“You better werk!”: The best guest judges on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’
So much of the soul in RuPaul’s Drag Race comes from the queens sashaying across the runway and Mama Ru herself. They may be the base, but the judges rotating around that table are the accessories that take the outfit from “meh” to “fabulous!” The judges’ personal tastes help the queens go outside their boundaries time and again.
Of course we can’t talk judges without talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race’s regulars. Mama Ru and Michelle Visage have been keeping the queens fierce yet humble since season three when Michelle came on board. Michelle is definitely ready to call out a queen when she’s a bit nasty, but will put one on a pedestal when she impresses.
RuPaul may not always be a team player (“I make the final decision!”), but she’s willing to lay it down when a queen deserves it, good or bad.
Though newer to the team, Carson Kressley and Ross Matthews have made their impact over the past five seasons. Before Tan France took over the fashonista role in the Netflix version of Queer Eye, Carson was the original fashion diva on the Bravo version, and could critique queens’ outfits like no other.
Carson’s a much better fit on RuPaul’s Drag Race than the lackluster, insane juice-faster that was Santino from earlier seasons. Ross may definitely sound like a Valley girl in tone, but his tongue’s sharp as Dorothy Parker’s and he can keep up with his fellow judges.
But the true stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race are the guest stars of each episode who fill the bonus judge seat. So many iconic faces have found their way onto Drag Race: fashion designers, pop stars, actors, and even a top Japanese mascot. We’ve rounded up the ones who make the cut as the best judges the show has to offer.
Hello Kitty (S7E11)
Probably the cutest of all the guest judges, Japan’s own cat celebrity took a turn during season seven. If you wanna see season winner Violet’s strongest performance all season, just take a gander at the way she works with this challenge to see why Hello Kitty is the perfect choice for a Drag Race guest judge.
Her reaction to the BFF Violet created is the purest moment in all of Drag Race history – but then again, Hello Kitty is the purest judge, too.
John Waters (S7E9)
John Waters, the man, the legend, the Pope of Trash. Without John Waters, RuPaul’s Drag Race probably wouldn’t exist – and don’t Mama Ru know it? As such, she created a whole tribute show around his apperance, which will go down in queer history as one of the most entertaining hours of TV ever.
John Waters helped springboard the career of the first ever drag superstar, Divine, and has created some of the queerest, campiest, most twisted cinema ever. This episode was the perfect opportunity for RuPaul to honor John Waters as well as expose him to any children unfamiliar with his epic body of work.
Watching the queens recreate scenes from some of his films (Hairspray, Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos) was the perfect challenge, and seeing Waters get in some reads on the runway made our jaded hearts skip a beat.
Khloe Kardashian (S6E2)
Say what you will about the Kardashians – and you’re 100% right trashing them – all of those girls were born to read without even knowing what reading is. Khloe has made a name for herself in television and it shows: she’s ready to partay with the queens. Khloe isn’t afraid to criticize a queen when called for, but she’s all about showing off your tatas and getting loose, something we appreciate in a Drag Race judge.
Bob Mackie (S1E1)
Nothing can beat the original, and what better way to start RuPaul’s Drag Race than with the legendary showgirl fashion designer himself judging “Drag on a Dime”? You can tell how well Bob and RuPaul got along for so long: Bob can bring it when he needs to. Even the amazing job of Bob as the first guest judge couldn’t rescue season one from being named “The Lost Season”.
Dita Von Teese (S2E2)
You can’t have a burlesque challenge without an actual burlesque performer. Like we said before, Drag Race is all about being sexy and making sure your tatas look good. Dita didn’t earn the title “Queen of Burlesque” for nothing.
The performer makes it clear that Team Sahara knew what they were doing, even if Tyra was giving their team trouble. Von Teese may not be the most bubbly judge – but she is one of the most poised & professional.
La Toya Jackson (S3E4 & 13)
Since La Toya’s earlier RuPaul’s Drag Race appearance got overshadowed by the infamous “Drag is not a contact sport!” incident, let’s focus on the episode in which she actually gets to shine. The girls lip-sync to La Toya’s “Just Wanna Dance” and she loves almost everything about everyone’s look. Of course, listening to her call out Manila’s hair for being too big is hilarious, considering some of the looks La Toya’s sported over the years.
Margaret Cho (S3E12)
Cho is known for being risqué and rebellious, so judging contestants cheering about safe sex is right up her alley. Give us a C, an O, an N, a D, an O, and an M! Maggie knows just what smart comments to make, not only about the transformations but also the awful cheers. Comics are usually the best judges on Drag Race, and Cho is no exception.
Pamela Anderson (S4E8)
Pamela definitely knows how to make your assets work for you, if you catch our drift, so judging how these queens werk it is a perfect match. Plus, anyone who can keep a straight face judging a RuPaul’s Drag Race singing episode is a pro in our book. The actress brought a positive attitude to a bizarre episode that needed some extra positivity.
Janice Dickenson (All Stars S1E3)
Janice said herself she’s “to America’s Next Top Model what Simon Cowell was to American Idol” and she brings that same energy to her guest spot on Drag Race All Stars season one.
Though the Punk’d-style challenge is uncomfortable for everyone, watching Janice read the queens during the group runway walk feels so good – especially for the teams who can’t work together, even if they are the last two people on earth.
