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Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Six: The Top 10!)

Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Six: The Top 10!)

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 tonight… This edition takes on the top 10!.

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 the top 10, in descending order…. Check out #20-#11 here, #30-#21 here, #39-#31 here, #50-#40 here and #60-#51 here. And thanks for reading!

Detox Icunt (Season 5, 4th place)

I understand that my choice of ranking Detox so high in this list will stir
controversy. Fans of Jinkx and Alaska probably look back at Detox’s overall
performance in season five and think, She
was all bark and no bite
. I feel that way too sometimes, and indeed, she
only truly rocked the Draggle Rock and Scent of a Drag Queen challenges. Still,
Detox’s performances were overall consistently Detox—she was never apologetic
for her style choices, and when judges (mostly Michelle Visage) called her out
for being ‘gimmicky’ Detox would respond the following week by doing her same
old thing but more amplified.

of the tastiest treats of season five was the talking head commentary from all
the queens. It was in this venue that so many of these queens developed their
drag personas, especially Detox. As I said at the very beginning of this list,
I love drag queens that are recognizable outside of drag, and Detox fits that
description like a latex glove. Watch that clip of her shaking her Black &
Decker pecker wreckers to the edges of the camera frame as she shouts, “WHAT
THE FUCK?!” Watch her say in ten different ways, “Sarry ‘bout it!”

none of the above is really why I have ranked Detox so high. My reason for
ranking her above Roxxxy, above all the winners and All Star contestants who
have already featured on this countdown to the greatest drag superstar, has to
do with how under-appraised I feel Detox really was. Her “Can I Get an Amen?”
was awesome, opposable jawbone aside, and it so happens that all her best
segments in the recording were ditched in the cutting room. Her Ke$ha, while
not great, was not bottom two material (that was Coco’s Janet Jackson and Ivy
Winters’s Marilyn Monroe, to be real). Detox’s telenovella performance was
hilarious and appropriately hideous. Though she was nervous, Detox threw down
some hilarious gags at the Rupaul Roast (“You are gayer than a Fire Island
production of Rent”). But the one thing for which Detox will be reclaimed in
years to come is her daring runway choices. Her mesh harlequin look was like
nothing else we’ve seen on that stage. Her jellyfish realness was perfection,
regardless of what the judges said about her silhouette (girl was still giving
legs, people—stop crying!). Her crack-is-not-whack leather lace-up number was
kind of a turn-on. Her see-through, Rooney-Mara’s-wedding look was eleganza
extravaganza. Her hot pink Tex Mex get-up was sooooo gaudy, but appropriately
so—it was sooooo drag. And her Fatal Attraction-esque boss bitch made her Sugar
Ball performance (her candy couture is, indeed, her lowest point on the
runway). While I cannot get behind Roxxxy and Coco when they kvetch about Jinkx
getting all the attention for her comedic skills, I do feel for Detox not
understanding how Jinkx won praise on a weekly basis for pushing the quirky envelope.
After all, Detox was presenting similar, if not edgier material on the runway!
Furthermore, I would argue that if there has been any other queen before or
after Chad Michaels, whose aesthetic and presentation paid homage to Cher, it
was this feisty queen.

I will add that I do wish Detox had a better go of the Snatch Game competition.
She should have taken notes from Raja’s shitty impersonation of Tyra Banks and
chosen not to impersonate someone she already knew well. Either that, or Detox should
have cranked up her performance of Ke$ha, because despite what the judges say
Ke$ha can be very funny. Detox, girl, you’re better than this! Start brushing
your teeth with a bottle of Jack and talking through a vocoder! Best line: the
exchanges between Roxxxy and Detox on Untucked are to die for, including
whenever they debriefed about Jinkx’s successes:

Roxxxy: I’ve had it!
Detox: I’ve had it—
Roxxxy: You know what I’ve had?
Detox: It! If she stays, and I am fucking sent home tonight, I am going to set
fire to the rain!

