• Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Every RuPaul’s Drag Race Rusical, Ranked

Every RuPaul’s Drag Race Rusical, Ranked

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Paramount+, MTV

For a long time in the Drag Race canon, Snatch Game was the staple of the franchise, the one challenge every fan anticipated with each new season. But the Rusical — a portmanteau of RuPaul and musical — has slowly but surely equaled it as the challenge people get most excited about.

There’s a good reason for that: Rusicals highlight what every queen loves to do — perform onstage. While some queens have no experience with celebrity impersonation, they all know how to turn it out onstage (or at least they should). Whether lip-synced or sung live, Rusicals have an exciting unpredictability. Predicting what the Rusical will be about ahead of time is a fool’s errand, as past subjects have covered pop stars to politicians and everything in between.

Rusicals also play a vital role in the overall narrative of a Drag Race season. The Rusical winner is often seen as a front-runner but with a twist: No Rusical winner in a U.S. season has ever gone on to win the crown, but in all but a few occasions, they’ve reached the finals. The same is not the case in international seasons, where numerous winners have snatched the Rusical win on their way to glory.

Now, let the Rusic play as we rank every Rusical performance across the Drag Race franchise!

Winners: Marina Summers and Tia Kofi
Most Gagworthy Moment: Gothy Kendoll saying “That is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life” into the mic at the end

Is Drag Race trying to gaslight its adoring fans? This is just a girl-group challenge! There’s no narrative; each queen gets a verse that they have to write. Every queen is just playing themselves. It’s a fun song, but a Rusical this ain’t. Marina and Tia were terrific and the deserved winners. Whether she intended to or not, Gothy delivers a master class of high camp, being eight steps behind at all times and serving a delicious platter of absolutely nothing. It is, for better or worse, the most exciting thing about Seven! A serious case of category fraud earns this Rusical the lowest spot.

Winner: The Vixen
Most Gagworthy Moment: “Tell me, is there an anal option?”

Rusicals take inspiration from lots of unexpected sources, but pharmaceutical ads are the strangest — and, frankly, worst — idea. It’s just bad. Few queens shine, every character is a variation of the same thing, nobody seems all that sure of the words, and none of the “jokes” really pop. This is the kind of challenge that usually works better with fewer queens, as 13 seems to be too many to do anything memorable with.

Winners: Pangina Heals and Janey Jacke
Most Gagworthy Moment: Jimbo playing a dog

UK vs. The World season one could never find balance with some great queens and uninspired challenges. It doesn’t get less inspired than West End Wendys, about various former stage characters who want a second chance at stardom. It’s a lot of nothing, lacking a point of view, interesting roles, or any fun lyrics. There are plenty of boring clichés if that’s your thing.

Winner: Danny Beard
Most Gagworthy Moment: “Pluck me! Pluck me!” 

There’s joy to be found in a Mary Poppins parody — just ask The Simpsons! Drag Race, however, can’t find anything worthwhile in this poorly written concoction. Lairy Poppins wastes good singers and runs too long, but Jonbers Blonde injects glorious life into the proceedings as a demented, horny bird lady. It’s hard to watch, and there’s even a number about how bad it is, which is not fierce. I’d rather look at H&M on the runway than watch this again.

Winner: Rosé
Most Gagworthy Moment: Olivia Lux wearing a tank top and jeans in the challenge

Social media is bad. You already knew that. For some reason, season 13 wanted to remind us of that via Social Media: The Unverified Rusical. There are too many disparate elements, and there’s no cohesion whatsoever in the costuming. It feels overlong and undercooked, but there are some fun performances, especially challenge winner Rosé, and Denali and Gottmik as Russian trolls.

