RuPaul’s Drag Race is now ten years old, having introduced more than one hundred drag queens over its ten seasons, some of whom were later featured in the three All-Stars spin-off seasons. Without a doubt, Drag Race is responsible for jumpstarting the careers of several queens who are now successful in mainstream media. These larger-than-life TV personalities now star in films, have their own Netflix shows, and tour around the country to sing, dance, lip-synch, tell jokes, or all of the above.
What’s more, RuPaul’s Drag Race won five of the 12 Emmy awards that it was nominated for in 2018, including the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program trophy (RuPaul’s third win) and the coveted Outstanding Reality-Competition Program award (Drag Race’s first win, beating out The Voice). To be fair, all of these accolades and high ratings were in part due to the fantastic casting choices that the series has been able to pull off, finding the “star quality” in several up-and-coming artists, as well as celebrating more established drag queens.
On the other hand, it comes as no surprise that, over the course of ten years, RuPaul’s Drag Race has made certain mistakes when it comes to its cast. Not every queen was a right fit for the show, and even if they seemed great at first, time has proven that the franchise would have been better off without certain contestants (and even certain winners).
These are 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt RuPaul’s Drag Race (And 10 That Saved It).
20 HURT: SASHA BELLE
Season 7 is often referred to as the “boring” season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, despite the fact that the likes of Katya, Trixie Mattel, Jasmine Masters, Miss Fame, Kennedy Davenport, Violet Chachki, and Ginger Minj were all introduced on this season. What’s more, the legendary Tempest DuJour was the first one sent home, which definitely signals to how strong of a cast season 7 actually had.
With that said, the 7th season of Drag Race introduced a type of contestant that the franchise had never seen before: a super fan of the show. Sasha Belle came into the Drag Race werkroom literally saying: “I feel like I’ve cracked the code,” referring to her love of the show and how she felt very prepared to win. Well, things did not go Sasha’s way, as she was the second queen to go home.
19 SAVED: SHARON NEEDLES
Over the course of ten seasons, there are several queens that left a huge mark on RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, it is hard to argue that any other queen played a larger role in redefining this series the way that Sharon Needles did.
Whether you like her dark, gothic style or not, Sharon Needles broke the mold that preceded her and proved that Drag Race could strive for different types of queens to be on the show and win it. Before Sharon, the franchise was largely defined by its “glamazons,” such as BeBe Zahara Benet, Tyra Sanchez, and Raja. The funnier and/or weirder queens on seasons 1 through 3 were largely dismissed, and Sharon proved that these “out of the box” contestants actually deserved a place in the spotlight.
18 HURT: JAYMES MANSFIELD
Jaymes Mansfield is a highly successful comedy drag queen on YouTube, and has expanded her career to touring around the country and selling a load of merchandise to fans. With that said, the Jaymes Mansfield character did not work well on television.
When you look at the lineup of queens that were cast on season 9, there is no doubt that Drag Race producers picked Jaymes Mansfield to be that season’s Bianca Del Rio / Ginger Minj / Bob the Drag Queen, all of whom had won (or at least made it to the Top 3) of their respective seasons. That is not what happened. Instead, Jaymes fell flat even on challenges that seemed to be tailor-made for a comedy queen to shine.
17 SAVED: VANESSA “VANJIE” MATEO
Talk about redefining the dreaded “going home first” placement! Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo, now simply known as Miss Vanjie, came to season 10 better known as the daughter of Alexis Mateo, who placed 3rd on season 3. To the shock of many fans, Vanjie was the first eliminated queen on season 10, but her iconic runway exit (saying “Miss Vanjie” three times) became a meme that took hold of mainstream media, even among non-Drag Race fans.
The fact that Miss Vanjie has had this enormous of a career despite being sent home first is a testament to her “star quality,” and further proof that she was perhaps the best casting decision that Drag Race producers made on season 10.
16 HURT: CYNTHIA LEE FONTAINE (S9)
Don’t get it twisted: Cynthia Lee Fontaine and her “cucu” were a highlight of season 8, which was otherwise largely dominated by the presence of Bob the Drag Queen. In a season where Bob was the most reliable reality show narrator, most hilarious queen, best-at-everything, and then crowned winner, it was hard for anyone else to stand out, but Cynthia certainly did, ultimately being crowned Miss Congeniality by fans of the show.
With that said, bringing Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s “cucu” back to season 9 was not the best decision. Cynthia’s jokes and references felt old, her personality was largely the same, and nothing particularly new was brought to the fold. Aside from her cancer scare, which took place between seasons 8 and 9, Cynthia did not add anything to the series being back for a second time. What’s more, she placed 10th on both seasons, proving that she was not meant to go too much further anyway.
15 SAVED: LATRICE ROYALE
Who doesn’t love Latrice Royale? This well-established performer has been working as a drag queen since the 1990s, when she was featured in the sketch comedy series In Living Color and her career took off. Then, in 2012, Latrice was cast on the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, propelling her fame to new heights.
