Drag Queens are just fabulous. They take fashion, make-up and beauty to such an extreme that they often show the rest of us how it's supposed to be done! In recent times, they've gone from being a cabaret-show curiosity to a mainstream attraction. That's mostly thanks to 'RuPaul's Drag Race.'
RuPaul has been a trend-setter and a trailblazer for drag queens for decades. He once had a successful pop music career, but nowadays people are more likely to know him for the television show that bears his name. He's always on the lookout for the next big American star queen!
How many of the successful drag performers on our list do you know? Would you tell them to 'sashay away,' or would you be more likely to say 'shantay, you stay?' Our ultimate drag queen catwalk is made up of the very best from around the world, and throughout history.
Her family knows her better as Brian Firkus, but the world knows her as Trixie Mattel! Hers is a real 'rags to riches' story. She was born into-near poverty in a rough area of Wisconsin, but elevated herself to drag queen super-stardom. Her big break arrived when she was chosen to appear in the seventh season of 'RuPaul's Drag Race.' Sadly, she wasn't destined to win, but she managed to turn her appearance into a platform for better things.
Mattel, who takes her second name from the company who manufactures 'Barbie' dolls, is a YouTube sensation. She's teamed up with some of the queens she met on the show to start the catchily-titled series 'UNHhhh' on the video platform, starting off as a humble talk show before Viceland took notice of what they were doing and signed them up as 'The Trixie & Katya Show.' And speaking of Katya...
For obvious reasons, most people just refer to this glamorous queen as 'Katya.' Her full adopted name is Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodochikova, which is a far cry from her birth name of Brian McCook. Perhaps she and Trixie Mattel bonded over their very plain original first names! She was already well-known in her native Boston before she appeared on RuPaul's show, where she'd been hosting her show 'Perestroika' at the local Jacques Cabaret club.
The inspiration for her stage name comes from her love of all things Russian - she happily describes herself as a 'Russophile,' and is fascinated by the whole country and its culture. 'The Trixie and Katya Show' elevated her to new levels of fame, but when she's not doing that, you can find her recording and broadcasting her popular podcast 'Whimsically Volatile.' She also has several movie credits to her name.
Of all the queens who have made their name by appearing on 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' Bianca del Rio may be the most well-known by wider audiences. Even RuPaul went as far as saying that she was the most professional queen she'd ever seen, and her natural charisma and star quality made her an inevitable winner from the moment we first saw her at the beginning of the sixth season, defeating a field of contestants that included the super-talented Courtney Act.
The former Roy Haylock is quick-witted, wicked with one-line put downs, and unafraid of hard work. Since winning the series, she's toured the whole world with her stage show, and been the star of many a movie and television show. She's amassed a fortune of more than two million dollars. If she carries on at this rate, she may become richer than RuPaul.
Raja Gemini had a slight advantage when she turned up to compete in the third season of 'Drag Race' - she'd been prominently featured on television before, as a makeup artist working on 'America's Next Top Model' with Tyra Banks. She was also familiar to RuPaul, who thinks so much of her make-up skills that she's also a paying customer of Gemini. If you thought Tyra Banks always looked great on the modeling show, Gemini was a big part of the reason why.
Gemini, born Sutan Amrullah, is still strongly-connected to RuPaul's show today. She hosts the YouTube companion series 'RuPaul's Drag Race Fashion Photo RuView' along with her best friend Raven, who you can expect to see later on in this list. If you think RuPaul is sometimes critical of the contestants' looks, you must not have seen these two queens dissecting them every week. 'Catty' doesn't cover it!
If you don't finish your time on 'Drag Race' by winning the crown, you at least want to pick up the 'Miss Congeniality' award, which is voted for by viewers, because it means you're the fans' favorite. That was the case for Latrice Royale, who appeared in the dramatic (even by the standards of the show) fourth season. The one-time Timothy Wilcots was so loved by the audience that she was invited back to appear on both the first and fourth 'All Star' series.
These days Royale is a married woman and has a successful career, which represents a complete turnaround in her life. Only a little over a decade ago she was in jail for past misdemeanors, which served as a turning point and prompted her to get her life in order. She's made the most out of her experience 'inside,' going as far as to create a documentary about it in the hope it will deter others from following the same path.
Being provocative is what drag is all about, but the queen we'll have to refer to only as 'Alaska' takes it to a whole new level, and that starts with her name. We can't repeat it here (or anywhere polite), but suffice to say it's a rude word which means 'to make love enthusiastically.' We're sure you can work it out. Alaska didn't manage to win the fifth season of 'Drag Race,' but she did well enough to be invited back for the season 'All Star' season, and walked away with the prize on that occasion.
