On air for over 10 years, the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise has served as a prominent platform for drag queens to display their talents as musicians, comedians, models, designers, actors, choreographers, and most of all: businesspeople. Perhaps the biggest lesson that Drag Race contestants can learn from RuPaul while on the show is that, in order to survive and thrive in the mainstream media, they need to channel their strengths and adapt them into different situations that the entertainment industry throws at them.
RuPaul, the most famous drag queen on the planet, has done it all during his time as an entertainer. While most queens came and went from their time on Drag Race without doing much thereafter, certain queens have certainly learned how to turn their TV appearances into a mainstream career.
Updated on December 19th, 2021, by Hannah Saab: As the winners of RuPaul’s Drag Race continue to make major names for themselves outside of the show, more queens are gaining notable recognition and success as artists, business owners, and hosts. These talented drag queens have proven that their stint on the show was just the beginning for them, with artists like Kim Chi and Manila Luzon rising to stardom long after their seasons aired.
Despite having a considerably shorter career than most of the other successful drag queens, it is hard to deny the fact that season 9 fan-favorite and Miss Congeniality Valentina has soared to new heights and reached mainstream success as of late. While appearing on Drag Race: All Stars 4 in 2019, the queen was also cast as Angel on the Fox production of Rent: Live! on TV, alongside heavy-hitters such as Vanessa Hudgens, Jordan Fisher, and Tinashe.
It is also important not to forget that Valentina was the first-ever drag queen to be featured on a make-up tutorial video for Vogue Magazine, which propelled the queen to have a full spread written about her on Vogue Mexico shortly after.
When Adore Delano walked into the werkroom on season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she was already quite a success story. That is because Adore had already competed on what was arguably the biggest and most popular reality competition series of all time, American Idol. As Danny Noriega, this queen made her way up to the semi-finals of Idol.
Then, after she became a runner-up on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Adore Delano’s musical career exploded. Her first album after the show, 2014’s Till Death Do Us Party, reached number 59 on the Billboard 200 chart, as well as number 3 on the Dance/Electronic Albums of Billboard Magazine. Needless to say, it became the highest-charting album of any Drag Race contestant, ever. Adore then proceeded to release 2016’s After Party and 2017’s Whatever, headlining nothing less than seven tours to promote her albums.
Alyssa Edwards’ infectious energy and star power became very clear since the queen first appeared on season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. There was no denying, even back then, that Alyssa would go the distance, despite the fact that she did not do entirely well in the competition itself.
Over time, however, Alyssa Edwards has proven that she is a force to be reckoned with. After appearing on TV, Alyssa went back to her hometown of Mesquite, Texas, and ran an award-winning dance studio called Beyond Belief Dance Company, which she also owns. The queen’s success as a choreographer and businessperson became so undeniable that she even was given a Netflix docu-series, Dancing Queen, that followed her personal and professional journey after Drag Race.
Bob The Drag Queen
Bob the Drag Queen was as much of a frontrunner on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 as Bianca Del Rio was on season 6 of the show. That is to say that Bob’s comedic skills and vibrant personality opened his career to a myriad of opportunities after appearing on TV for the first time.
In the movies, Bob the Drag Queen made a brief appearance on 2017’s Rough Night and played a larger role in Cherry Pop that same year. When it comes to music, Bob has collaborated with Todrick Hall, who is often a guest judge on Drag Race, and with fellow queens Monet X Change, Alaska, and Shangela. On TV, Bob was featured on HBO’s High Maintenance. Moreover, when Katya took a hiatus from appearing on Viceland’s The Trixie & Katya Show, Bob was chosen as her replacement to appear opposite to Trixie Mattel. Perhaps even more impressive, Bob the Drag Queen was cast in the role of Belize on the 2018 Broadway revival of Angels in America.
