A really difficult ranking!
DNF. Sherry Pie
Ultimately, beyond that first episode, where the producers hadn’t quite been given enough time to give Sherry the full PURGE EDIT, she wasn’t really part of the show in any meaningful sense, so it doesn’t really feel right to rank her. Her work was presented without any insight as to her process, she wasn’t part of any storylines except where her presence was absolutely required to further Brita vs Aiden, her prize money all went to the Trevor Project, and towards the end of the series even the actual performances started going into the shredder, edited to highlight all the references to force-feeding, or to push on us Sherry’s selfishness in running way over time. That said, I think the show did the best job this show could conceivably be hoped to do when confronted the fact with that one of its designated finalists was a serial, fairly obviously unrepentant sexual predator, and even if she hadn’t been exposed, whilst she was clearly talented, I can’t see any version of the finale where she doesn’t finish a clear fourth.
12. Dahlia Sin – (13th place (on a 12 queen season))
So anyway, beyond Sherry’s status, ranking all of these girls was hard! They all brought something to the table, and none of them Kahanna Montrese’d themselves. The villains weren’t that villainous, nobody lasted ridiculously far past their time, everyone said love, it was a fun season! Dahlia brought us two episodes of slightly forced sex appeal, followed by a cameo appearance every episode in a broccoli costume, an experience that ultimately ended up being pitched halfway between a Redemption Arc and one of those Greek myths where someone has to deal with an ironically appropriate punishment in the underworld for the rest of all time. Sisyphus had to push his boulder, Tantalus had those grapes dangling just out of reach, and Dahlia had to wear broccoli when she was A SEXY COOL GIRL WHO SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ASKED TO DRESS AS BROCCOLI DAMNIT. And that’s all fun but…well, who remembers anything about Sisyphus or Tantalus beyond their ironic punishments? Nobody!
11. Nicky Doll (11th place)
Nicky’s the one queen this year who feels a bit like an opportunity was missed – the narrative at the start of the series was very much Gigi vs Nicky in a battle of the Fashion Queens, but then Gigi turned out to have a lot more to her than that in terms of her range of performance skills and…Nicky not so much, beyond being an aloof cool ESL girl. So it didn’t feel too sad when she got eliminated for a “funny baby” performance that failed to reach the even middling heights of when Tyra Sanchez did the same act a decade ago (*looks into mirror, dissolves into skeleton*). However, based on the rest of the season, it seems likely that Nicky was actually, overall, a much better Fashion Girl as a FASHION GIRL than Gigi, as the latter’s outfits descended increasingly into the realm of the cheap and the costumey as the episodes ran on. Am I suggesting a spin-off show where Nicky and Gigi face off every week, a la the America’s Next Top Model parody this show was conceived as? No. But Nicky did wear some nice dresses.
10. Brita (9th place)
To quote top five sitcom of all time Community, Brita’s the worst. But like Brita Perry, Brita Filter (name redacted for copyright reasons) (also because it’s shit) (seriously, Ru spent a whole season going after “Heidi N. Closet” whilst this was just sitting there, nobody’s drag surname should be “Filter”) eventually became horrendous in an endearing and almost…I mean I don’t want to say lovable way, but at least an amusing one, because she was such a ridiculous grande dame. Stomping into the werkroom trying to make five different catchphrases happen, simultaneously, over-doing every performance, and basking in the glow of the queens, the judges, the show staff (yes, even Witnergreen) treating her like a big fish in a big pond, the biggest pond, BIG YORK CITY. And then as soon as the first episode was over this immediately stopped, and she did not receive one word of praise ever again, from then, to the moment she left. Brita felt like a holdover from a bye-gone era, most particularly the one where three New York queens (Bob, Sasha, Aquaria) won in a row, when constantly namedropping the Centre Of Everything had cultural cache and big city queens were cool (except for CLAT, CLAT was never cool). Sadly Brita lept on that wave a little too late, and was left floundering on the beaches of Drag Race like one of those little baby turtles you know is never going to reach the ocean. Also? Damned pineapple dress.