Alaska is, without a doubt, one of the funniest queens every to appear on the show - or anywhere else! She once lived in the shadow of her former partner Sharon Needles, but has arguably now surpassed her in terms of success and profile. She and her brother Cory now have their own series on the internet, and she also records and releases music regularly.
We all knew she was coming at some point on the list, so we may as well get her out of the way now and end the anticipation! Right now, there is no higher-profile or more successful drag queen anywhere on the planet than RuPaul Charles. She's taken her career and turned it into a vehicle for super-stardom; so much so that she's been able to reach out and elevate other queens just by associating with them. She's the original drag queen star-maker, without whom the current scene would not be possible.
Charles started out in the New York underground clubbing scene, as part of a set of hedonistic artists known as the 'Club Kids.' She's been a successful pop star, she has her own range of cosmetics, and she's a widely published and read author. She'll be the first (and in some cases only) drag queen that the majority of the general public are able to name. In short, she's a one-woman industry, and she's the benchmark to which all others aspire.
Nobody is suggesting that it's easy to become a drag queen anywhere in the world, but in the conservative south of America, it's a lot more difficult than it would be in New York. Violet Chachki, born Jason Dardo, would be able to tell you all about that. To her credit, she bravely started out there as a performer in her native Atlanta, Georgia at the tender age of 19, but it didn't take her long to realize that she'd have to move if she was going to become a real success.
She had the confidence to take that step, and now she's a globally-traveled burlesque artist. Even Dita Von Teese - the definitive star of burlesque - thinks enough of her to have her open up her tours. Like many of her contemporaries, she's released music, but she has a particularly keen eye for fashion design. Her services as a designer have been called for almost as often as her services as a model.
We said we'd be coming back to Raven, and here she is in all her glory! People often credit Kendall Jenner for popularizing several make-up trends from contouring to overdrawn lips, but in reality, Jenner took most of her techniques from the world of drag. In the world of drag, those techniques started with Raven. She's one of the greatest make-up artists anywhere in the world. She's another of the queens who's been trusted enough to work as a makeup artist for RuPaul.
Raven, who was born David Petruschin in California, didn't manage to win the second season of 'Drag Race,' losing out to Tyra Sanchez in one of the few decisions that RuPaul may have regretted upon reflection. That hasn't stopped her becoming a major influencer within the scene though. 'Vanity Fair' even picked up on her talents, citing her as one of the most important drag performers of the last century.
If there was ever a sign that a performer doesn't take themselves or their act too seriously, it's the fact that Caldwell Tidicue refers to herself as 'Bob the Drag Queen' when she puts on her outfits and makeup. She's outright hilarious, proving herself time and again in comedy scenes during the eighth season of 'Drag Race,' which she inevitably won comfortably. She's particularly gifted at impressions, although there's far more to her act than just that.
Viewers of the eighth season tuned in every week to watch her repeated cat-fights with Derrick Barry through their fingers, but ultimately, she and the Britney impressionist were able to put their differences behind them and come to a truce. She's friendly with several of the competitors from the show, going so far as to temporarily fill in for Katya on 'The Trixie and Katya' show while Katya took a leave of absence.
It's hard to look at the name of Shangela Laquifa Wadley without thinking about the shocking and controversial ending to the third season of 'All Stars.' Wadley was the clear winner of almost all of the challenges, and her victory was seen as inevitable in the eyes of most viewers, but the crown was wrested away from her and handed to Trixie Mattel in a decision which sent Twitter into meltdown! She hasn't let it knock her confidence though; she's close to the top of the list when television and film producers require a drag queen, racking up plenty of appearances.
To give a full list of her work would take up too much space here, but if you have a sharp eye you might have seen her turn up in 'Glee,' and 'X-Files' to name just two. The former D.J. Pierce was living a typically conservative life in Paris, Texas until she was asked to drag up for an English class project. She suddenly felt comfortable in her skin for the first time in her life, and she never looked back.
Once upon a time, the city of Seattle was known for its grunge music scene. These days it's more likely to be connected with its drag queens! Several successful performers have come from the city, as you'll see when the list goes on, but Jinkx Monsoon would have to be considered one of the higher-profile queens. She endeared herself to fans with her mantra of 'like water off a duck's back' whenever things got hot or testy on the set of the fifth series of 'Drag Race,' and she ultimately came away the winner.
Her path to victory was unconventional. She never seemed too comfortable with runway challenges, and she was also dealing with the medical condition narcolepsy while she was competing on the show. She overcame it all though; her combination of musical theater skills and sheer artistry was enough to win the judges over and bring her the crown. She's one of the kookiest and most off-beat queens out there, but that only makes her more unique.
