Time to see who just missed the cut.
20. Spankie Jackzon (Down Under Season 2)
Now, I’ve pitched Down Under Season 2 as a giant clusterfuck where everyone is angry with each other and intentionally being messy. This is mostly true, but I think the main reason why this all comes together, despite no one else willing to cooperate, is that at the center of everything is the Spankie Jackzon win. I can not think of any other winner, Drag Race or otherwise, with this persistently positive of an edit. This isn’t an overdog edit, because not even the two meter tall Spankie can outrun her horrid runways, but early on Spankie becomes the heart of the season, the one you want to see win. If it wasn’t clear by the fact that she’s the only one who doesn’t end up in a fight, then the fact that both Yuri and Beverly directly pick her as their winner makes it obvious.
Now, I would normally be hesitant about someone with such positive of an edit, but I’m not for a few reasons. First of all, it keeps the season feeling real. Yesterday I mentioned that Dragula as a franchise is losing its way, and a big reason for that is that everything now feels rehearsed to be as mean as possible. I’m all for bitchery, but Dragula now lacks the levity, both in the lack of characters who aren’t totally hateful and that no one even seems to take joy in meanness. Down Under Season 2 has all that drama but also knows how to balance it, and Spankie is the perfect counterweight. Secondly, she just pulls it off extremely well. Spankie is a tall, hot slab of Kiwi meat with massive Dad energy. Being the shoulder for Beverly to cry on or telling Yuri that he is always welcome at his home if he needed a place to stay isn’t the most gripping of TV, but it’s a nice touch when it’s sandwiched between Kween Kong pointlessly being defensive and Minnie twirling her moustache at her latest scheme. Spankie is an off-beat winner, and I don’t usually endorse winners with this clean an edit, but she worked for it.
Side note, I will always endorse anyone who wins with runways that bad, like holy shit.
19. Jada Shada Hudson (Canada Season 3)
Much like Spankie, Jada’s time on the show is mostly light and airy, with not a lot of points of drama. Yeah, she tussles with Fierce, but everyone fucking does. But like Spankie, you can get by with being light if you come packing something else. And Jada does, by which I mean she’s possibly insane.
I wasn’t that on board with Jada early in the season, although I did still like her a lot. I thought she had good confessionals and a really good story, and was clearly someone who could shoulder the amount of screen time given to her. Jada’s beginning in the season was good, but unoriginal, and I mostly dismissed her contributions as just the canned loveable underdog edit Drag Race loves giving Black and heavy contestants. However, as time went on and the cast dwindled, Jada was relied more and more to give television, which she did in, shall we say, unexpected ways. Her obsession with being the ultimate Baby Momma started out as seemingly weird grabs at attention, but soon reveal itself to be her actual life goal. It was around the time where she recounted her harrowing tale of being buttfucked by a ghost that it hit me: Jada is kinda nuts. Like not 100% nuts, but kinda nuts. Jada has an underlying sense of weird priorities that are just bizarre enough to be noticeable but not distracting.
Jada Shada Hudson might have started off as a bog standard front runner, but the amount of her concerning beliefs helps color her as a much more intriguing contestant. It’s Canada’s Drag Race doing what it does best: taking Drag Race and making it just that extra bit more special.
18. Sminty Drop (UK Season 4)
I won’t lie, Sminty Drop hit me when I was at peak Fiercalicious withdrawals, and she was the perfect microdose I needed to ween myself from that addiction.
Sminty Drop is a perfect early boot, truly the best Gremlin in a year with many of them. All the things I said before about what makes early boots important, that they’re simple and fun explosions of character that entertain you while the rest of the cast sets up, are exemplified by Sminty. Coming out of the gate and admitting she’s a friend of Gothy Kendoll illustrates to the audience both her short time on the season and her lack of shame. Sure enough, she endears herself to everyone by throwing tantrums in every group challenge, being the albatross of all of her teams, and then by dismissing everyone else’s drag as “Old Maiden,” a phrase that haunts her all four episodes. Her final episode is a banger of failure, as her inability to twerk sent her to the bottom where she would be assassinated by Baby at the lip sync. Sminty parts, but not before giving that stunning exit moment, proving that despite being a thorn in everyone’s side, you can’t hate Sminty Drop.
Sminty would not, could not, benefit from a fifth episode, but that’s okay. Drag Race needs its important characters, but it needs its less important ones as well. And Sminty is a top tier early boot.
