In anticipation of the sixth season of Rupaul’s Drag Race, we have decided to rank all sixty queens from the first five seasons over six posts leading up to the premiere next Monday... This edition takes on #20-->11.
While many bloggers have listed their favourite queens and lip-syncs many times before, the challenge I have presently made for myself has been to rank every queen—that is, the glamazons and the amateurs. This list saw many revisions, and once it is posted I will not be able to, in a change of heart, go back and rank Serena Cha Cha even lower. While I did not devise a framework or a code of critical principles for my rankings, I have since found that certain preferences can be decoded from this list. Here are some idioms to keep in mind while following this countdown to the greatest drag superstar of Rupaul’s Drag Race: 1. Fishy is fine, but not alone does it make a legendary queen; 2. A true queen has an extensive breadth of reference; 3. Reading is, in fact, fundamental; 4. A taste for camp goes a long way; and 5. High concept ensembles are rarely boring.
20. Carmen Carrera (Season 3, 5th place)
“Carmen is nudity!” Yes ma’am, and that’s why she ranks high on this list. Carmen is one of exactly four queens to make the top twenty of this list without having ever won a main challenge, so let’s explore exactly why audiences have continued to love this legendary queen. To begin, like Raven before her and Willam one season later, Carmen was a total skank, and we Drag Race fans love our skanks! On an almost weekly basis, Carmen rocked the runway in as little clothing as carefully placed mistletoe, a barely attached sheet of newspaper, or if she was feeling modest a Jessica Rabbit sheath dress. Queens like Raven, Willam, Sharon Needles, and Bebe Zahara Benet have famously delivered face on the runway. They’ve been coy, sassy, or outright bitchy. Conversely, Carmen’s expression with every runway appearance has been flirtatious, if not straight up horny, and we have mopped it up like sweet nectar. Hence Carmen’s two most iconic moments on Drag Race, when she lip-syncs against Yara Sofia to “Mickey” by Toni Basil, and when she kai kais with Raja to “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul. In the former, Carmen prances around the judge’s panel, kissing guest judge Johnny Weir on the lips and seducing Santino Rice with the twirl of a finger (no, not up his ass—but I’m with you); and in her final performance of season three she goes out with what might be the series’ best reveal, serving to the judges and audience her Tuck Everlasting while she rolls on the floor with her fellow Heather. “That’s just softcore,” remarked Booger Alexis Mateo, who added, “It’s kinda hot.” It was no surprise to us that the judges were as entranced as we were, to the extent that they invited Carmen back into the competition after her first elimination to Shangela.
But powers of sexual persuasion aside, what makes Carmen stand out in our memory is that her performance skills, at their best, were on POINT, and this is also why her Toni Basil lip-sync will, for this fan, go down as her best moment. Let’s be real, when we found out that Carmen was to standoff with Yara to the Spanish language version of “Mickey” we thought Yara had this one in the bag. Then we heard Carmen say in voice-over commentary, while smiling so proudly to the judges, “Yara doesn’t have an advantage over me just because she speaks Spanish. I want to make this one, one for the history books!” That’s when we started to second-guess ourselves. And then Carmen killed it, as did Yara, and both with singular, distinct styles: Carmen pouted the words and shook her shoulders like a sexy baby, while Yara twirled and hopped around like a lovelorn teenager. By the end of the song, after Carmen had cast her love spell on the judge’s panel and Yara had removed her traditional Puerto Rican dress to reveal a Puerto Rican flag-patterned bathing suit (RIGHT?!), queers had already jotted it in the “history books” as perhaps the most neck-and-neck lip-sync ever—even for Ru.
19. Nina Flowers (Season 1, 2nd runner-up)I suppose, when you get down to the nitty-gritty of season one, your angle on who should have won next drag superstar depends on whose shtick you liked most, because overall none of these queens had as wide a range of style or reference as future queens like Manila Luzon or Sharon Needles. Did you prefer Ongina’s hairless flapper, Bebe’s urban safari, Tammie Brown’s Greta Garbo from Outer Space, or Nina Flowers’s Madame Ant? I, personally, adored only one of Nina’s runway looks, and that was the very first episode of the Lost Season when she won for her dollar store couture. I continued to love her not for her runway ensembles, which never really branched out from the aesthetic of that first outfit, but for her rapport with the other girls, the judges, and of course with the audience. I’ve earlier in this list mentioned that Ivy Winters may go down as the most congenial of Miss Congeniality winners, and I am now thinking of putting my foot in my mouth because Nina is everyone’s best friend in season one. For example, even as Rebecca was becoming increasingly deplorable, Nina still extended an olive branch of friendship to her—which Rebecca, the abject turd she is, instantly refused (it didn’t bother me at all, I swear). In addition to her loveable persona, both in season one and as Tammie Brown’s teammate on All Stars (Brown Flowers, by the way, is what I now call my anus), Nina never failed miserably at a challenge, never had to lip-sync for her life (only Tyra and Akaska have matched this feat), and never left us bored. She will also go down as one of the most sickening face painters of the entire series. On a final note, what makes this show so watchable is how much these queens love their craft and find fulfillment in what they do, and few queens made as strong as case to us as Nina Flowers for the liberating appeal of drag.
Best line: this is inspiring: “My favourite part of doing drag is the transformation. Nina takes over more and more and when she’s done... the different persona comes out. That’s really where the art is.”