You can tell a performer is one hundred percent committed to their act and their look when they won't compromise it, even if refusal means being forced to accept defeat. When Valentina was asked to lip-sync for her life during the ninth season of 'Drag Race,' she wanted to keep her mask on for the challenge, and almost walked off before eventually agreeing. By that point, her fate was sealed, and she was eliminated.
Being in the show was a rough ride for Valentina, who up until only ten months earlier had been plain old James Andrew Levya in California. Her lack of experience made other contestants view her as a rookie, and some of them deemed her as unworthy of sharing a stage with them. The story has a happy ending though - she was invited back to appear on the fourth season of 'All Stars.' She didn't manage to win, but she survived to the seventh week and left with her head held high - this time without a mask on!
Aquaria might have been born as Giovanni Palandrani, but in drag terms, she was born to do exactly what she's doing now. Those unfamiliar with drag terms might not understand the concept of a 'drag mother' - a fellow queen who takes on the responsibility of looking after a queen when their own parents reject them because of their occupation or sexuality. For Aquaria, that drag mother was Sharon Needles. She also had the advantage of working in New York, and having a background in fashion and dance from her school studies.
With such a strong start and several powerful connections, Aquaria made light work of winning the tenth season of 'Drag Race.' She's continued to go from strength to strength since then, being called upon as a model for several prestigious fashion houses. As smart as she is sassy, you can read her work in the British style magazine 'Dazed,' where she's currently employed as an editor.
You don't have to be a fantastic dancer to become a fantastic drag queen, but it certainly helps. One who does it better than most is Kennedy Davenport, who was born as Reuben Asberry Jr. in Texas. She wasn't the strongest in every challenge during her appearances in both the main 'Drag Race' show and the 'All Star' seasons, but when it came to dancing, she left everybody else in the shade (if you'll excuse the pun).
Davenport was already a seasoned performer when she entered the show, and went back to appearing in pageants afterward. Among her many accolades are 'Miss Gay Black USofA,' 'Miss Gay Texas,' and 'Miss Gay Orlando.' Her dancing skills combined with her singing talents made it inevitable that she'd eventually mount an assault on the charts, so nobody was surprised when she released her first single in 2018.
Alyssa Edwards has been just as successful on the pageant circuit as Kennedy Davenport, winning both 'Miss Gay USofA' and 'Miss Gay Texas America.' She should arguably have won the second season of 'All Stars,' but the judges were left stunned when she was knocked out of the competition by her fellow contestant Detox. Up until then, she'd been riding high on a solid performance during the fifth season of 'Drag Race,' where she was a stand-out performer in dance challenges. That's another thing she and Davenport have in common!
Edwards, who was once known as Justin Dwayne Lee Johnson, has great comedy timing and presence, which she regularly shows the world on her internet-based series 'Alyssa's Secret.' When she's not doing that, she's taking classes at her self-owned dance studio 'Beyond Belief Dance Company' in the Texan town of Mesquite. If you want to check out what's happening at the company, you can tune into the Netflix series 'Dancing Queen' to find out.
There are many drag queens out there who would cite Cher as one of their major influences. Cher is a gay icon and has always been supportive of the LGBT community, so that's no surprise. What's less common is finding someone who's gone as far as getting plastic surgery to look more like their icon, but that's what Chad Michaels has done. There's no distinction between this performer in or out of drag; you can call her Chad Michaels at all times. It's her real name.
Michaels was the winner of the first season of 'Drag Race All Stars,' and stood out by refusing to be drawn into the drama and catfights that went on between her rivals. When it came to the impersonation challenge, she beat everybody easily - although when you're a Cher impressionist professionally, that feels a bit like cheating! Her drag show in San Diego is one of the longest-running in all of America.
If you were expecting every performer on our list to be 'Drag Race' alumni, here's where we're going to prove you wrong. Drag queens have existed before RuPaul, will exist afterward, and work all over the world. The first example we're looking at is the legendary Jackie Beat. Referring to Beat purely as a drag queen doesn't do her justice; she's also an author, and has written content for television, too. 'Sex and the City' fans may recognize her from her appearances on that hit show.
At the time of writing, Beat has been wowing audiences for more than twenty-five years, which makes her a veteran of the scene and an inspiration to many younger performers. Her career has taken her to both the small and large screen, and the bright lights of Broadway. She'd seen and done it all long before RuPaul first pitched her idea to a TV executive.