9. Willam (Season 4, 6th

Willam was one of the queens to beat from the beginning of season four—and then
she started cheating by banging her boyfriend behind the scenes. I’m with
Sharon Needles about Willam’s disqualification: that shit was SO PUNK. I mean,
it’s not like Willam was disqualified for pulling a Tanya Harding (Phi Phi came
closest to that lowest of lows after she threw Jiggly under the bus in the
Dragazines competition). No, Willam was disqualified for getting laid! And
then, for the effect of punctuation, she left her ass print on the mirror in
the workroom! Way too awesome!

a sense, Willam’s exit from Drag Race is more perfect than being crowned ever
could be because it’s congruent with her overall performance on Drag Race and
Untucked, as well as her online presence. Willam fans love Willam because she
lives and dies for the following: 1) expensive shoes; 2) bottoming; and 3)
that’s it. So, Willam’s disqualification was a Janus-faced experience: on the one
hand, we were sad to say goodbye to this instant legend, but on the other hand
we had a proud feeling of “Es muss sein,” that it had to be this way and that
we wouldn’t have it any other way (yeah, I like to quote Milan Kundera when I
talk about drag queens—eat it, Hunty!).

could kiki until sunrise over how well Willam performed in season four, and how
she actually got better with every episode (her nude Dragazine was amazing, and
I won’t hear another thing about it), but Willam’s qualities as a competitor
are much less important to us than how she got on with the other queens. If
there is one way that Willam outdid Sharon, and I’m sure Sharon would agree, it
was how she managed to infuriate Phi Phi O’Hara without for a moment looking
like Phi Phi was doing the same to her. The famous altercation between Phi Phi
and Sharon in the workroom was somewhat upsetting, because we hated to see
Sharon break face; but Willam never gave Phi Phi that satisfaction. No ma’am,

Best line: THIS:

Phi Phi O’Hara: You don’t have any talent. This is a show for talented people,
not people who know how to buy fucking shoes. YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE!

Willam: Your tone seems very pointed right now. 

8. Manila Luzon (Season 3, 2nd

I was recently sitting through an overview of LGBT social issues, and at one
point the instructor became tongue-tied about how to define and distinguish a
bunch of gender-related, often conflated terms, one of which was “drag queen”.
I almost hijacked the lecture and took the class through a series of Manila
videos. This chick is high drag. She hits all the right citations, each with
impeccable delivery. Every walk down that runway is tailored distinctly to
whatever the theme of the week is. Let us look back at season three for a moment.
Her Christmas couture look was totally Marie Osmond, as guest judge Vanessa
Williams pointed out (Vanessa was remarkable guest judge, by the way), and she
walked that Mrs. Claus look with a GIANT MUFF. I mean, she might as well have
dangled a hundred dollar bill over our heads. Her space age outfit was totally
Grace Jones meets Moonraker meets Anna Paquin in X-Men, and she worked that
look like a classic sci-fi villainess, perhaps one who can transform into a
panther. The Addams family ensemble with the thick black and white stripes was
to die for—femme fatale realness! And the PINEAPPLE?! How did she come up with
this stuff? Did Manila one day go strolling through the produce isle of a
grocery store for inspiration, look at a pineapple and think, “What a ravishing
fruit?” And that’s just the first four of her runway looks! Sadly, her final
ensemble was underwhelming, but then so was Raja’s so it’s all good.

course, Manila’s genius was not limited to couture; she was also the queen of
camp and comedy for all of season three. Her tasteless Japanese news reporter
was thankfully more than a one-line gag. My only criticism there is that when
Ru called on Manila to defend her joke, Manila beat around the bush too much.
Manila, all you had to do was say back to Ru, “What would you say to all the
cis- and trans- women at home who might take offense to this show’s parody of
their gender identities?” I don’t mean to conflate oppressions; I just mean
that if queens want thump identity politics they should be consistent
(Shangela, you listening?).

comedic prowess extends also to her impersonation of former Philippines leader
Imelda Marcos on Snatch Game, her jibberish-spouting monkey in “Drag Queens
from Outer Space”, and of course her outrageous lip-sync against Delta Work to
“MacArthur Park”. How passionate and perfectly executed was that performance,
right? One wonders if she had ever performed that song before, because the way
she stood up with that cross-eyed scowl on her face, as the beat kicked in, was
the talk of the whole next week.

