RuPaul’s Drag Race is the phenomenon that defined LGBTQ culture in the last decade – shifting the art of drag further into the mainstream than ever before.
The reality TV competition has spawned its own multi-million dollar empire, with a never-ending stream of shin-off shows, merchandise, podcasts, YouTube series, tours and the now-international DragCon. And it shows no sign of slowing down, with the current season (the 12th of the US version) due to be followed by All Stars 5.
Meanwhile, production on BBC Three’s second season of Drag Race UK has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but is expected in autumn, while Canadian and Australian versions are also on their way. Not to mention the celebrity version teased last year.
So, when one foolish member of the Attitude editorial team suggested we put out our own, definitive ranking of the 11 US main series winners and the reigning UK champion out into the universe, we put our heads together to deliberate.
After a few blazing rows reminiscent of the early days of Untucked, we settled on the following order.
As a disclaimer, ranking queens with such unique talents and achievements gets very difficult, very quickly. We looked at the scorecards from their time on the competition (how many challenge wins, times in the bottom two, etc.), what they’ve done with the platform following the show, and also their contribution to drag’s wider cultural ascendence.
Oh – and we decided to exclude the five All Stars winners (maybe that’s a future post, if Attitude HQ hasn't been torched by disgruntled Tyra Sanchez fans).
If there’s one thing we know about Drag Race fans, it’s that they’re very opinionated – and we’re here for it. If you think we’ve got it all wrong, join in the conversation on our social channels to tell us why. As Ru says, we can’t wait to see how this turns out…
Without further ado, scroll on to see where we’ve ranked your favourite winner.
12) Tyra Sanchez (Season 2)
It’s fairly undeniable that The Other Tyra crushed the competition in Drag Race’s second season, back when there was still a touch of that Vaseline-smudged lens that made everything seem a little more flawless than it really was.
Tyra boasted three challenge wins – a statistic shared with six other winners – and avoided the bottom two entirely, the first of five winners to do so. Her biggest successes came on the runway, but behind the scenes she was a likeable queen albeit with a penchant for rubbing some of her fellow contestants up the wrong way (Tatianna especially).
Unfortunately, that Vaseline-smudged lens also appears to have obscured the real Tyra, who’s become something of a thorn in the side for the Drag Race franchise thanks to her questionable behaviour – including seeming to call for violence against other contestants, falsely announcing Morgan McMichaels as dead, an FBI investigation and a DragCon ban.
While Tyra was invited back for the 100th episode’s winners’ reunion photo shoot in season eight, it seems unlikely she’ll still be on Ru’s Christmas card list these days.
11) BeBe Zahara Benet (Season 1)
Firstly, all props to the OG winner – and runner up on All Stars 3 – for leading by example with her win in 2009, when Drag Race was still a niche show. A graceful diva, BeBe had far fewer episodes than most queens on this list to impress the small audience the show then had.
While season one is available on Netflix for anyone wanting to familiarise themselves with BeBe and her fellow competitors, viewers have been spoiled by the much higher production quality and budget (and standard of queens) of more recent series and it’s a bit of a tough watch as a result.
Unfortunately, BeBe’s win didn’t come at a time where brands were throwing money at drag queens for endorsements and partnerships, so the opportunities the Drag Race crown afforded her were significantly more limited than a decade later.
Thankfully, she was able to shine with her comeback in All Stars, giving us all a lesson in savage beauty – this time in HD. (We still want to know who's lipstick she chose in when BenDeLaCreme eliminated herself).
10) Yvie Oddly (Season 11)
The US show’s reigning champion, Miss Oddly didn’t come to play. Her no-filter approach to the competition led to some explosive moments with undeserving finalist Silky Nutmeg Ganache.
While scorecard for the season shows the fewest challenge wins of anyone on this list (just one joint victory), Yvie’s drive and honesty was endearing – especially when compared with her polar-opposite rival Brook Lynn Hytes (their ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ lipsync is nothing short of iconic).
In the same vein as season four champ Sharon Needles, who she cites as an inspiration for her style, Yvie showed that drag isn’t all about glamour and beauty (despite RuPaul’s personal brand) – it's not hard to imagine her tossing a coin between Drag Race and The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula when deciding which show to apply for.
With her post-Drag Race career still in its infancy, it’s hard to know how Yvie will use her platform – she’s been performing in the show’s Las Vegas residency, but we hope to see her branch out and carve a path as unique as she is.