Whether RuPaul would have achieved the same level of prominence without the help, support and friendship of Todrick Hall is unknown. There's no denying RuPaul's talent, but having a well-connected and supremely-talented friend in the business definitely helps. She has appeared on the show, but not as a contestant. She's too well-known and polished for that! She's served as a judge on many of the shows, and also works behind the scenes as a choreographer and a coach. Her 'tough love' style of coaching has occasionally been upsetting for the performers, but always leads to higher standards being achieved.
Despite being a big name within the drag community, Hall wasn't well-known with wider audiences until her first appearances on the show during the ninth season. She's an outstanding singer and dancer, having secured a role in 'Kinky Boots' as Lola, and then reproducing that performance to the delight of viewers and her peers on 'Drag Race' during a lip sync.
Lady Bunny, also known as Jon Ingle, is one of the best-known queens who operates outside the 'Drag Race' circle. She could probably have gone on to be a star on the RuPaul level, but decided that fame on a massive scale wasn't for her, and focused on other ways she could be active in the community instead. To that end, she created the 'Wigstock Festival,' a festival of drag which takes its name and inspiration from 'Woodstock.'
At times, she's been known to be critical of the effect of 'Drag Race,' stating in interviews that she doesn't feel it's reflective of the scene, and that the realities of being a drag performer can sometimes be much harsher without 'Mama Ru' there to mentor and guide them. She feels performers need to be more 'in tune' with drag subculture, and so invites them to her regular DJ nights to find out more about it.
Legendary film director John Waters was one of the first to break down cinema barriers by including drag queens in his films regularly. When he did so, he usually had one performer in mind particularly, and that was Divine. She was a star of an era when drag performers were far less accepted by the general public than they are now, but she excelled within that time. It's doubtful that 'Hairspray' would have gone on to be remade and re-imagined as many times as it has if Divine hadn't given such an iconic performance in the original.
Divine is sadly no longer with us, having passed away young of a heart attack in 1988, but TIME Magazine can offer us a perspective on how significant she was to drag - they officially named her as the Drag Queen of the 20th Century. Meeting Waters was a happy coincidence that aided both of their careers; they lived on the same street, and were kicked out of NYU at the same time, giving them nothing to do but try to create movies and make it on their own. They did.
Why have one drag queen when you can have two? The worlds of drag glamor and gothic art combine in the Boulet Brothers, who have made a career out of drag horror. They have their own show called 'Dragula,' which would be best described as the darker sibling of 'Drag Race.' It's still a competition, but many of the contests within it would result in 'Drag Race' being pulled off the air. As far as the Boulet Brothers are concerned, the seedier and more sinister an act is the better.
Popular themes which the Boulet Brothers address both on and off their show are science fiction, 80s metal, horror movies, and glam rock. They're the Marilyn Manson of the industry. Contestants who lose challenges on their show are often subjected to punishments with permanent consequences, including having a piercing done or getting a tattoo!
We can just about get away with printing this drag artist's name because of the presence of the 'Q' in it, and so we thank her for that. Puddin' is a 'Dragula' winner. She was something of a slow burner in the competition, taking a long time to find her way and initially being put off the show because of the drama that went on between her rivals. She found her mojo at the permanent time and swept in to take the crown of 'Drag Supermonster' during the final few episodes.
Appearing on the show was the very last roll of the dice for Puddin'. Her lease had expired in Atlanta, and she was essentially homeless. All she had with her were the few possessions she was able to cram into her car, and her dream of making it as a drag act. Becoming the winner changed her life completely, and launched her career.
Just by looking at a picture of Vanda Von Odd, you can tell she's no 'Drag Race' star. The name is something of a giveaway, too! A show as strange as 'Dragula' needed an unconventional star to get it off the ground, and Von Odd was that star. She won the first season hands down. That might be because everyone was too afraid of her to tell her that she hadn't won! Incredibly, she'd never been paid for a single drag appearance in her life before she appeared on the show. Just like with Biqtch Puddin', it changed her life.
Von Odd believes that 'Dragula' is changing what it means to be a drag queen, combining the world of drag with the world of alternative music and gothic lifestyles to create something new, and that the process will continue when the third season of the show airs later in 2019. When she's not scaring the wits out of people with her drag act, Von Odd takes on conventional acting work under her real name of Antonio Yee.
Let's be honest - drag acts are never going to be the favorite art form of conservative America, or the Bible belt in particular. Many acts who perform in those kinds of locations find themselves picketed and protested against. If you're going to upset people whatever you do, you might as well go the whole hog and annoy them with your name as well. BibleGirl666 relishes upsetting people who are offended by her. Fellow queen Katya Zamolodchikova says she has the best drag name of all time, which is quite a compliment!