Winner: Chi Chi DeVayne
Most Gagworthy Moment: Chi Chi lip-syncing flawlessly while upside down

Of all the Rusical concepts, Bitch Perfect is probably the thinnest. And that’s saying something considering Glamazonian Airways exists. This Pitch Perfect spoof is just a chance for the queens to lip-sync to some RuPaul songs. It’s fun! But there are no defined characters and only the vaguest pretense of a plot. Chi Chi DeVayne, however, stood out for all the right reasons, delivering an all-around master class.

Winner: La Petite Noire
Most Gagworthy Moment: Nehellenia’s vocals

I’m not sure why Drag Race Italia is steadfast on having its queens perform Rusicals on empty stages: It really makes the Rusical challenge feel more like a girl-group challenge. A celebration of Mother Monster should be a lot more creative than this. There’s limited characterization, with everyone playing the same Lady Gaga. Nehellenia may not have won the top-two lip sync, but her vocals and performance in Lady Gaga: The Unauthorized Rusical were unmatched.

Winner: Aurora Matrix
Most Gagworthy Moment: The oldest queen playing the youngest version of Brooke — and nailing it

A Rusical about the story of Canada’s most famous drag queen — Canada’s Drag Race host Brooke Lynn Hytes — is a fun idea. The execution is a bit middling, with a few queens riding the struggle bus. Each queen’s number is so drastically different that, despite a narrative through-line, it results in a disjointed feel. Plus, having a number — a winning number! —without any actual singing in a Rusical is a choice among choices.

Winner: Divinity
Most Gagworthy Moment: Every queen wearing identical wigs 

Celebrating the life of Italian pop-culture legend and singer Raffaella Carrà is a great choice for a Rusical, as we’ve seen time and time again that queer icons are the perfect subject matter for Drag Race. There’s some serious pedigree behind it, with Stefano Magnanensi, who wrote many a Carrà song, penning the Rusical. Everyone is playing the same character with the same wig, to boot (a deliciously camp visual gag), but the lyrics do a better job clarifying Carrà’s career and creating (slightly) more distinct characters than in the Gaga Rusical. It’s insightful, funny, and an unabashed celebration of Carrà, but there’s no set decoration to amplify the clever choreography, and having two queens perform their numbers at once makes it difficult to see who’s shining brightest.

Winner: Silky Nutmeg Ganache
Most Gagworthy Moment: The Ginger Minj as Donald Trump cameo

Did we need a Rusical about Trump (in the style of Grease, no less)? Of course not. Is it surprisingly entertaining? Not really! Its political commentary is limp, and the unearned ending awkwardly reverts to little more than “yay women.” Performances make it bearable: The casting (done by Scarlet Envy) is top-notch, with Nina West as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Yvie Oddly as Kellyanne Conway being particular standouts. Silky was a blast as Oprah, and Ariel Versace deserved praise for her lead role.

Winner: Precious Paula Nicole
Most Gagworthy Moment: Everyone passionately singing “Quack quack”

A tribute to the ladies of Original Filipino Music (OPM), Drag Race Philippines’ OPM Divas is a bit lackluster if you lack the knowledge of the singers the queens are impersonating, and unfortunately I do. That doesn’t take away from the impressive performances, and you don’t need to know a single thing about the Philippines to see that Precious Paula Nicole is sensational in her role as Regine Velasquez.

Winner: Lady Camden
Most Gagworthy Moment: Sidelining drag performers for outside talent

This episode of Drag Race is terrific. Bosco and Lady Camden fighting over the lead role? TV gold. Jorgeous gagging planet Earth with “If we want to talk about track record, [Bosco] was in the bottom three times in one episode”? Perhaps the moment of the season. With all that delicious drama, the Rusical pales in comparison. Its half-commitment to using RuPaul songs never pays off, and for some reason the most interesting roles go to Leland and Leslie Jones, two people who, while very entertaining, are not competing drag queens.

