In similar vein to the Snatch Game and (controversial) makeover challenge, amongst various others, talent shows slash “variety extravaganzas” have become a RuPaul’s Drag Race staple.
After debuting in All Stars 2, where Tatianna memorably dared viewers to “see me with them hands”, contestants have demonstrated the plethora of skills in their arsenal from lip-syncing to dancing, as well as giving birth to ham and making an ice-cold glass of water. (Some are more iconic than others.)
Following the premiere of UK vs the World season two, we’re celebrating some of the best talent show performances from Drag Race’s herstory. (This list only includes seasons with RuPaul on hosting duties.)
Aja (All Stars 3)
“Is she gonna jump from there?”, the immortal words uttered by velcro artist Milk, memorably originated from the All Stars 3 premiere, which followed in the footsteps of its predecessor by tasking the returning queens with flexing their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent in a variety extravaganza. Guns-blazing, Aja returned to the competition minutes after her season nine stint to showcase her voguing skills to original track, ‘Level Your Pussy Up’, before jumping off a box – roughly six feet off the ground – into a dip. The now-iconic stunt has since been replicated by several entertainers on the series, and is still referenced as one of the greatest Drag Race moments.
Anetra (season 15)
Anetra, which has (according to extremely reliable sources) six letters and three vowels, demolished the season 15 premiere as she incorporated lip-syncing with martial arts, becoming a viral sensation in the process. The Las Vegas queen floored the panel – including special guest star Ariana Grande – with her vogue and duck-walk heavy routine, before karate-chopping a plank of wood and smashing through another with an effortless roundhouse kick – in heels! Anetra’s performance was funny, fierce and so stupid (in the best possible way). As one fan said: “She just solved homophobic violence. All the gays doing self defense class now… I live… literally.”
Gia Gunn (All Stars 4)
Our favourite tucking professor Trinity the Tuck and ‘Brown Cow Stunning’ vocalist Mo Heart conquered the All Stars 4 talent show but, admittedly, we gasped Joslyn Fox-style when Gia Gunn’s mesmerising Kabuku act was declared “safe”. The season six alum, who revealed that she’s been practising the art since she was seven, later told Hey Qween host Johnny McGovern that the snub left her “so insulted”. “I think maybe RuPaul was just very into the ‘available on iTunes’ thing, or mine wasn’t relatable enough for people because they didn’t understand…” said Gia. “Talent should know talent.” [Insert “AND I OOP” gif here.]
India Ferrah (All Stars 5)
India Ferrah proved that queens who are early-outs on their seasons are just as talented as the rest and deserve respect from the fanbase when she conquered over higher placing contestants such as Shea Couleé, Jujubee and Miz Cracker in the All Stars 5 premiere. Flanked by a cartel of scantily clad dancers, India brought the mothertucking energy to the main stage with precise – and comedic – choreography, in addition to an assortment of unhinged hair shakes. Derrick Barry may not like India Ferrah, but we loved this performance.
Jax (season 15)
Using hair as a jump rope is one of the campest, drag-giest things we’ve ever seen on Roople’s stage and is proof that Drag Race can still galvanise audiences after 15 years. As the host says, “Know who you are and deliver at all times” – and Jax did exactly that. With tight, energetic choreography and an overabundance of acrobatic stunts to the beat of Leikeli47’s ‘Attitude’, the NYC queen more than lived up to her background as a competitive cheerleader (and Mortal Kombat namesake). Anetra spoke for all of us – including an astounded Ariana Grande – as she said, “This bitch just did a triple, double, whatever it is, and lands on her titties, ever-so gently? I’m actually so gagged.”
Jimbo (UK vs the World season 1)
There’s life before Casper the Baloney Ghost, and after. While a majority of the UK vs the World contestants opted for choreo-filled lip-sync numbers to original dance tracks, the Canada’s Drag Race alum used the opportunity to introduce her alter-ego; a demonic entity bearing resemblance to the Luna Ghost from Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Scooby Doo and Art the Clown from the Terrifier franchise. Featuring props such as a box labelled “talent” with nothing inside, as well as slices of ham deposited in her “man-gina”, the act is, undeniably, the most bonkers thing to have ever occurred on Drag Race.
Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté (season 14)
It’s a testament to Kornbread’s charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent that she landed a win for a lip-sync talent show number without deploying any form of split, flip or dip. Stunts? Not necessary! To the beat of her own track, Kornbread made us all groove as she snacked on a cookie and launched an investigation into the whereabouts of former judge Merle Ginsberg. Two years have since passed, and Lizzo – who, like all of us, fell in love with Kornbread after the performance – is yet to release a single with a visible “feat. Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté” tag. In a just world, this collaboration would mark Lizzo’s next number-one hit.
La Grande Dame (UK vs the World season 2)
Who knew La Grande Dame, Drag Race France’s fashionista, would deliver a talent show performance as deranged and psychotic as Casper the Baloney Ghost? In the UK vs the World season two premiere, the French runner-up found her soul possessed by a whale-hyena-hellhound hybrid when she lip-synced to maniacal animal sounds, suggestively “haha!”-d her way towards the Brit Crew and stuffed her microphone into her crotch. The perfect juxtaposition of La Grande Dame’s supermodel aesthetic and whimsical sense-of-humour, it rightfully landed her a place in the top two.
