It’s hard to believe it took nine seasons for Lady Gaga to guest-star on RuPaul’s Drag Race. She is, after all, the disco-stick-riding LGBTQ advocate and woman of charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent who dueted with RuPaul Charles on a 2013 Thanksgiving special; made “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen!” a national catchphrase (heard even at the Super Bowl); and released a lyric video starring Drag Race all-stars Detox, Shangela, Shannell, Willam, Courtney Act, and Morgan McMichaels. She even has her own drag-king alter ego, Jo Calderone! But finally, on Friday’s RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 premiere, Mother Monster joined recent Emmy-winner Mama Ru in the Werk Room, and #OhMyGaga quickly became a trending hot topic.
And Gaga made the grandest Drag Race entrance since Ornacia in Season 6, temporarily tricking the 13 contestants into thinking she was a 14th hopeful (Ronnie, “New Jersey’s No. 1 Lady Gaga impersonator”). Eventually, the queens saw past her heavily painted poker face, and realized this was not a perfect illusion — that she was born this way, and this was the real Stefani Germanotta standing in front of them. And that was when the show totally turned into RuPaul’s Best Friends’ Race, as Gaga and the screaming queens bonded adorably over their love of drag as both an art form and an emotional outlet.
One queen, Eureka O’Hara, became especially emotional, breaking down in sobs upon meeting her idol and exclaiming, “I have been the closest to death, and you’ve pulled me out of it. You don’t even realize what you do for people, and how much you inspire people like me and all of us. I just want to tell you you’re so amazing, and I never thought in the world I would ever meet you. I just think you’re so incredible. You allow us to be who we are. As an artist, thank you.”
Everybody say love, indeed. Gaga readily reciprocated the affection, telling all 13 queens, “I have always admired the craftsmanship that goes into what you all do. Drag has for me been an opportunity to leave myself, when I didn’t want to be me and I felt so completely out of place when I was in high school. Drag has just been part of my life for the longest time. It’s just really an honor for me to be here, to be here with you.”
In an online bonus clip, Gaga nostalgically explained the inspiration behind her glue-gunned, DIY drag ensemble. “We used things that are not really super-expensive. … We really wanted to be inspired by where I began, which is just like you guys. I was in the Lower East Side with Lady Starlight, who was my original partner,” she said (referring to an era that she recently told Yahoo Music was “silly fun, probably some of the best memories I have in my life”). “We used to pick up the fabrics… you go home and sew as quick as you can for your gig. It’s something that gave me so much joy when I felt so lonely.”
This was truly TV herstory in the making. The only slight problem with Gaga’s participation in Friday’s premiere was that she pulled focus from the actual contestants. It was impossible for her not to, even when serving relatively sedate executive realness in the black pantsuit and sensible spectacles she sported for the judging segment — she’s Lady Gaga, after all! The only time the contestants truly had their time to shine was in the final minutes of the episode, but even then, they were wearing outfits inspired by — you guessed it — Lady Gaga herself.
However, during this part of the competition, some of this season’s queens did reach the edge of glory, making even the guest judge of honor gag on their ele-Gaga-ganza. And kudos that none of them went for the obvious option: There wasn’t a meat dress in sight! (Season 4’s Phi Phi O’Hara — no relation to this season’s Eureka, presumably — already did meat-dress drag at last year’s VMAs.)
Below, I personally rank the queens’ Gaga homages in descending order of sickening-ness.
1. Sasha Velour (“Applause” music video, 2013)
Sasha — the bold, bald, artsy weirdo/fashionista who has quickly become my Season 9 favorite — received all my applause, applause, applause for her full face of Pat McGrath Pierrot paint and perfectly cinched silhouette. This was pure ARTPOP.
2. Aja (Comme des Garçons, 2012)
Five years ago, when nasty gossip blogs were all abuzz about Gaga’s weight gain, she held up a very fashionable middle finger to her body-shamers by donning Comme des Garçons’s figure-obscuring felt illusion dress — proving that beauty has no specific size or shape. This week, edgy Brooklyn queen Aja continued to redefine standard concepts of beauty by wearing a replica of that two-dimensional frock, paired with a face of willfully ratchet punk-rock makeup. This look certainly didn’t fall flat on the runway.
3. Valentina (CDFA Awards, 2011)
The sassy, theatrical, proud Latina queen looked so impossibly sleek and chic, Gaga declared her the best runway model of this challenge.