Visually, BibleGirl666 looks like a demonic and twisted alternative version of Britney Spears. That's the precise look she was going for; Spears is her pop icon. She's a successful performer in her own rights, performing in clubs all over the country, but her main source of income is her web store 'Drag Queen Merch,' which stocks products both from and for many of the most prominent drag queens on our list.
European readers will recognize Conchita Wurst immediately. American readers might need an introduction, so we're happy to provide it! This musician and drag queen made history when she became the first drag act ever to win the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2014, smashing down barriers on the way. The Austrian, also known as Thomas Neuwirth, is very conscious of both aspects of being a drag queen - she enjoys displaying feminine beauty, but retains an awareness that she's biologically male. That's why she always performs with a beard!
Her motivation for putting herself forward for Eurovision was proving to herself - and the wider world - that she wasn't a joke. After years of being mocked as 'the bearded lady' in her home country, Wurst had the last laugh on the biggest stage of them all. She's sung herself all the way to an estimated fortune of $3m.
Paul Cummings was so convincing and gifted at portraying a woman that he made it a feature of his stage shows. He would walk onto the stage as Lavern Cummings, sing a few songs in a female voice, and then later in the set would drop into a deep baritone, shocking audiences in the process. Back when Cummings was performing in the 1950s, the phrase 'drag queen' was barely known at all. What we'd now call drag queens were simply known as 'female impersonators.'
Completely committed to her act, Cummings didn't even wear a wig; all of the hair was real, grown out and styled to resemble Marilyn Monroe. Her home territory was the gay paradise of San Francisco, where she was a regular at the Jewel Box Revue, followed by a long stint as a star attraction at Finocchio's. She may even have been around to tell us her stories today, but she was sadly killed in a car crash in 2018 at the age of 90.
Long (very long!) before the Boulet Brothers came the Rocky Twins, about whom not very much is known beyond the mystique that built up around them. They filled a void in drag that was left after the Dolly Sisters - an even older pair of drag siblings - retired in 1928. Initially, the Rocky Twins were simply a tribute act who mimicked the Dolly Twins style and performances, but they eventually grew into a unique act of their own.
They're believed to have been Norwegian by birth, although that can't be independently verified. It's also thought that their first recorded appearances happened in Paris during the early 1920s, and that they were a jazz act. After that, things become a little clearer. They starred in a French movie called 'L'Argent' together, and went from touring Europe to touring the USA, eventually settling in Venice Beach, California with a regular act at the Ship Cafe.
Being a drag performer was a risky business in the early 20th century, when homosexuality was illegal and even being suspected of homosexuality was enough to ruin your life. William Julian Eltinge was happy to be the female ''Julian Eltinge' on stage, but went to great lengths to conceal details of his personal life away from it. With hindsight, perhaps he should have chosen a stage name further removed from the name he was born with!
Eltinge's start in drag came from his mother; she would dress him as a girl and convince him to sing and dance, much to the disapproval of her husband. The uniqueness of his act made him a popular vaudeville attraction, and led to him being cast in 'The Fascinating Widow' in 1910. That was the start of a modestly successful career in Hollywood, but one that would end too soon. He tragically died early during the 1930s, at the age of 59.
Just like Julian Eltinge, Barbette had to conceal her true origins and her real personal details. We can't even be sure of the name behind the persona. Depending on who you believe, it might be Clyde Broadway, or Vander Clyde. That person was born somewhere between 1898 and 1904. We know for certain that Barbette was American and probably came from Texas, but there was little demand for a drag act in the Texas of the time. Creatives and artists were far more welcome in Paris, France, where she made her reputation.
Although she probably wouldn't recognize herself from the description 'drag queen', her female disguise was the key conceit of Barbette's performances. At the time, only women performed trapeze acts, so she stayed completely in character when she was performing her high-flying act at such shows. It was only when she moved into vaudeville that she'd 'unmask' at the end of her performances, leaving audiences speechless!
Drag queen Asia O'Hara is predominantly known for two things; firstly, for being a competitor on the tenth season of 'Drag Race,' and secondly for drawing a lot of controversy for her use of animals in a live performance. She finished fourth in the series, but in her final performance, she attempted to release live butterflies from her outfit. The butterflies failed to launch, and animal welfare charities weren't impressed with the idea that they might have suffered. O'Hara did over 100 hours of community service working with animals as an apology.
Born as Antwan Mason Lee in Texas, O'Hara was born into a family of five sisters, all of whom are now performers in their own right. She's been working in drag since the early 2000s, taking her stage name from a friend of the family. She's another of our queens who's won the title of 'Miss Gay America,' and now runs her own 'Helen of Seven' drag costume design company. Several of her customers appear on this list.
