Welcome to RuPaul’s Drag Race Power Rankings! Every week, we’re debriefing the week’s new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 to determine which queens are riding high, and which need she-mergency care. But this week, it’s a whole new group of queens, with seven more joining us for the second premiere. Who stood out from the pack?
It really takes a lot for you to do an overly sentimental message about the power of drag on Drag Race and for the show to turn against you for it. This is a show that considers itself political because queens flip vote.gov signs at the end, after all. So for Megami’s lip sync and poster-holding act to be pilloried by the judges—and especially by Plane Jane in her confessional (“You take away the message, and what is your talent? Holding up posters? Girl! Protect queer art, but is she giving us anything worth protecting?”)—is notably rough. It also surprises me coming from a New York queen who comes from the cosplay world; I wouldn’t have expected something so misguidedly earnest from her. Add onto the pile an otherwise impressive runway look hampered by the lack of reveal, and this was not an ideal premiere episode for Megami.
6. Hershii LiqCour-Jeté
Hershii wins the title of queen whose name I will mistype most this season (the capitalized C has already gotten me a couple of times), but despite that, I very much hope she sticks around! In a world of lip sync numbers, Hershii gave us a bit extra with “Whiplash,” a number written by her drag sister and Season 14 alumna Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté. Was it confusing that she was in the jungle? Sure! But she gave us production design, she gave us appropriate costuming—and the number was catchy! I wish the other queens had liked it more, and I wish she had a reveal beyond taking off a coat on the runway. Those factors lead me to place her down here, but I personally liked her a bit more than some queens who placed above her on this list.
I get the vibe that Plasma might be a queen the fanbase roots for more than the judges do. (She was wearing a Jan face crack robe, after all.) I can envision the discourse now: Plasma did a lip sync, some burlesque and impressions, and Michelle Visage told her it was too much?! But I gotta agree with Michelle: it didn’t feel like a cohesive act, rather that Plasma was throwing everything she had at the wall to see what would stick. I do think Plasma has good odds of sticking around for a while, because a lot of the challenges will sit firmly in her wheelhouse. This cast is filled with performers, but I imagine a lot of them will struggle in particular with improv. Pencil Plasma in for a Snatch Game win, I’d say.
4. Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige
Yes, the runway was underwhelming, but my god those flips! I admired Mhi’ya’s single-minded determination when she entered the werk room. So many queens these days come in and say they do a little bit of everything. Not Mhi’ya! Mhi’ya flips! And she flips well. Her variety act was the most impressive collection of stunts and gags we’ve seen since Aja and Kennedy Davenport in All Stars 3’s talent show. I was shocked to see so many of Mhi’ya’s fellow queens lose their shit at her performance, then promptly rank her down on their Rate-a-Queen submissions. But considering the strategy that at least one queen was enacting, the ratings were destined to be wonky anyway.
3. Nymphia Wind
Speaking of which: Nymphia was robbed blind. Granted, I got a little bored of the banana branding by the time the runway hit, but it’s the premiere! I understand wanting to lean into your signature while making a first impression. And her talent show performance was terrific! What I enjoyed most is that, after an introduction that leaned heavily on quirk, Nymphia presented something completely earnest. It shows a range that I personally love to see in queens, even as the show pushes them further into occupying a more narrow range. I’ve no doubt we’ll see Nymphia score a win soon, but it’s tough for her that one queen’s strategic ranking tanked her chances.
2. Geneva Karr
Geneva was the biggest beneficiary of Plane Jane’s strategy. While I did enjoy her talent act, it was pretty standard: a lip sync number with personalized flair. A lot of queens scored just safe last episode for doing much the same thing. But Mhi’ya’s first-place rating of her likely boosted her just past Nymphia after Jane tanked Nymphia, and thus Geneva rose to the top two. That said, I was glad to see her there: she seems fun and game, and the chance to perform “Shower” in front of Becky G was something I’m certain she appreciated. I also loved that Geneva had one of the only true reveals of either premiere, turning one outfit into another instead of merely taking parts of a garment off. Overall a solid premiere for Geneva, but I fear she didn’t have much of a chance of winning out against Jane.
1. Plane Jane
Hoo boy! I have a feeling we’re going to be discussing Jane a lot this season. Here’s what I liked about Jane: she means what she says, and isn’t afraid to back up shit-talking with actual strategy. The queens largely played by made-up rules for the Rate-a-Queen twist, but Jane wasn’t afraid to rank strategically. And she even lied about what she would do to the other queens’ faces—although they were able to suss her out anyway. Now, here’s what I’m not loving: being a villain is one thing, but complimenting your own villainy as you do it is another. Reveling in taking a “dump” on the other queens in a confessional is corny, and makes it feel less authentic. If she continues to own her villainy and talk just as much shit in person as she does in confessional, I could be here for Jane this season. But the second there’s any talk of edit or mischaracterization, I’m going to jump ship. Jane is quite obviously leaning into this, and backtracking won’t work. (That said, based on this premiere, I don’t see Jane backtracking.) Now, about Jane’s drag: I’ll admit that this kind of stupid-for-stupid’s-sake act is perfectly calibrated to appeal to RuPaul and exactly the opposite of what I like to see on Drag Race. As “Burger Finger” was happening, I both had to applaud how canny it was and roll my eyes at how calculated it felt. And on the runway, Jane’s Elsa-into-Boston-bimbo reveal didn’t make much sense, but the judges loved it regardless. I’m interested to see what else Jane brings to the table this season, because she’s clearly well-prepared. If she can demonstrate a greater range, she could go quite far.