Winner: Janey Jacké
Most Gagworthy Moment: The spray-bottle gag

The smallest Rusical in Drag Race herstory, the top-four queens paid tribute to the life of Máxima, the literal queen of the Netherlands. This is a fun, satisfying Rusical that, while not having much of an impact, has a solid amount of jokes. Instead of letting the queen do the necessary exposition, it’s all delivered by host Fred. The real reason to watch is Janey Jacké, who devours her glamorous role as Máxima the Temptress.

Winner: Metamorkid
Most Gagworthy Moment: The truly wild plot twist

You can truly never predict a Rusical theme — Dragort (aka CSI: Drag) is one of the most out-of-left-field you can get. This is a strange one, about a possible murder at a Berlin nightclub. There’s also the Sandman (Veronica Shakespeares), a drug dealer who looks like a gnome (my research revealed this is Sandmännchen, a popular German character from a TV show with over 22,000 episodes). It’s probably the one musical whose ending you can’t predict — because it’s inexplicable — and it’s performed well across the board.

Winner: My Little Puny
Most Gagworthy Moment: CindeRulla’s unique toilet-cleaning methods

CindeRulla is a campy, sexualized riff on Cinderella. It’s not exactly original — excluding Keta Minaj as an extremely horny, drug-loving Red Riding Hood, which does break the mold. My Little Puny sparkles in a double role as the prince and the fairy godmother, but Tabitha is a scene-stealing vamping diva as the evil stepmother. The second installation of Drag Race Holland was a rocky one, but CindeRulla does a stellar job showing how great the talent in this season really was.

Winner: Jan
Most Gagworthy Moment: Two Rusical redemptions for the price of one

This is the same Rusical as All Stars 3 with better sets. The choreography is boring, and the lack of queens as background dancers makes everything less dynamic. A barrage of one-minute Super Bowl halftime performances (lip-syncing RuPaul songs, again) isn’t a bad idea, but there’s just no way someone performing Carol Channing or Katy Perry can create a mind-blowing moment like Beyoncé. Speaking of, Trinity K. Bonet convinced us that she IS Beyoncé, a story line from her original season. Her work is astonishing, but that’s not to discredit Jan, who got her Rusical redemption and fully earned her win.

Winner: Kandy Zyanide
Most Gagworthy Moment: Kandy Zyanide sliding down a flight of stairs

Drag Race Thailand does things very differently from the U.S. franchise. Case in point: the Rusical. The only Rusical in Drag Race herstory to take place on an actual set and not the main stage, Apaporn Nakornsawan: Thai Musical is a campy and joyful celebration of Thai movie star Apaporn Nakornsawan, made even more delightful by the fact that she was a guest judge on the episode. Admittedly, it’s flimsy plotwise and mostly features the queens throwing themselves at a beautiful man (relatable), but the camerawork is inventive and it earns serious bonus points for having an actual set.

Winner: Shea Coulée
Most Gagworthy Moment: Michelle Visage losing it over Peppermint being cast as Britney Spears

Should Nina Bo’Nina Brown have been Blac Chyna? This is one of the most-asked questions in the Drag Race fandom — and for good reason. Most of the episode’s drama focused on Nina not getting the character she wanted, but you can’t deny Shea Coulée obliterated the role. Season nine began a trend of celebrity-focused Rusicals that we probably would have been better off without. Still, this one has some terrific performances, like Peppermint as Britney Spears(??) and Alexis Michelle as Kris Jenner, who did so much with so little. But there’s a reason Nina wanted Blac Chyna — it’s the role that would virtually guarantee a win if you nail it, which Shea did.

Winner: Sypario
Most Gagworthy Moment: The high-camp visual effects

It took three seasons, but Drag Race Italia finally gave us a Rusical with distinct roles! And stage decorations! This one is a tribute to pop duo Paola & Chiara, and the live singing is fierce — there’s not a bum note in this entire Rusical. If only the editors took a deep breath before working on this — there are so many cuts and close-ups that it’s hard to get a sense of how the queens are performing. Despite that, Paola & Chiara is a huge leap forward for Drag Race Italia.

