Since 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race has entertained everyday folks by bringing drag to the masses. But what does it take to be named the fiercest, most fabulous drag queen of the bunch? To date, 12 queens have shown us how it’s done—and have then gone on to bigger and better things.
As we wait for a Season 13 champion to be named, find out what previous RuPaul’s Drag Race winners are doing today.
Season 1 – Bebe Zahara Benet
It’s been over a decade since the world first met Drag Race’s OG queen, Bebe Zahara Benet (aka Nea Marshall Kudi Ngwa), and to date, the Cameroonian-American has zero regrets about signing up for the show.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience,” she told the African News Agency in August 2020. “But I always say that while Drag Race is amazing, it gave me a platform, but it didn’t give me a career. Now I have this great platform, it’s important to create your own opportunity and not wait for anyone to create opportunities for you. It takes a lot of hard work.”
So far that hard work has gone towards launching Nubia, a showcase for celebrating black drag performers.
Benet has also kept busy with a music career. Her second and most recent EP, Broken English, was released in April 2020.
She has also joined forces with three fellow Drag Race contestants—Alexis Michelle, Jujubee, and Thorgy Thor—to host Dragnificent! the TLC reality show follows the glam squad as they help an engaged woman plan the perfect upcoming wedding. The series has received two nominations for this year’s American Reality Television Awards.
Season 2 – Tyra Sanchez
James Ross, the entertainer formerly known as Tyra Sanchez, has had an unusual life since winning the second season of Drag Race. In 2016, he caused a stir on social media by publishing insensitive tweets about suicide. And in 2017, he posted a fake obituary of his fellow castmate Morgan McMichaels. Users who clicked on the link to learn more were redirected to Ross’ SoundCloud page.
The last straw was in 2018, when Ross was banned from RuPaul’s DragCon for threatening fellow queens Tatianna and Phi Phi O’Hara. He filmed an apology at the request of Drag Race’s producers, but when they asked him to revise it, he refused.
By October 2019, Ross offered another apology, writing on social media that his behavior did not “represent [his] true character.” And in March 2020, he took things a step further by hanging up his heels. He scrubbed his social media accounts of any Tyra Sanchez references.
“For those asking, Tyra Sanchez has fulfilled her purpose in my life,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “I, James Ross, no longer want to be referred to as Tyra, Tyra Sanchez, her, she, girl, or queen.”
He reportedly hasn’t closed the book on performing in drag; he says that he would simply go by his real name and refer to it as “James Ross wearing makeup!“
Season 3 – Raja Gemini
Raja Gemini (aka Sutan Amrull) wasn’t new to showbiz when she sashayed her way onto Drag Race. From 2005 to 2009, Amrull was a makeup artist on America’s Next Top Model. However, once Gemini earned the crown and was hailed the Season 3 queen, she found more opportunities in front of the camera rather than behind it.
Over the past few years, Raja Gemini has appeared in music videos for a number of notable artists, including Blondie, Erasure, and Adam Lambert. She’s also modeled for Diesel and Urban Decay. In a major pop culture moment, she even guest-starred as herself in an episode of The Simpsons.
Not that Raja Gemini has moved on from her former title. Every week, she offers a “RuView” of the latest Drag Race episode on YouTube.
Season 4 – Sharon Needles
Talk about being a scream. Sharon Needles (aka Aaron Coady) is perhaps the most ghoulish Drag Race contestant on the show’s history, but her quick wit helped her earn the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”
Needles has released three studio albums since she was crowned the winner of Season 4. The first, PG-13, even made it onto the US Billboard 200 chart.
Her popularity led the Pittsburgh City Council to proclaim June 12, 2012, Sharon Needles Day.
She also returned to Drag Race on its tenth season to serve as a drag mother to contestant Aquaria.
Season 5 – Jinkx Monsoon
Jinkx Monsoon (aka Jerick Hoffer) may have been inspired by Sharon Needles to join the fifth season of Drag Race, but their persona was a far cry from their predecessor’s. Monsoon channeled sassy old-school divas to win the crown, and they continue to rely on that shtick in a busy post-Drag Race career.
Most recently, they co-starred in The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special with creative partner BenDeLaCreme.
Hoffer may love an audience, but they didn’t require one for the biggest day of their life. At the end of January, the performer married Michael Abbott in their Portland, Oregon living room.
Abbott has since returned to his native England to honor travel restrictions during the pandemic. However, the couple ultimately plans to settle in Portland.
Season 6 – Bianca Del Rio
Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio (aka Roy Haylock) is perhaps the most formidable of Drag Race alumni. In 2019, New York magazine put her in the top spot of “the most powerful drag queens in America.” She also became the first drag performer to headline London’s Wembley Arena.
