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…
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 #60-#51….
60. Venus D-Lite (Season 3, 13th place) I, like Sharon Needles, am also obsessed with cosmetic surgery. I love queens who look like Orlan when they wake up in the morning. I like queens that I can recognize as drag queens when they are out of drag. However, when Venus D-Lite revealed to Drag Racers that she’d had work done to look like Madonna, my head tilted about sixty degrees. C’mon, Venus, that’s just sad. As one queen told me once over a liquid lunch, “Madonna is a woman who has tried to stay hip with youth by naming her hip hop-inspired album after treats that seniors serve in a glass dish.”
Embarrassing moment: while lip-syncing for her life, Venus removed her clip-on ponytail, what guest judge Vanessa Williams pointed out as the only memorable part of her outfit, and whipped it at the other queens. Most memorable, indeed.
59. Nicole Paige Brooks (Season 2, 11th place) The main challenge to make the most cash as a stripper/cherry pie street salesperson (did I get that right?) appeared, in the bigger picture, to not convey which queens were season two’s overall strongest contestants. Nonetheless, it was certain that in any context Miss Brooks was destined to be eliminated early in this season. This queen had no persona, no camp, no brand, and in the legacy of Drag Race she has no sustaining qualities other than that she is not Venus D-Lite (although Venus does have a larger fan base on social media).
Best line: Raven: “Nicole was picked last because this is a sexy competition, and Nicole isn’t sexy.” Harsh, but true.
58. Phoenix (Season 3, 12th place) The second queen from season three to feature on this list was from the get-go a right off. Like Nicole Paige Brooks, we could tell when Phoenix walked into the workroom that she would be an early elimination. Her personal aesthetic and breadth of reference has fallen flat with almost every Drag Race fan I’ve met. The fact that Phoenix and India Ferrah almost threw blows in the first episode over wearing the same outfit is one of the most ridiculous moments in season three. I feel like Manila was off in the corner thinking to herself, “So what, they both looked like shit.”
Embarrassing moment: Phoenix’s performance in Drag Queens from Outer Space, in which she could not take simple directions to face the audience when she spoke her lines.
57. Vivienne Pinay (Season 5, 10th place) I am aware that is controversial (as well as contestable) for me to rank Vivienne lower than Serena Cha Cha, but hear me out for a moment. While Serena was a tactless, motor-mouthed brat (“Who she calling ghetto?”), she also made one of the most entertaining beginnings of a season ever (only matched, perhaps, by Akashia). We all loved to hate her, especially in the Untucked episodes. Vivienne, however, fades from our memories because she was not only unlikeable, but she was not noticeable either.
Best moment: the double elimination of Vivienne and Honey Mahogany was jaw-dropping.
56. Serena Cha Cha (Season 5, 13th place) I love this girl. I mean, I don’t love her as a talented queen, but more as a clueless, pretentious, pseudo-surrealist, art school millennial. I hope to one day see this tyke as an extra in a party scene in Girls. Maybe she’ll be an assistant to that installation artist Marnie was banging!
Embarrasing moment: Remember that garbage couture look with the weird lederhosen straps and the chunky makeup? Or better yet, remember the peacock tail/parade float she wore with the diaper and the tiny Panama flag? Or how about all the reads from Coco Montrese? “Serena Cha Cha?! You better cha-cha your way out of here! Ole.”
55. Madame LaQueer (Season 4, 10th place) Girl has a shtick, we can give her that. I also would not doubt that she knows how to work a barroom, and I admire her campy touches (the hairdos, the lips, “LaQueer”). But when it comes down to it, Madame LaQueer had limited skills, and the main wrestling challenge about summed them up. Her “Queens Behind Bars” performance was cringe-worthy.
Best line: “Michele Visage hates green, but what the fuck, I like green.”
54. India Ferrah (Season 3, 10th place) India loved her breastplate. It was no surprise to me that when she took that thing off to impress the judges with her ‘versatility’ that she ended up going home. India, stick to what you do best and bounce those fake boobies around ‘til the cows come home!
Best moment: India’s lip-sync against Stacey Layne Matthews to “Meeting in the Ladies Room”. Both girls were serving cold bitch like they were Klymaxx themselves. Second best moment: “GET HER OFF OF ME!”
53. Penny Tration (Season 5, 14th place) We wanted so much more from Penny. Her makeup was sickening, and she could throw serious shade (“Serena, I could read you but it appears that life already has”). However, Penny’s old school lip-sync trick of turning her back to the audience whenever she couldn’t remember lyrics from “Party in the U.S.A.”, didn’t fool anybody! Penny, you let yourself lose to a 21 year old deconstructionist art queer!
Best moment: Penny taking out her library card in the reunion episode.
52. Milan (Season 4, 9th place) TANGENT WARNING: How Milan made it so far in season four still stuns me. This girl was a profound mess from the moment she walked into the work room dressed like “a Broadway show . . . or a pimp” (Phi Phi O’Hara). I found that the contestants of season four divided into camps of the majorly talented and soon-to-be-eliminated fairly quickly. Whereas in the previous season there was a weird feeling that any twist of fate (a totally leftfield challenge, let’s say) could have put any of Carmen Carrera, Shangela, Delta Work, or Yara Sofia into the top three; in season four audiences were quick to figure out that Sharon, Chad, Phi Phi and Latrice were going to make it to the top five (the only real surprise here was that Willam did not join them). So, by mid-season there was a painstaking period where we had to endure a triptych of Milan lip-syncs that really drove home the trusty proverb that “less is more”. There was no doubt for any of us that Milan and Jiggly were not America’s next drag superstars, yet we had to wait for what seemed like forever for Ru to confirm this to us. Embarrassing moment: I have deduced that Milan was on bath salts through every lip-sync.
Best line: Dida Ritz, on Milan stripping her drags to Lada Gaga on the main stage: “Yep, you were born this way! You—you were born this way!”
51. Alyssa Summers (Season 4, 13th place) In the season premiere of season four we learned a lot about Alyssa Summers; in fact, more than we do about most early-eliminated queens. We learned that this fishy queen never got clocked in public; and that she was once arrested in drag! Given that we felt kind of close to her by the end of the Rupocalypse main challenge, it was sad to see her go home so soon. I would have liked to have seen her in a read-off with Phi Phi or Willam.
Embarrassing moment: One should look to season three contestant Alexis Mateo for a more nuanced example of breast plate usage. And Alyssa’s sultry and salacious take on Britney Spears’s “Toxic” was no match to Jiggly Caliente’s interpretation of a tornado whirling through a junkyard.
Check back tomorrow for #50-#41….