Winners: Shangela and BenDeLaCreme
Most Gagworthy Moment: The judges pretending Thorgy is doing a bad job

All Stars 3 had big shoes to fill after HERstory of the World, and those shoes get moderately filled in Divas Lip Sync Live. Having the queens impersonate musical icons and sing RuPaul songs isn’t exactly inspiring, and the choreography doesn’t make the most of the talent on hand. And while Shangela and BenDeLaCreme do a great job in roles that are obviously designed for top-two placements, ChiChi devoured her part as Patti LaBelle, channeling her soul and leaving not one crumb along the way. Her low placement is the single biggest error of judgment in Rusical herstory. Also, it’s high camp that this has Live in the title but it’s lip-synced.

Winner: Pitita
Most Gagworthy Moment: The violin

A Wizard of Oz parody is such a perfect fit for a Drag Race Rusical, and it’s shocking that the American franchise hasn’t already done it. This Rusical doubles as a love letter to the España franchise, as it is chock-full of references to the previous seasons. Those references wear down the overall story, but there are plenty of laughs, and Hornella Gongora crushes the 11 o’clock number.

Winner: DeeDee Marié Holiday
Most Gagworthy Moment: The stage background

A Rusical about a mythical sea creature is both high camp and a great way to immerse people in Filipino culture. Taking heavy inspiration from The Little Mermaid (making it extra accessible for international audiences) is a wise move too. This is a charming, cute musical with impressive performances across the board. DeeDee devours as Tiya Pusit (basically Ursula). The Rusical feels too brief, ending before it has a chance to really take off. But the biggest gag by far is that the main-stage background is an immersive part of the set instead of a distraction. U.S. seasons, take note!

Winner: Ginger Johnson
Most Gagworthy Moment: Ginger Johnson seamlessly integrates mooing into her singing

The most distinctly British of the U.K. Rusicals, Pant-Oh She Betta Don’t! is a celebration of the British pantomime. It’s a cute romp with plenty of satisfying performances, with Ginger Johnson, Vicki Vivacious, and Kate Butch shining brightest. It’s a shame Pant-Oh runs out of steam by the time the villain (Banksie) gets her big number. “It may be flawed, but we had a good time,” the cast sings, which accurately summarizes this mostly satisfying Rusical.

Winner: Victoria Green
Most Gagworthy Moment: Rat-bite fever!

Rusicals typically struggle with large casts, but 11 queens work well for this unhinged take on Cats. It’s got the stuff that makes the live Rusicals so much more exciting, from flubbed lines to surprising and stunning vocals that keep the entertainment value high. Rats is silly and stupid enough to be even better than the musical it’s parodying — though that’s a very low bar. It might not make any sense, but it’s performed with such spirit that you simply don’t mind.

Top 20 Winner: Pythia
Most Gagworthy Moment: “I’ve got a … trick up my … sleeve”

A Rusical so chaotic it would make equal sense if it were someone’s favorite or least favorite of all time, Under the Big Top is an experience. It has echoes of Shade: The Rusical as a wannabe clown (Synthia Kiss) trying to discover her identity as a performer. It starts incredibly strong — Synthia is a spectacular vocalist — and tumbles downhill in disastrous fashion with out-of-sync clowns and a legendary reveal (Eve6000, you will always be famous), until Pythia resuscitates the show with her freaky clown. It’s weird and often out of tune, but it stands alone as a sort of wacky art installation you’ll come back to again and again.

Winner: Plasma
Most Gagworthy Moment: Mhi’ya performing with her face covered

Sound of Rusic follows competing houses striving to win a drag competition. This Rusical benefits from the involvement of Adam Shankman, whose choreography is exciting and dynamic. Plasma, Sapphira, and Q all excel in lead roles, and it’s another musical where nobody really dropped the ball. I’m partial to having the queens sing live, and it feels like a real missed opportunity that two of the best singers to ever be on the show (Plasma and Sapphira) didn’t get to show off their gifts in a musical challenge! But the songs are fun — the Von Snap number is especially catchy.