In many ways, the casting of Latrice Royale has been extremely significant to the Drag Race franchise. The queen has worked time and time again with World of Wonder, the production company behind most things RuPaul does, and was cast on All-Stars 1 and the franchise’s 2018 holiday special Holi-Slay Spectacular. All in all, Latrice Royale is perhaps the most unanimously adored drag queen in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race, both by fans and by other fellow contestants.
14 HURT: KAROLIE KARBKADSHIAN-WILLIAMS
From an objective standpoint, season 10 had what is perhaps the strongest cast the Drag Race franchise has ever seen. The fact that the season’s first eliminated queen became one of the most iconic memes of 2018 is a testament to just how powerful the season 10 cast was.
With that said, many fans have pointed out that Kalorie Karbdashian-Williams was the weak link of season 10, not necessarily being up to the standards of her fellow contestants. During the two episodes that Kalorie was on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she landed in the Bottom 2 both times. In many ways, Kalorie’s most important contribution to the season was sending Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo home, giving us the iconic “Miss Vanjie” moment.
13 SAVED: TRINITY “THE TUCK” TAYLOR
Drag Race has had many, many, many pageant queens. If you are unfamiliar with what this means, it is a category of drag queens that are known for their beauty and for winning pageants. Think of Coco Montrese, Alyssa Edwards, Kennedy Davenport, and Alexis Mateo.
When Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor was cast in season 9, she was quickly reduced to being that season’s pageant queen, which generally signifies someone who will make it far in the competition, but certainly not win. Over time, however, Trinity proved that she was much, much more than just her looks by excelling in pretty much every comedy challenge and being comfortable “looking ugly” whenever it made sense. Season 10's Asia O'Hara followed in her footsteps.
12 HURT: DERRICK BARRY
Even before being cast on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Derrick Barry was already an extremely popular and established Britney Spears impersonator in Las Vegas. Furthermore, Derrick had already been a contestant on the third season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, and was slightly familiar to mainstream audiences around the world.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that Derrick Barry’s casting on the eighth season of Drag Race felt a bit odd. The judges never fully decided whether they wanted Derrick-the-impersonator to go full Britney Spears all of the time, or if it wanted Derrick-the-drag-queen to show more of her own personality and venture beyond Britney. Moreover, while it made sense to cast Chad Michaels – a Cher impersonator – in season 4, that storyline seemed a bit tired by the time that season 8 came around.
11 SAVED: BIANCA DEL RIO
Bianca Del Rio is referred by many as the “winner of winners,” being most fans’ favorite Drag Race winner ever. Despite the fact that Bianca competed in a crowded season 6 cast of highly-talented drag queens, no one seemed to stand a chance against her. She made it all the way to the top without ever landing in the Bottom 2. That's right, Bianca won the crown without ever having to lip sync for her life.
While queens such as Pandora Boxx opened the door for RuPaul’s Drag Race to embrace comedy queens, it was definitely Bianca Del Rio who proved that this series was very much about showing that queens can take a joke. Comedy skills have a lot to do with being able to comfortably stand on a stage and hold the attention of a crowd, which Bianca excels at.
10 HURT: PEARL
Casting Pearl in the 7th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race was not a great decision for the show or for the queen. Throughout the entire season, Pearl seemed uncomfortable to do the things she was asked to do, unwilling to play along with producers demands, and incapable (up to a certain extent) of growing from the judges’ criticism.
During a recent episode of the web talk show Hey Qween, Pearl said things that sort of explained her behavior on Drag Race. Many fans believe that Kennedy Davenport deserved Pearl’s spot in season 7’s Top 3. In hindsight, Pearl’s most significant contribution to the series was her stare-down with RuPaul. Needless to say, Pearl was a poor casting choice for RuPaul’s Drag Race, and also for the queen’s own sake.
9 SAVED: ADORE DELANO
It is fair to say that Bianca Del Rio walked all over every other contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6. Therefore, it is quite commendable and impressive that a queen such as Adore Delano was able to not only stand her ground, but also develop a massive fanbase that translated into a mainstream career.
Adore Delano had previously been a contestant on American Idol, so she was a full-fledged singer with a powerful voice. After Drag Race, Adore released her album, which ranked at number 59 on the Billboard 200 chart and number 3 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart. The casting of Adore Delano was incredibly beneficial to Drag Race on a surface level, but it also pointed to the possibility that these queens could be mainstream stars.
8 HURT: TYRA SANCHEZ
It is undeniable that RuPaul saw a lot of himself in Tyra Sanchez, a season 2 contestant with humble beginnings but a lot of creativity and passion to make her way to the top. While many fans believe that Raven was a better contestant and had a larger influence over RuPaul’s Drag Race as a whole, it is hard to watch season 2 and not root for Tyra to win.
