The album peaked at #109 on the Billboard 200. Instant (and unexpected) popularity among all types of listeners triggered the ascent of RuPaul to celebrity status. Before the release of the album RuPaul was known primarily for being the only drag queensupermodel (hence the album title). The album's first single, "Supermodel (You Better Work)", was a huge club and dance hit that peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieved Gold sales status. The video for the song was put into heavy rotation on MTV; this was a huge surprise to RuPaul and his record label as, at the time, the music being heavily played on MTV was grunge, gangsta rap, and rock. In addition to the success of "Supermodel (You Better Work)" "Back to My Roots" charted #1 on the Billboard Club/Dance Play Songs Chart on July 24, 1993 and "A Shade Shady (Now Prance)" also charted #1 on the Billboard Club/Dance Play Songs on October 9, 1993 and reached #40 on the UK singles chart. The album was reissued on Rhino Records.
African-American actress/comedienne LaWanda Page (best known as Aunt Esther on the television series Sanford and Son) was featured in spoken word clips on several album tracks, though she is heard most notably on the hit single "Supermodel (You Better Work)". That song's chorus also features RuPaul repeating the phrase "Sashay! Shantay!" When asked about the meaning of "shantay", RuPaul replied that the term means "to weave a bewitching spell." (Possibly from the French "enchanté" which is cognate to English "enchanted".) The term had previously appeared in the 1990 drag ballroom documentary Paris Is Burning.
The album when first released became a surprise hit and was met with positive reviews. Alex Henderson from AllMusic gave the album 4 1/2 stars and described the album as "A colorful transvestite and icon of African-American gay culture whose outrageous sense of humor never seems to let up, Ru Paul could arguably be described as 'The Little Richard of '90s Dance Music.' But Ru Paul isn't the novelty act some have dismissed him as being. Boasting a decent vocal range and a strong passion for '70s disco/soul, Ru Paul is a bona fide dance/house music artist whose debut album, Supermodel proved him to be a definite asset to '90s house and R&B. When he tears into 'Supermodel (You Better Work)' and other overtly '70s-influenced dance-floor gems, Ru Paul shows himself to be a sweaty, emotional belter who projects a lot more soul and honest emotion than most of the cookie-cutter artists dominating '90s urban-contemporary radio. Hopefully, those able to look past his wild image will come to realize how good a singer he is."
Vince Aletti in the Village Voice wrote that the record "conveys the fizzy, optimistic feel of late 1970s dance music without sounding a bit retro. " Aletti lauded the successful way in which RuPaul had blended camp and commerce into accessible pop. "Ru struts through all this froth with a lot less attitude and a lot more down-to-earth talent than you had any reason to expect," Aletti noted, and saved particular praise for the cut "Back to My Roots," a homage to elaborate African-American hairdos. "Who else could have turned an annotated mantra of black hair styles into an Afrocentric aria?" Aletti wondered.