Winner: Gigi Goode
Most Gagworthy Moment: The top five staring lovingly into a mirror (it’s more emotional than you’d think!)

There’s some debate over whether Viva Drag Vegas is a Rumix or Rusical, but the easiest way to describe it is a combination of both: The final five queens of season 12 had to perform a medley of songs from RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! in addition to writing their own lyrics for one of the songs. It’s exceptionally entertaining, with the middle song providing a surprisingly effective emotional catharsis. Viva Drag Vegas lacks the cohesion of the Madonna Rusical but provides another strong showcase for the remarkable queens of season 12.

Winner: Kandy Muse
Most Gagworthy Moment: The sheer audacity of having a hoedown number in a Joan Crawford Rusical

It took eight All Stars, but we finally got a Rusical with a narrative! An entire show devoted to Joan Crawford feels like a beautiful gift to the gays, and this Rusical is the standout episode of a disappointing season. This is an exceptional showcase of Joan’s career that has a lot of fun exploring her history, even if it leans heavily into the Mommie Dearest of it all. (Are you surprised? This is a drag show!). Another Rusical where nobody dropped the ball, and either Kandy, Jessica Wild, or La La Ri could have taken the win.

Winner: Kameron Michaels
Most Gagworthy Moment: The cannon appearing under Eureka

Thankfully, after the crummy PharmaRusical, season ten tried again with Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical with the top-seven queens. The difficulty level is the highest it’s ever been: Queens have to sing live while doing a Cher impersonation at the same time. The amount of talent on display here is awe-inspiring, providing a great breakout for Kameron Michaels, who sang beautifully and nailed the Cher of it all. Miz Cracker deserved more recognition for her number, which apparently was too Cher for the judges, but being too much is what Drag Race is all about.

Winner: Vivian Vanderpuss
Most Gagworthy Moment: “But I can make this man’s heart stop — he has angina”

A Rusical about a bunch of awful women who can’t stand each other? Now we’re cooking with gas! An underrated gem — not enough people have seen this top-tier season — Squirrels Trip has some fabulous vocals, very funny lyrics, a heavy dose of stupid, and an engaging story. If you need a pick-me-up, Vivian Vanderpuss’s horny housewife and Kimmy Couture’s gold digger can lift you out of the darkest days.

Winner: Cristian Peralta
Most Gagworthy Moment: The slow-motion fight scene

A parody of the hugely popular Acapulco Shore (itself an adaptation of Jersey Shore) is a unique choice for a Rusical, which expertly mixes laughter, shade, and great music. Dragapulco Shore is the closest we’ve come to a traditional musical, with distinct act breaks and an equal amount of dialogue and music. It’s also got terrific sets and choreography, with an entire act working within the confines of a hot tub. Regina Voce and Cristian Peralta are phenomenal, and if you need a sign that it’s time to dive into the world of Drag Race Mexico, Dragapulco Shore is a shining beacon of an underappreciated series.

Winner: Courtney Act
Most Gagworthy Moment: “She’s a man with one eye!”

The Rusical that started it all, Shade: The Rusical was billed as a battle of the idols: American Idol’s Adore Delano and Australian Idol’s Courtney Act. In that sense, it delivered — Adore and Courtney were the undeniable standouts in the two main roles, Good Penny and Bad Penny. It’s one of the funniest musicals, with Gia Gunn and Darienne Lake’s “comedy queens” (ironically funny), and the fish-oil bit (genuinely funny) is killer. And for some reason, they made poor April Carrion play the “big girl.” Wisely, they made the queens sing live, and two of the best singers in Drag Race herstory had a chance to shine bright. Courtney Act set the benchmark for Rusical performances that’s rarely been matched. The staging and choreography are boring, but the performances made up for it.