With that said, Tyra Sanchez has been the most problematic winner in the history of Drag Race. Truth be told, even counting the non-winners, Tyra is still in the lead when it comes to controversy. Many fellow contestants have spoken out against Tyra’s aggressive behaviors, threats, and inconsistencies. It is a sad testament to the Drag Race franchise that its season 2 winner has become so against the show and its host.
7 SAVED: ALYSSA EDWARDS
Alyssa Edwards is by far one of the most well-recognized and beloved drag queens in all of RuPaul’s Drag Race history. Ever since season 5, when she was first cast in the series, Alyssa has been a source of hilarious quotes, memes, moments, and looks. Because she did not win the crown, she came back for All-Stars 2, where she once again proved to fans why she is so special and iconic.
In 2018, several years after season 5 aired, Alyssa Edwards has gotten her own Netflix docu-series, Dancing Queen, which is produced by World of Wonder (the production company behind the Drag Race franchise) and RuPaul himself. There is no doubt that Alyssa is one of the most correct casting choices the series has ever made.
6 HURT: MIMI IMFURST
The journey of Mimi Imfurst in the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise is a bumpy one, to say the least. The queen was first cast in season 3, but her most memorable moments in the show were about her being wrong. For instance, during one particular episode of Untucked, Mimi accused Shangela of having a “sugar daddy.” Not only was Mimi messing one of the franchise’s most beloved queens, but she also prompted Shangela to deliver one of her most iconic statements in the series, which made Mimi look bad.
Then, Mimi Imfurst landed in the Bottom 2 on episode 4, and as she lip-synched with India Ferrah, she lifted her competitor above her head. This prompted RuPaul to eliminate Mimi and establish a new rule: queens cannot touch or physically hurt others during a Lip Sync For Your Life.
5 SAVED: PANDORA BOXX
Pandora Boxx was cast on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, when comedy queens were still frowned upon and taken less seriously. However, Pandora was largely responsible for what became the series’ overreliance on comedy-based challenges and comedy queens.
Despite that fact that Pandora Boxx was mistreated by the franchise on Drag Race season 2 and All-Stars 1, it is safe to say that, without her showing the value of bringing comedy to the show, we probably would not have gotten the likes of Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, Miz Cracker, and even Trixie Mattel and Katya. Pandora was cast in the show too early, but it was very important for the franchise to have her on, prompting producers to realize that there was room for non-“glamazon” contestants as well.
4 HURT: MAX
If there is one thing that RuPaul’s Drag Race has proven time and time again is that the series hates a queen who thinks that she can self-produce her own storylines and challenge TV producers on the type of narrative they are trying to put together.
Max is perhaps the clearest example of a queen who tried her hardest to self-produce everything she said, as well as when, where, and how she said it. Max, who is from Wisconsin, invented a fake accent that came and went over the course of season 7. Whenever any slight mention of profanity came up, Max acted uncomfortably and, at times, even hid from the cameras. Despite having an interesting look and a fantastic willingness to commit to her character, Max was simply not cut out for Drag Race.
3 SAVED: ONGINA
Ongina is a fan favorite among longtime RuPaul’s Drag Race fans. The queen is inarguably the fan favorite of season 1, and has withstood a long career despite having been on a lesser-known season of the franchise.
Overall, the impact that Ongina has had on Drag Race cannot be measured. During season 1, the queen revealed her HIV positive status in front of the judges, opening a door that would never again be closed on the series. Particularly in seasons 9 and 10, Drag Race has made a point to allow queens to tell their stories, and all of that started with Ongina’s sudden and courageous reveal.
2 HURT: SERENA CHACHA
RuPaul’s Drag Race is all about having contestants with big personalities and challenges that encourage them to throw a little bit of shade. With that said, season 5’s Serena ChaCha was a bit much, even for Drag Race standards.
Serena, who was 22 years old at the time that the season filmed, came off poorly on television. She claimed to be much smarter than her fellow contestants because she had gone to art school, and that she read books, unlike other queens. In hindsight, Serena ChaCha lacked the actual genius and artistic expertise that queens such as Kim Chi and Sasha Velour brought to Drag Race.
1 SAVED: SHANGELA
Halleloo! Shangela Laquifa Wadley was cast in RuPaul’s Drag Race season 2 as a queen who had just started doing drag. It is fair to say that, back then, Shangie’s look was somewhat amateur, and it was hard for her to live up to the standards and expertise of queens such as Raven and Tyra Sanchez. However, there was always something extremely special about Shangela, who had an innate “star quality” and a phenomenal sense of how to make a great reality show.
For that reason, Shangela was brought back on Drag Race season 3, where she went much further, placing 6th overall. In hindsight, Shangela’s contributions to the RuPaul’s Drag Race have been endless, to the point where she made a cameo on season 4, made it all the way to the top two on All-Stars 3, and will star in the franchise’s first-ever Holi-Slay Spectacular special in 2018.
Who's your favorite queen on RuPaul's Drag Race? Let us know in the comments!