Mariah Paris Balenciaga (All Stars 5)
Mariah Paris Balenciaga’s talent show couldn’t have been better timed. While the fifth season of All Stars was filmed in 2019, the episode aired as Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality erupted across the world. The Atlanta queen used the episode to address inequality via a spoken word performance, later smearing red paint across a glass canvas and her gown. “Stains upon the walls of those who voice power and pride,” said the star. “Stains of those who refuse to be silenced or hide. Stains on the wall of those feared and misunderstood.” Despite her safe placement, Mariah received a special shoutout from guest judge Ricky Martin.
Marina Summers (UK vs the World season 2)
Filipino pride and power was on full display in Marina Summers’ UK vs the World talent show when she danced and twirled the house down to ‘AMAFILIPINA’, an original banger that simultaneously sounds like a Disney classic and Eurovision-winning entry. After winning her first RuPeter Badge, the Philippines runner-up accompanied the performance with a cinematic, choreo-heavy music video that went viral and cemented her status as, yes, a Filipina winner.
Mirage (season 16)
In a similar vein to her Sin City sister Anetra, Mirage was the most-discussed queen post-premiere on social media when she brought heel-clacking to the Drag Race stage. The “Swiffer of Las Vegas” lip-synced to an original number about “being such a bitch”, which we’re obsessed with, before demonstrating her smooth, stripper-esque moves to the delight of special guest star Charlize Theron. Walking an imaginary dog was, in the words of one fan, “extremely c**t”. Mirage failed to land in the top as a result of the ‘Rate-A-Queen’ twist, but with her current virality, she’s having the last laugh.
Monét X Change (All Stars 7)
While a majority of the All Stars 7 queens chose to showcase their vocals and original tracks, as well as their arsenal of flips and kicks, Monét X Change made sure to utilise her degree at Westminster Choir College of Rider University with a breathtaking showcase of her operatic abilities. Performing a rendition of Vincenzo Bellini’s ‘La Sonnambula’ – in a corset! – Monét delivered one of the most tremendous displays of raw talent ever on the main stage. Rightfully, Monét attracted mass praise on social media, with one fan proclaiming: “The way this is probably the best talent show performance ever, Monét did what needed to be done.”
Ra’jah O’Hara (All Stars 6)
Although Yara Sofia snagged the win for Echa Pa’lante-ing the talent show with her tig ol’ biddies, Ra’Jah O’Hara’s talent show was, undeniably, the episode’s most impressive performance. “If you give me a minute of your time, I hope to make a dress that’s sublime,” Ra’Jah informed the room, before requesting Ross Matthews set a timer for exactly 60 seconds. The purple advocate proceeded to sew the dress in her classic colour whilst making the panel cackle with her quintessential sense-of-humour (“Amazing!” and “Thank you 30 seconds!” are underrated Ra’Jah moments), completing the task with 24 seconds to spare.
Sapphira Cristál (season 16)
Opera made a dramatic (and filthy) comeback in season 16 when Sapphira Cristál performed ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (1918). Sapphira injected comedy into the performance as she displayed the supposed-lyrics on-screen, from “I love beautiful men” and “I want to be slayed” to “Daddy, forgive me!” It was camp personified, and led to the now-iconic gif of Sapphira lip-syncing to Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul’ as her fake, bouncing breasticles pounded the floor. That! Is! Drag!
Shea Couleé (All Stars 7)
Backed by a group of dancers, Shea provided viewers with All Stars 7’s most spectacular pop extravaganza with an exhilarating, choreo-heavy routine of her sensual, Janet Jackson-inspired anthem ‘Your Name’. Like the contestants and panel stated, it didn’t feel like a talent show number. It felt like we were watching an industry veteran on a sold-out arena tour. Throughout Shea’s three season stint, we’ve seen the All Stars 5 winner slay multiple performances: ‘Category Is’, ‘Collide’, ‘Clap Back!’ and ‘Titanic’, but this was a whole ‘nother level. Stream ‘Your Name’ for clearer skin etc.
Tatianna (All Stars 2)
You better see Tatianna with them motherfucking hands. The – in the words of Katya – “90s beatnik” proved that she was a force to be reckoned with on All Stars 2 with a “spoken word piece about her genitals”, delivering now-iconic quotes such as, “See me with them hands” and “What you see… isn’t always the truth”. In a fair and just world, ‘The Same Parts’ would be studied, analysed and celebrated in schools around the world. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf: make some room and – it bears repeating – see Tatianna with them hands.
Willow Pill (season 14)
Wiwwow Pill solidified her status as a fan-favourite with her bonkers display of self-care in the season 14 premiere. Whilst lip-syncing to Enya’s hypnotic classic ‘Only Tim’, the self-described “twisted little doll” poured various objects into a bubble-soaked bath including a glass of wine, a plate of spaghetti and, finally, a toaster; leaping into the tub immediately after. Although Willow thought she would “make a fucking fool of myself on national television” and, as a result, be sent packin’, she received rave reviews from the panel and the performance has been hailed as iconic.