Alaska got a lot of attention from the LGBTQ+ community when she became the runner-up of season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But it wasn’t until the queen won All Stars 2 that things really began to happen. Besides being featured on 2018’s The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time, Alaska has made multiple appearances on both TV and web shows. In 2017, the queen was featured on Comedy Central’s @midnight with Chris Hardwick and on MTV’s Scared Famous. On the web, Alaska hosted VH1’s The Pit Stop in 2018.
However, it is Alaska’s extensive musical career that really solidifies her as a powerhouse. Since 2013’s RuGirl single, the queen has released a myriad of songs, music videos, and albums that have captured the attention of Drag Race fans and beyond. During one of her Enigma performances in Las Vegas, Lady Gaga even gave a shout-out to Alaska – who was in the audience – by changing a song’s lyrics to say: “Yes, Miss Alaska, I love you” (according to Billboard).
Katya Zamolodchikova has had one of the most interesting and emotionally challenging careers after her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 7 and All Stars 2. On television, the queen was cast on shows such as USA’s Playing House and HBO’s Room 104. She also made a brief appearance on America’s Next Top Model as a coach, alongside fellow Drag Race sisters Manila and Valentina.
But it wasn’t until the worldwide success of the web series UNHhhh, co-hosted by Trixie Mattel, that Katya’s career ascended to new heights. So much so that the pair were given their own talk show on Viceland, which was called The Trixie & Katya Show. Unfortunately, as this momentum grew, Katya also struggled with her mental health, deciding to “quit drag” for a period of time. As she returned to the spotlight, Katya started the Whimsically Volatile podcast and resumed her Help Me, I’m Dying comedy tour across North America.
RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel is one of the most successful contestants to have ever been on the show. In 2018 alone, Trixie won All Stars, co-hosted The Trixie & Katya Show on Viceland, released her second album One Stone, and toured with the Now With Moving Parts Tour.
Having done two albums, three tours, and quite a few TV shows and web series of her own, Trixie Mattel’s career continues to reach new heights. The queen released the single Yellow Cloud, which was then featured on Iggy Azalea’s music video for Started, and even launched her own make-up brand, which is called Trixie Cosmetics.
Willam’s entire run on season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race was about how many things the queen had already done before even being on the competition. As an actor, Willam had been credited as appearing on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Criminal Minds, and Ryan Murphy’s Nip/Tuck. After Drag Race, Willam’s acting career did not stop, landing roles on TV shows such as The New Normal, When We Rise, Difficult People, and The Kominsky Method. In 2017, Fullscreen announced that Willam would host her own talk show, which was called Suck Less.
In movies, Willam’s career began with 2003’s American Wedding. However, it wasn’t until 2018’s A Star Is Born – directed by Bradley Cooper and starring Lady Gaga – that the queen was actually featured on a major movie with mainstream success and even Oscar buzz.
Shangela Laquifa Wadley competed on seasons 2 and 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, then made a brief cameo on season 4. Years later, the queen was cast on All Stars 3, which she was poised to win, but things did not turn out that way. Since first appearing on the early seasons of Drag Race, Shangela has been collecting several TV and movie credits, thus earning her title of a “professional.” For instance, Shangela has been cast in television series such as Glee, Community, The X-Files, The Mentalist, Dance Moms, Toddlers & Tiaras, 2 Broke Girls, Bones, and Broad City. In film, Shangela was cast alongside Willam in 2018’s A Star Is Born, where the two queens work alongside Lady Gaga’s character at a gay club. The result? Shangela became the first drag queen in history to attend the Oscars (according to Out).
On a lighter but equally exciting note, Shangela performed a Beyoncé tribute at the 2019 GLAAD Awards, with a very excited Beyoncé in attendance (according to Rolling Stone). Oh, and fans won’t ever forget that Shangela was also the face of McDonald’s (according to The Takeout)!
Courtney Act may have been the less likely queen to win the crown in the RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6 finale, but that does not mean that she wasn’t a powerhouse entertainer with a lot to give. After becoming the first queer contestant to compete on Australian Idol and being one of the Drag Race season 6 runners-up, Courtney went on to release the 2015 Kaleidoscope EP and tour alongside Willam and Alaska in the girl group The AAA Girls.