'Miss Fame' is the drag alter-ego of Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen, who was already working as a male model before she realized her true calling somewhere around 2011 after moving to New York. She chose the name 'Miss Fame' as both a statement and an aspiration about her career objectives. With her striking appearance, she's a naturally popular choice with photographers for fashion shoots, appearing in 'Vogue' and being selected to model for product launches for 'Opening Ceremony.'
Miss Fame is another queen who's had the 'RuPaul' experience, appearing on the seventh season of the show and finishing in ninth place. Since then she's released an album of music called 'Beauty Marked,' and has a regular job as a celebrity make-up artist back home in New York. She can count Snooki, JWoww and Wendy Williams among her clients. Late in 2018, she announced her own range of cosmetics - a collection which goes by the name of 'The Fetish of Fashion.'
Starting out life as Kevin Clover Welsh, Lady Clover Honey is another big-name drag act who calls New York City home. She's worked in a number of media roles, but the most widely-recognized is probably her job reporting entertainment news for 'Under the Pink Carpet.' She made history when she started appearing there - she was the first ever drag persona to have a recurring role on any form of New York City media broadcasting.
Her talents are as much musical as they are aesthetic - she's the only drag artist who's ever conducted an orchestra at New York's Carnegie Hall, performing the honors at a special event during Christmas 2005. Continuing the theme of promoting drag and LGBT causes across the city, she also curates art and photography for the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation within New York's Soho district.
Returning to 'Drag Race' for a moment, Jujubee was an early contestant on the show, appearing way back in the second season and managing an impressive third place finish. As one of the early stars of the show, she and four other queens were selected to appear in 'RuPaul's Drag U' on the Logo network, which ran for three seasons from 2010. Born 'Airline Inthyrath,' Jujubee was singing and dancing almost from the moment she was born, finding a ready-made theater for her persona on Boston's gay scene as soon as she was old enough.
Jujubee must have made quite an impression on RuPaul during her time on the show - she was personally invited to appear the video for the RuPaul song 'Jealous of My Boogie,' and continues to appear in music videos to this day. Away from the stage and screen, she's a constant campaigner for HIV and AIDS awareness causes.
British drag queen Russella is unusual in the context of modern queens in that we don't know what her real name is - although we wouldn't mind betting that her first name is 'Russell.' She may not be widely known within the United States, but at home, she was considered important enough for I-D magazine to list her as a 'cultural icon.' Further solidifying her reputation, 'The London Paper' considers her to be one of the top 30 talents in any entertainment field in the UK.
Pop singer Paloma Faith has given Russella a helping hand on her way to fame - the two met at a dance school in Leeds, and when Faith moved to London to pursue her singing career, she invited Russella to come along with her, as well as to appear in the video for her first-ever song. She made a self-deprecating appearance on 'Britain's Got Talent' in 2015 performing a routine involving pancakes, much to the horror of head judge Simon Cowell!
Comedian Barry Humphries is the man behind Dame Edna Everage, and at the age of 85, he's threatened to retire the character more than once. The most recent attempt was in 2012, but by 2013 he found himself back in costume bringing the grand old Dame back once more. Everage is a pantomime queen, who's been dressed as an older lady for Humphries' whole career, even when he was a younger man.
She was originally designed as a satirical character, but a stint working in London during the 1960s opened his eyes to the gay and drag scene there, after which both the character and the costumes became more outlandish. When in character, she euphemistically refers to Humphries as 'her agent,' maintaining complete separation between the character and the man. She's so famous in her native Australia that there's a statue of her on the waterfront in Melbourne.
Shane Gilberto Jenek is so utterly convincing when he plays Courtney Act that most people are shocked to find out that she's male. The world saw Act for the first time when she appeared on 'Australian Idol' in 2003. She was the first openly gay contestant ever to appear on an Australian talent show, which was considered to be a sign of progress in an openly-conservative country. She didn't win, but she landed a recording contract anyway and released her first single later in the same year.
It took her a while to grow her reputation to the point she became internationally renowned, finally breaking through after competing in the 2014 'Drag Race' series and ending up in second place. She went one better in 2018 when she won 'Celebrity Big Brother' in the UK, meaning she was now a star in three countries, and one of the biggest drag acts in the world.
Even in the modern world, where 'Drag Race' seems like the most obvious way to fame as a drag artist, there are other ways to make it. Pabllo Vittar, born as Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva, is living proof. She'd made a couple of appearances on Brazilian television in 2014 before recording a music video the following year, which quietly racked up over one million views over a four-month period and began to spread awareness of her act.
