Top Ten RuPaul’s Drag Race Queens
RuPaul’s Drag Race bamboozles me. I’m not sure I’ve encountered a television programme that so successfully tickles my trash T.V. node yet bursts with such unusual creativity and inspiring vision, and as much as I’m dubious as to whether this air of high art is intentional, I have no doubt that this show is brilliant. In celebration of its peculiar wonder, I’ve compiled my ten favourite drag queens from the first eight seasons, based on aesthetic, character, star quality and general ability to werk.
I’m still not entirely sure what ‘werk’ means, but I’m assuming it’s something good.
10. Willam Belli
Watching Season 4, I often forgot Willam was a contestant. Her hilariously mean asides about her fellow competitors painted her instead as a sort of twisted narrator who was only there to make fun of people and occasionally look incredible on the runway. Her journey through the competition, although controversially cut short, was effortless, and it is difficult to imagine that she wouldn’t have sailed into the top three had she taken things a little bit more seriously. Regardless of any rule breaking scandals, there’s no denying that Willam was easily one of the funniest contestants of all time.
More often than not, Milk’s entrance onto the runway came paired with a shot of the judging panel, aghast, attempting to comprehend whether or not the thing before them could even be considered drag. It is perhaps no surprise that Milk came perilously close to elimination the week she stepped out onto the runway dressed as a man, but it is controversy such as this that made her such an exciting and memorable contestant. Her wildly out-of-the-box approach was maybe too edgy for Season 6, but it’s seems as if the ever evolving world of drag is starting to catch up with her. Is it any coincidence that a bearded lady challenge and a boy drag challenge featured the year after?
8. Latrice Royale
No matter how ugly her black, leather boots, no queen will ever walk into the work room and match the charisma and delightful quotability of Latrice Royale. To this day, I cannot walk down the snacks aisle without announcing “Get those nuts away from my face!” to whoever may be present, and, frankly, it’s making my life a nightmare. Awkward shopping experiences aside, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a cut throat, occasionally delusional television program, so it was refreshing to have a queen as grounded, laid back, and often motherly as Latrice Royale. You only need to listen to the audience chanting her name at the Miss Congeniality crowning to know how well she was received.
Season 2 was the first I saw of Drag Race, and Jujubee was the first queen I fell in love with. That infectious blend of jovial cattiness and animated comedy really brightened a season otherwise plagued with unnecessarily bitchy energy. To date, I can’t recall a library reading more hilariously scathing than Jujubee’s, and this, combined with her excellent facial expressions and loving friendship with season runner-up Raven (a badass queen, who just missed a spot on this list), left a lasting impression which, essentially, converted me from skeptical dabbler to full-time fan of the show.
6. Jinkx Monsoon
I instantly took a liking to Jinkx, but her unusually meek, dreamer attitude conjured the image of a queen who would enjoy a brief, entertaining run before parting amicably around week six for lacking that cut-throat aplomb characteristic of previous winners. So, it was a pleasant surprise come the top four to see Jinkx still standing on the runway, having evolved into a powerhouse despite weeks of terrible adversity and bullying. Then came that legendary lip-sync with Detox, and, god damn, this bitch might go all the way. Who would have thought, following a season of heartbreak and underestimation (and Roxxxy Andrews), weird, little Jinkx would rise to the occasion, slay the three headed bitch dragon, Rolaskatox, and lift the crown for herself?
5. Katya Zamolodchikova
Yekaterina. Petrovna. Zamolodchikova. But your dad just calls her Katya. Time and time again, crippling anxiety has proved no match for everybody’s favourite Russian bisexual hooker, who succeeds repeatedly in being one of the funniest, most weirdly sexy queens in drag race herstory. If her time on Season 7 wasn’t enough to convince everyone of her curveball brilliance, her All Stars reprise was just the platform she needed to launch herself into meteoric stardom (and also into multiple full front splits). Had she and Detox done the tactical thing and eliminated Alaska in the makeover challenge, the crown would have been Katya’s for the taking, and the world would be a brighter, albeit more Soviet, place for it. #KatyaWasRobbed.
4. Kim Chi
I won’t lie; I found Season 8 dull. An arsenal of overconfident, half-baked acts and middling showgirls made for the most mediocre series of drag race to date. So praise be to Kim Chi, creative genius and saving grace for a season I’d most likely have stopped watching otherwise. Her tendency to draw reference from unusual places and polished execution of look after look made her a runway powerhouse, and I found myself excited for each episode just to see what magical ensemble she’d concocted this time. And she wasn’t a one trick pony, either. An ability to quickly adapt made her a comedy chameleon of sorts, often outshining so-called comedy queens in the skit challenges.
3. Adore Delano
In each of her seasons, Adore Delano came under fire for her unpolished, grungy approach to drag, but it’s that scrappy, blasé attitude that made her such a cool contestant. From her first, commanding stomp into the workroom, equipped with lashings of goofy fighting talk and streetwise charm, it was apparent there hadn’t yet been a queen quite like Adore. This isn’t to suggest she was some hard-as-nails, aggressive bitch, though. The loving mother/daughter dynamic between her and Bianca Del Rio was one of the best received relationships on the show, and Adore’s clumsy willingness to learn and admire only added to her plucky appeal.
2. Violet Chachki
It’s perhaps not prudent to ignore the controversy surrounding her win (in one queen’s words, “Apparently all you need to win is a corset”), but Violet Chachki is like an oil painting. I have a video compilation of all her runway looks saved on my computer and it plays like the dawn of a fashion icon, a faultless understanding of taste and strong sense of self conjuring for Violet a majesty that I, personally, could see strutting nowhere other than the top spot of Season 7. The attention to detail that adorned every look and unwavering confidence made Violet Chachki absolutely one of the most beautiful queens to grace drag race, and, come the Season 8 crowning, when she stood on stage in that gorgeous dress, waist like a toothpick and body covered in cockroaches, I knew this was a legacy she’d frozen into drag race herstory.
Raja has everything; The looks, the taste, the confidence the influence, the humour, the character. Above all other queens, she was the one I could foresee sashaying headstrong toward the crown without a shadow of a doubt, crushing every challenge thrown her way and summoning unforgettable looks from a pool of influence unchartered to any other contestant to date. I remember seeing her Marie Antoinette look for the first time and not being able to imagine a way in which she wasn’t strutting directly for first place, to far ahead in every way to concede defeat now. She is not only a legendary drag race contestant but a creative hero, and I’m not sure any queen will walk away with this kind of longevity ever again.