1. Sharon Needles (Season 4, WINNER)
The day after the finale of season four, Gawker ran an article titled “The Right Queen Won Rupaul’s Drag Race”. That was no small thing to announce, given how the previous seasons had turned out. Fourth season was the first time in the entire series, up to that point, that the fans felt they had won. Even after a couple years, now that we’ve had enough time to revise Drag Race herstory and rearrange our favourites lists, Sharon Needles still reigns as Greatest Drag Superstar in all of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Let us review season four, so that we regain a sense of just how much this queen dominated her cohort, as well as how she continues to overshadow all the other queens in our memory of the series.
What impresses us most when we look back at Sharon’s run on Drag Race is how smoothly she progressed throughout season four. Even in her worse weeks we didn’t get the sense that Sharon was falling back or floundering, but that she was developing into an even better queen than when she first entered the workroom. When Michelle Visage asked her to give them more “glamour”, Sharon gave it back to them in spades. When that prick who created Will & Grace tried to write her off, Sharon didn’t just dismiss his criticisms but used them for her better growth. We never sensed that Sharon’s rise to the top was incidental of the competitive framework of the season, like some equally talented queens messed up a couple challenges and Sharon won by default. No, Sharon’s success in season four, and the fame she received afterward, is due to how impressively she developed her craft and aesthetic throughout the show. Week after week, she pulled back the layers of her personality, showed us her vulnerability, and surprised us with skills we didn’t know she had. All the while there was never a feeling amongst any of us, including Sharon, that she had this in the bag, even by her second win at episode three. This is a ghoul from Pittsburgh who thought she might last an episode and become a cult favourite like Tammie Brown, and in that respect her win of America’s Next Drag Superstar seemed as much a surprise to her as it was to us.
When Raja won top prize in season three there was a feel of deflation across the fan base. We weren’t upset, but it didn’t wow us either. There was an air of predictability about it. Thus one would think that by the time Sharon Needles had won four challenges in her season we would start to become bored, but that wasn’t the case. No, Sharon was not only a strategic player and a quick learner, but she was a solid entertainer along the way. Comedy seemed to seep from her pores. In this sense, even in the case where Sharon did not win a main challenge she was still the sleeper hit of the week. The obstacles she met with her DILF in the “Dads I’d Like to Frock” episode were so hysterical, especially as she explained to viewers how she was working with the meanest breeder to ever cross the workroom floor. And can you believe that Sharon did not win the Snatch Game episode, what with the combination of her Michelle Visage impersonation and that post-surgery realness she delivered to the judges?
No, we’ve never been bored by Sharon. Every week this queen gave us material that we could dish about for years. She walked the runway in the Rupocalypse as, basically, one of the humanoids from The Descent. Her ‘girly-girl’ couture was still so signature Sharon, it felt like a soda shop scene from John Waters’s “Cry Baby”. Her silver and gold look was a cross between Freddy Mercury and a blow-up doll of Elvis, and the way she pulled it off with flawless padding and professional runway delivery challenged our preconceptions of what qualifies as drag. Her “best red carpet attire” was delivered hilariously, with her arms and legs swinging back and forth like spaghetti noodles, and punctuated by her pretending to sign autographs at the front of the stage. Her presidential platform was remarkably believable—really the one performance of the season where she distanced furthest from caricature. And the choice to present a stone-faced mug instead of a shit-eating grin was total Nancy Pelosi realness. Finally, Sharon’s three looks in the Fabulous Bitch Ball were polished, ready-to-wear drag, and they were overall a giant step forward from any of her work earlier in the season. Next drag superstar? By that point, she already was THE superstar (next to Ru, Lady Bunny, Divine, the Cockettes—you get the point).