There are few constants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Every season, the queens are asked to dazzle with their fashion, to impersonate their favorite celebrities, to show off their vocals and, of course, to lip sync (for life, legacy or for the crown).
A recent tradition on Drag Race is one that combines all of the above — the Rusical. Almost every year since season 6, the queens of Drag Race are tasked with performing in a themed musical challenge — sometimes they have to pay tribute to iconic pop stars by singing and dancing live on stage, other times they have to lip sync in a pre-recorded musical about airlines or pharmaceutical drugs.
This week, the queens of season 13 are finally taking on that same challenge with “Social Media: The Rusical.” Each of the remaining queens will take on the role of a different social media platform in a showtune-filled tale about the trials and tribulations of life online.
So, in honor of this week’s Rusical, Billboard decided to take a look back at every other Rusical from Drag Race (U.S.) and All Stars to see how they held up. Judged by their general concepts, execution, music and overall impact, here is how each Rusical fared in our ranking.
10. PharmaRusical (Season 10, Episode 2)
Concept: Who came up with this? It’s sort of funny, but ultimately very strange and random to take the format of drug infomercials and transform them into drag puns that sort of become songs. We don’t need to hear a song about a drug called Badonkadonx that will give you a bigger butt — even when it’s trying to be over-the-top and campy, it still fizzles out.
Execution: It’s tough to remember a single performance from such a strange Rusical. The Vixen made the most out of what she was given, and Mayhem Miller’s ballad about anal options was objectively funny. The rest largely got left in the background.
Music: The songs of this Rusical are disjointed, skipping around frequently from hip-hop to Broadway to pop at a frenzied pace. There’s not a lot to say here – there’s very little that’s actually successful in this music.
Overall: Especially in a season that had another (much better) Rusical, the PharmaRusical was a forgettable experience, and one that you certainly don’t need to think too much about. If you’re looking to rewatch old episodes, feel free to skip this.
9. Glamazonian Airways (Season 7, Episode 2)
Concept: While being slightly more coherent than the PharmaRusical, Glamazonian Airways still elicits the question, “Why?” Spoofing airline takeoff videos makes a bit more sense than satirizing pharmaceutical commercials, but it isn’t exactly ripe for comedy.
Execution: Mrs. Kasha Davis served a full ham dinner, which is the only sensible choice for this strange lip-sync experience. Ginger Minj earned her win with her choreography and her wacky faces. Most of the other queens in this challenge did a serviceable job, with only Katya, Miss Fame and Sasha Belle standing out for their struggle with performing the number.
Music: With a top 40 pop feel to each of the songs, there’s a plenty of continuity here. There’s nothing particularly exciting about the selections, but they certainly aren’t bad.
Overall: Glamazonian Airways is another rare swing-and-miss among the Rusical challenges. Especially when compared to later entries on this list, this season 7 challenge failed to take off.
8. Kardashian: The Musical (Season 9, Episode 5)
Concept: Now this is what we call a concept. Taking a Broadway sensation like Hamilton and parodying it by changing the subject to reality TV royalty is a perfect way to get both the competing queens and the audience at home invested in what’s happening.
Execution: Unfortunately, even with such a good concept, two queens ended up bearing the weight of this Rusical on their shoulders. Alexis Michelle’s unhinged portrayal of Kris Jenner was perfect for the challenge, and Shea Couleé’s Blac Chyna was an absolute scene-stealer. But in a musical centered around the role of Kim Kardashian, it’s hard to watch Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s strained stint in the spotlight.
Music: The music isn’t bad, per se. But when the reference point you’ve chosen to mimic is a musical like Hamilton, there’s suddenly a lot of expectation to live up to. The “club song” featuring Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan was fun, as was “Momager,” but the moments meant to directly reference Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnum opus fell apart.
Overall: The idea of Kardashian: The Musical is greater than the sum of its parts. While the concept should work, the only truly memorable parts of this performance were Alexis Michelle, Shea Couleé, and Nina Bo’nina Brown constantly insisting that she should’ve been Blac Chyna.
7. Shade the Rusical (Season 6, Episode 4)
Concept: As the first-ever Rusical, the idea behind Shade is simple; what happens if we take some classic stage tropes and reflavor them for drag queens? A winsome ingenue, a jaded diva, a brassy villain, a Greek chorus — they hit all of the marks. It’s not particularly inventive, but hey, it’s not really meant to be.