The success of the music video saw her picked up by a record company, and eventually led on to the release of her first album in 2017. By that point she was a major name, with the video to her first 'official' release netting 320 million YouTube views. That put her on the international map, and got her noticed by Charli XCX, who duetted with her on 'I Got It.' When she was nominated at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2018, she became the first drag act in history to receive a Grammy nomination.
Born in Ireland as Daniel Patrick Carroll in 1927, La Rue had an unusual background for a drag queen. He moved to England at the age of six, first performing in drag as Juliet in a school Shakespeare play because 'there weren't enough girls.' He found he enjoyed the part, but any thoughts of being a drag performer were put on hold when he joined the Royal Navy. Eventually, the drag artist won out, and he went into theatre.
La Rue never embraced the term 'drag queen,' preferring to be thought of as a 'comic in a frock.' Much of La Re's work was impersonation, making a fortune impersonating Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland and Zsa Zsa Gabor in the 1950s and 60s, eventually opening a nightclub in London. When he replaced Avis Bunnage in 'Oh, What A Lovely War!' in the 1980s, he became the only man to take a woman's role in the history of the West End.
There's only ever been one significant Spanish drag artist, and that was Miss Shangay Lily, born as Enrique Hinojosa Vazquez in 1963. Despite being born male, Lily considered herself to be a radical feminist, and worked tirelessly to advance female and gay causes in Spain. She created and published the first ever free gay newspaper in Spain, which went by the name of 'Shangay Express,' containing satire and comedy mixed with genuine gay community news.
Lily was the face of a major gay rights movement in Spain during the 1990s, pushing back against the traditions of the country and raising the profile of gay performers through her own multiple appearances. Appearing in a movie with Javier Bardem in 1995 legitimized both herself and her movement. She started out as the first gay personality ever to appear on Spanish television, and ended up as a one-queen revolution. Sadly, she's no longer with us to enjoy the freedoms she helped to create; she died after suffering pancreatic cancer in 2014.
There have been many winners of 'Drag Race' over the years, but only one queen who can claim to have been the very first. That's BeBe Zahara Benet, known to her Cameroonian-American parents as Nea Marshall Kudi Ngwa. It's been ten years now since her triumph in the debut series, but she shocked both the audience and contestants by finally returning to the show in 2018 to compete in the third 'All Star' series, ultimately sharing third place with Shangela.
Benet got into drag by accident; she was working at a fashion show in Paris when a female model didn't turn up, and Benet ended up putting a dress on and walking the catwalk as a panic replacement. A year later the character had been born, and she was working as a drag act with Cyndi Lauper in Minneapolis. She released several songs between 2010 and 2014, but has since returned to television with her show 'Drag Me Down the Aisle,' which premiered in early 2019.
BeBe Zahara Benet might have been the first winner of 'Drag Race,' but Charlie Hides has another slice of history - she's the oldest contestant ever to appear on the show. She was 52 years old when she competed in the ninth season, being eliminated in the fourth week after a disastrous lip-sync competition she would later blame on suffering broken ribs in an earlier cheerleading task!
British-American Hides, who uses her real name when appearing on stage, had been performing on the London club scene for years before the invention of YouTube gave her the opportunity to broadcast to a wider audience. Her celebrity impersonations went viral, and even met with the approval of the celebrities that he was impersonating. Cher describes Hides as being her favorite Cher impersonator; he can mimic her so well that he managed to convince Kylie Minogue she was really talking to Cher during a phone call!
If at first you don't succeed, try again the following year. That's the message we can all take from Sasha Velour. She was rejected as a possible contestant for the eighth series of 'Drag Race.' The following year she came back, tried again, entered the competition and won. That was just the start of the fame story for Velour, who has used the platform to break into the fashion industry. She was one of the models chosen to appear for 'Opening Ceremony' at New York's Fashion Week in 2018.
In truth, Velour had been doing wonderful things for the gay scene long before 'Drag Race,' both in character and under her real name of Alexander Hedges Steinberg. Steinberg is a hugely gifted artist and illustrator who once created a series of comics based on the Stonewall riots, as well as having work exhibited in a solo gallery in Brooklyn's Black Box Gallery.
Speaking of the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson was there fighting on the first line. Born as Malcolm Michaels Jr in 1945, Johnson spent her whole life fighting for gay causes. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, and also of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), fighting for many of the rights that members of today's LGBT community take for granted. She was well known among the New York scene at the time, and was a favorite model of Andy Warhol's.