17. Ra’jah O’Hara (Canada vs the World)
It has been a long, eventful four years with Ra’jah O’Hara. I can say that I was with her from the start, US Season 11 being one of the first seasons I completely covered and unquestionably being my favorite season I covered up to that point. And a key reason for that was Ra’jah, who I called during her first season an unstoppable element of rage who is passionate to the point of bullheadedness. That is probably… unfair, but I don’t blame myself for describing her that way because that’s how she was treated. Ra’jah was nothing more than a mid-boot in Season 11, more a dynamic counterpoint to Scarlet Envy, and while she was amazing I wouldn’t call her iconic to the franchise.
My how times have have changed.
Ra’jah is now everywhere, not just one of the most popular winners but one of the most popular Queens, period. There’s a billion reasons for that, some amazing and some silly, but I think the reason she has achieved this fame is that Ra’jah always had it in her. Going back to her first season, yeah she’s rough around the edges, but she has passion and a drive. She gets in drama, but it’s with the likes of Yvie and Scarlet. Ra’jah is insistent, and sadly that can be framed as a villain, a fate extremely common for Black contestants. So seeing all of that power, drive, passion, and art finally give her a win (that she should have had in All Stars 6, but I digress) is heartwarming. It’s a nice, satisfying end to not just Ra’jah, but one of the defining Queens of the third era of Drag Race. In a lot of ways, she closes that book.
The impact of US Season 11 was vast, including spawning an actual host, and that importance includes Ra’jah.
16. Kween Kong (Down Under Season 2)
In a season where no one really acted like a real Drag Race contestant, Kween Kong was the most non-contestant ever.
On paper, Kween does a lot of the same kind of stuff that other Down Under Season 2 contestants do: she can’t communicate to the camera well, her runways leave something to be desire, and her biggest contribution ends up being her impact on the drama. In theory, there’s no difference between her and Beverly, but the devil is in the details. Straight up, I don’t believe Kween Kong has ever seen Drag Race, or perhaps any reality show. This isn’t a negative, but what’s so damn striking is that her flaws in execution are completely different than her contemporaries.
When Beverly can’t deliver in a challenge, it’s because she overthought it and set herself expectations connected to what she has seen before; when Kween Kong can’t deliver in a challenge, it’s feels like she has no clue challenges were coming and has no idea the criteria. Kween’s personal drama content, about her dead sister and her struggles as POC in Australia, is compelling, but her delivery is so dry and guarded, unable to talk to the camera and give them what they want. Kween’s fights with people, especially Beverly, are so strange because she keeps arguing pass people. As upset as the other person is, they’re still putting on a bit of a show, but Kween never compromises her ability to fight for TV. It’s most striking with Hannah, the most contestant-y contestant, talking about her racist pass, which Kween answers in the most un-Drag Race way possible. I actually quite like it, but it’s something you’d never expect in 2022 Drag Race.
I mentioned earlier that Down Under Season 2 doesn’t feel like a Drag Race season, and the reason is Kween Kong. She’s such an obvious, non-conforming element who didn’t realize she was on a TV show. It’s a unique experience, and one of the stand-outs of the season.
15. Jaida Essence Hall (All Stars 7)
The theme of All Stars 7 is Harnessing Your Power. I was perhaps a bit blithe when I said that All Stars 7 was about not giving a shit, but I think it’s true in so far that the real personalities of the show didn’t care what the season itself said. What let Jinkx and Raja thrive was the ability to feel comfortable with who they are, and Jaida is right there next to them.
Jaida is in an interesting position because, for a multitude of reasons, US Season 12 didn’t really treat her as the main character. She was a main character, but her impact wasn’t as noticeable as, say, the impact of removing a whole contestant. This is all to say that Jaida was used to working in an ensemble cast, be in a cast where she wasn’t the biggest star, and that mindset greatly helped her prepare for All Stars 7. Like the rest of the cast, Jaida quickly clocks that this is a season for Jinkx to win and everyone is getting even billing, but unlike Shea or Trinity, Jaida doesn’t respond with contempt but a shrug. Jaida susses out her place as Jinkx’s friend and lines up, always willing to play the sidekick to the rest of the cast. It keeps Jaida top of mind without forcing her to claw for attention. Not that Jaida can’t deliver when the show spontaneously decides she’s in the lead for a givwn episode, but the point is Jaida knows how to deliver regardless of her place. She’s surprisingly meta-aware, by far the most of the winners of the season, and it’s her greatest weapon to come out of the season flawless.