Execution: Courtney Act, Adore Delano and BenDeLaCreme are absolute stars in this Rusical. Courtney and Adore nail the live singing, and BenDeLaCreme is pure camp as the eye-patched, leopard-printed villain. Outside of that, there’s not a lot to say; queens like Darienne Lake and Gia Gunn struggled with their singing, while Trinity K. Bonet and April Carrion looked lost on the stage.
Music: As RuPaul once said to Nina West and Silky Nutmeg Ganache: “Meh.” This musical was designed to be campy and funny, not musically exciting.
Overall: Shade: The Rusical kicked off the Rusical challenge trend on Drag Race, and featured a number of highly entertaining, memorable performances. But taken altogether, the numerous rough patches showed some of the kinks that still needed to be worked out for the future of this challenge.
6. Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical (Season 10, Episode 8)
Concept: Considering that The Cher Show, an actual Broadway musical exploring the life of this pop icon, was already in the works at the time of this Rusical’s release, it’s safe to say that the concept is solid. This is a simple, fun way to give each queen the spotlight, by having them highlight a different era in the Goddess of Pop’s decades-spanning career.
Execution: The good largely outweighs the bad here — Kameron Michaels’ ’60s Cher had great vocals and a very funny impersonation, Monét X Change proved that she could sing the house down, and Miz Cracker delivered one of the best (and frankly, underrated) performances of the show as Vocoder comeback Cher. A few queens stumbled, like The Vixen and Asia O’Hara, but even then, the queens still worked this number out.
Music: While the performances in this challenge made us Believe, the music was not Strong Enough. The verse for Miz Cracker’s comeback Cher, including like “I know the gays will buy this/ And I know Britney will try this” is far-and-away the best, while the Movie Star Cher section sounds like it’s pulled from another project entirely. When the music works, it works — unfortunately, there are more than a few sections where it doesn’t.
Overall: The format of this unauthorized Cher Rusical, along with some high-quality performances from the queens of season 10, make up for the music’s dip in quality.
5. Trump: The Rusical (Season 11, Episode 4)
Concept: Some fans were very trepidatious about Drag Race making light of the controversial president and his lackeys with this Rusical — but looking back, this was probably the most on-brand way for Drag Race to address the Trump administration. Turning Grease into a political spoof where the queens get to openly mock those surrounding Trump (and praise those who opposed him) was about as good of a concept as we’ve seen in these Rusicals.
Execution: The queens did a great job on this yuuuuge challenge. Silky Nutmeg Ganache stole the spotlight with her Oprah Winfrey number, Nina West’s turn as Sarah Huckabee Sanders was gut-busting, Ariel Versace nailed the leading role of “Shandy,” and Yvie Oddly’s deranged Kellyanne Conway was exactly the right amount of crazy. But without uttering a single word, Ginger Minj’s guest star turn as Donald Trump himself was the show-stopping moment of this entire Rusical.
Music: It’s not easy to create multiple parody songs about political corruption in the style of Grease, but Drag Race managed to do it. While not every number was a winner, the vast majority of them hit their marks as needed, and deftly walked the line between imitation and original.
Overall: Trump: The Rusical had the potential to fall flat on its face, yet it managed to be one of Drag Race’s most consistent Rusicals. It was over-the-top, funny, and kept the spirit of Grease intact throughout, all while getting to throw up a big middle finger to the Commander in Chief.
4. VH1 Divas Lip Sync Live (All Stars Season 3, Episode 2)
Concept: Simplicity, it turns out, is key when putting together a Rusical. With Drag Race and All Stars having made the official move over to VH1 , creating a musical around the network’s iconic Divas series made perfect sense for the show — and felt like a simple, easy way to both reimagine tracks from RuPaul’s catalog and let the queens embody some of their favorite chart-topping artists.
Execution: Simply put, everyone did great. BenDeLaCreme was born to shake her ass while impersonating Julie Andrews, Shangela’s Mariah was spot-on, Trixie Mattel could pull off Dolly Parton in her sleep, and Bebe Zahara Benet looked like the spitting image of Diana Ross herself. Even Thorgy Thor’s turn as Stevie Nicks, while less impressive than some of her cohorts, was still unbelievably entertaining to watch.