But Courtney Act’s mainstream success is largely attributed to her tenacity in being a strong competitor in other reality shows around the world. In 2018, Courtney competed on season 21 of Celebrity Big Brother U.K., which she won. Then, the queen went on to host the first-ever bisexual reality dating competition in the U.K., E!’s The Bi Life. In 2019, Courtney Act decided to give yet another reality show a try: Australia’s Dancing With The Stars, where she took home second place. In both the U.K. and in Australia, Courtney Act is largely regarded as a mainstream media personality, often being invited to daytime talk shows to discuss LGBTQ+ topics.
Bianca Del Rio
It is hard to argue against the major mainstream success that season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio has enjoyed since her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Since 2014, Bianca has traveled around the world with four solo comedy tours – which was unprecedented for a drag queen at the time. The Rolodex of Hate Tour (2014), Not Today Satan Tour (2016 through 2017), Blame It On Bianca Del Rio Tour (2018), and It’s Jester Joke Tour have proven Bianca is a legitimate comedy act with enough pull to sell out theaters telling her jokes.
What’s more, Bianca Del Rio has starred in two movies directed by Matt Kugelman, 2016’s Hurricane Bianca and 2018’s Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate. It’s no wonder she has been deemed by many fans as the best RuPaul’s Drag Race winner of all time.
Winning season 7 of Drag Race was only the beginning for Violet Chachki. They have continued to dazzle fans around the world with their love for burlesque, particularly during their 2017 burlesque tour called “The Art of Teese,” which was also praised by WOW Report. In that same year, Violet became the first-ever drag queen to star in a major lingerie campaign for Bettie Page Lingerie, breaking new ground for LGBTQ+ models and performers (according to Out).
The fierce fashion queen has been named one of the “most powerful drag queens in America” by a panel of judges from New York magazine (according to Vulture). They have worked with brands like Moschino and Heretic Parfum, while somehow still finding the time to advance their music career with hit singles like “Mistress Violet.”
From custom emojis to university lectures, Kim Chi has kept herself busy since season 8 of Drag Race. She was already making history by simply joining the show back then, as she was the first Korean-American drag queen to ever appear on American national television (according to AsiaOne).
Kim Chi has made an effort to educate and inspire others through lectures about drag and gender identity at Loyola Marymount University and Arizona State University in 2017. Her love for makeup has also unsurprisingly motivated her to start her own successful cosmetics line called Kim Chi Chic Cosmetics.
Despite Manila Luzon’s controversial departure from All Stars 4, the queen has been very active in the Drag Race franchise, even appearing alongside Ru and other performers in the recently released The B—h Who Stole Christmas. She has made a name for herself in the music industry, as well, releasing an entertaining single every year since 2011.
The thing that is about to cement Manila’s name in herstory has yet to be released, but it’s already stirring up controversy in the drag community. She has created and is slated to host a reality TV series in her mother’s hometown, the Philippines, which happens to be the inspiration for her name as well. Drag Den was announced around the same time as RuPaul’s Drag Race Philippines, leaving many fans wondering if there’s drama going on behind the scenes.
Brooke Lynn Heights
Brooke Lynn Heights already had a flourishing career in ballet way before being the first-ever Canadian to grace the main stage of Drag Race. She moved to South Africa to join the popular Cape Town City Ballet before moving to New York to become part of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (according to Toronto Life).
Her second-place win completely changed the trajectory of her career, earning her the nickname “Queen of the North” from fans, which also happens to be the title of her recent single. A Pink News article points out how she’s the first-ever Drag Race contestant to become a judge, taking the leading role in Canada’s Drag Race. It has become a massively successful international version of the show, in large part thanks to Brooke Lynn Heights’ brilliant work on the judges’ panel.
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