When the first episode was released in 2009, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” looked very different from the version we know and love today. With its tiny stage and blurred filter over the camera lens, no one expected Logo TV’s new drag competition reality show to take off. However, the recent move to MTV is just further proof that the program is a full-on phenomenon. With Emmy wins under its belt, “Drag Race” has become one of the most talked about reality competition shows. As the 15th season wraps up, let’s take a look at the best and the worst “Drag Race” has to offer.
While the season had highs, particularly the Brooke Lynn Hytes versus Yvie Oddly lipsync, the cast never gelled. The most interesting storyline, Brooke Lynn and Vanjie’s showmance, was overplayed to the point that it was the only interesting thing happening. The lack of chemistry and subpar challenge performances resulted in a forgettable season.
Often referred to as the lost season, the first season brought “Drag Race” to the world, but its low budget hurts the show too much to be ranked higher. The show had all the ingredients to become a reality juggernaut, but the budget problem is just too noticeable, and the absence of the snatch game makes it an outlier.
With queens like Trixie Mattel, Katya, Ginger Minj, Kennedy Davenport and Violet Chachki, this season was poised to be one to remember. Coming off of back-to-back comedy queen winners, the producers decided to create lots of acting and comedy challenges for the new recruits, but with no true comedy queens to take charge, these challenges fell flat.
After the high of Season Nine’s lipsync smackdown finale, fans were excited for the show to come back. Miss Vanjie’s episode one exit was a viral moment that created buzz around the show, but unfortunately, that buzz wore off. When the finale came, fans hoped for a lipsync smackdown for the ages. Instead, they got failed and obvious reveals that left many with sour tastes in their mouths.
This season had extreme highs and lows. With no one going home until the third episode and the gimmicky chocolate bar twist, the season felt impossibly long and drawn out. A terrible snatch game led to an entire episode of lipsyncing. Despite these stumbles, the season had so much heart. Multiple “Untucked” coming-out moments made for the most transgender contestants in one season, resulting in a running gag about Kerri Colby collecting new transgender queens like Thanos does infinity stones.
Thankfully, the blur filter was removed, and the show began to find its footing. The addition of the snatch game changed the “Drag Race” landscape forever. Tensions between the queens led to some of the most quotable “Drag Race” moments. While the show was not yet what it would become, it had the bones of great reality television.
As with other recent seasons, the show overstayed its welcome. With no one going home until episode four, many felt that the show had become a marathon. However, a star-studded cast brought the season to life. With talents like Gottmik’s spot-on Paris Hilton impersonation, Symone’s stunning runways and Denali’s “100% Pure Love” lipsync, the cast created memorable moments, even if it felt like an eternity by the end.
As “Drag Race” continued to make room for itself, a more perfect coincidence couldn’t have happened. The eventual queen of “Drag Race” fashion, Raja, competing in a season full of design challenges was kismet. Outside of Raja, many other queens flourished as they could show off their creativity by using unconventional materials to make outfits, a skill set that is now a “Drag Race” necessity.
Between the late Chi Chi Devayne’s emotional lipsync to “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and Kim Chi’s fashion and makeup artistry, it was hard to beat the talent of this season. What knocks it down a few spots is also its greatest star: Bob the Drag Queen. Bob’s rise was meteoric, and it was clear that she would win from the beginning. Thorgy’s paranoia was certainly correct; everyone loved Bob.
By this season, “Drag Race” knew exactly what it was. This new, more confident version eventually led to the show’s pop culture stardom. The intense rivalry between Sharon Needles and Phi Phi O’Hara resulted in a quotable fight for the ages. Iconic lipsync performances such as Dida Ritz’s “(This Will Be) An Everlasting Love” showed off the queens’ true talent. The controversial disqualification of Willam is still a mystery to this day. This season was the blueprint for the great television empire that “Drag Race” would become.
The best modern season of “Drag Race,” Season 12, was the season that had to adapt in real-time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the finale couldn’t be filmed in front of an audience, which it typically is. This development, paired with the post-filming disqualification of Sherry Pie due to sexual misconduct allegations, tasked the producers and editors with a unique set of challenges. The editing out of Sherry Pie was handled well, and the new at-home finale was a breath of fresh air in what felt like a stagnant finale sequence.
The true strength of this season lies in its final three. Each of them brought a unique set of skills to “Drag Race.” Bianca Del Rio’s unmatched comedy chops, Adore Delano’s grungy aesthetic and stage presence and Courtney Act’s polished style and vocals made for stunning television. Additionally, this season featured the talent of lipsync assassin Trinty K. Bonet and the quotable duo of Gia Gunn and Lajanga Estranga, who pumped out oneliners like their lives depended on it.
What made this season great is exemplified by the final lipsync performance challenge. “Category is…” remains one of the most iconic challenges in “Drag Race” herstory. Between Shea Coulee’s bars, Sasha Velour’s creative storytelling, Peppermint’s performance and Trinity the Tuck’s body, the song can’t be beaten. To top it all off, the introduction of the lipsync smackdown for the crown has changed how queens approach lipsyncing on the show.
This season truly has everything. Old disputes between Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montresse made for entertaining fights and even more entertaining lipsyncs. The formation of the powerhouse trio comprised of Alaska, Roxxxy Andrews and Detox, also known as Rolaskatox, created tension between them and the rest of the cast. Eventual winner Jinkx Monsoon’s kooky personality and impersonation of Little Edie helped solidify the importance of the snatch game. Every single storyline could not have been more perfect if it had been written by the producers themselves, making for the greatest season of “Drag Race” to date.
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