4. Trinity Taylor (American Horror Story: Hotel, 2015)
Trinity claimed earlier that she’s all about body-ody-ody and showing skin, but for her eerie, elegant transformation into Gaga’s Countess, most of her skin was covered — in blood. Trinity truly channeled the vampiric glamour of Gaga’s Golden Globe-winning AHS character, from the tips of her flawlessly coiled retro hairdo to the tip of that single deadly, razor-sharp fingernail. This was look was so fierce, it was scary!
5. Charlie Hides (Brit Awards, 2010)
It’s hard to believe that Charlie is 52 (the oldest contestant to ever compete on the show); she looked positively ageless and timeless in this ethereal outfit. However, Charlie’s experience as a veteran celebrity impersonator did show in her attention to detail. This outfit was an almost exact replica of Gaga’s floaty Francesco Scognamiglio cape, and even Gaga was impressed by Charlie’s intricate, Philip Treacy-inspired lace mask and perfectly piled-high bouffant.
6. Nina Bo’Nina Brown (MTV Video Music Awards, 2009)
This was a sentimental favorite for Gaga, who audibly gasped when she saw Nina emerge in scarlet lace and declared the 2009 VMAs “one of the most important nights of my life.” Nina ended up winning the challenge. I still think Sasha should have come out on top, but I do have to give Nina credit for fearlessly, gracefully walking that slippery runaway with lace obscuring her vision.
7. Shea Couleé (Monster Ball Tour, 2010)
This feisty Chicago club kid lost points for not nailing all the details, but Gaga gave her props for getting just the right shade of “urine blonde” for that wig — so that makes Shea a contender for No. 1, so to speak!
8. Peppermint (Grammy Awards, 2016)
This queen’s interpretation of Lady Gaga’s Bowie-tribute Grammy getup was notable for honoring not one but two gender-bending rock icons. But like some other outfits on this list, it could have benefited from some keener attention to detail. Peppermint’s slicked-back, nuclear-orange Ziggy hair was on point, but Gaga was correct when she noted that David Bowie would have never worn those giant hoop earrings, which rendered the effect more ’90s pop than ’70s glam.
9. Alexis Michelle (Golden Globes, 2016)
This was one of the subtler and more conservative looks of the night, which is why it’s not higher in my ranking. But Broadway queen Alexis did get the construction and proportions just right with her replica of Gaga’s custom, padded-hipped, black velvet Atelier Versace awards gown. Gaga called the effect “stunning.”
10. Eureka O’Hara (“Telephone” music video, 2009)
She didn’t rock any yellow crime-scene tape or Coke-can hair-curlers, but self-declared “big pageant girl” Eureka still evoked pure women’s-prison glamour, proving that Latex and horizontal stripes aren’t just for size 0 queens.
11. Farrah Moan (“Alejandro” music video, 2009)
The young Vegas queen could have pushed this look a little more (and the judges complained that her voluminous robe overwhelmed her tiny frame). But Gaga noted that Farrah’s makeup was impeccable. And to quote All-Stars 2 winner Alaska, that was Farrah’s hair; she doesn’t wear wigs.
12. Jaymes Mansfield (Vogue, 2012)
Gaga’s Marc Jacobs couture was absolutely the wrong vibe for comedy queen Jaymes, who portrayed a hot-mess version of the Vogue covergirl with a messy updo and drunken, stumbling gait. Jaymes should have gone for a wackier look — the 2011 Grammys egg, the 2013 VMAs seashell bikini, the Kermit coat, the bubble dress, the made-out-of-actual-hair hair bow, even the meat dress — instead of trying to mock one of the Lady’s more ladylike ensembles.
13. Kimora Blac (“On the Go,” 20??)
Kimora really phoned it in — and I don’t mean “Telephone”’d it in — with this generic pleather S&M getup. It looked like she’d picked it up at a Hollywood Boulevard fetish shop on her way to the set, and there was nothing iconic or recognizably Gagaesque about it. Kimora would have been better off going to Party City. This was cheap, but not chic.
Lady Gaga leads a Season 9 RuPaul’s Drag Race lineup that in the coming weeks will also feature pop-star guest judges Kesha, the B-52’s, Meghan Trainor, Todrick Hall, and Tamar Braxton. You. Betta. Watch.