More than perhaps any other show in the history of television, RuPaul’s Drag Race has always prided itself on creating a space for the intersection of pop culture and queerness. Whether it’s in a lip sync for your life to a famous LGBTQ anthem, or a pitch-perfect Snatch Game impersonation of a gay icon, Drag Race delivers a bevy of queer cultural moments every year.
In the series’ more recent seasons, one particular brand of those moments emerged as a fan-favorite: the Rusical challenge. Since the debut of “Shade: The Rusical” back in season 6, every main season of Drag Race has featured the now-iconic challenge where queens are tasked with picking roles and creating on a show-stopping theatrical experience. Complete with costumes, choreography and the occasional 11 o’clock number, the Rusical challenge is a near-perfect way to celebrate the queer community’s undying obsession with musical theater.
Just like Broadway itself, pretty much anything can be turned into a Rusical: Some challenges have seen queens telling an original story about drag ingenues interacting with evil queens; others have seen them telling the lightly altered stories of pop divas; one even saw the queens attempting to sell fake pharmaceutical products.
What makes a good Rusical performance? Below, Billboard takes a look back at every Rusical performance in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, and ranks them from worst to best based on their general concepts, execution, music and overall impact. Take a look at where your favorite Rusical ended up below:
'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Social Media: The Unverified Rusical (Season 13, Episode 8)
Concept: Taking each major social media platform and personifying them into a cast of wildly unhinged characters is an easy, albeit hackneyed plot device that leads to all kinds of ridiculous on stage shenanigans. It’s fun, it’s campy, it’s what you’ve come to expect from a Rusical. It’s certainly not worth a downvote, but it’s not getting retweeted any time soon.
Execution: The queens did a pretty good job in this challenge, with a few exceptional standouts, and a few who we simply must swipe left on. Rosé, as expected, killed her role as Foxy, Denali and Gottmik’s Russian bots had us rolling, and while the judges were focused on a mistake Tina Burner made in character, we couldn’t help but absolutely adore her performance as the evening’s emcee, Friendster. Meanwhile Symoné and Kandy both fizzled in their respective roles as Instagram and LinkedIn, while Elliott with 2 Ts’ TikTok impersonation felt like it simply could not pass the vibe check.
Music: The song parodies here are very good — rewriting both the music and lyrics of Barbra Streisand’s iconic Funny Girl showstopper “Don’t Rain On My Parade” to fit the theme was the strongest choice of the night, with the nods to Broadway staples like “The Cell Block Tango,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and even “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” picking up a lot of the slack from the bland story.
Overall: While the concept may not have been particularly inventive or interesting , Social Media: The Unverified Rusical was saved by smart musical numbers and showstopping performances from a few of the queens. Feel free to give it a like.
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.
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.
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!”
Moulin Ru! The Rusical (Season 14, Episode 12)
Concept: This story is about … drag. The idea here is pretty simple — taking the hit film and Broadway musical Moulin Rouge, re-translating it using the music of RuPaul herself, and casting drag queens (as well as Leland and Leslie Jordan) in the roles. With a built-in and already beloved story, you have yourself a winning formula for a Rusical.
Execution: Can we get a standing ovation? Throughout this marvelous Rusical, each of the seven queens did a fabulous job pulling out all the stops to ace the monumental task of telling the story of Moulin Rouge armed only with RuPaul’s repertoire. Some queens, though, sparkled more than others — Lady Camden in particular, in her Harold Ziegler-adjacent role as “Mama Z,” stole every moment she appeared, nefariously stroking her beard and twiddling her mustache. Willow Pill also managed to shine as the Green Fairy with her high-energy, ratcheting-up performance in the show’s back half.
Music: Producers Leland and Gabe Lopez nailed the assignment. Each of the tracks throughout the Rusical took on RuPaul’s songs — including “Cover Girl,” “Freaky Money” and “Jealous of My Boogie” — and gave them that dramatic, brassy twist that makes Moulin Rouge so fun to listen to over and over again. Also, listen closely to that Green Fairy medley, and you’ll hear the beautiful vocal stylings of Allie X giving a truly unhinged performance.
Overall: Season 14’s installment of the annual Rusical challenge was, to borrow a phrase, spectacular-spectacular. With a clear-cut concept, some entertaining takes on RuPaul originals and a series of show-stopping performances, Moulin Ru will go down as one of the best Rusicals in the show’s herstory, come what may.
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.
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 just about everything — incredible performances, a strong well of material to pull from, excellently orchestrated music and stellar choreography. It’s hard to beat Madge, so it’s no wonder why Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical is one of the very best Rusicals in the history of Drag Race.
Wigloose: The Rusical (Season 15, Episode 12)
Concept: It’s rare to see a parody go beyond the scope of its source material. Sure, on its face, Wigloose: The Rusical plainly plays off of Footloose — but to capitalize on the actual real-life drag bans spreading throughout the U.S. with a light-hearted yet very poignant performance is nothing short of genius. This is one of the smartest concepts for a Rusical we’ve seen.
Execution: The judges themselves said it — no one did a bad job in this Rusical. Every queen excelled in their respective performances, whether it was Sasha Colby delivering high camp with the character of Carl, Mistress Isabelle Brookes serving villainess realness as Preacher Teacher, or Anetra bringing the audience to genuine tears as Mama Bacon. Each performance from each queen was not only campy and funny, but also layered and dramatic when necessary.
Music: Leland put something special in this Rusical. Instead of repurposing old RuPaul songs or spoofing tracks from famous pop stars, we got an entire set of original, extremely catchy musical theater songs that sounded like they could have been coming off of a Broadway stage. The singers featured on each of the tracks were phenomenal, the compositions were correct, and the musicality throughout made Wigloose feel like so much more than your average Drag Race challenge.
Overall: Within 3 minutes of the start of Wigloose, it became clear that no other Rusical in the show’s history could possibly compete. With a smart concept, exceptional performances all around, and phenomenal music, Wigloose: The Rusical stands head and shoulders above its competitors as the greatest Rusical to ever appear on RuPaul’s Drag Race.