9. Aiden Zhane (10th place)
There were three moments this series that transitioned Aiden from regular hapless early boot to all-time iconic mess and they were these
a) that referee outfit
b) her performance in Gay’s Anatomy, to be honest, the only reason to watch that episode ever again, an truly inspired piece of outsider art, “YOU EVER HAVE…SPOOOKY SEX?” has entered my daily lexicon
c) Patricia Quinn’s review of Aiden’s performance on Snatch Game – “disgusted beyond belief liar I do not know this utterly untalented person shite”. I’d put that on my posters if I were Aiden.
8. Jackie Cox (5th place)
Jackie fills that one Ben De La Creme/Katya/Miz Cracker/Nina West slot for the series – the educated, considered, and professional queen who looks early on like they’re a shoo-in for the final but gets in their own head and just misses out. Except normally that queen is a massive fan favourite and everyone goes mad when they get the chop and in the case of Jackie…that didn’t really happen so much. Which made the run up to the finale much calmer this year, put it that way. Who knows why Jackie didn’t click with the audience to quite the same degree as those other girls. Maybe her “my disapproving mother” story was a little too one note, maybe the references were all too old (on a series where Gigi was raiding the 1980s non-stop I don’t know that we needed a girl constantly delving a further 15-20 years into the past), maybe the ultimate frontrunners this year were ultimately a little too strong for people to care about the girl who didn’t make it…personally I found Jackie a little too pat and a little too superior to really root for, but how much of that was overcompensating for spending his entire first month on a show rolling around in a puddle of my own drool at her looks out of drag? Who can say.
7. Widow Von’Du (7th place)
Widow had a similar arc to Jackie, but in a cartoonishly accelerated way, in that the show treated her like the frontrunner for the crown in the first episode, sprinkled in some nice comments regarding her World’s Worst performance two weeks later (without putting her in the top, natch), and then promptly completley ignored her until she appeared again in her last three episodes, wondering why everyone had forgotten about her, and clearly feeling her impending elimination barrelling towards her like Gigi doing that one silly walk from Gay’s Anatomy. Those people thinking that with Sherry Pie out of the way her edit time would transfer to the other Big Girl of the season? Mistaken. Personally, despite her lack of edit, I loved Widow as a narrator, as a rap artiste, as a teller of truths, as a talking head par excellence, as the possessor of hands down one of the most tragic backstories in a series full of them, and I never want to see any of her runways ever again. Except maybe the Incan one and…her last one? The Black Power Stars & Bars? Like I said, strong season, nobody was completely awful at anything!
6. Gigi Goode (2nd place)
Gigi Goode got one of the most skilful editing assassinations in the history of Drag Race, and I’m honestly surprised people missed it. For the first half of the season – the likable fresh-faced future of drag who loves her mom, crushing the Snatch Game, owning the runway, slaying the Rusical, for the second – the shiny shellacked superior over-rehearsed egotistical arrogant frontrunner who will not stop banging on about her mom. A snarling face here, a snotty comment there, constant looks of disappointment that she wasn’t winning anything any more? They led us by the nose to her loss and we all followed. This is what happens when you come for the woobie of the season Gigi, your victory dissolves like a cake left out in the rain (again). Here’s hoping that Gigi returns for an All Stars season, and use the platform to ascend to true immortal Drag Race villainhood. Like Pandora Boxx did, like Phi Phi O’Hara did, like Milk did, like I wanted Valentina to but instead she used as an opportunity to get deeply weird, as…I dunno, Blair St Clair may well be doing in a month’s time.
5. Rock M. Sakura (12th place)
Truly the Su Pollard of Drag Race, except Su Pollard doesn’t have footage circulating the Internet of her getting vigorously bummed whilst half hanging out a top floor window at the Folsom Street Fair. That we know of. Yet. Rock was hands down, the LOUDEST person ever to be on Drag Race, just a constant full force nuclear blast of mostly misplaced energy from the start, from the beginning, from the very second she cartwheeled into the workroom. Flinging herself over the tables, down the stairs, farting in Michelle’s face, swinging her hair around like an Olympic hammer throwing champion, and making for a most delightful orange as part of the Fruity Patooties. Rock’s entire personality is probably best encapsulated by the outfit she got eliminated in – a loud vulgar adorable haphazard mess.