Winner: Ginger Minj
Most Gagworthy Moment: An entire section devoted to (not) farting on a plane

Glamazonian Airways doesn’t get enough credit. An entire musical based on flight attendants … doing their jobs is — as Tatiana might say — a choice, but it works surprisingly well. This goofy Rusical is a blast. Beat for beat, it’s one of the catchiest Rusicals; just hearing “when the oxygen mask drops down” is enough to make someone drop it like it’s hot. You can see the evolution in staging from season six’s Shade to 13 queens means it was hard to have many standouts. Ginger Minj was great and a worthy winner, but Mrs. Kasha Davis gave one of the greatest Rusical performances ever, obliterating this challenge as a scatting flight attendant who sings about putting up your tray tables.

Winners: Alyssa Edwards and Detox
Most Gagworthy Moment: Everyone’s face in the Helen of Troy segment

The very first All Stars Rusical set the bar incredibly high. Instead of an overarching narrative, this Rusical provides an opportunity for the most talented season ever to to pay homage to various female historical icons. The lack of a story doesn’t matter much because performances are executed beautifully and the lyrics are very catchy. The charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent are at alarmingly high levels, and Ginger Minj as Catherine the Great riding a toy horse? That’s the new dictionary definition of camp.

Winner: Estrella Extravaganza
Most Gagworthy Moment: Juriji der Klee’s heavenly vocals

Permanent judges Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi parody their own film, La Llamada, into La Llamadrag, a story of two young budding drag queens finding their voice at a Catholic summer camp. España season 2 is stacked with super-talented queens, and it’s another great musical without a disastrous performance. It feels like in every scene a new queen could walk away with the win, from Marina’s emotionally resonant ballad to Sharonne’s sassy nun to Estrella’s balance of humor and sincerity. La Llamadrag is one of the few Rusicals with a narrative journey as satisfying as the performances themselves.

Winner: Keiona
Most Gagworthy Moment: Making every judge cry

There’s a reason Drag Race France season 2 is considered one of the very best, and this Rusical proves it. Blending sincerity with humor and heart, this twist on The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a gorgeous tribute to self-love. Challenge (and eventual season) winner Keiona is astonishing as Quasimollo, who’s been shunned for being overtly feminine and discovers the transformative powers of drag. The production value is impressive, with strong staging, costuming, and set decoration. Le Bossu de Notre Drag had every judge in tears for good reason.

Winner: Gigi Goode
Most Gagworthy Moment: Ru shouting “I love it” right after Jan sings “She died when I was 5 years old”

Building on the success of Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical, season 12 delivered an all-time classic exploring the career of pop legend Madonna. Jan, one of the best singers on any season of Drag Race, blew the roof off from the jump, and the energy never really dipped. It has everything: Jaida Essence Hall’s number is scintillating, Crystal Methyd delivers flawless camp, and Widow Von’Du and Heidi N’Closet bring fantastic dance moves. Then there’s Gigi Goode, who stunned everyone with a passionate performance, getting a well-deserved win (even if she should have shared that win with Jan).

There’s not a single bad performance in the bunch; nobody should have gone home this week. The real reason Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical is so great, beyond the performances, is that it actually tells a full story, delivering a thoughtful, funny, and insightful exploration of an incredible diva’s career.

Winner: Anetra
Most Gagworthy Moment: The “Give Us Our Drag Ball” number

Wigloose: The Rusical is Drag Race at its best, showcasing how Drag Race is unstoppable when its finger is on the pulse. Inspired by Footloose, Wigloose transposes a ban on dance with a ban on drag. It’s clear that the story means so much to every queen involved, and it’s clear why Anetra won, shining in a small but essential role, but any one of the six competing queens could have taken the win. If ever there was a non-elimination episode, Wigloose was it, further emphasizing that I was convinced Salina EsTitties (who gets eliminated this week) was going to win this challenge. From the top-notch choreography to the excellent original songs to the world-class performances, Wigloose is drag perfection.

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