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

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

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.  

With that in mind, here’s #20-11…. Check out #30 to #21 here, #39 to #31 here, #50-#40 here and #60-#51 here.

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

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

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

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.

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

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



14. Raja (Season 3, WINNER)

Thankfully, for Raja, this list is based solely on how queens presented on Drag
Race and Untucked, because there might be nothing as embarrassing as this:

In case you
are confused, I can clarify for you that you were not just dreaming. That was a
real music video, it was actually over eight minutes long, and she did just
sing about “sex for dinner”. It is the most embarrassing thing ever. Let me
provide a point of comparison: I once made a political art piece in grade
twelve about the taxation on female hygiene products that included fake
menstrual blood in it. It was in the collage medium. This is more embarrassing. 

Still, from episode to episode in season three Raja was a sickening queen. This
is not easy to admit because, like Shannel, Raja gave off a vibe of “been
there, done that” from the very beginning. She needed to remind us, over and
over, how many years she’s been doing this (Please
remind us, Raja, how long have you been doing drag? We have already forgotten
since you last told us FIVE MINUTES AGO)
. It also isn’t easy to give Raja
credit for all her editorial, high fashion realness because there was something
about it all that didn’t feel “drag”. Her heroin chic glare as she walked the
runway wasn’t invitational, even if we knew what she was trying to do. We
expected more generosity from America’s next drag superstar. In this respect,
we could say that if there was one queen who lived the essence of the Heathers,
it was Raja. She seemed so holier-than-thou, like she was the ring leader of
the in-crowd. There’s something off-putting about queer icons that are too cool
for us—it doesn’t appeal to the fact that we consume queer media as a retreat
from our lives as social outcasts. (As it turns out, according to people I know
who attended the Drag Race cruise, Raja is a very sweet person in real life.
Who would have thought?)
I’ve talked shit about Raja long enough. Now let’s catalogue every amazing
thing she did in season three: she pissed off Shangela, which was fun to watch;
she brought Vivienne Westwood-style Christmas realness; she dressed as an even
queerer C-3P0; she faithfully paid homage to Stephen King’s Carrie (an act of curatorial
camp, would you say?); she did the Marie Antoinette look in a good way (take
notes, Jinkx Monsoon); and her Drag Queen from Outer Space was well-executed. Finally,
her evening gown made completely of cash, not to mention the way she walked it
down the runway, was spellbinding. 

Best line: to Delta, after talking shop
about the other contestants: “Do you think people talk about us like this?”
Yes, Raja. They do.
13. Tammie Brown (Season 1, 8th

Of all the top twenty queens on this list, Tammie Brown has the least episodes
under her belt. This is a strong indication of just how memorable this diva
was. Tammie might even be the most unique queen of Drag Race herstory, not just
as someone who pays homage to old Hollywood, but who appears to psychically live
in that era. And just like the divas of old, if a queen crossed Tammie she
could turn evil real fast. In first season we assumed that Tammie was from
another planet; by All Stars season we’d not only confirmed this fact, but had
also learned that the alien race of Busby Berkeley chorus girls she was from
was planning to invade Earth and destroy its drag queens! Popcorn and cracker

Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent—Tammie has it all, and in every colour
too! It just so happens that the judges wanted different talents from their
queens. Still, Tammie haunts our dreams and everyday lives, as every quip she
has made on camera has doubled as a clownish one liner and a death threat (“You
know what they say about Palm Springs: that’s where the gays go to die”). She
even came after Michelle Visage! And without breaking her smile! She’s a psycho!
No, she’s Baby Jane! 

Best line: While applying make-up: “Beat your face! Beat
your face like you beat your hole!” I just re-watched that line and spit my
wine at the computer screen.

12. Yara Sofia (Season 3, 4th

Season three is so complex in its narrative development. There was the piece
about body shame that developed early in the season around Delta, Stacey, and
Mimi, that I am still critically working through. Before mid-season the
Heathers/Boogers rivalry had taken off, and to keep it suspenseful the gang
members were picked off in equal numbers. And by the time of the final four
another sub-narrative had formed from the friendship between Alexis and Yara.
In the workroom there was a dynamic between the last two standing Boogers that
wasn’t matched by Raja and Manila. We figured the top Heathers had a good hunch
that they would be facing one another in the end, hence why they couldn’t get
too to one another. Alexis and Yara, however, grew to support each other
through their trip-ups with language barriers, runway presentation, etc. They wanted
to see each other in the final two, and that is why the final lip-sync between
them, to determine which Booger would join the Heathers in the top three, was
so gut-wrenching. This wasn’t how they had envisioned it! Boogers stand
together! Alas, the pressure of the entire competition wore on Yara as it did on
Alexis, to the point that the ratio of pros to cons had become skewed. After
watching Raja win praise for pulling off an architectural feat with her money
couture, while Yara was criticized for doing basically the same thing with her
gown, we saw eye-to-eye with Yara, and we too felt ourselves lose control while
she collapsed on the main stage. That Patti Labelle song will never be the same

Best line (you guess it): “Echa pa’lante!”

11. Pandora Boxx (Season 2, 5th

A.k.a. the Susan Lucci of second season. Pandora Boxx was robbed, over and
over, and winning Miss Congeniality doesn’t make up for it. She should have won
the Country Queens challenge over Tyra, because even though Tyra’s reveal on
the main stage was boss, Pandora killed that sketch (and you can complain about
Pandora’s country girl look that episode, but whatever—they awarded Jinkx in
season five whenever she looked like garbage). Pandora’s performance as Carol
Channing in the Snatch Game was the best of that episode (“I feel so
embarrassed, all I wrote was ‘I’ve got a bunch of lovely coconuts!’”), but Tatianna
won that main challenge. And finally, Pandora was thrown to the bottom to
lip-sync against Jujubee in the Golden Gals competition, when it was Tatianna
who should have been there instead. We deserved to see Pandora Boxx go further,
but there you go. Life isn’t fair. 

I have a theory that Jinkx’s win for next drag superstar of season five was a
do-over for the misjudgment the panel made in season two to eliminate Pandora
so early. The outcry from the blogosphere and online journalist community after
Pandora’s elimination was so huge (Entertainment Weekly called it “the most
controversial elimination of the season”), and her base of followers has since
grown so gargantuan, that by season five the judges began to listen to the
fans. They got it wrong with their final choice in season five, but more on
that later. 

Pandora’s best moment (and there are so many moments): 

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