4. Heidi N Closet (6th place)
Is there a higher complement that one can give about a queen than to say they remind you a little of Alyssa Edwards? Because Heidi this series did exactly what Alyssa did on her first run – showed herself to be the most charismatic, naturally hilarious queen in the pack, without quite being able to translate that power into challenge performance. Yet. Other than maybe her turn as a geriatric showgirl in World’s Worst (and God, imagine peaking in an improv challenge) nothing Heidi did in any of the challenges ever quite had the resonance of her sat in that confessionals chair shooting the shit with the producers, or her giggling as she gleefully stole yet another idea from RuPaul. Heidi was just likable damnit, and it radiated through everything she did (those little nervous glances during every lip-sync to scry where the other girl was, sticking to her drag name like glue despite Ru’s repeated assaults on it, blowing up at both Gigi Goode and Nicki Minaj in the nicest possible ways on Untucked). She’d not quite a top three girl in this ranking, because I did, at times, find her a little rehearsed. But a true Miss Congeniality for sure.
3. Jan (8th place)
Honestly I could talk forever about the JAN experience, believe me, but why bother when the whole thing is encapsulated by this Jan’s Jukebox performance of “Let It Go”?
2. Crystal Methyd (3rd place)
A genuine journey arc on a reality show is a true rare find. Normally it just gets handed out to whoever is the weakest contestant still left standing at the end, to justify their being there for reasons beyond “…well they just are, that’s just how it happened ok?”. But Crystal really developed over the course of the show from that slightly forced wacky girl who dried up every time she was asked to open her mouth, and spent every werkroom hiding in a cupboard whilst Ru tried to find her to give her some leaflets about Debarge. Crystal listened to the judges, refined her make-up (sorry, Michelle was right, it needed toning down and personalising, it just did, accept it, sometimes Michelle’s harsh early episode dog-piling is, in fact, justified and helpful), learnt how to banter, and started consistently getting what was inside her head outside of it. Phenomenal Phil, her 80s infomercial (the most authentically 80s thing all season, take that Gigi), her weirdo Madonna and her Bert & Ernie makeover, all culminating in that gloriously bizarre finale pre-record performance of I’m Like A Bird, probably the most iconic thing to happen in a finale…ever? Except Jujubee turning up to the Season 2 finale piss-ass wasted and nearly hurling all over the floor of course. Of course, the last two episodes still showed that, despite her journey, Crystal still isn’t quite good enough, yet, to be a winner – she still can’t lip-sync live to save her life for one thing. But a KWERKY WEERDO even I can get behind? Deserves credit.
1. Jaida Essence Hall (Winner)
I’ve really tried to tamp down just how obsessed I’ve been with Jaida all series, partly because…well I always watch Drag Race fully spoiled and didn’t want to ruin her march towards the crown for anyone else, but partly because my obsession with Jaida is hard to put into her words. She just has that particular drag spirit that I connect with most strongly, particularly in the runways. Jaida just has supreme physical confidence, serenity, and poise within her that she can tap into when required, and when she does it’s like there’s no-one else on screen. And it didn’t come out always, but when it did (in the first seconds of the 1999 lip-sync against Heidi, in her Erotica Era Madonna rusical performance, in every single look at the Ball Ball WHICH SHE SHOULD HAVE WON, EASILY, in her makeover runway presentation, in all the times when she really was the only queen there to tell you to your face how she thinks about you, and, of course “LOOK OVER THERE!”, the one meme that has transcended the show this year and made it into The Discourse), Jaida just radiated Big Pageant Energy harder than any queen ever on this show. And people have picked it up with Jaida in the similarities between her arc and Asia’s, or A’keria’s – that one pageant girl floating just under the editing radar – but the role of Pageant Queen runs back through all of Drag Race history, principally amongst the antagonists. The pageant, one of the richest traditions in drag, is consistently played as opposition to the ideal winners of the show – it’s big city, it’s old-fashioned, it’s staid, it’s superficial, it’s corrupt, it’s hide-bound, it’s soulless, it’s conservative, it resists change and individuality. But for pageant queens to continue to be a credible threat to the Yvie/Jinkx/Sharons of the world…well, one or two of them have to win occasionally. And, for all her lack of ability in the acting challenges, if a pageant queen is going to win, then it better be a Jaida Essence Hall. She stomped, when she had to, even if it was all over the floor of her tiny apartment with every trick in the Microsoft Movie Maker package flying. Other queens can construct entire studio sets, but it’s no match for pure C-U-N and T.