Jaida emerges more or less the same as she did her first season. And since she was amazing there, it goes without saying.
14. Jonbers Blonde (UK Season 4)
Jonbers is the best sitcom character to ever compete on Drag Race.
If you ever wanted proof that sometimes Drag Race is scripted, look no further than Jonbers Blonde. It is quite literally impossible for someone to end up in the final 4 with no badges. In a season where two-thirds of the cast got wins, one of the few who didn’t was a finalist, a fact made funnier by them gifting badges to the makeover partners. And it clearly eats at her soul. The show is mostly preoccupied with watching Pixie get frustrated with getting no recognition, but the internal screaming in Jonbers’s eyes is as apparent as is haunting. This season nearly fucking broke her, mentally, and by the end she’s going stir crazy. Despite everything Jonbers did to win, nothing measured up.
And it would be tragic if it wasn’t Jonbers Blonde. An awkward Irish loon who sounds exactly like Ed Byrne, who calls herself a fashion Queen despite her tasteless runways. Someone whose ideas in the challenges are so off-the-cuff and random that the show has no idea how to process her. A contestant that RuPaul insisted should do St. Patrick for Snatch Game, and she did!!! I appreciate the hustle, but it is so god damn misplaced. This lovable, awkward weirdo making the worst choices she can, and getting in her own way. Frankly, it’s crueler they didn’t cut her earlier.
Jonbers is a tragedy too hilarious to take seriously. And that’s what makes her so great.
13. Mo Heart (UK vs the World)
UK vs the World is a bad season, that is a known fact. It’s an extremely flawed showcase of the Queens, with awful implications and a horrid elimination order. Everyone feels mismanaged and unfairly used. That being said, sometimes two wrongs can make a right. Sometimes a bad season treating a contestant a bad way can lead to one of the most interesting dynamics of the year.
And thus, we come to UK vs the World’s Mo Heart.
It’s fascinating to watch what can only be called Mo’s Heel turn. Anyone who saw US Season 10 or All Stars 4 would probably be shocked of Mo getting a villain edit, but that’s just one of the odd fucking choices only allowed in a season this careless. Mo’s time in the season is vicious, from the start undermining Cheryl Hole and just continues delivering mean side-eyes the entire season. I’d already appreciate her for being the only one to call out Baga at all, but she kinda just starts rubbing everyone the wrong way. And like, I get it, UK vs the World was clearly not the season she expected and is clearly tuned out for it. But she’s also still Mo, so while she spends the entire time over the season, she does it in ways only Mo can, in an affect only she has. It’s a bizarre character, to see one of Drag Race’s biggest angels be so frustrated at the season she’s in and she won’t hide it. Speaking for us all, as only she can.
12. Kornbread “the Snack” Jete (US Season 14)
This show has a god damn Emmy! Multiple!!!
A small part of me wants to view Kornbread more cynically.
Like I said last time with Willow, it’s hard not to read Kornbread’s brief time on the show as heavily produced. She comes in with catchphrases, iconic lines, and is, most importantly, dead set on making herself the star of the season. It’s one thing to loop her sisters June and Kerri into the mix, but her unlikely friendship with Willow was really where things start to germinate. Kornbread’s premiere can be said to be obvious, someone playing to the camera.
But you know what? That’s okay. Because Kornbread does all these things extremely well.
Like with Willow, you can argue cynicism all you want, but Kornbread delivers. She’s effortlessly entertaining. She gets into stupid fights with Jasmine. She helps Willow sew her outfit. She gives every single bit of herself to this season. The issue with so, so many Queens being television personalities first is that it reeks of insincerity, of trying to put on a front. Kornbread always feels real, there’s nothing jive about her motives or her actions. They’re for TV, but only because the format demands it. Hell, Kornbread gives so much to the show that she breaks her ankle (WHAT IS IT WITH THIS FRANCHISE AND ANKLES!!!) So while I get the hesitation early on, I experienced it as well, we have to face the fact that Kornbread is a stellar character, and an integral part of the season.
US Season 14 may have only started in earnest once she left, but that speaks of her power that she had to leave to let anyone else shine. Kornbread is the real deal.
