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RuPaul’s DragCon Sweeps New York City—Next Stop: World Domination

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has done something other brands and franchises often fail to do: hook them while they’re young.

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at RuPaul’s DragCon NYC, just after 10 a.m. last Sunday, was that the drag convention was sharing the Javits Center with a rug show. By the time I left four hours later, I’d seen half a dozen khaki-clad veterans of the carpeting industry snap selfies with seven-foot-tall drag queens in 10-inch lacquered pumps. Clearly, something was catching.

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Since its Los Angeles debut in 2015, DragCon has pulled in such massive crowds that organizers World of Wonder Productions decided to go bi-coastal with the live event this year, which mirrors the success of the show it’s based on.

RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Trixie Mattel poses with a fan. In recent months the drag star has released a country album and inked a deal for a comedy show airing later this year on Vice. [Photo: Daisy Korpics for Fast Company]
RuPaul’s Drag Race, the reality competition where America’s best-known drag queen RuPaul Charles and a panel of judges try to find “America’s next drag superstar,” proved itself a cult hit years ago. But it was only this year that the franchise moved from Logo–the LGBT-focused TV network where it premiered on a shoestring budget in 2009–to VH1, in a move that seems a belated acknowledgment of Drag Race’s mass appeal beyond its original niche audience.

One 21-year-old DragCon attendee proudly informed me that she hails from South Plainfield, New Jersey, the same town where Michelle Visage, Ru’s chief deputy on Drag Race and a persona in her own right, went to high school–and that she’d started watching “four or five years ago.”

Michelle Visage [Photo: Joel Arbaje for Fast Company]
But if drag’s swift entrance into mainstream pop culture comes courtesy of RuPaul (whose single “Call Me Mother” was performed on last week’s So You Think You Can Dance in a voguing-inspired routine seldom seen on Fox), DragCon’s New York debut made it clear that Ru is just giving the kids what they want.

Teenagers and even younger children, many accompanied by parents, waited on long lines to hug their favorite queens. They crowded up to tables for a chance to paint glitter onto every available square patch of skin. By lunchtime, a third of the cosmetics at Sugarpill’s makeup table was marked as sold out. A marketing coordinator at Scruff told me that the majority of people snapping selfies at the gay hookup app’s photo booth were young women and girls. “I’ve been constantly saying, ‘If you’re under 18, I can’t let you back there!'”

Take a close look at the fierce and fabulously painted faces in Fast Company’s portraits from this weekend–you’ll undoubtedly be seeing more of them.

About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.

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