Manila’s return to Drag Race in the All Star season did not live up to the
legacy she left behind after season three. I am still unsure about how fairly
the queens were graded in that season. In fact, while I love All Stars for all
the backstage banter I am still not sure how much I loved its format of
combining the queens into pairs. You tell me, fans: how much do you value
synergy? I think it was just a foil to save budget between the regular seasons
(don’t cut me, Ru). Still, Manila had some priceless moments on All Stars,
mostly when she touched her crotch and smelled her fingers in her lip-sync of
“Nasty”. Best moment? I thought about providing a Manila quote here, because
she has so many ready-to-wear slogans (“You can’t just go picking up drag
queens!”), but then I forgot to acknowledge her Heatherness! So, at the expense
of not providing another prize-winning Manila moment (though I kinda just did),
I’m going to quote verbatim this entire segment. This one is dedicated to all
the Heather and Boogers in the “Face, Face, Face of Cakes” showdown:

Rupaul: Shangela, one last question. Who do you think should go home tonight?

Shangela: Carmen Carrera. 

Carmen: I clearly have to disagree with Shangela. I mean, I think my outfit is
a little bit more high fashion than hers. 

Rupaul: I’ll present the same question to Stacy.

Stacy: Carmen. There’s high fashion looks here, but I just don’t think she
executed it. 

Rupaul: Same question, Delta Work. 

Delta: Stacy.

Rupaul: Manila, I would like a serious answer from you. 

Manila: I would like to see Shangela go. She’s just a loud mouth and she’s
always talking and ‘Hallelu’-ing… 

Rupaul: Raja?

Raja: Stacy and Shangela, get the fuck out!

Rupaul: Tell me why.

Raja: Ohh, Stacy—you know I’m not sure if she’s ready. And Shangela, although
your personality shines, I think you should be on season five or six. That’s
where you should be.

Shangela: That’s interesting, Ru, because Raja’s been in the game for
twenty-plus years doing drag and I’ve only been in it for one, and we’re in the
same competition here.

END SCENE. (Sweet Jesus.)

7. Jujubee (Season 2, 3rd

There was a time when Jujubee was my favourite queen, and to this day she is
the one queen I most want to be best friends with. In particular, I want to
walk the bar strip with her and watch her spread love and shade like holiday
cheer. Granted, Jujubee has never won a challenge in season two, or as one half
of Rujubee in All Stars, but there are many merits for which Jujubee should
forever be acknowledged as a legendary drag queen, the first and foremost of
which is her reads. At long last, here is Jujubee in the reading mini-challenge
(forgive the shitty quality):


It’s enough that she reads all the girls to
filth, but she adds extra spice to each dig with her intricate intonation and
facial expression. I die when she raises her sunglasses. 

course, reading is not Jujubee’s only talent. Her lip-syncs are her other
calling card. Everyone has a Jujubee number in their top five lip-syncs (I
don’t want to know the awful person who doesn’t). One might prefer her range of
lip-quivering and orgasmic howling to Aretha’s “Something He Can Feel”
(Tatianna didn’t even try, for goodness sake!). Or someone might remember
Jujubee most fondly for her on-stage meltdown to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” (I
could handle it—I had already been jaded by Yara’s life-shattering elimination
in season three). For me, it’s a toss-up between her renditions of “Black
Velvet” and “Shake Your Love”. In the Alannah Myles number she gets her hair
all knotted up in her face (life lesson: good wigs still look good when they’re
messed up!) while she thrashes along the main stage, and it becomes unclear
whether she is crying or getting off. We really feel like she’s transported us
to a dive bar on Route 66. And during the Debbie Gibson tune she plays AIR

final thing I have to say for this queen is that there are no BFFs on Drag Race
who match the awesome power (and yes, “synergy”) of Rujubee. Not Yara and
Alexis, nor Detox and Roxxxy. The friendship on screen between Raven and
Jujubee is the vacuum through which we recall season two. We don’t re-watch
that season to see Tyra take the crown, or Tatianna make it to the top four, or
Pandora get screwed time and again. No, in our memories it will always be the
Raven and Jujubee season. Best line: “I’m Jujubee. I like long walks on the beach,
big dicks, and fried chicken.”

