One hundred forty queens have walked through the RuPaul’s Drag Race workroom in America alone. As the series kicks off in other countries (Chile, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Canada, and also Australia), it is truly becoming a global phenomenon. And while this certainly makes for unprecedented visibility for the art form of drag, it also has its downsides. With a new batch of queens entering the zeitgeist on the regular, it takes more than a wig reveal to stand out and enter the mainstream, earning an appeal that can last you well beyond your season’s air time. While it can be quite easy to run the sprint — make a splashy, meme-worthy moment for the cameras, maybe even win your season and then fall into the back by way of the touring circuit — a small crop of Ru girls seem to have hit their best stride years after leaving the show.
Even though we, as a community, may be nearing Drag Race fatigue, this year was proof that the house RuPaul has built (and the children she introduced to the world) is more than just a fad. Since their moment in the competition, some of these queens have appeared on the big screen and debuted their own cosmetics lines, while others are inking their own deals for books, albums, documentaries, and television shows. Here are the queens who have proven themselves as more than just a moment — but as true and rightful heiresses to the RuPaul throne.
The Show Stopper
She kicked off the year on a high as the first queen to walk the Oscars red carpet in drag, and she hasn’t come down yet. Since appearing in the Academy Award-winning A Star Is Born, Shangela has brought the time-honored tradition of lip sync performance to new heights, performing a Beyoncé tribute (for Beyoncé herself) at the GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles and touring in 184 cities all over the world. And she’s nowhere near done — she filmed an HBO show, We’re Here (out in 2020) and screened her 90-minute comedy special, Shangela Is Shook, at the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival. She also just nabbed a role in next year’s Riverdale spinoff, Katy Keene. “Nine years ago, I was mostly auditioning for hooker roles on cop shows,” the consummate “werqing” girl says. “And hey! Those characters do exist, so I wasn’t mad. It’s just that there are a lot of other LGBTQ+ stories or characters that weren’t represented in writing. Thankfully, now there are, and I’m super happy to be a part of telling those stories authentically.”
She was the cerebral queen of season nine, and since leaving the show (with the crown), Sasha Velour has doubled down on her brand. This year, she skirted the traditional post-Drag Race touring system to build Smoke & Mirrors, her own one-woman theatre tour that she constructed from the ground up. This comes in addition to Nightgowns, the legacy drag revue that the Brooklyn-based queen started in 2015 to showcase the many facets of drag artistry and explore the boundaries of performance. That monthly event will be made into a docuseries on the first mobile-streaming platform come 2020. “To be honest, my sense of what drag is about has always been community,” Velour says. For her, it seems obvious to put on stage those “artists who are drag kings, trans and nonbinary performers, female performers, and people of color who have more hurdles to face in the drag and queer world than white, cis male drag queens.”
The Full-Blown Brand
Even before she won All Stars 3, Mattel was already putting in the work with a VICELAND show. Couple that with her music, which has landed her on actual Billboard charts, and she’s a certified star — albeit not one who’s painted for the back row, but instead “for the Denny’s down the street.” This year, she only upped her game, releasing her Moving Parts documentary through the festival circuit, and launching her own beauty line, Trixie Cosmetics, complete with campy tutorials and commercials. “A collaboration is a papercut to the full-blown carnage of running your own company!” says Mattel, who is already prepping her third studio album, Barbara, and a new touring show, Trixie Mattel: All Grown Up for 2020. “And we aren’t a giant faceless company. It’s just me, a crossdresser from hell, bringing playtime to your makeup bag.”
This story is a break out from Out100's Culture and Entertainment package. Read about Bowen Yang, Charlene Incarnate, and Papi Juice in other breakouts as well as a listing of all of Out100's film, television, and music honorees.
This piece was originally published in this year’s Out100 issue, out on newstands 12/10. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, or Nook beginning 11/21.