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Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Four)

Television
by Gregory Rosebrugh
February 21, 2014 2:25 PM
3 Comments
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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 #30-->21.

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.  



With that in mind, here's #30-21.... Check out #39 to 31 here, #50-#40 here and #60-#51 here.


30. Morgan McMichaels (Season 2, 8th place)

I wonder often how second season might have been different had Morgan McMichaels not have been eliminated in the wedding dress challenge. For example, if Pandora Boxx had won Snatch Game for her Carol Channing (rightfully), we would have been fortunate to see Tatianna go home during the main wedding dress challenge, and perhaps we would have been so privileged to see Morgan work her mesmerizing dance moves in the rocker chick challenge.


This leads me to my appraisal of Morgan: her lip-syncing. A major theme throughout this list so far has been that lip-syncing abilities, or lack thereof, are major deciding factors in how much fans love/hate queens. For example, my distaste for Milan is largely informed by how she lip-syncs. Conversely, my deep adoration for Morgan has almost all to do with her lip-sync against Sonique to “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q. This is not a fool-proof gauge of how awesome a queen is (Tammie Brown, anyone?), but overall lip-syncing is very indicative to fans of which queen they would like to see live in their local village. 


Stop whatever you’re doing and watch Morgan in this video, her best moment in season two:

That is how you lip-sync! Look at how effortlessly Morgan throws down all those moves, and while lip-syncing on point. You ever try playing guitar while singing? It’s not easy. Now imagine the coordination it takes to pull this off. What’s most impressive about it all is how much Morgan appears to be enjoying herself. She seems to feel no pressure about the fact that she is lip-syncing for her life; she is just loving herself and owning this song. One wonders, did Morgan know she had won this before the song had started? Much love to you, Morgan.
 

29. Ivy Winters (Season 5, 7th place)

Miss Winters may be the  most congenial of all Miss Congeniality winters. She’s undeniably adorable in season five, and insiders have reported to me that she is just as lovely in real life. But beyond this queen’s everyone’s-best-friend demeanor, what most distinguishes Ivy from all the other queens is her handmade, high concept runway looks. How does one choose a favourite outfit between the Finding Nemo-themed sequined number; the one where she sewed different photographs of herself together; her Poison Ivy on stilts look; her St. Patty’s ensemble at the Rupaul Roast; or her silent film femme fatale outfit? Each wardrobe choice feels like a tribute to Lizzy Gardiner’s Amex gold card dress at the 1995 Academy Awards. 

Best moment: Ivy’s talents were not restricted to costume design—she was also a powerful singer. Pay close attention to her pronunciation of the word “sashay” in “Can I Get an Amen?” 


28. Jessica Wild (Season 2, 6th place) 

When it comes to Jessica Wild, the favourite moments are too many to count. To begin, her padded apple bottom in her cowgirl runway ensemble was mind-blowing (it’s been branded into my memory). Her impersonation of Rupaul in the Snatch Game was so bad it inadvertently worked to her advantage. Her main challenge win for her punk rendition of “Lady Boy” really stunned all of us who thought this would have been the Puerto Rican competitor’s Achilles heel. 

Finally, Jessica’s best, if most embarrassing moment: her shit-faced attempt at product placement in the main challenge to market her fictitious autobiography. To be fair, after hearing Jessica look into her glass and say, “I love this drink,” as though she had just discovered on live television the social-lubricating power of alcohol; we all wanted to drink throw back a couple shots of Absolut Berry Acai. I feel a Jessica Wild drinking game coming on!

27. Shangela Laquifa Wadley (Season 2, 12th place / Season 3, 6th place)

Let the very existence of Shangela Laqueefa Whatley be a testament to how far a queen can stride on this show without a clue about how to sew or apply makeup. For how rough around the edges Shangela appeared on an almost episode to episode basis, the girl made up in knee-slapping comedy. Her gossip reporter was almost too believable, and her comedy act as “Laquifa, the Post Modern Pimp Ho,” was a revelation.  

Shangela Laquifa Wadley
Shangela Laquifa Wadley


In addition to Shangela’s talent as a comedienne, we will remember her for her strong sorority ties to her fellow Boogers. There is a life lesson to be gleaned from the episode where Shangela counselled Stacey through her lowest point of self-doubt, and empowered her to switch her Snatch Game act from Anna Nicole Smith to Mo’nique: sisters stick together! (Would Phi Phi have done that for Jiggly in season four? No ma’am, Pam!)


