A Brief History of Wig Reveals on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

What comes to mind when I say the words “wig reveal” to you? Do you think of Roxxxy Andrews so infamously pulling off one wig to reveal another wig during RuPaul’s Drag Race’s fifth season? Do you think of Sasha Velour’s rose petals cascading out of her voluminous red hair during the season nine finale? Or do you think back to a different era of the show, when merely removing your wig was on its own a stunt?

More than the death drop or the split, the wig reveal is the signature move of the RuPaul’s Drag Race lip sync. In its many versions over the years, it has supplied some of the biggest thrills, all while evolving as a move over 12 seasons of the show. As part of our celebration of the show’s 10th anniversary, we’ve put together a brief history of the wig reveal on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Follow along with us as we examine every ripped follicle to determine just how this trend has stayed alive for a decade.

The first pull

Funny enough, the first “wig pull” wasn’t really a pull at all. At the climax of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s third-ever episode, Las Vegas queen Shannel fell into the bottom two. She faced off against Akashia, a skilled lip syncer who had just saved herself from elimination twice. The song was Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” a song seemingly a better fit for Akashia than Shannel. Moreover, Shannel had just received tough critiques for her lack of vulnerability.

So it was a minor miracle, then, that Shannel’s headpiece fell off during her lip sync. It revealed a bit more of herself literally and gave her a big breakthrough moment. She won the lip sync, and stayed safe until the top four.

Of course, it wasn’t an accident. During the season one reunion, Shannel admitted to making the headpiece fall off intentionally. The “vulnerable” moment was a farce. But in the process of doing so, Shannel incidentally started a movement.

After Shannel’s headpiece trick, more traditional wig pulls became the norm on the show. Bebe Zahara Benet successfully used one to beat Ongina on Britney Spears’ “Stronger” later that season. Sahara Davenport’s got lost in a flurry of manic moves opposite Shangela during season two’s “Cover Girl” showdown. Even when the move felt desperate, as it did when Shangela and Venus D’Lite faced off to the tune of Vanessa Williams’ “The Right Stuff” in season three, it still remained popular. In fact, the first instance of a wig pull loss occurred later in that season, when Yara Sofia gave up in her lip sync against Alexis Mateo.

Still, even after that loss, a wig reveal wasn’t a fatal move yet until Milan got her hands on it, that is.

Cause of death: Milan

At the start of season four, the mood in the Drag Race workroom had shifted. There was not one wig reveal until the fourth episode of the season, when both Milan and Madame LaQueer removed their hair as they lip synced to P!nk’s “Trouble.” But as soon as they did so, fellow competitor Willam cut in with some tough commentary: “I don’t understand why people take their wigs off. It’s a drag show, not wig wars.”

Something changed after Willam said that. The next wig reveal was once again Milan’s on “Born This Way,” and the move lost her the lip sync to Jiggly Caliente. After that, every wig reveal for the remainder of the season was either an accident (Phi Phi O’Hara’s hair coming off during “It’s Raining Men (The Sequel)”) or seen as pathetic (Kenya Michaels’ wig rip during “Natural Woman”). Going into season five, it was clear that the standard wig pull would no longer be acceptable. