Tops and Bottoms: A Final Look at 2022, Part 8

10. Raja (All Stars 7)

If you would have told me last year that Raja would be in my top 10 Queens of the year, I would not believe you. There was a lot of shit working against Raja: a contestant I didn’t like during her initial season, coming back on a season as bullshit as US Season 3, in a year this damn stacked with good contestants. Raja should not be in my top ten, and yet here she is.

How did we get here?

First, we have to sorta establish who Raja was in US Season 3. Early Drag Race is often called a parody of reality TV, which it is but that’s not going far enough; early Drag Race is a mean-spirited parody, a lampoon of talent shows, specifically America’s Next Top Model, done just to take the piss. And Raja, herself a make-up artist from Top Model and a friend of RuPaul, was seemingly cast to come in and be the winner by default. Everyone saw her win coming, especially Mariah, so even when the season generates good TV with the Boogers, it ultimately feels hollow because we all know Raja is winning. And because of this hateful stance against Reality TV, Raja’s character was that of an unfun overdog who you were supposed to not want to see win, but does anyway because the show has nothing but contempt for the fans who care. Raja is not the most heinous abuser of this power, that’s Raven, but it’s clear her time in US Season 3 was shaped by wanting to fulfill her role in the cast first.

It’s funny, then, to see Raja come back on the show a decade later, now that Drag Race is waist deep in the bullshit and is even more a reality show than Top Model could ever dream. And this shapes an older, calmer Raja into, ironically, the underdog who doesn’t fit it.

So here we find Raja, now closing in on 50 and seeing the likes of Shea and Monet and Trinity try way to hard to do good to the Drag Race name, and she responds with blithe confusion. Raja, who comes from a time where no one cared because Drag Race was only watched by forty desperate gays, goes against grain and just does whatever she wants, expecting the season to let her do well because they did last time. And because this is All Stars 7, they do. Raja does not give a single shit trying to impress or mold herself to the monolith that is the modern Drag Race metagame, but because everyone has to be given a positive spin and look good by the edit, she ends up being the more fun alternate winner choice to counter the Tryhard Trio who are getting the same respect despite their hard work. This is not to say Raja doesn’t care, her meltdown in front of hapless guest judge Nikki Glaser over not getting any wins is as notable as it is iconic, but the difference is intent. Raja is an artist who demands respect, and her not getting any from judging reads as much more sincere and understandable compared to Shea pouting because she was supposed to get five wins by episode 4. As unintentional as it is, Raja endears herself by staring Drag Race down at its most maudlin, and forcing it to reward her as she continues being the wine-chugging, weed-smoking Fun Aunt of the franchise.

Raja’s return was a pleasant surprise, and in the grand storytelling of 2022, an open letter to the fans that the third era of Drag Race is over. You can be the Kya of Drag Race all you want, so long as you’re honest to yourself, you will succeed.

9. Jasmine Kennedie (US Season 14)

And speaking of being wholly honest.

Jasmine continues the trend of stellar 2022 characters by being as open and honest as humanly possible, this time to her own detriment. Jasmine is loud, verbose, and opinionated, which all ends up biting her in the ass because she gets into fights with damn near everyone. From here first episode, it’s clear there’s a demon rat side to Jasmine, and it comes out in full force against Kornbread of all people. And while that fight is fun, nothing better speaks to Jasmine’s spiky nature than her fight with Maddy, a fight Maddy was absolutely not ready for. You can tell Maddy was trying it, trying to have the Drag Race experience with starting her own fight, but she chose the wrong person and was nuked from orbit by Jasmine, who could not be more righteous or fuming than she was then.

And the beauty about Jasmine is, despite everything, you get it. Jasmine is not trying to start weird shit, she’s just insanely honest and wears every single feeling on her sleeve. Her coming out as Trans and her aspiration to look like Kerri is telling of someone who just yearns to be seen as is, to be taken seriously. Jasmine is a kid, but you whose baggage feels real and deep. Her reunion fight with Daya Betty shows that. She has to put everything out on the table because it’s the only way she has found that people will listen to her. Immature, sure, but haven’t we all been there. Jasmine is very much your kid sister, who you know is going to tear shit up, but only because it’s that effective.

8. Dakota Schiffer (UK Season 4)

And speaking of your kid sister.

I don’t know a soul who doesn’t love Dakota Schiffer. It feels almost insulting to even write a long paragraph about what makes her awesome, because it’s so apparent. I mean, look at that confessional look, dressed as a haunted Victorian doll. Dakota is just a pure contestant, someone you love because she’s just so who she is and knows exactly her power.

I think that’s honestly why Dakota works so well: the self-confidence. The Trans experience on Drag Race has always been complicated and filled with the feeling of needing to please, but Dakota isn’t like that at all. She very much harnesses her own power, having a distinct cool, alternative girl vibe to her (Dakota and Yuri would have sat at the same lunch table). Her not liking musicals is a fun sub-plot, but it hints at the overall confidence that Dakota emanates. She never feels the need to please anyone, and never tries to. Not that she doesn’t fit in with the cast and extend friendships, in fact her best moments are stuff like her adorable friendship with Baby and her playing the young queer listening to Cheddar talk about the AIDS epidemic. It’s just there’s no desperation to Dakota’s actions. It’s obvious everyone in the cast fucking loved Dakota, and that warmness pours out of the screen.

If you ever wondered why I don’t look at the share for “fairness,” it’s because of how Dakota left. But it turned out, Dakota didn’t need the show to tell her she was awesome. Dakota might be the first Trans girl on UK Drag Race, but she almost doesn’t feel that way, because she’s so herself. More than being Trans, more than even being a girl, she’s Dakota, and the feeling is effortless.

7. Kimmy Couture (Canada Season 3)

And speaking of Trans women who buck the trend.

Like Dakota, it would be wrong to only describe Kimmy as just the Trans woman contestant, not just because it’s gauche, but because it’s actually pretty wrong. Kimmy may have a lot of identity labels on her, but the one that symbolizes who she is most is being a Couture. If you ever wanted to have the Icesis experience in a tiny, angry woman package, than your prayers have been answered. Kimmy is very much who she is and responds to things in her own, unique way. Of course being an immigrant, being a POC, and being a Trans woman impact her personality, but they don’t define it.

Kimmy never tries to be inspirational, which is obvious given her knack of voicing her disapproval of everyone else. It’s hard to remember, given a certain other Canada Season 3 Queen who loved to be the villain, but Kimmy is vicious in confessionals. She has no problems calling out everyone else for looking busted or failing a challenge, and then goes on to fail her own challenges and have very questionable runways. It’s a fun dichotomy that explains who Kimmy is: a young woman trying to be more advanced than she is.

And I think that’s why Kimmy is so good: her honesty. The moment I always think of with Kimmy was her talking about being sexually assaulted, which she says has happened more times than she can count. And what’s so heinous about the moment is how nonchalant Kimmy is explaining it, meaning she’s “used” to it and expects it as the norm for dating as a Trans woman. It’s a moment that is on surface about violence against Trans people, but also explains the hurt Kimmy has gone through, and how she got here. Kimmy is herself, both an example of and subverting the labels given to her.

6. Jinkx Monsoon (All Stars 7)

And speaking of being so herself it fucking hurts.

We, as a fandom, take Jinkx for granted. There’s a lot you can say about Jinkx in US Season 5, but let’s not try to act like we’re above loving Jinkx. Jinkx may have had good timing and a great knack of playing the underdog, but don’t pretend you didn’t fall in love with her Little Edie. US Season 5 isn’t a perfect season, but it’s disingenuous to act like loving Jinkx is basic, get over yourselves.

And if you need proof, look at All Stars 7.

The thing is, I don’t even think Jinkx is trying to win. At least not really. What work she did to make herself the lovable kook in her first season is just missing here. Jinkx is just being Jinkx, trading jokes with Jaida Essence Hall and bonding with Raja over being wine-chugging Weed Aunts who would rather be taking a nap. The dichotomy with Raja is especially fun, because while Raja is traditionally cool, attractive, and poised, Jinkx shuffles around the werk room dressed as the fourth Sanderson, with skin paper white and hair looking both wet and dry. All of this to say, Jinkx isn’t trying to impress you, and certainly isn’t trying to impress the judges.

Which is why she’s the perfect winner.

Like I said with Raja, the magic with Jinkx is that she doesn’t conform to what the show wants. While most of the cast is used bending over backwards and kissing ass to get ahead, Jinkx just does her usual Jinkx stuff, and it endears herself to the judges. I mentioned before that the fun irony of All Stars 7 was watching Queens who had the least interest vibing with Drag Race’s modern bullshit be the ones rewarded, and nothing is more satisfying than the show going out of its way to make sure Jinkx wins. Of course it ended up pissing Monet off, but tell me if anyone has ever benefitted from the bullshit as much as Monet. It’s such a fun cap to not just the legacy of Jinkx, but of the the third era of Drag Race: Jinkx being lovably herself.

5. Silky Nutmeg Ganache (Canada vs the World)

And speaking of being lovably herself.

The change and growth in the power of Silky Nutmeg Ganache is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Like with Ra’jah, I was there at day 1, the first episode of US Season 11, where I confidently called Silky the best character of the premiere. From there, I continued the hard work of convincing everyone the worth of Silky, and how she was one of the most important things Drag Race had had in years. And sadly, no one listened. Silky would go down as one of the most hated contestants of all time, with spittle-covered insults and death threats thrown at her, often shaming her for being Black and heavy. So, forgive me for being self-indulgent here, but I would just like to say that I always said Silky was amazing and you all need to beg for her forgiveness before you can call her one of your favorites.

Because as much as the framing around her is more positive, this is still Silky. This is still that quotable, boisterous bitch who attacks every single occasion like a bull in a china shop. This is still the stunt Queen that does goofy shit like have a pointless reveal every lip sync and have a lesbian tryst with Victoria Scone. This is still the Queen whose drag is, as Hollywood Jade said, very Black. These are things that make her amazing, whether you appreciate them or not. Nothing about Silky has changed, just her circumstances. Silky is one of the best, most consistent Queens to ever grace this franchise. And whether she’s framed as an alienating contestant in US Season 11 or a ray of positivity that is too bright to properly behold like Canada vs the World, she’ll always give you everything she has.

Silky is everything great about Drag.

4. Minnie Cooper (Down Under Season 2)

And speaking of alienating death machines.

There are no words to describe Minnie Cooper that are not descriptions of folklore monsters. She is what children fear are under their beds. She is what they speak of when timid voices whisper of the boogieman. She will kidnap your child on the night of the harvest moon and torture them for eternity. No one is safe from the reach of Minnie Cooper, and you best pray that she will show an ounce of compassion and just kill you on sight.

Anyone who remembers my writings last year will remember my love for Tamisha Iman, a love that has only gotten stronger since she outted herself a scam Queen. Minnie Cooper is basically the second coming of Tamisha: an established, legendary Queen who spends her time tormenting everyone around her. There’s very little more entertaining than the show framing Minnie as a Creepypasta monster and then revere here as an important Queen of Australia, all in the same breath. Minnie’s knack of flying in whenever another contestant is vulnerable and picking at their liver is the stuff I can rewatch forever, especially because it puts the entire production on hold until Minnie is finished thoroughly scrapping every ounce of flesh she can from her poor victim. Don’t worry, it’s as gruesome as I’m describing.

By far, her best moment was in episode 4, the Snatch Game. After Beverly told everyone else in confidence that she still wasn’t fond of Pomara after eliminating her, Minnie did the only sensible thing and brought it up to RuPaul, completely out of pocket! It was a moment that left me speechless, with Beverly being understandably horrified and upset that Minnie would tattle on her. Minnie, being the unfeeling demon from hell that represents Spite, doesn’t understand her problem, and goes on with her day like nothing had happened. It’s a staggering display of unfeeling ruthlessness that could only be achieved by the most sadistic of people.

I meant it when I said Minnie can only be described in hyperbole. A demonic monster set upon the unsuspecting cast of Down Under Season 2 to troll the hell out of them. A Queen who I adore, and only partly because I’m terrified of her.

3. Jimbo (UK vs the World)

And speaking of off-beat trolls.

If any season benefitted from a contestant turning up to flip every table she could, it was UK vs the World. A season that took itself so seriously, with an earnestly heinous attempt at trying to justify the cast, needed a Jimbo to come in and troll everyone. Those first three episode are made by Jimbo setting the set on fire for her own amusement, and it’s a sight to behold.

I know what you’re thinking, “But Spencer, Jimbo is just weird, she wasn’t trying to undermine the season.” And to that I say, did you not watch Canada Season 1? Of course Jimbo is a weird person, but that’s not the point: Jimbo uses her weirdness as a trojan horse to say the most vile shit she can muster to people around her. Maybe you could have dismissed her early on as just kooky, but after her fight with Ilona where she calls her out for bitching every five seconds, it should be clear Jimbo has her finger on the pulse of the season. There’s no innocence to her reading Rita Baga for filth over her awful wigs, come on guys. Jimbo knows what she’s doing and knows the fights she’s fighting, and has no qualms doing just that in UK vs the World.

Think about all the motions Jimbo makes: Jimbo picks the opposite lip stick as everyone else, she tells Jujubee that they should form an alliance and then immediately breaks it, she openly says she’ll eliminate the bigger threat just to make everyone uneasy, and she insults the cast to their face in the episode she’s most vulnerable. Jimbo is trolling the fucking season, from the premiere to her elimination. And she knows that Drag Race, especially Drag Race UK, will take itself so seriously as to treat her as earnestly as possible. And lo and behold, it does. And of course, no one falls for it harder than RuPaul, who clearly adores her and will no doubt utilize her in forth coming seasons.

Jimbo is not the contestant UK vs the World needed, but it’s the one it deserves. Jimbo is an expert at playing the antagonist, and it’s always a delight to watch.

2. Daya Betty (US Season 14)

And speaking of shit-stirring antagonists.

Daya Betty is a fucking star. There’s a lot of things that make US Season 14 a great season, but at the heart of it all is Daya Betty, a true reality show villain and one of the best happy accidents to ever happen on Drag Race. As much as we lament the horrid pacing and the cockshy eliminations, Daya was the best case scenario of that, and she absolutely capitalized on her second chance.

I’m sure this pick comes at the shock to… well, no one, because of my tastes, but is still going to be seen as contentious. Daya Betty was a very unpopular Queen during her season, with the typical horrible fan bullshit like people sending her death threats. Not that I think any Queen deserves to have death threats sent to them, but it’s particularly frustrating with Daya Betty because she, undeniably, makes the season. After Kornbread leaves, the show is in desperate need of a pulse to make the cast tick, and Daya Betty fills that role in the best way possible. You may say she’s being a bitch and obnoxious, but you can’t deny that it brought out the best of everyone else. I mean, good lord, her forcing the tie over Saltine was exactly the shot in the arm both Camden and Bosco needed, and forced Willow to not just play the innocent.

And the thing is, while she was vocally opinionated and clearly meant to hurt people to make TV, it worked. US Season 14 has an amazing amount of chemistry, and I mean when I say that Daya is the heartbeat that makes it all happen. She prods at everyone, not just because it’s fun, but because she knows it will make good TV. And like she said, since when are Drag Queens supposed to be nice? This article sums her up nicely, and while I think it’s more than a bit of a reach to say she’s the best villain ever, the sentiment that villains make this genre is real and correct.

Daya knows good reality TV, you guys are all just mean.

1. Miss Fiercalicious (Canada Season 3)

And speaking of bitches who know good reality TV.

Anyone who knows me knows I fucking love Miss Fiercalicious, a Queen who could only exist in the year of terrible Drag names. As soon as she materialized on Canada Season 3, I knew she was going to be someone I would love. And even with my high expectations, Fierce surpassed them, becoming not only the greatest contestant of her season, not only becoming the greatest contestant of the year, but making her mark as one of the best reality show characters, period. Indeed, one of the absolute greatest personalities I have ever had to pleasure to watch.

Oh, god, where to even begin?

I guess we have to start with her premiere, where Miss Fiercalicious endears herself to everyone by being a snotty, egotistical, needy brat that alienates the entire cast. The comedic beats of watching Fierce trying to get Lady Boom Boom to help her with her garment are amazing, and illustrate how much of a disconnect there is between her and the rest of the cast. No moment better symbolized it than her fake crying at being safe, unwittingly looking insensitive to Halal and Moço, and not reading how unhappy the rest of the cast was. From there, Fierce shows off the true nature of her brand: being an awful teammate. The amount of time the show cuts back to her seething with anger at the heinous, evil Vivian Vanderpuss and Chelazon Leroux, much to the exhaustion of Kimmy and Bombae, gives me life, Fiercalicious choosing to be petty so hard it nearly sends her home. It’s so bad that the Previously On for episode five is not about Kaos leaving, but how everyone is fucking sick of Fiercalicious. Truly, a fucking icon.

But then, and this is where she really shines, Fierce starts to become an actual contender. It sounds insane, given her awful edit the first four episodes, but starting with Snatch Game she becomes the lovable underdog you hope wins. And while Snatch Game started it in earnest, the branding challenge the following week was when Fierce really set herself in as one of the big stars of the season, someone who could be both so ratchet but also so good at what she did. Suddenly, this stank gremlin who had no business making it to Snatch Game is now one of the finalists, and a popular fan favorite. That’s the fucking power of Miss Fiercalicious.

And speaking of that branding challenge, it really does illustrate the secret behind Fierce: she knows her reality TV. I’m guessing that 90% of Drag Race contestants watch reality TV, but Fiercalicious is clearly a connoisseur, that fact made obvious by quoting Aviva Drescher’s leg throw from Real Housewives of New York. Fierce knows her shit, knows how to make herself a character, knows how to cut a confessional, and most importantly knows how to make it work. Like, I want to stress, Fierce is a fan of reality TV, but in the same way, say, Tatianna is, where she loves to be knee deep in the chaos and dreams of shit-stirring to make it happen. Fierce isn’t just a stellar character, she knows how to bring the best out of everyone else, and does so with the precision of a surgeon.

I really can’t stop gushing about Fierce, I could go all day. I could talk about her fights, her proud stance of a hot glue girl, her ability to shape a season around her, everything. I truly fell for this lovable bitch, so much so I needed Sminty Drop to microdose me to normal. I say this with certainty and conviction, Miss Fiercalicious is the greatest contestant in the history of Drag Race.

Year-End Look: Drag Race 2022

2022 was a massive return de force of Drag Race, not just being better than 2021 but being a strong year for Drag Race, period. Most of the seasons were at least above average, the casts were all strong and defining, but most importantly everything pointed to a promising future. If 2021 was Drag Race stuck in the past, ignoring the changing tides, then 2022 was Drag Race forced out of its chair, trying to keep pace. It was a franchise clearly trying to keep the status quo, ignoring the changing tastes of the fandom. And while not everything went as planned, the failed attempts were at least a welcome change of pace, a sign that the show was at least now trying, even if at gunpoint.

To understand why most of 2022 works, you have to look at what little failed. Specifically, you have to look at UK vs the World. I’ve said my piece about it…. multiple times, but specifically what a lot of problems stem from is a lack of forward momentum. It’s appropriate the season happened at the start of the year, because it’s a season that feels very 2021. The specific details may make it more heinous than US Season 13 or UK Season 3, but the broad strokes of a show refusing to adapt and realize what it has reads very much of 2021 Drag Race. If Drag Race was going to stay relevant, it had to change.

Whether it liked it or not.

This is what really defines most of 2022 Drag Race: trying new things, with reservations. UK finally cast its first Trans woman, but forced a repeat of Vivienne vs Divina. US still has a hint of forced production, but is ultimately salvaged by the bitches who keep it real. Down Under features contestants trying to be normal, with the cast as a whole wanting to do their own thing. Truly, nothing better symbolized what Drag Race wants to be versus what fans want than Hannah Conda being a diligent teacher’s pet and getting overlooked by the messier, more lovable Spankie. To bring back the likes of Shea, Trinity, and Monet to go out of their way to be winners, only to get overlooked in favor of Jinkx and Raja, is the narrative, no matter how unintentional. And the year ending with Canada vs the World, an All Stars of the last breathes of the third era of Drag Race, a season that rewards one of its biggest stars, hosted by one of its biggest stars, is a telling message of the future: we’re in the fourth era.

It’s hard to say what the fourth era of Drag Race will look like. As amazing as Daya and Fierce and Minnie were, they were one-shot characters who you aren’t solid enough frameworks for archetypes. One thing is for certain: Drag Race has to keep adapting. If Drag Race falls back into old tropes and tired clichés of the third era, it will only lose the respect and excitement it generated this year. 2022 was a burst of energy for Drag Race, a franchise throwing off its shackles and going to the unknown. Here’s hoping it keeps that momentum.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.