9) Aquaria (Season 10)
The show’s youngest-ever winner, Aquaria’s storyline in the show started off being all about a supposed copy-cat rivalry with fellow contestant Miz Cracker – but she soon proved herself to be one of a kind.
Ostensibly a fashion queen, Aquaria was “turning looks and stunting pretty” from week one, racking up three wins over the course of the show including – a surprise to almost everyone – for her Snatch Game impersonation of Melania Trump, which she’s recently been reviving on TikTok. Fun fact: Aquaria was the first contestant to win both the Snatch Game and Ball episodes in the same season.
Since taking the crown in 2018, she’s been making coin in the fashion and beauty spheres, appearing solo in Vogue Italia, modelling for Moschino’s H&M campaign, working with MAC, NYX Cosmetics and Fenty Beauty and becoming the first drag queen to walk the Met Gala’s Red Carpet (fellow winner Violet Chachki wasn’t far behind her).
Social-media savvy and with a Gen Z perspective, Aquaria knows what her talents are and how best to use them.
8) Violet Chachki (Season 7)
Another queen who slayed the runway, Violet’s win is perhaps one of the most controversial.
In a season that generally seemed to be more style over substance (though its cast was undeniably strong), the fashion queen took the first episode win and gave an iconic moment with her tartan jumpsuit reveal.
Her edit over the course of the season never really made her win feel that deserved, and her spiky personality didn’t help endear her to viewers.
Interestingly, since her victory, Violet has never really seemed to want to ride the coattails of the show or pursue mainstream for mainstream’s sake, instead working on her craft as a burlesque dancer.
Her obsession with vintage glamour, with elements of fetishwear mixed in, made it a natural area to explore, and in 2017 she landed a spot in the cast of burlesque legend Dita Von Teese’s show. She’s walked the runway for Moschino, attended the Met Gala, and been the first drag queen to front a major lingerie ad campaign.
An interesting proposition for a Drag Race winner, but, five years on, a showgirl with all the right credentials.
7) Raja Gemini (Season 3)
The blueprint for all the fashion girls that followed in subsequent seasons, Raja came with a style pedigree from her time as a make-up artist on America’s Next Top Model.
From her felt Cyclopean entrance look to her Marie Antoinette and Barbarella inspired runways, she never committed the cardinal sin of resting on pretty.
She won or placed high in over half of the challenges, and saw off competition in the final from future All Stars Manila Luzon and Alexis Mateo.
Since the show, she’s released a string of singles, co-presented Drag Race spin-off YouTube series Fashion Photo RuVeal, critiquing looks from each episode, and in 2018 bagged a Simpsons guest spot as boy Raja, Sutan Amrull.
Perhaps hampered from doing more with the title by the show’s relative infancy at the time of her win, Raja is still one of the most loved queens to come out of the show.
6) The Vivienne (UK Season 1)
We couldn’t compile a ranking of Drag Race winners without including our own homegrown hero, The Vivienne.
We’ll admit that we were a little worried about how Ru would handle British drag, but we needn’t have concerned ourselves, with its campy, cabaret sensibility put front and centre.
The Vivienne was a clear frontrunner from the off, and was already known to Ru having been named the first (and to date only) UK RuPaul’s Drag Race ambassador in a marketing move a few of years prior.
The brassy queen from Liverpool tackled each challenge with confidence and it paid off: by the time the finale rolled around, she had three wins and had placed highly in three other challenges – not bad going for an eight-episode season, and giving her the highest success rate of anyone in this list.
While her post-win career is still fledgling, she’s back on our screens now with her new show The Vivienne Takes on Hollywood, filmed as the prize for her winning the show (the usual $100k cheque wasn’t up for grabs in the UK version due to BBC restrictions).
She's also teamed up with Baga Chipz and Netflix for the UK version of I Like To Watch. In our recent interview, Viv said she wants to be the Alan Carr of Graham Norton of drag – and we’re here for it.
5) Sharon Needles (Season 4)
One of the most unique queens to come out of the show, Sharon was the OG spooky queen and has never really been matched in those stakes.
After three seasons of mainly glamour and pageant type queens, she showed fans of the show a different side of drag – and it paid off big time.
Her victory – in no small part thanks to her record four maxi-challenge wins – also helped show that despite Ru’s own highly polished and feminine drag, she wasn’t afraid to include misfits and oddballs in her harem of champions.