Since 2014, she has kept busy with multiple stand-up tours. But in the age of Covid, she has been using her platform to help her fellow queens. In March 2020, Bianca Del Rio co-hosted Werq The World, a livestream event that helped drag performers whose finances were hit by the pandemic.
This year, Bianca Del Rio is headlining Drive ‘N Drag, a drive-in (and virtual) show with dates across the U.S. She also just released a namesake podcast, where she promises to deliver her signature attitude and dish on other queens.
Season 7 – Violet Chachki
Violet Chachki (real name Paul Jason Dardo) relied on high fashion and pin-up girl vibes to win Season 7, and it’s a formula they haven’t strayed from. They continue to serve gorgeous looks (and put their flexibility on display) as a burlesque performer. In 2017, they joined The Art of Teese, a show headlined by living legend Dita von Teese.
Chachki has also become something of a fashion darling. In 2017, they modeled for Bettie Page Lingerie; the gig made them the first drag queen to be shot in a major lingerie ad campaign. The following year, they walked the runway at Milan Fashion Week for Moschino. Chachki is also one of the few drag queens to attend the famous annual Met Gala (alongside RuPaul and Aquaria).
In 2021, Violet Chachki is going on a North American tour with their live show, “A Lot More Me.”
Season 8 – Bob The Drag Queen
Bob The Drag Queen (aka Caldwell Tidicue) has seen great success following her win on Season 8 of Drag Race. Like many fellow queens, she seized on her newfound fame with some dance singles and a podcast. However, it’s clear that his true calling involves being on screen.
In 2019, Bob The Drag Queen had a recurring role on the Netflix series Tales of the City. And in April 2020, Bob—along with drag queens Eureka O’Hara and Shangela—starred in HBO’s We’re Here. It received a 2020 Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program.
Expect to see more of Bob The Drag Queen in the future. Performing is her passion, and she shows no signs of veering off her current career path.
Season 9 – Sasha Velour
Season 9 winner Sasha Velour (aka Alexander Hedges) just might be the brainiest drag queen we’ve seen on TV. They have a degree in literature from Vassar College and was a Fulbright scholar who studied in Moscow. They also have an MFA in cartooning from the Center for Cartoon Studies.
Following their season of Drag Race, Sasha has used their intellect and art skills for various projects. Among them, they host NightGowns, a monthly showcase in New York for underground talent.
Seeing drag as a form of activism, they often use their voice to bring attention to LGBTQ+ issues. Sasha was a keynote speaker at the Teen Vogue Summit in New York City, and has spoken at many colleges and universities including Purdue, The University of Illinois, and Columbia University.
Season 10 – Aquaria
At 25, Aquaria (aka Giovanni Palandrani) is the first Gen Z winner of Drag Race. But despite her tender age, she happens to be one of the more successful alumni from the series.
After being the face of Mac’s Viva Glam campaigns, Aquaria went on to launch a makeup line in collaboration with NYX Cosmetics. She also modeled for Moschino and H&M, and in 2018, signed with IMG Models.
Aquaria isn’t just highly in-demand; she’s good at spotting new talent herself. In 2018, she was appointed the entertainment editor of Dazed. Many believe that when RuPaul is ready to pass the torch, Aquaria will lead a new generation of drag performers into the mainstream.
Season 11 – Yvie Oddly
The third time was a charm for Yvie Oddly (aka Jovan Bridges). After applying for Drag Race twice before, Yvie Oddly took the title in Season 11. She spent the next year on the road, appearing at various pride events across the country. And in 2019, she became a rotating cast member of RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, a show residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.
In October 2020, Yvie Oddly released her debut album Drag Trap, but is also using pandemic downtime to take a break from the newfound popularity.
“This is also a really good time for reflection,” she told V magazine. “It’s really been about having conversations with myself about what I need.”
Season 12 – Jaida Essence Hall
The current Drag Race queen, Jaida Essence Hall (aka Jared Johnson) was coronated in the most 2020 way possible: over a livestream from her home in Wisconsin. But even if her reign took place during a national crisis, she has done everything in her power to entertain audiences.
In July 2020, she joined the Drive ‘N Drag tour with fellow Drag Race contestants. The following month, she appeared in the music video for Orville Peck and Shania Twain’s duet, “Legends Never Die.”
And at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement can no longer be ignored, Hall wants to use her popularity as a platform for spreading hope.
“I hope I can inspire so many young black people like myself who never feel like they’re special or that what they offer the world isn’t important,” Hall told Entertainment Weekly. “Hopefully, they see this and realize, ‘What I am and who I am is enough, I matter, and I have something special to offer to the world.'”