You’re probably still wiping away tears each time you think about what could have been if Valentina hadn’t rocked what’s now the most-hated mouthpiece in pop culture history (save for Hannibal Lecter’s infamous face mask, of course), painfully speculating on what the former RuPaul’s Drag Race frontrunner would’ve cooked up for the gayest ball ever (or what hunky production assistant Rizzo would have looked like in one of her original creations). Alas, it’s finally time to accept that a sans-Valentina season is just the way the crocheted crop-top crumbles as the long-running show gears up for its ninth season finale.
With no elimination occurring this week (how could you send anyone packing after that emotional back-and-forth on the main stage?), four queens remain: Trinity Taylor, Peppermint, Shea Couleé, and Sasha Velour, and a legitimate case can be made for each of them to take the throne. But, there can only be one. So, who’s going to bag the title of America’s Drag Superstar? Read on for EW’s predictions for the season 9 finale, which airs Friday, June 23 at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.
4th place: Trinity Taylor
Of the remaining queens, Trinity arguably has the most vocal fan base, and not without proper justification. She began the competition smack in the middle of the road, with her showgirl aesthetic taking a back seat to the other girls’ innovative style. As the competition blossomed, so did the Orlando native; by episode eight, she’d given us some of the best moments of the season, including her irresistibly hilarious role as an ill-tempered nun, Sister Mary Koont, during the TV pilot challenge.
But, when it comes to innovation, Trinity hasn’t managed to tap into the same vein of excitement as her season 9 siblings. She embodies traditional razzle-dazzle, and has shown she’s capable of pushing outside her comfort zone to deliver the goods when necessary. At this time, with Ru likely wanting to shape the future of the art instead of highlighting everything that’s already great about it (as Trinity does quite nicely), Trinity feels the least capable of carrying that torch, but she has a fruitful career ahead of her either way. There’s nothing wrong with fortifying the classic drag establishment, it just doesn’t seem like the direction Drag Race wants to head in — especially with people watching the show now more than ever thanks to the move to VH1.
Challenge wins: 3
Bottom two appearances: 1
Standout moment: Playing Sister Mary Koont during the TV pilot challenge.
Standout runway look: What Trinity describes as her “alien robotic venereal disease realness” outfit, otherwise known as her Club Kid Couture costume.
3rd place: Peppermint
There’s no way to appropriately measure — or pay tribute to — the impact Peppermint has made on RuPaul’s Drag Race. As the first queen to enter the fold as an out transgender woman (Monica Beverly Hillz and Sonique came out on the show, while Carmen Carrera and Gia Gunn transitioned after their seasons aired), Peppermint — a seasoned vet on the New York City scene — overcame a barrage of criticism (“There was one very well known queen in New York who asked me if I was transitioning. She told me she supported me, but in the same breath told me I would be doomed to never work again in this job that I love so much,” she told EW in April) along her journey, winning over a legion of fans in the process.
As is key to any reality show recipe, Peppermint’s story is inspiring and altogether essential amid today’s contentious political climate, one that sees Peppermint proudly (and justly) carrying the torch of visibility for her sisters in the drag world and for the marginalized LGBTQ population in general, and RuPaul was lucky to have her in the family this year.
The problem here, however, is that RuPaul’s Drag Race is, at the end of the day, a competition, and Peppermint’s personal narrative is often more endearing, meaningful, and satisfying than the work she’s produced on the runway — and in challenges — thus far. With few exceptions (she killed at Michelle Visage’s roast and displayed bonafide rhythmic chops each time she’s had to lip-sync in the past), Peppermint has seldom succeeded because of her artistry, but does when she’s tasked with tapping into her emotive side, whether it’s cracking jokes at Visage’s expense or moving to the beat of a song (and, as a result, her own metaphorical drum).
With shoddy craftsmanship (she got off on the wrong foot with a few messy looks at the top of the season, and her unicorn attire similarly faltered in the wake of her sisters’ intricate designs) in tow, Peppermint’s measurable skills don’t add up to those of Sasha and Shea, but just because she hasn’t trumped the other ladies within the confines of a competition doesn’t mean she’s not a treasure, she just doesn’t need a reality show to prove it. She’s better off doing her own thing (and becoming her own superstar) instead of conforming to someone else’s standards.
Challenge wins: 1
Bottom two appearances: 2
Standout moment: Rarely regular when it comes to quality fashions, Peppermint has still had her fair share of standout moments on the runway; however, her unyielding commitment to authenticity — including the touching moment where she discussed her transgender status with her sisters — comprises the warm legacy she’ll leave on this show.
Standout runway look: True to her moniker, Peppermint’s Club Kid Couture was cool and refreshing, ultimately registering as one of the only outfits relevant to the week’s prompt.