6. Jinkx Monsoon (Season 5, WINNER)

I’m tired of singing praises about Jinkxy. Don’t get me wrong, she
deserves all the credit she receives—I’ve just grown exhausted of this subject
and I’m ready for season six to start. I’m exhausted because there isn’t a Drag
Race fan on this Earth who doesn’t adore Jinkx, and won’t stop talking about
it. The Jinkx love is that widespread. And what still stands out about Jinkx,
that we have seldom seen a queen pull off (especially a young queen), is that
she has so consistently brought her ‘A’ game in the main challenges, almost
week after week. To list, there was: the impersonation of Mimi Imfurst (mixed
with Barney Gumble from the Simpsons?); her touchstone rendition of Little Edie
in Snatch Game (Bruce LaBruce called it “good contemporary gay camp”); her
riffing in “Can I Get an Amen?”; her roast of Rupaul (“Michelle Visage is so
full of semen—period”); her orgasm in the telenovella competition (not to
mention her Day of the Dead runway number); and her performance in the video of
“The Beginning” that seemed to recall the history of women in comedy. Then, of
course, there was her delightful lip-sync to Yma Sumac’s “Malambo no. 1” (we
knew Detox was going home as soon as Alaska called it).

are so many favourite Jinkx moments that we could discuss for another year how
much we love her. But to praise Jinkx at this point would be like raving about
a Radiohead album, or the Wire, or fucking Citizen Kane. What else is there to
say about this legend that hasn’t been said already? She changed the game, she
made history, it was a huge deal, and we talked about it forever. Now let’s
rest on it. Best line: “These girls are cock hungry dick pigs.” I’ll take that
tee shirt in black, white and red. Please and thank you. 

5. Chad Michaels (Season 4, 2nd
runner up; All Stars, WINNER)

We all get so caught up in discussing season four in terms of the rivalry
between Sharon and Phi Phi; the wild theatrics of Willam; and the holy scripture
that is every word spoken by Latrice Royale; that we tend to forget about Chad
Michaels (for various reasons, we do the same to Alaska Thunderfuck in
discussions of season five). Even though Chad killed the runway in season four,
over and over—even her “safe” weeks were way above-par—and was a wild
comedienne in the main challenges (the wrestling challenge with Madame LaQueer,
the Soul Train presidential platform, CHER), our worship of Sharon, Latrice and
Willam has often upstaged her. This is why All Stars was so important. 

the first few episodes of All Stars, all the entertaining cattiness and diva
worship accounted for, there was a general feeling that it was a throwaway
season, and much of it is to do with the “synergy” bullshit (don’t cut me, Ru).
I mean, by the end of the first episode when we saw Pandora Boxx get sent home,
there was a sense that we weren’t seeing queens fairly graded for their
charisma-uniqueness-nerve-talent. Why should Pandora be punished because no
other queens but Mimi wanted to be her teammate? Why did Manila get sent home
because Latrice didn’t bring her ‘A’ game, and how was that Manila’s fault? And
how on Earth did Shannel get to the top four?! With all these problems in the
brief All Stars season, there were still reasons for us to stay tuned: 1) It’s
still Drag Race, so of course we’d watch it; 2) Rujubee; and 3) Chad Michaels.

was a sense throughout All Stars that Chad was dragging Shannel along with her
in the competition (that’s not synergy, Hunty, that’s just babysitting), and
that made Chad’s induction into the Hall of Fame even more impressive. Chad in
All Stars built upon the star narrative of Chad in season four, and for many of
us she outdid herself in the later season. For instance, we all knew from the
moment she walked into the workroom in season four that she could do Cher, so
when she won Snatch Game we were impressed but not exactly elated. There was a
general feeling that she was playing it safe, and that challenge win in a way
represents how she played all of season four: very calculated and safe, not in
general but for her capacity. We never got the feeling that Chad was taking
serious risks, and neither did the judges for that matter. (Sharon, on the
other hand, looked nerve-wrecked when preparing her Michelle Visage
impersonation—and what a worthwhile risk that was!) Chad makes up for this in
season four. Her Bettie Davis was a serious risk, in the sense that it was
Bettie Fucking Davis (see also: Mariah Balenciaga in season three Snatch Game),
but look at how she pulled that off! The raised eyebrow, the so-over-it
dancing, the mug! We had waited so long, really since Pandora did Carol
Channing, for a queen to blow dust off the drag herstory books and whip out
some classic camp. Up to this point, we had endured so many impersonations of
contemporary pop starlets it eerily recalled that scene in Paris is Burning when Dorian Corey talks about how all the new
queens are trying to look like Christie Brinkley and Maud Adams, with that air
of “this too shall pass”. 

