As we count the hours until tonight’s big premiere, it’s worth taking a moment and paying homage to the Drag Race winner who started it all: Season 1 winner, The Pride of Cameroon, Bebe Zahara Benet.
Vanity Fair caught up with her and asked her about the long-ago first season.
The show was a bit of an anomaly when it came out in 2009, she says, and it’s success was anything but assured.
“It was kind of risky,” Benet recalls. “There wasn’t a show out there like that.”
It was the contestants vulnerability that caught the audience by surprise.
“There was just a lot of heart in the show,” Benet says. “Me talking about H.I.V. in Africa, in Cameroon. Ongina talking about her own difficulty coming out about AIDS. Shannel talking about being overweight and how she had to overcome that . . . there was so much heart. I don’t know if I see that much with the other seasons.”
“There’s just something beautiful about how unique it was and how everybody was very authentic,” Benet says of Drag Race Season 1. “There wasn’t any blueprints to follow, so you just had to make your own.”
Of course, Benet can also poke fun at the first season’s famously low-budget aesthetic and oft-mocked camera quality (“I think Vaseline was a sponsor that season,” former Season 2 and 3 contestant Shangela once joked).
“I kind of look at the current seasons and I look at when we started, and I’m like, Oh my gosh!” Benet says with a laugh.
Benet is convinced that the first season of the show is easily the most interesting. Fans would agree, she thinks, if they ever got a chance to see it.
Says Vanity Fair:
Those inaugural episodes have been dubbed “The Lost Season” by fans; they’re nearly impossible to find alongside other episodes on platforms like Amazon, and only a handful of installments can be streamed on Logo’s site. That scarcity has made it more difficult for Season 1 queens to build their careers, Benet says: “You don’t see a lot of the Season 1 girls working, because a lot of the fans don’t even know [them]. It’s just so sad that a lot of people don’t still know who we are. It really is sad.”