Let’s not forget as well that had it not been for Sharon, we might not have had her drag daughter, Aquaria, or her former partner, the legendary Alaska, who first appeared on the show the following year.
Sharon’s feud with season four’s villain Phi Phi O’Hara is worthy of a Ryan Murphy limited series, but with a Billboard-charting discography under her belt and a legion of fans from party city and beyond, Sharon has definitely had the last laugh – or cackle.
4) Jinkx Monsoon (Season 5)
“Water off a duck’s back,” Jinkx Monsoon repeated to herself on the main stage as she prepared to receive critiques from the judges or from her cliquey competitors, the latter of whom had decided early on she was the kooky outsider with little to offer in terms of being America’s Next Drag Superstar.
Well, luckily for the world, Ru was able to see past some of Jinkx’s more questionable outfit choices to appreciate the talent that lay within the narcoleptic underdog – perhaps best showcased with her brilliantly bonkers Snatch Game portrayal of Grey Gardens’ Little Edie.
One of the most prolific winners to come out of Drag Race, Jinkx has never stayed still for too long, putting her singing voice (one of the best in the show's herstory) to use on albums and touring the world with stage shows created with frequent collaborators BenDeLaCreme, Peaches Christ and Major Scales.
3) Bob The Drag Queen (Season 8)
Something odd happened with season eight of Drag Race: instead of its usual 14 episodes (the standard since season three’s bloated 16), viewers were only given 10 episodes to gag over.
Whatever the reason, Bob The Drag Queen entered the werk room purse first with lashings of charisma uniqueness nerve and talent and left with a crown on her beautiful black head.
Never short of confidence, Bob’s three wins across just eight maxi-challenges give her a pretty good scorecard, and she managed to clinch a shanté in two lipsync for your lifes – phew.
Her quick wit and comedy chops more than made up for any reads about her make-up and fashion choices, and whatever her infectious personality was selling, we (and Ru) were buying.
Since the show, the pansexual, non-binary queen has put her platform to good use as an LGBTQ and POC activist, shared hosting duties with Trixie Mattel on The Trixie & Katya Show, co-hosted the Sibling Rivalry podcast with Monét X Change and acted in Angels in America on stage and Tales of the City on screen.
Bob's next adventure sees her teaming up with Eureka and Shangela for HBO's back-water drag makeover series, titled We're Here and due to air later this month.
2) Sasha Velour (Season 9)
The self-described “bald, fashiony, artistic, weird queen” turned heads when she rocked up in season nine with an ear-splitting scream and a crown already on her head.
In the competition, she bagged two joint wins, both times working with partner-in-crime Shea Couleé, and was one of the most consistent queens – impressing with both beauty and brains.
Sasha’s fashion-forward runway looks were matched by her intellectual point of view, in which she showed a clear knowledge of queer history and was able to honour several LGBTQ trailblazers throughout the show in her own way.
Going into the final against Shea, Trinity the Tuck and Peppermint, her victory wasn’t sealed until that 'So Emotional' lipsync, where she magicked rose petals and left her heart and soul on the stage.
In the years since, she’s lifted up other LGBTQ artists with her inclusive drag show Nightgowns, which has been picked up for a docu-series by new mobile-first channel Quibi, and toured the world with her dazzling one-woman, two-hour stage show Smoke & Mirrors, which recently played to a sold-out London Palladium.
1) Bianca Del Rio (Season 6)
Well here we are, the top spot of this bound-to-be-controversial list.
While you could probably convince us to switch the order of a few lower-ranked Drag Race winners, we’re fairly certain most will agree with our placing of the sixth horsewoman of the RuPocalypse.
With bags of confidence and comedic schtick, Bianca Del Rio swept aside some of the franchise’s toughest – and most loved – competition (Courtney Act, Adore Delano, BenDeLaCreme) on her way to claiming the title in 2014. (Fun fact: Bianca is the only winner to have never been anything less than ‘safe’, and even that only happened in three of 11 challenges.)
Season six was arguably the year Drag Race really started crossing into the mainstream consciousness, and Miss Del Rio has ridden the crest of that wave to considerable success.
From two Hurricane Bianca movies (the fact that they’re objectively bad doesn’t diminish the achievement of having them made) and a West End stint in Everybody's Talking About Jamie to several sold-out international tours – her last included a date at Wembley Arena, making her the first drag queen to headline an arena – Bianca has taken the torch and run with it, blazing a trail in her hateful wake.