addition to how Chad stepped up her game in All Stars, she also came out of her
shell in the corresponding Untucked episodes. In season four, we often watched
Chad play mediator between Sharon and Phi Phi, or otherwise console all the
younger queens during their crying fits. She was kind of like a camp
counsellor. In Untucked we got more of a sense of how ready she was to bring
her everything and make it to number one, as well as how willing she was to
knock all the other queens out of her way. And that’s always entertaining. Best
moment: While beating their face in the workroom, Chad and Sharon sing an
impromptu ditty that goes: “Don’t share your needles… Don’t share your
needles with Sharon Needles…”

4. Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 (Season 5, 2nd

HIIIEEEE! I’m already gearing up for second season of All Stars, and I’m
bidding all my chips on this queen. Now, everything I said about Jinkx
withstands: she was fierce competitor, and there is a sense of finality about
how she took home the crown in season five. It’s just too bad that the Jinkx
narrative has consumed everyone’s memory of season five, because throughout the
whole competition there was Alaska taking as many risks, hitting as many highs,
and making us piss ourselves just as much. Alaska is the Raven of season five.
She’s the Manila. She’s the Tammie/Ongina/Nina. We can live with the final
winner (well, actually, many of us are still trying to cope with Tyra’s win),
but she wasn’t our favourite. 

best moments in the competition are too many: the garbage bag couture;
“Lil  Pound Cake, a straight up
motherfuckin’ dick pig”; her lipstick-stained teeth in the makeover
mini-challenge; her impersonation of Lady Bunny (“All I wrote was ANUS!”); her
roast of Rupaul (actually better than Coco Montrese, by the by); her “Scent of
a Drag Queen” video (“Are you read-y for me?”); her puppet of Roxxxy Andrews
(“Where my people at?!”); and of course, her win of the Sugar Ball. Alaska’s
former partner Sharon Needles described perfectly why Alaska was the best of
the top three in season five: to paraphrase, she had to her credit both the
eleganza extravaganza of Roxxxy Andrews and the high camp of Jinkx Monsoon.
This is what makes Alaska not only a legendary queen, but one of the MOST
legendary queens on Rupaul’s Drag Race: she can do pretty, she can do goofy,
and when appropriate she can do ugly. She is a jack of all trades, and a master
of most of them.

best moments aren’t exclusive to her performances in the mini and main
challenges. She is also an outstanding cast commentator. For Goddess sake, she
should be a sports anchor, because so many of the best lines in season five
were from Alaska’s addresses to the audience. Her quotes have become so viral,
and so entrenched in our memories, that I can still recall last summer other
Drag Race fans and I collecting on patios to duel over our best Alaska

Best line: 

Okay, here’s one more: 

3. Latrice Royale (Season 4, 4th

We are all aware that Alyssa Edwards is getting her own spin-off TV show,
but all I want to know is when this big ole’ queen is getting her book deal
because I could lead my life by “The Gospel According to Latrice Royale”. In
season four there were countless What-Would-Latrice-Do moments: “BMW: Body Made
Wrong;” “Five Gs: Good God, Get a Grip Girl;” “BITCH: Being In Total Control of
Herself;” “Jesus is a biscuit, let him sop you up;” and “No T, no shade,” just
to name a few. And of course the wisdom of Latrice Royale was not for nothing.
This fierce legend had withstood adversity of almost Biblical proportions
before competing on Drag Race. The thought of one’s closest family member, of
any qualification, while separated from that loved one by a prison
sentence—that’s a nightmare come true. Hence the feeling of justice restoring
to the universe when we saw Latrice rise up in the ranks of season four’s
queens, winning two main challenges (“GET THOSE PEANUTS OUT OF MY FACE!”), and
destroying a couple queens to the tunes of Gladys and Aretha along the way.
Large and in charge, chunky and funky, Latrice Royale will forever be one of
the most memorable, fierce and lovable queens of any season of Drag Race. 

line: “I want people to realize that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to
fall down. Get up, look sickening, and make them eat it!”