11. Victoria Scone (Canada vs the World)
Now this placement might seem a bit odd, given my bias against this particular type of Queen. If this countdown has revealed anything about me, it’s that I am fucking over “man impersonating Woman In Farside Comic for a gag.” I find it a very cheap, non-nuanced form of Drag that banks a lot of humor off of the idea of a woman being brawny, loud, and opinionated. At best, it’s old hat, but at worst it plays into weird gender stereotypes, of “unfeminine” women being secretly men, and that there’s something funny about a man just wearing women’s clothing. It’s the kind of Drag that I think is secretly very affirming of old timey gender roles (thus why Baga does it), and isn’t transgressive enough, often enough, to work for me.
Victoria is the exception, and for more reasons than the obvious.
Victoria can get away with it not just because she is a Cis woman, but because she’s actually that brawny bitch. She’s a tall, curvy amazon with both the voice and vocabulary to narrate Mother Goose fairy tales. She always delivers confessionals in such a theatric, passionate way that evokes the camp of old Hollywood. You would never think that she was in her twenties, because she has the disposition and personality of a magical, sassy nanny. There’s no way to describe Victoria’s vibe that doesn’t imply she’s a witch, and that’s part of why she gets away with it.
But there’s more, and really what makes Victoria special: she’s damn smart with it. I don’t think anyone fucks around with gender presentation more than Victoria. We see a lot of Queens like Violet Chachki get called androgynous, but that’s just how they look out of drag, and they are able to toe the line of gender just by being thin; Victoria’s gender fuckery is both always intentional and always thoughtful. Her Drag King Fabio look is the pinnacle of this, a look that is both extremely masculine but also extremely literal and well thought-out. She engages in “Lesbian” behavior with Silky, herself someone who has no qualms wearing women’s clothing out of Drag despite going by male pronouns. To Victoria, it’s all about fucking around with the system and having fun breaking the status quo. And that’s what makes her so powerful.
The irony is amazing: after so many Queens present the same antiquated Brawny Woman drag, it takes an actual Brawny Woman to flip the table over and force people to think. I don’t think Victoria can change everything overnight, but she is the important next step to, if anything, less homogenous Drag,
Year-End Look: Canada Season 3
Canada’s Drag Race is back, bitches! I was worried we lost the show after the ho-hum second season, but Season 3 came in guns blazing, making sure you know why it’s the best Drag Race franchise. I’m not going to bother burying the lede, not only is Canada Season 3 the best season of the year, it’s one of the best seasons period. A dynamic, fun ride with some of the best characters to ever grace this franchise. While it lacks the both broader appeal and more nuanced storytelling of last year’s best season, UK Season 2, it makes up for it with splashier, messier moments and, most importantly, how to utilize its cast.
Probably the only negative to the season that I think holds water is that the cast is very top-heavy, but I actually think that’s a bit misleading. While Canada Season 3 puts a lot of eggs into a few baskets, making the final four predictable and seemingly cutting the rest of the cast short, I don’t think it’s from an inherently imbalanced cast like US Season 5; rather, I think this season quickly clocked the magic they had on hand and devoted as much time as those contestants needed. From what we saw, it wasn’t like there was nothing to Halal Bae or Lady Boom Boom of Kaos, but, frankly, the show didn’t need them. The show latched itself on to Fiercalicious, Kimmy, Gisèle, and Jada, and made sure it gave them as much time and energy as they needed. And while I concede that’s not exactly “fair,” it’s what made Canada Season 3 as good as it was.
It’s actually quite difficult to talk about the season because the main draw of it is this insanely good final 4, half of which I’ve gone over and the over half are being saved for my top 10. But if there’s anything great to say about Canada Season 3 that isn’t about them specifically, it’s that the season lets them thrive. The issue of Drag Race has always been the specific vision it has and the desire to produce, which can often cripple great casts. As good as US Season 14 and UK Season 4 were, they would be even better if production had never got in the way. All Stars 7 thrived at being overproduced, but that was only because they had produced themselves into a corner. Canada’s Drag Race lacks a lot of those inhibitions. There’s no central figure demanding the season meet certain criteria with the cast, and so the show is better able to find itself. When Canada tried to produce some canned personality, we got Season 2, and it realized it was never cut out for it. Canada’s Drag Race isn’t perfect, but it’s the sector of the franchise that most knows what it is. It knows that as long as the cast is good and everything is solid, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Canada Season 3 is one of the best seasons of the show, but there’s nothing spectacular about it. US and UK could have had season on the same level as Canada’s, and the makeup of my top 10 generally shows they all had potential. But Canada was the only one who knows how to work with what it has. Like last year, it’s a sign of the potential of Drag Race’s future.