Finally, we will remember Shangela for stirring all the drama in season three. In a sense, the season grew increasingly boring after Shangela was eliminated, as she was the only Booger who had reclaimed the underdog label and made it her cause to win. And girl was a fucking cutthroat competitor. 


Best moment: when Shangela throws her “perfected” Absolut cocktail at Mimi Imfurst in the Interior Illusions lounge, exclaiming “I am what? SICK’NING!” The iconic moment is improved in season five when Alyssa and Jinkx lip-dub the scene.

26. Phi Phi O’Hara (Season 4, 2nd runner-up)

Voila! Here she is, the arch villain of Drag Race! Here’s a tip to every bitch of past and future Drag Race seasons: if you’re going to play mean, you better be ready to back that shit up with serious charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. Phi Phi is not only the Best Villain of drag history because she was/is more uncouth, more lacking in social decorum, and more evil-intentioned than all other queens before and after her; but she wins this title on account of her being a strategic competitor as well as total bombshell. She’s not just any villain, she’s a Disney villain. She’s Cruella, Ursula, Maleficent—the whole bit. You’d wish for her to get sucked into the fiery depths of Hell were she not captivating with almost every runway presentation.
All the above said, the reason Phi Phi does not appear higher in this list is because her performance skills were lackluster: she ruined the duet with Sharon (there, I said it); her Lady Gaga, though real-looking, was not funny whatsoever; and her racist Sarah Palin left a bad taste in our mouths (dare we say it was too Palinesque?).
On a final note, I will say that it is hard to dismiss the revelation that Phi Phi’s estranged father had still not spoken to her since their last physical fight. It has left me wondering how much of Phi Phi’s hard, cold, severe exterior is a defense for how much she has been hurt in her life. Best line: “GO BACK TO PARTY CITY!”

25. Shannel (Season 1, 4th place)

Shangela, Phi Phi, and now Shannel. My, this list is getting juicy! What’s not to love about Shannel? Even her flaws are reasons to love her: the hundred times she says “literally” in season one; every time she back-brags (or overtly brags, for that matter); and how sour she gets about not winning. But Shannel’s greatest flaw is how much of a screen hog she is in group competitions. Her backseat driving in both season one and in the All Stars season receives hilarious commentary from her fellow competitors, my favourite of which is when Chad says to the camera, “Shannel—this is drag, honey. Take a breath and relax.” 


But if Shannel ever came off as self-entitled and boastful, like the Tracey Flick of drag, it’s because, let’s face it, she was entitled. If her runway looks or main challenge endeavors didn’t go over well with judges it wasn’t for lack of effort, as she always gave 110%, covered head to toe in paint and accessories. Audiences were never bored with her runway presentations, which ranged from somewhat gaudy to Real-Housewive-gaudy, to Lil-Kim-at-MTV-Awards-gaudy. 

Tyra Sanchez
Tyra Sanchez

Best moment: It really is hard to choose her best look, between her lobster realness look, her Medusa look, and her almost naked juggler look.

24. Tyra Sanchez (Season 2, WINNER)

The lowest ranked of all six winners, Tyra appears at #24 on this list because while she not personable or relatable for throughout the entire run of season two, this queen is like the Coles Notes for runway presentation (she had rare moments of comedic brilliance too). Where does one even begin? The country western look, when she took off her skirt and redressed in it as a top! The trophy-wife-at-liquid-lunch look with all the shopping bags and that perfectly placed feather in the hat! The wedding dress she made with super glue! By the time of the season finale, after so many outfit reveals and challenge wins, we realized we had not yet seen Tyra lip-sync. As it turned out, she was stunning, prancing around the catwalk like “America’s sweetheart”, giving us legs for days, and flirting with her judges at the critical panel. Shortly before being crowned winner of season two, it was Tyra’s warmest moment. 

Best line: in the reading mini-challenge: “Is this Jujubee here? Let me get to your level. Oh Ru, we got an under-grown orangutan.” 