Johnson lived a troubled life, and paid a heavy price for her activism. She struggled to find work, and relied on friends for charitable support and a place to stay. Struggling with both her mental and physical health, she was found dead shortly after the Pride parade in 1992. Friends insist that she was murdered, but police at the time were reluctant to investigate the possibility.
TC. Jones was a drag queen before they went by that name, reaching fame in the 1940s as a dancer on Broadway before becoming a female impersonator. As was the case with many female impersonators in his heyday, his work was mostly based around impressions. He was especially well known for being able to play both Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn convincingly. Many commentators at the time saw him as comparable to, if not better than, Julian Eltinge.
As with several other performers, he got into drag by accident while working on a stage play that required a female part, but in a troupe with no women to play it. Before long he was a regular act at Miami's Jewel Box Revue. Such was his skill at convincing people he was a woman he appeared in several female parts on television. It was a major departure from his earlier career - in his youth he was in the army, and trained to be a minister in Virginia!
Puerto Rican queen Mario Montez was one of the most prolific of all the Warhol superstars, constantly working in the artist's underground film series during the 1960s. Her name was intended as a tribute to gay icon Maria Montez. Montez was a vibrant presence among the New York club scene during both the 1960s and 1970s, living her drag persona by night while working in clerical jobs in the city during the day. She never took a single acting class - she got her first acting role through her friendship with underground filmmaker Jack Smith.
Her final contribution to the drag queen scene was co-founding the Ridiculous Theatre Company in Soho, but after that, she quietly retired to Florida and disappeared from the public eye, with many people believing she must have passed away until she appeared in a 2006 documentary about Smith. She was honored with a special TEDDY Award in 2012, where she was described as 'the queen mom of all drag queens.' She eventually died the following year.
Some drag queens use their persona to perform and entertain. Others use it as a way to draw attention to the causes they believe in. Donna Sachet, born in South Carolina, fits into the second category. That's not to say she didn't once love to perform though - her second name is a reference to the swagger that she demonstrated on stage when she was younger.
Sachet has been a tireless and constant worker for the gay community in California. She's been Grand Marshal at San Francisco Pride, and sits on the board of the LGBT Community Center, among many other roles including assisting the organization of the AIDS Emergency Fund. In 2009, she became the first drag performer in history to sing the National Anthem at a Major League Baseball game. She still performs occasionally to this day, hosting 'Sunday is a Drag' at Harry Denton's Starlight Room.
The career of Peaches Christ began when her male alter-ego Joshua Grannell was still a student at Penn State University. Grannell created the character for a film he was creating as part of his studies, but eventually found his creation taking over his life. Peaches Christ had been born, and Grannell had to take a back seat to her persona! She's gone on to be a drag performer in the underground scene, as well as making her own films and performing as an emcee.
Christ's major contribution to the drag scene was the creation of the 'Midnight Mass' movie events in San Francisco, which began in 1998 and attracted sell-out crowds every year up until the 12th and final event in 2009. Since then, she's been touring a collection of short films across both America and Europe and mixing it with singing and comedy. She's always felt attached to the 'Trannyshack' stage show, which is where she started in 1996, and continues to make appearances there.
We've already seen a performer on our list who spent money trying to make themselves look more like Cher; now we have Venus D-Lite, who has had nineteen plastic procedures at a cost of more than $150,000 in an attempt to look more like Madonna. 'The Ricki Lake Show' picked up on the story, which led to D-Lite's first appearance on television in 2003. Now firmly on the map, she appeared in the third season of 'Drag Race,' but was the first contestant to be eliminated. Undeterred, she returned to make a guest appearance in the fourth season.
Her devotion to looking like Madonna has led to further television appearances, including 'Botched' in 2014 to get more surgery to his nose, and 'My Strange Addiction' a year later to be interviewed about his obsession. On top of her constant plastic surgery, D-Lite has released a single, which was confusingly titled 'I'm Not Madonna.'
Pearl Liaison, sometimes known simply as Pearl, wasn't too sad about finishing as runner up in the seventh 'Drag Race' season; she had a lot going on with her career before she entered the show, and she has even more going on now! Born as Matthew James Lent, she's a record producer when she doesn't have her costume on, but before she was interested in music, she was an artist. As a child, she drew 'rich old ladies,' and eventually found herself playing out her creations in real life.
Pearl's first stage appearance was in 2012 when she got herself booked for her own amusement, intending her drag persona to be nothing more than a hobby. She quickly fell in love with both the scene and the role, with her self-described 'Stepford wife robot gone wrong' act proving to be popular with audiences. She's currently the only former 'Drag Race' contestant to enter the perfume business, releasing a fragrance called 'Flazeda' in 2015.