2. Raven (Season 2, 2nd
runner-up; All Stars, 2nd runner-up)

Raven outshines almost all the queens on this list in singularity,
gaudiness, sexual excess, crudeness, and bitchiness. This queen has had an
altercation of some sort with almost every queen she has crossed paths with,
and somehow kept us rooting for her (?!). Watching Raven in season two and All
Stars feels like we’re watching Mean Girls, only if we were rooting for Regina
George. Wait, maybe we were rooting for Regina George… I digress. The point I
am making here is that Raven took us to our darkest sides. She brought out our
viciousness and our schoolyard cattiness. If this list was ranked in accordance
to queer values and utopianism, Raven might be ranked in the middle, and Jinkx and
Ivy Winters would be numbers one and two. But the ugly truth is we watch Drag
Race, and reality TV shows in general, to satisfy our vice for gossip—and Raven
never held back in those respects.

mentioned earlier that I thought season three might be the most complex
narrative trajectory of all seasons. I may stick to that assessment, but I am
now reminded of how complex season two became after its sweetest queens
(Sahara, Jessica, Pandora) were eliminated. That was a mean top four, folks. I
mean, depending on your angle in season two you could have especially hated any
of Tyra, Tatianna, or Raven—there was no clear antagonist! Even Jujubee, the
most darling of the top four in that season, was not lacking in nerve (see:
“Here Comes the Bride”). Somehow, and somewhat to my perplexity, as the show
has aged we have continued to prefer Raven over Tyra and Tatianna. How has
Raven pulled this off? How have we labeled Phi Phi O’Hara as the arch villain
of drag, and to a lesser extent marked Roxxxy Andrews and certain Heathers as
the respective villains of their seasons, but not included Raven in their
category? Is it as simple as that we thought Raven was right all the time, or
is it that when Raven was mean we didn’t care because no one was particularly
innocent? Regardless, we love Raven, even as we’re afraid of her. 

Raven often preached that this is Drag Race and not “Rupaul’s School for Girls”, and there was a feeling that Raven was always criticizing fellow contestants from a higher level of experience. That’s remarkable given that Raven is still a fairly young queen, but then again she always backed up her T and shade with pristine runway presentations. She knew how to work her padding to some of the most absurdly biomorphic effects. She appeared to literally beat her face with makeup—I mean it always looked swollen (and you know by this point in the top ten how much I love queens who have undergone cosmetic facial reconstruction). In fact, the versatility with which she has painted her face may only be matched by the #1 queen on this list. Most impressive of all, she never repeated a mug in any of her ensembles (take notes, Jinkx and Alaska), but still kept her timeless Raven signature: smokey eyes + puffed out lips = dive bar blowjob queen. 

Best line: her dishes on Tatianna were the most barbed: “Everyone thinks you’re pretty? I do think you’re pretty. I think you have a wonderful face… for radio.”

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.

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.

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?

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

know many drag circuit followers who have somewhat retreated from the Sharon
camp in the couple years since she was crowned. I hear often that she is not
pleasant in person, is a bitch to book a venue for, and that she lets her mouth
run too much in interviews and on social media. But when it comes to her
competition on Drag Race, Sharon is the legend to beat. We can watch tribute
videos to the queen all day long and still find cute little nuances we forgot
about (the Nixon Now tee shirt!). She has given us more thrills, kept us more
involved, and held us more in suspense than any other contestant in Drag Race
herstory. We’re now five seasons into this show, about to enter the sixth, and
I shiver with excitement to imagine that we could one day meet a queen on
Rupaul’s Drag Race who could shake Sharon Needles off the throne of the
Greatest Drag Superstar. 

Best line: “Three words that would describe Sharon
Needles are ‘beautiful’, ‘spooky’, and ‘stupid’.” 

Go back and see #20-#11 here, #30-#21 here, #39-#31 here, #50-#40 here and #60-#51 here. And thanks for reading!

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