After a few months in the drag wilderness, RuPaul's Drag Race returns this week with the premiere of Season 12 on VH1. The show is back on Fridays, and the crop of queens looks formidable. Even more, the guest judges this season are off the hook, starting with Nicki Minaj on the season premiere. Nicki will be followed by the likes of Rachel Bloom, Chaka Khan, Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Normani, Robyn, Leslie Jones, and New York City Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
And then there are the queens. Thirteen brand new potential Next Drag Superstars. Once again, the New York queens are well represented, with five NYC queens in the group. There also seems to be something of a clash of styles between "look queens" (ie, queens who have made their reputation simply on their ability to turn an impeccable look and work masterfully with makeup, very often primarily on Instagram) and the "performance queens" (who work the more traditional drag-club circuit, lip-synching and death dropping for dollars from the patrons). It's not that these two groups are incompatible, but they'll each be jockeying for position at the top of Drag Race mountain.
Without any futher ado, here are your Season 12 queens:
Aiden Zhane (29, Acworth Georgia) appears at first blush like a stylistic cross between Manila Luzon, Kim Chi, and Tammie Brown. Calling herself "the love child of Judge Doom and the alien from Species," Aiden really seems to resent the small pond she comes from, and as a result relies on her mixture of spooky horror and cartoon beauty. She's a queen who relies on turning a look, which is good news for her because it sure seems like she can, but when she describes herself as "more of the quiet girl," it's hard not to worry that she's going to get lost among all the big, brassy, beautiful queens.
Brita (34, New York City) can't go by her proper name, Brita Filter, because capitalism truly is a devil. (She does persist in describing herself as "anything but pure," which is a nice nod.) Brita makes a case for herself as the strongest of this season's NYC queens. She says she learned to be a big, bold, beautiful queen out of necessity, because in New York, your volume needs to rise above all the other options for entertainment. "We got Broadway here, sis!" is a great line. She expresses some trepidation over the prospect of a sewing challenge, but Brita is otherwise brimming with confidence (and she's all over the Season 12 trailer, too).
Crystal Methyd (28, Springfield, Missouri) comes at us from under a Trixie Mattel-style heavy eye, but she promises she's "fun, nice, and creative." (A former Eagle scout!) Her inspiration comes heavily from club kids and movies like Party Monster, so obviously she's not concerned with any kind of realness in her presentation. She describes herself as a budget girl, though that doesn't hold her back from her motto of "More is more, and more is better."
Dahlia Sin (28, Los Angeles, California) is the drag daughter of Season 9's Aja, under whose wing Dahlia developed her "banjee, kauai'I realness." Dahlia is another look queen, with a burlesque-but-modern silhouette. She describes herself as "super petty" and says people assume she's a bitch, which is kinda true. Do look for some of the show's requisite drama to come from Dahlia. She also describes herself as "co-Trade of the Season" along with Jaida. So Dahlia is going to be a LOT, it seems.
Gigi Goode (21, Los Angeles, California) is partially named after Jessica Lange's character from American Horror Story: Coven, which may or may not be a factor in how much you end up liking her. At 21 years old, Gigi is shockingly young, especially given the breathtaking stitched-tartan lewk she hits the runway with in her intro video. After describing her early work in drag being on social media and in venues that also sported rock-climbing walls, Gigi calls herself a "half-bedroom queen, half-rock wall girl," which is pretty funny. She's out to prove that she's "so much more than a look queen," which is clearly a common theme this season, as the rise of Instagram-based drag is coming more and more into conflict with queens who work the drag clubs. But among all the look queens, Gigi may just have have the goods to go farthest.
Heidi N Closet (24, Ramseur, North Carolina) is one of the quirkier queens this year, a performance queen who's been doing drag for five years, though she says we shouldn't pay any attention to those first three years (naturally this only piques interest). Heidi — whose full name is "Heidi Nina Closet," which makes sense if you pronounce "Nina" with a short "i" — is a pageant queen with classy-lady airs and an oddball sense of humor. She also claims she can fit three quarters in the gap between her front teeth, which just HAS to get featured on the season.
Jackie Cox (34, New York City) is, if you can believe it, an NYC queen with a healthy appreciation for musical theater and cabaret! She describes her "cool aunt" aesthetic as alternately campy and nerdy. She pledges to bring the classic Drag Race values: charisma, uniqueness, nerd, and talent. Jackie is the first queen of Iranian heritage (she's Iranian/Canadian) to compete on Drag Race. She describes herself as a "voice for the shy" out there; let's hope she's more voice than shy.
Jaida Essence Hall (32, Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is a pageant champion who sticks up for the value of pageant queens in the drag world. Her motto is "Don't worry about me." Jaida, like Brita, is all over the Season 12 trailer, so expect her to be a major presence. She's a bit light on talking points in her video, but everything she says is delivered with what Whoopi Goldberg's Sister Mary Clarence might call "an 'A' with an attitude."
Jan (26, New York City) is another casualty of brand concerns, so goodbye Jan Sport and hello to the far more generic Jan (which is just fine with us if it inspires a Brady Bunch callback from Ru). Jan is the drag daughter of Season 9 queen Alexis Michelle, who reached out to Jan after she saw Jan doing a Kris Jenner impersonation much like the one Alexis did in Season 9. Jan's talent is for singing live, and she's inspired by the likes of Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande.
Nicky Doll (28, New York City) is a look queen with inspirations that run from anime to Fashion Week. She could also be a dead ringer for former Real Housewife Yolanda Hadid. She's lived in Morocco and comes to New York City by way of Paris, France. She seems comfortable working in both continental and punk looks. If she can serve up performances on par with her looks, she could be a formidable threat indeed.
Rock M. Sakura (28, San Francisco, California) is an anime J-pop manga queen who is excited to represent the diversity of her city. While she recognizes that looking fish (i.e. like a realistic woman) is a possible weakness of hers, she is also out to prove she's more than just a looks queen. She describes herself as being "like a lithium battery," in that everything she touches just brightens up.
Sherry Pie (27, New York City) is an NYC queen with a vintage look and a campy personality. Think Nina West but on uppers. Her act, she says, is a blend of "classic camp and a little glamour and a bit of referential gay culture." More than any of the other club queens, Sherry expressed an outright dismay with drag's shift towards fashion/looks/Intagram queens. "I consider myself the past of drag," she says, "and also the future." We'll see if she's also drag's present.
Widow Von'Du (30, Kansas City, Missouri) takes her name from a combination of Kat Von D and Erykah Badu. She's a profoundly interesting queen who can hopefully weather the early onslaught of the competition. Describing herself as "a ratchet-ass queen with high class fashion," she's eager to show off her tattoos and is proud to be the latest big girl to compete. She just wants to be the first one to win. "I'm not mean, I just paint that way" is her motto.
RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12 kicks off on VH1 tonight at 8:00 PM ET
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.