Chaz Bono (S5E4)
The child of Sonny & Cher judging a RuPaul’s Drag Race extravaganza challenge? Talk about fulfilling your life’s purpose. The extravaganza is designed to be good for performance art as well, so it’s definitely an area of expertise for Chaz.
The Pointer Sisters (S5E6)
We already said above how much we love LaToya, but putting her next to actual Motown legends to judge the RuPaul’s Drag Race singing challenge this season is just shady. The fashion challenge brings out the best in Anita & Ruth, as they’re quick to get rowdy & loud about their favorites. They bring the energy to the panel even some of the better judges on this list can’t.
Linda Blair (S6E3)
If you’re gonna do a RuPaul’s Drag Race horror challenge, ya gotta bring a horror icon, and God knows no one wanted to see Sharon Needles again. The original scream queen herself, Linda Blair, is there and ready to go. Linda can see when someone’s ready to get squirted with fake blood, and the way she praises Team Milk shows she knows how to turn the party.
Leah Remini (S6E7)
This may seem like a weird selection for a guest judge, but then once you see Michelle and Leah together, you know why they’ve been friends for so long. Leah plays off Michelle so well, and it makes sense that Leah would want to come on Drag Race to support the launch of RuPaul’s new makeup collection. If only Leah weren’t wrapped up in all that Mindhead bull, she could be a regular judge.
Paula Abdul (S6E9)
Paula’s definitely not the same cheerful judge she was in her American Idol days; she’s ready to call out anyone who deserves it on this Drag Race ep. The interview challenge is rough for most of the queens, and Paula critiqued honestly while still giving them the sweetness they deserve. Amazingly, Paula’s still got what it takes to be a great judge.
Tamar Braxton (S7E7)
We wish Tamar gave her best Roxxy Andrews impression in this Drag Race ep, because that would’ve been the perfect addition to the Snatch Game. When the queens have to nail their impressions, it’s important the judges help them out. Tamar knows how to play this game the right way. She’s sharp, hilarious, outspoken, fabulous, and knows how to bring all that drama.
Debbie Harry (S8E4)
When you think 80s New Wave bands, easily near the top comes Blondie. Of course, you gotta get the lead singer in there to read these girls and separate the players from the haters. Between the . . . ahem . . . “singing” and the disgusting amount of neon, it’s a miracle Debbie survived Drag Race. But the pop icon held her own against a loud challenge, both in vocals and runway looks.
Marc Jacobs (S8E6)
It took this long to get such a fashion icon on as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Fair enough: some of the outfits are a catastrophe – but it would be a gas to see the queens get ripped to shreds by a true giant of couture.
The main challenge is very fashion design-heavy, so it’s the perfect time to introduce a man like Marc Jacobs. He brings the professional angle to the makeover scene, even if the costumes look like dollar store knockoffs Jacobs’s style.
Jeremy Scott (All Stars S2E3)
Head of fashion house Moschino Jeremy Scott is known for incorporating pop-culture icons into his designs, so he knows just what the queens are working with in this Drag Race challenge. Jeremy susses out whether these queens are over the target or just calling their design “Princess Diana” with no clue about her real look.
This Drag Race challenge has Jeremy Scott’s name all over it. He’s the perfect judge to tell when a queen’s giving some realness.
Lady Gaga (S9E1)
Mother Monster may have taken 11 seasons to show up, but she finally finds her way behind the judges’ table. Do we really need to explain why she’s the perfect judge for RuPaul’s Drag Race? The entire runway approach is based on her concert looks. That right there says it all.
Tituss Burgess (All Stars S3E5)
The king of one-liners, Tituss is the tea-spilling judge we all needed in a lackluster All Stars season. He’s one shady bitch, reading these queens harder than Bianca Del Rio herself. Side note: can we get a future episode in which she returns as a guest judge alongside Tituss? That’s the dream team combo we children need.
Courtney Love (S10E3)
Not too many rock stars stop by RuPaul’s Drag Race, so getting Courtney Love was a huge deal. She’s clearly just giddy to be there, like a kid in the candy store. It’s not the reading fest we were hoping for from a girl like Court, but that’s okay. Sometimes the queens need a little bit of encouragement with their feedback to keep going.
Tiffany Pollard (S11E4)
Talk about a queen who knows how to play the game. Tiffany is no stranger to the reality show world and knows what’s up with these queens behind the scenes. Not only does Tiffany read these bitches about their looks, but about everything they’re giving on Drag Race, even off-camera.
Natasha Lyonne (S11E9)
Improv and a reading challenge? You need a judge who knows how to serve face. No wonder RuPaul hit up Natasha Lyonne to judge Drag Race – the runway look focuses on covering up your mug while still serving, after all. Natasha is on fire as much as her hair is during her appearance.
Wanda Sykes and Lena Waithe (S11E11)
We’re focusing on individual Drag Race judges rather than pairs because each shines individually, but doesn’t always have the greatest chemistry with fellow judges. However, Wanda Sykes and Lena Waithe not only bring it on an individual level, but have such great chemistry you’ll be laughing hard before they even get to judge any queens.
The fire is hot and the tea is scalding when these two start reading. With such a tough challenge – having to dress up the queens that got sent home – the drama in the room is palpable. Wanda and Lena easily break the tension and tell it like it is on the runway.