Runner-up: Shea Couleé
There’s no denying Shea’s raw talent. She’s the best mover of the group (her final performance during the musical challenge completely slayed) and her runway presence has — aside from a few too many cotton candy-colored wigs — accordingly shifted the needle in terms of fashion standards for this season’s crop of contenders. With four challenge wins (the most of any season 9 queen) under her sequined belt, Shea is, on paper, technically the frontrunner for the crown, and Drag Race seldom strays from formula; if, week after week, a given queen performs well enough to receive high marks at panel, chances are she’ll stick around to sashay another day, and Shea has proven herself to be a lovably determined, fiercely original highlight among this year’s cast. It’s important to note that in Drag Race history, only two contestants have won after having scored less than three challenge wins: season 1’s BeBe Zahara Benet and season 5’s Jinkx Monsoon.
Nevertheless, two of Shea’s wins resulted from team challenges she participated in alongside Sasha and, judging by panel critiques, if each week’s prize had been reserved for only one queen, Sasha probably would’ve taken both. While her inherently electric bravado can make any outfit work, when Shea misses a fashionable opportunity, she misses it hard (just look at the botched makeover she attempted to give her straight male partner during episode 10). Her speech on the final runway additionally registered as the least impassioned of the group. But, part of Shea’s charm resides in her ability to carry on despite her shortcomings, which she acknowledges in stride and improves upon the following week.
It’ll be a tight race between Sasha and Shea for the title, and the latter’s got the goods to take it all the way (and the presence of a superstar, to boot). There’s but a single crown, though, and Sasha’s flawless dominance has yet to take a hit, whereas Shea noticeably stumbled — even if it was an exception to the rule — in recent weeks.
Challenge wins: 4
Bottom two appearances: 1
Standout moment: Shea floored us with sickening threads and the most palpable performative swagger of the bunch, and it all came to a head during Friday’s episode, when she soared through her choreography miles ahead of Trinity, Peppermint, and Sasha across the final maxi challenge.
Standout runway look: Her monarch-inspired Club Kid Couture ensemble was a royal hoot.
America’s Drag Superstar: Sasha Velour
If the ladies of season 9 were in high school together, it’s difficult to imagine Trinity, Peppermint, and Shea not taking on respective roles as the cheerleader, the class clown, and the fashionista. Like every graduating collective’s arty theater geek, however, Sasha stands out as an eye-catching rebel against conformity — even if those around her don’t fully understand it upon first glance, and the element of singularity holds true for each of the series’ past champions.
From the get-go, while her sisters merely flaunted on-brand “looks” atop the runway, the avant-garde, intellectually inclined stunner has consistently taken things a step further, serving iconic conceptual lewks (*snap*) that, for the most part, weren’t properly recognized by the judges. Despite crafting some of the best outfits in Drag Race history (need I remind you of last week’s unicorn eleganza/rainbow realness combo?), Sasha has largely played second fiddle to Shea, emerging victorious from the weekly maxi challenges only twice since season 9’s launch while earning high marks nearly every frame.
Statistically, that means the odds are stacked against Sasha (as previously mentioned, only two Drag Race conquerors have won less than three challenges since season 1), though her speech about uniqueness on Friday’s episode (not to mention her charisma, nerve, and talent) seemingly solidified her as an ideal candidate to carry the Drag Race torch into the future, as the art form will continue to evolve alongside her, not ahead of her (it’s tough to think of Trinity, Shea, and Peppermint navigating the industry the same way). But, seriously, did you see the way Ru’s face lit up when Sasha championed her own individuality on the runway tonight? Of all the reality competition programs currently on television, Drag Race often plays true to its judges’ spoken convictions, and, as evidenced by Valentina’s ousting earlier this year, Ru’s opinion is ever evolving and subjective, absorbing the ladies’ performances week-by-week versus playing a game of favorites. He often goes with how he feels in the moment, and Sasha is perhaps the most present, relevant, and forward-thinking competitor to grace the main stage in years; that’s why, if there’s any shred of justice left in this cruel world, Sasha will sashay away from season 9 as a decorated homecoming queen.
Challenge wins: 2
Bottom two appearances: 0
Standout moment: There are too many to choose from, from the hilarious exploitation send up that was her Teets & Asky pilot to her criminally underrated performances in both 9021-Ho and the Visage roast. Sasha’s crowning achievement, however, was her Marlene Dietrich impersonation on season 9’s Snatch Game. It takes true talent to make a rigid, international icon of historical cinema funny, but Sasha did it with ease. Wunderbar!
Standout runway look: Medieval-unicorn-turned-couture-model.