By the end of the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 6 finale, I found myself screaming in my apartment, jumping up and down, then starting to cry. For all of its “twists,” what I remained most enthralled by this season was the ascendance of Kylie Sonique Love, the first trans winner of American Drag Race. I’ve been writing about drag for 10 years and am currently working on a book about the subject, but let me tell you: I immediately became a fangirl of hers, curious to see what she was going to do next. And then, there she was in the finale episode with Eureka, Ra’Jah O’Hara, and Ginger Minj, standing up on that stage, sparkling for the cameras as I practically fell off my chair in suspense.
I first wondered whether Kylie would fade into the background, which is what happens to many All Stars contestants who, shall we say, don’t stick around long enough to shine the first time. After all, she did go home fourth on Season 2 of Drag Race back in 2010. Yet, Kylie taught us she was far from filler, but rather a force. Her Steven Tyler impersonation in particular was perfect, and it brought us some much-needed drag king representation. Her take on Dolly Parton during Snatch Game was a delight. And her verse and performance in “Show Up Queen” was smart, sexy, and current. In all of her talents, she is a reason fans love drag and continue to watch the series.
All Stars 6 had among the highest caliber of performances of any All Stars season thus far, which made Kylie’s win even more thrilling. Sure, there were some flimsy moments and a few queens struggled at times, but the appearance of a true dumpster fire was rare. Do I wish Trinity had taken an improv class ahead of her standup and Snatch Game? Absolutely. Did I want to see a more vulnerable side of Jan? Of course. Was it necessary for three queens to come out in the same silhouette for the Pop art challenge? Definitely not (do some fashion history research, ladies, for the love of Goddess!).
In fact, there were more highs than lows. Among them? Trinity’s rap about knowing your HIV status in “Show Up Queen”; Ra’Jah’s take on LaToya Jackson in Snatch Game, plus her sparkly, magenta look for the fashion fail challenge; Ginger Minj’s Tara Belle for the Drag Tots challenge; Eureka’s Cinderella after-a-two-day-bender fashion fail; and Episode 11, “The Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent Monologues.” It’s because of artists like these and their stellar performances that it’s a privilege to write about drag.
And with all this, no matter how much I adored Kylie throughout the competition, I still wasn’t sure if she’d win. I didn’t lack faith in her as a performer, but I lacked faith in The Great Television Machine, meaning, whether or not the powers that be designing the show would agree with me. As Ginger Minj said, “Any single one of us getting that crown would be completely valid and completely understandable at this point.” I wondered, was the incredibly talented Ginger a shoo-in for the crown? Would Eureka’s over-the-top finale ensemble make the judges gag enough? At a time when the cost of being a Drag Race contestant has come under fire, would Ra’Jah’s versatility as a costume designer give her an edge?
Even so, it was Miss Kylie who shone the most for me. I was taken aback not just by her creative looks and stunning beauty, but the genuineness of her character, her dedication to her craft. Not only did she come to slay, she also came to employ her knowledge. She proved to “not just rely on body.” She leaned into the uncomfortable to joyously accept aspects of herself she once tried to reject. Picking herself back up after her lackluster Lady Gaga impersonation in Season 2, Kylie embraced her “twang,” as she calls it, to deliver a fabulous Dolly Parton fantasy, plus an ace run as Jessica in “Coven Girls.” Her past informed her drag, too. “I had to play 26 years of my life as a boy, so I’m really confident in my Steven Tyler,” she said while smiling on Episode 4, “Halftime Headliners,” demonstrating a self-awareness that made for a fierce competitor.
Kylie surmounted every obstacle the competition threw at her. That she is also a trans woman is especially powerful in light of RuPaul’s 2018 comments about the role of transgender women in drag. RuPaul apologized for his remarks shortly after, and Kylie appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race Holi-slay Spectacular that same year. Still, Kylie noted in the finale she looks up to him, and is appreciative of the opportunities he’s created for herself and others. “You’re, to me, everything a star should be,” she said. “You’ve shared everything that you’ve earned and worked for, and you’re sharing that with the world. To have that power means nothing if you’re not able to help people.” I do not doubt her sincerity; if anything, it allows for nuance in the complexity of human experience, and drag is about nothing if it is not about that.
While no Drag Race winner pleases the breadth of its audience, it’s the show’s inspiring artists that keep fans like myself coming back. Because despite problems many have with the series — especially when it comes to addressing issues of race, class, gender, economic standing, or even queer history — it’s still the largest TV platform that regularly propels drag into the mainstream, not to discount the incredible work of Dragula. How many sitcoms are on TV? There are too many to count. And how many reality drag competition franchises are there? Significantly fewer.
RuPaul once said in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross that it’s just a television show, and whatever you put on it is up to you. But until something comes along that is either comparable or bigger than Drag Race, it will continue to bear the weight of all audience criticisms and praises. It is reality television: it is everything and nothing. Still, it has changed the lives of the performers who’ve crossed its stage, many of whom have credited the show with doing so. The most recent example, of course, is Kylie.
And when “Kylie” came out of RuPaul’s mouth during the finale, I screamed so loud I didn’t hear the rest of her name. That scream descended into tears. I’m ecstatic that despite all the odds against Kylie, through all of her effort and vulnerability and intelligence and glam-o-rama, she rose to the challenge. And while the show may have given her the space to do so, what I really love about her is that she changed her own life and rewrote her narrative in ways some people might not have thought possible. Watching her slip on that green cape and turn it into a fabulous somersault floor-moment-extravaganza in the final lip-sync was both just a taste and also a metaphor for how she transformed her story.
What keeps me coming back to drag is the opportunity to watch performers blossom, to reinvent and reimagine life as they would like to live it. So, it’s my hope that with Kylie’s historic win — following the monumental runs of trans contestants like Peppermint on Season 9 and Gottmik on Season 13 — the show will continue getting more and more progressive, reacting to the changing tides of how we understand gender and the definition of what drag is and who’s allowed to perform in it, which is everyone. In drag, there’s possibility, artistry, and hope. And if we’re lucky, there’s love. Kylie Sonique Love, if you please.