18. Roxxxy Andrews (Season 5, 2nd runner-up)
Enough time has passed since the season finale of season five, that we can
begin to look back and love Roxxxy Andrews. It’s true, during the season’s run
she was crusty about all the acting/comedy challenges, as was Coco Montrese. I
take issue with these two queens on this matter for a few reasons. First of
all, if they had watched previous seasons they would have known that by season
five Drag Race wasn’t just about serving tuna on a platter. Secondly, why they
focused all this negative energy about acting challenges on Jinkx Monsoon is
beyond me, because Alaska Thunderfuck was just as much a threat to them (in
fact, how Alaska flew under the radar for the entire season is still a marvel
to me). And thirdly, they weren’t bad performers themselves! I mean, granted, Coco
bombed “Can I Get an Amen?” and Roxxxy’s jokes at the Rupaul Roast were not
‘laugh-with’ funny, but overall they brought the goods. Coco’s Rupaul Roast
shtick was ingenious and admirably daring, and one could say the same about Roxxxy’s
Tamar Braxton in the Snatch Game. I, like many other viewers, didn’t know Toni
Braxton had a sister, let alone that she was worth impersonating in
drag—ironic, seeing as Roxxxy didn’t know what Grey Gardens was—but in the end Roxxxy’s fully fleshed out
performance proved a risk worth taking.
I now want to talk about the “Whip My Hair” lip-sync. Holy shit. In a season stacked with favourite moments—Detox’s dislocated jaw; the double elimination of Vivienne Pinay and Honey Mahogany; Jinkx Monsoon as Little Edie in the Snatch Game; the final showdown of Coco and Alyssa; Monica Beverly Hills coming out on the main stage; Serena getting her ass handed to her in the Interior Illusions Lounge; “BACK ROLLS?!”—I think the lip-sync between Alyssa Edwards and Roxxxy Andrews takes the title of Best Moment from season five. That was just unreal. I mean, it was like a tragicomedy in three acts. First (oh God, here I go counting on my fingers again), we had Roxxxy flip her wig to reveal ANOTHER WIG UNDERNEATH?! How did she do that?! Then, there was the whipping of the hair, and all we could think as we saw Roxxxy head-banging to what seemed like a compelling guitar riff, and Alyssa gyrating in circles while shaking her head like she had fleas, was “Lord, please keep those wigs on their heads.” (Aside: someone needs to make a YouTube video that loops thirty seconds of this clip to all of Slayer’s “Angel of Death”.) And then, in a climax that seemed to come out of nowhere (the corresponding Untucked episode explained it further), Roxxxy had a nervous breakdown—and we learned the hard truth that inside every bitchy queen there is a damaged child.
Best line: Ru steals this one: “We love you, and you are so welcome here. You know, we as gay people, we get to choose our families, you know we get to choose the people we’re around. You know what I’m saying? I am your family! We are family here! I love you.” Admit it, you’re crying again after reading that.
17. Ongina (Season 1, 5th place)Ongina was my pick for next drag superstar in season one (after Tammie was eliminated). How does one explain their love for a queen who doesn’t tuck or wear wigs? It seems like a contradiction in terms, right?! But if you think about it, so many (not all, of course) of our favourite queens throughout the series have been those who were daring enough to subvert conventions of drag, to turn tradition on its heads, or to otherwise revel in that grey area of generic slippage, between mimesis and parody, between various expressions of gender. Alaska, Sharon, Raja, and many more queens owe their places in the history books in part to the challenging runway looks of Ongina (as well as Nina Flowers).
moment: Ongina’s win of the Mac Viva Glam challenge was a hallmark of the entire
series. Her coming out on live television as HIV positive was important for the
purpose of setting a precedent for the future of Drag Race, that this was not
going to be another neo-liberally normalizing gay show but a transgressive and
politically forward-thinking program that would, in time, champion trans
identity politics and the issue of body fascism in addition to establishing its
progressive cultural politics of HIV/AIDS. The show has a ways to go in the
direction of queer ethics, but it is because of flashes of beauty and humanity such
as this that we await with bated breath every new episode of Rupaul’s Drag
15 (tie). Coco Montrese/Alyssa Edwards (Season 5, 5th place / Season 5, 6th place)Come on, did you really think I was going to rank one of them higher than the other? I know my queer family would tear me to shreds if I took a stance as either Team Coco or Team Alyssa. For real, though, that final showdown between Alyssa and Coco, to “Cold Hearted” by Paula Abdul no less (!!!), perfectly encapsulates what a perfect rivalry these two were. It was like Joan Collins vs. Linda Evans, Boogers vs. Heathers, Herman Blume vs. Max Fischer, Joe vs. the Volcano—you didn’t know who to root for! They were equal parts fierce, gaudy, God-awful, incendiary, and pissed-pants hilarious. I would contend that the best story of season five was not Ralasktoxxx vs. Jinkx—especially once Alaska pulled the rug from under that narrative trajectory—but was in fact the competition between Coco and Alyssa. For some people, the season ended when Alyssa was told to sashay away.
Best moment: I could write 5000 more words just in quotes from both Coco and Alyssa, so for the purpose of brevity I will provide a glimpse of the holy manna that is their online following (go to YouTube for a more comprehensive education):