "My next act has to do with passing on my point of view. I'm writing a book, I'm doing lectures. I'm trying to be a better curator to my philosophy: learning to love yourself. That's what it's about," he says. "Maybe I'm just doing it with a pair of cha-cha heels."

Entertainment Weekly's pride issue is on newsstands Friday.

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