It takes a lot of skill to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. A winning sense of humor, the talent to captivate a crowd, and the ability to sew and create jaw-dropping, head-to-toe looks from scratch are but a few of the many demands on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The new season begins Monday, March 2 — so it’s time to reflect on past winners and shoulda-beens.
Bebe Zahara Benet
Benet took the crown of the so-called “Lost Season” (it was really hard to find online.) West African by way of Cameroon, Bebe stole the show with her ultra-glam looks, poise and elegance, and big, big hair.
Nina Flowers may not have been the marketable, all-around queen the show was looking for — usually bald, highly painted, and named in tribute to punk pioneer Nina Hagen, the Puerto Rican born Flowers was a true original — and many people today maintain that she was totally robbed.
Controversial winner “The Other Tyra” Sanchez beat out pouty Raven for Season 2’s title. Tyra’s runway looks and sewing skills were totally amazing, and she represents a kind of person who we rarely see on our TV screens. Formerly homeless and father to a young son, 21-year-old Tyra was certainly mean and immature towards other contestants at times (not that Raven wasn’t), but her talent and flawless, classic drag stylings were hard to beat.
Technically, Raven was the runner-up, but my heat lies with the hilarious and razor-sharp Jujubee, who read people in Laotian and revealed her immigrant parents originally named her “Airline.” Jujubee’s looks were cute but more pedestrian than most queens who took home the title – actually if you re-watch Season 2 everyone kind of looks like they got their drag at Forever 21.
Deadpan, lanky Raja rejected big-haired glamazon style for a more fashion-forward interpretation: who can resist her Carrie-inspired look in Episode 8? Some of her runway styles were a bit too fashion-y for my tastes (I like my drag with a side of Dolly Parton) and relied on culturally-appropriated stuff like war bonnets and “tribal makeup” way too much.
Runner Up: Manila Luzon had it all: comedic chops, big hair, looks that skirted the line between glam and high camp-hilarity, and a scene-stealing turn as a space monkey during Season 3’s awesome sci-fi challenge.
Sharon’s horror/goth aesthetic and witty sense of humor (RuPaul: “Didn’t I see you at the Free Clinic?” Sharon: “Oh, I stopped going. It’s so expensive!”) won her the title and inspired the immortal line, “Go back to Party City, bitch!” Unfortunately, she’s said some racist stuff both on and off the show. But we’ll get to that next week!
“Large and in charge, chunky yet funky” Latrice Royale didn’t make it to the finals, but if I were sitting at the judge’s table (and, god willing, some day I will be), my vote would have gone to glamorous, funny, big-hearted Latrice, a charismatic queen who was fun to watch, no matter what she was doing, saying or wearing. Check out her amazing oceanic outfit above.
To be honest, Jinkx is probably my least-favorite winner. Miss Monsoon is undeniably talented: she can sing, dance, and deliver a punchline. But her super retro, Vaudevillian style was never my cup of tea, and her flat wigs, lack of aesthetic identity and overall un-queenliness never stole my heart. It’s OK, she’s doing fine without my support.
Sharon’s (now-ex) girlfriend Alaska Thunderfuck’s girly outfits, talent for reading and ditzy-yet-quick wit propelled her to the finals. Alaska stayed humble and out of drama, and put together one hell of a “Candy Couture” look (seen above.)
Bianca Del Rio
Polished and professional, insult comic Bianca’s flashy “clown realness” and hilarious delivery made her a front-runner from the beginning. Her performance in Rupaul’s “Oh No She Betta Don’t” music video still makes me LOL, and her gradual friendship with young queen Trinity K. Bonet (and their awesome “Working Girls” video they totally should have won for) showed us all a caring side to her heartless bitch persona.
Young queen Adore Delano came close to stealing the title: unlike Bianca, Adore was scrappy and relatively new to the world of drag, and her natural, unstudied personality and sarcastic wit made many of wish we could have a friend just like Adore.
Next week, we’ll have a review of this spring’s new queens, and explore what’s great (and not so great) about the glitziest show on TV.