Music: Retrofitting each of RuPaul’s singles for different divas — spanning genres like pop, country, rock, adult contemporary and more — is a Herculean task. But each song fit every queen and made the performance that much more fun to watch, anticipating just how they would take a song like “Peanut Butter” and make it work as a Celine Dion showstopper.
Overall: From top to bottom, this challenge checked every box it needed to, and earned its Diva title.
3. Bitch Perfect (Season 8, Episode 2)
Concept: With Pitch Perfect’s continued cultural dominance back in 2016, this challenge was a perfect way to honor (and poke fun) at the impact of a cappella. There’s no need for a convoluted plot or fleshed-out characters when all we really want to see is our favorite drag queens competing in different collegiate singing troupes.
Execution: Go back and watch Bitch Perfect and try not to have a great time. Everyone in this challenge is giving their best, campiest performance art, and absolutely working out the choreography. The late, great Chi Chi DeVayne is an immediate standout — her handstand-twerk continues to impress us to this day — while Thorgy Thor’s unbridled energy is infectious. Kudos to every single one of these queens.
Music: This is some of the best music ever put to the stage in a Rusical challenge. Whether they were going for bubblegum pop on “Jealous of My Boogie” or scintillating hip-hop on “Geronimo,” every a cappella arrangement in this performance was absolutely stellar.
Overall: It may not be the first one that comes to mind for some fans, but Bitch Perfect is far and away one of the best Rusical performances ever brought to the mainstage of Drag Race. Everybody say “underrated!”
2. HERstory of the World (All Stars Season 2, Episode 3)
Concept: Taking a tour through history, guided by a handful of the powerful women who helped shape it? Brilliant. Not only is the concept easily accessible for fans, but it opens the door for hilarious performances and creative liberties with music throughout history. Someone in the Drag Race writers room deserved a raise for this concept, and we hope they got it.
Execution: Even the judges had a hard time finding faults in these performances. They ended up singling out Katya and Ginger Minj, but both excelled in the challenge — Ginger’s absolutely unhinged Catherine the Great was hilarious to watch, and Katya’s Princess Diana felt spot-on. Of course, the two scene stealers were Detox as a neon-colored, opera-singing Marie Antoinette, and Alyssa Edwards’ rootin’, tootin’, gun-shootin’ Annie Oakley. If there had been an audience, we would have expected a standing ovation.
Music: With every song, the producers upped the camp factor, making this challenge even funnier than it needed to be. Making hard pivots from heavy metal to opera to rockabilly to salsa, the music in HERstory of the World is insane — and yet every song works for the context it’s put in.
Overall: While it was far from the first Rusical, HERstory of the World certainly helped cement the Rusical’s status as a mainstay challenge on Drag Race, thanks to how exceedingly well it was executed.
1. Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical (Season 12, Episode 7)
Concept: The fact that we don’t have a real-life Madonna jukebox musical is, frankly, criminal. With a songbook as iconic and versatile as Madonna’s, Drag Race would be foolish not to pay homage to the Material Girl’s career through a Rusical.
Execution: First things first — yes, Jan was robbed. The New York City queen slayed every vocal, nailed every dance move, and was a near-perfect embodiment of Early Madge. But when you look at the rest of the talent in this Rusical, it’s understandable why the judges had such a hard time choosing who should win the challenge — everyone was phenomenal. Gigi Goode’s True Blue-era impersonation was endlessly entertaining, Jaida Essence Hall served pure sex, Crystal Methyd was ridiculous (and really good!), and even Brita (who ended up sashaying away in this episode) did an excellent job portraying the iconic cone-bra phase of the Queen of Pop’s career.
Music: One word: composition. Nailing a parody song is a difficult task, but each and every track in the Madonna Rusical perfectly evokes a specific song in her catalog without directly using its melody. Every song managed to be both funny and good — a feat that no other Rusical accomplished quite like this one did.
Overall: This Rusical had everything — incredible performances, a strong well of material to pull from, excellently orchestrated music and stellar choreography. Frankly, no other Rusical compares — Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical is unquestionably the best Rusical in the history of Drag Race. Period.