"THIS IS THE culmination of an 11-year process for me," says drag diva RuPaul. "And, honey, I will not be ignored."

And this is the story of how a 6-foot 7-inch glamazon became America's favorite drag queen. It all began when his inescapable hit dance record "Supermodel" introduced the phrases "you better work" and "Sashay, shante" into the lexicon. His appearance as a red-white-and-blue star-spangled wonder woman was the hit of this spring's Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. Suddenly ubiquitous (and looking the way Diana Ross, Cher and Ivana Trump wish they could look) on MTV, BET, magazines and talk shows, RuPaul became the ultimate paper doll, a pop culture heroine who was really a he. RuPaul appears Friday at the Van Ness campus gymnasium of the University of District of Columbia. Dancing will be allowed, the ads proclaim. As if there was any way to prevent it.

"It's all exactly what I projected for myself years ago," says RuPaul, calling from his record company's New York offices. "At five years old, I realized I was a superstar trapped in a five-year-old's body. And I had to do something about that! I would achieve this by any means necessary -- if it meant donning a gorilla outfit or dressing up as an inanimate object, so be it."

A native of San Diego who grew up in Atlanta, RuPaul says he was always encouraged to be whatever he wanted to be by his mother, Miss Ernestine Charles, who died of cancer earlier this year, shortly before RuPaul finished the video for "Back to My Roots." A bodacious tribute to black hair styles as cultural expression, it begins with an affectionate "shout-out" to the woman who named him RuPaul 28 years ago.

"My mother got the name out of Ebony magazine," RuPaul says. "It was spelled Ripoll, but she's Creole, so she made it into this saucy, Frenchy concoction. I always teased her that with a name like RuPaul Andre Charles, I could have either gotten into show business or become a hairdresser. So I chose both," he says, and laughs, a deep, fierce-but-friendly sound.

"My mother was my first inspiration; she was totally a drag queen," says RuPaul, meaning highest praise. "Her personality was larger than life, she had great comic timing and a sense of style and self. I've just been realizing she was such a rebel, and would do what she needed to do, regardless of what everyone else was doing. She taught me strength and how to be my own self."

And what exactly might that be?

"The character is part of it, that's an extension of my frivolous side," RuPaul says. "See, I'm yin-yang, the whole shebang. I grew up in a house full of girls -- my mother, my three sisters and me. My two older sisters turned me on to pop culture -- records and dancing and fashion and fun. But on the other side, I'm Scorpio, and very intense and heavy, too, so it sort of balances it out. Being a resident alien, I've been up against opposition all my life, and rather than turn it into something negative, I've always tried to turn it into good energy. I understood people's insecurities and why they behaved the way they did. I couldn't exactly hide, you know -- I was six foot tall at 16 years old."

Still larger than life, RuPaul proves he's more than a novelty act or one-hit wonder, working out on a variety of R&B and dance styles on his album "Supermodel of the World."

"I listen to it all the time, and that's the real test," RuPaul says. "The first records I bought when I was a kid were disco records. So I wanted to have that fun and frivolousness of disco records, and also talk about things, not too heavy, but about the life and being different. Like the song 'Stinky Dinky' is about how it doesn't matter what you do, just as long as you're fierce and you feel good about yourself. In fact, a lot of the things society puts down about you are the best things about you.

"Going out and doing what I'm doing is a sign to everyone who is an individual, who has feelings of wanting to do something -- not necessarily dressing in drag or whatever -- but anyone who has an idea or a feeling should just stand up and go for it," RuPaul says. "I'm a living example that, hey, it can be done. You can be successful at it."

Just this morning RuPaul signed the lease on a new apartment, "a bright and sunny place on a tree-lined street in the West Village where I can get a cab really quickly," says RuPaul. "And lots of closet space."

"This is where I'm going to write my book," he says. "It's about my life as a supermodel -- it's sort of 'factional,' where fiction and fact are mixed together. My story from the early years -- the terrible catalogue work years -- with a lot of my philosophy, beauty tips, everything."

You go, girl: RuPaul just finished recording "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Elton John. "I did, of course, the Kiki Dee part," RuPaul laughs, "I was just in hog heaven." To top it all off, Donna Summer's longtime disco producer Giorgio Moroder produced the track, which will be released in December. RuPaul will sing Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" on the "Find a Cure: Red Hot + Disco" AIDS benefit album due out in January. And on Oct. 8, RuPaul will roast Whoopi Goldberg at a Friar's Club banquet, and he's doing a Christmas special for British TV -- he's already recorded "The Little Drummer Boy."

RuPaul describes his live show as "Ziegfield's Las Vegas extravaganza in a half an hour. I grew up on the Cher show and Diana Ross in Vegas, and I have costume changes, standup comedy, songs, runway modeling, questions from the audience, a little something for everyone."

By the way, what does one wear to a RuPaul show?

"I think you should dress comfortably, because you're gonna dance and you're gonna sweat," RuPaul says. "So I think you should wear something loose and sexy. And waterproof makeup. I have a little Supermodel contest in the show, and I pull people up on the stage who I see in the audience who really got it going on. So if you want to be a Supermodel, you have to wear something that will catch my eye."

RUPAUL -- Appearing Friday with Robin S and the Gangsta Queens With Attitude at the UDC Van Ness campus gymnasium, Connecticut and Van Ness NW. Call 202/432-7328. To hear a Sound Bite from RuPaul's "Supermodel of the World," call 202/334-9000 and press 8121.