23. Alexis Mateo (Season 3, 3rd place)

Miss Mateo is the textbook definition of ‘pageant queen’, from her Celine arm movements to her prom queen ensembles. Even her ‘gee, golly’ smiles and pat responses seem like the markings of a seasoned queen from the pageant circuit. The judges, however, were not crazy about pageant conventions in season three, as they were clearly leaning towards the higher camp and fashion of Manila Luzon and Raja from episode one. Even though Alexis made it to the season finale with three wins under her belt (like Manila and Raja), she also by that time had lip-synced for her life three times. With no other queens in Drag Race have we seen so many extreme highs and lows. Thus it was not surprising that by the time of the annual drag ball Alexis had become worn down by the pressure of the competition, and in one of season three’s heartbreaking moments she packed her things and walked out of the workroom. What a relief it was to see her walk back in, to confirm that she was still in the competition. I specifically remember shouting at the screen during those couple minutes where I thought Alexis was out, “No! Don’t let the Heathers win!” In this episode, both between Alexis’s breakdown in the workroom and Yara’s breakdown on the main stage, we all realized how complex the competition had become in this season, and how divided our love was across the top four queens. 

Best moment: the tearful goodbye between Alexis and Yara. Oh God, I’m welling up again. 

22. Dida Ritz (Season 4, 6th place)

Sometimes, all a queen needs is one iconic moment to become legendary. Such is the case with Dida Ritz, who week after week presented mediocre on the runway, and was not memorable in any of the main challenges. So why does Dida rank so high? Watch her best moment:

Look at how Dida works that stage, all the while keeping eye contact with Natalie Cole. She doesn’t even notice the Princess—and neither do we—right now the only two people in the room are her and pop legend Natalie Cole. Watch Natalie’s face warm up, as if to express back to Dida, “Keep it going, girl. You’ve got this DOWN!” Watch Ru’s face light up, as it becomes clear to her, and us, that she has not ever seen a lip-sync throw-down of this quality on the stage of Drag Race. Then, as Dida side-stomps across the stage, cocking her hips out like Naomi Campbell, see the judges throw their handkerchiefs in the air, and hear Natalie yell, “Yeah! Come on! Well?! Uh huh! AH!” Finally, hear old school competitor Latrice Royale preach to us, “That is what a lip-sync is, baby. That is high drag at it’s finest!” Applause, and then Madame LaQueer turns to Kenya Michaels and mouths, “WOW!”


So, at the end of the day, Dida may have walked the runway with cracked knees, worn a crop top in the pageant float challenge, owned a collection of sad wigs, and declared that she never ate fried chicken in public (Latrice: “Five Gs: Good God, get a grip girl!”), but she forever has this lip-sync to her credit, and it is the best lip-sync in Drag Race herstory.

21. Bebe Zahara Benet (Season 1, WINNER)

People tend to forget about Bebe, and those who can still recall the Lost Season (all that Streisand lighting!) usually remember her as the one who stole the crown from Nina Flowers. Now, I’m too exhausted from bitching about the order of elimination in season one to even get into the debacle over who should have won between Bebe and Nina (pssp—the answer is Ongina), so I would rather highlight three awesome things Bebe did to rank this high on the list. First of all, Bebe introduced drag race viewers to the reveal: as if it was enough to watch her walk down the runway in a giant mane and what appeared to be a shag carpet, she then dropped a layer to show us a skin tight leopard print cat suit, belted for extra bootyliciousness. Secondly, Bebe stepped into every main challenge like a pro. She killed the Oprah challenge (yes, that was a thing), she excelled in the Mac Viva Glam challenge, and even when we thought she’d peaked she came back and stomped all over the Absolut Drag Ball. Finally, there is the best runway look of season one: the blue and white zebra print number with the Swarovski spider web, black sunhat, rhinestone-bejeweled bra, and what appeared to be dog leash attached to nothing. As former Drag Race judge Merle Ginsberg (good riddance) remarked, all of the items individually seem tacky, but put together they worked! And the best line about this outfit came from guest judge Jenny Shimizu: “I definitely would have done drugs with you in the nineties.” 


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3 Comments

  • Storm131 | August 14, 2014 10:17 PMReply

    Oh and Morgan was eliminated too soon. I still remember how the judges criticised her wedding dress but praised Tyra's (who won that week), but in fact the dresses were pretty similar (short in front, long in back, drop waisted full skirts). Go figure...

  • Storm131 | August 14, 2014 10:14 PMReply

    Thank you for ranking Tyra as the lowest ranked winner. I acknowledge her talents, but she was the least deserving winner to date. Awful make up (and I can't believe the judges never commented on it) and her amusing quips were too few and far between to make her entertaining.

    I agree with your comments about Shannel 100%. So self absorbed. Let's face it, if it hadn't been for the format of pairing up queens on All Stars, she would not have made the top 3 in that season. Glitter, sequins and showgirl shtick only go so far.

  • jay | June 5, 2014 8:30 AMReply

    I love it

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