The dirtiest secret of RuPaul’s Drag Race is that sometimes winning doesn’t matter. Being the best at a competition and having a storyline primed for reality television doesn’t always equate to being able to sustain a lasting fanbase and keep up with the rigors of touring and generating new content. What the show truly is is a platform to launch each of the queens that they have to run with. It’s on you to keep us interested, kitty girls.
Sure, everyone would love that big cash prize, but even more can be made long term by continuing to draw a crowd. Some girls have even proved that you don’t have to do quite well on the show to be popular. Let’s run through some non-winners that have gone on to bigger success…
Being the show’s only disqualification was an instant boost to her notoriety, though one could argue she didn’t need it given her shrewd business skills and relentless work ethic. Talk any smack about her pot-stirring and she can respond with her millions of YouTube hits, American Apparel endorsement, and high touring demand, even as she’s tried to distance herself from the show. She’s also the show’s funniest (sorry Bianca) and hardest working queen.
Phi Phi O’Hara
Laying low after becoming the most reviled queen in the show’s history for her nasty attitude on season four, she’s come back into favor in recent years by reinventing herself as a cosplay queen. In 2016, she started an ambitious Instagram project called the 365 Days of Drag with daily drag posts following weekly themes. The results have been jawdropping and unexpectedly charming – the series blew up in the past week thanks to a heavily circulated BuzzFeed article.
Turning a quick 180 from “love to hate her” queen on season five to an undeniably embraced all-time favorite by the fans, she’s now the franchise’s most YouTube-friendly star. Her quotability and hilarious self-seriousness remains with no signs of the viciousness that never let us root for her during her run on the show. Touring with her House of Edwards sisters Shangela and Laganja Estranga, Alyssa is still one of the series’ biggest draws. *tongue pop*
Her fashion performance on season four was the single element that kept her out of the top three and perhaps defeating equally beloved Sharon Needles. This fairy godmother of drag has not only stepped up on the look, but started her own talent management company (managing loads of former Racers, to boot) to complete financial success. She’s not just an adored entertainer, mother is an entrepreneur.
Her Snatch Game version of Taylor Swift may have been more cutesy and hilariously accurate, but the photos speak for themselves and created a small stir last year. She’s toured the world with her Swift impersonation and is rumored to join the Vegas Divas act that features Derrick Barry’s Britney and Coco Montrese’s Janet. Eat your heart out, Lisa Frank.
You’d think being unfairly eliminated perhaps the worst season of Drag Race not once, but twice before really having the opportunity to shine would be a set back, but our Barbie girl just won’t quit. Tracey Martel took those knocks, turned it into a punchline, and sold herself on it. She’s in higher demand than any of her season’s top three (though second to bestie Katya) thanks to unflagging pitch black humor and her consistent visual growth.
Adore may have had a sizable online following before entering the reality competition, but the show allowed that passionate bunch to grow exponentially. She’s received major flak from the Drag Race hierarchy for her less than inspiring fashion choices on the road, but that hasn’t gotten her down – her album Till Death Do Us Party is the first among the queens to chart on Billboard. Her second album After Party drops March 11.
We’ve saved the best for last. Perhaps only second in fan worship to Bianca Del Rio, Alaska got very close to the crown on her season, gaining momentum in the latter half of season five before being swept away by Jinkx Monsoon. She’s never taken a break since and is constantly on the road, creating hilarious web content and music, and was also an American Apparel Ad Girl with Willam and Courtenay Act. Most crucially, after the show she has claimed her rightful thrown as the show’s gorgeous, but witty glamour queen.
*** this list does omit popular queens (such as Raven and Jujubee) that would also fit, but in the spirit of the list, I wanted to highlight those that haven’t received as much mention.
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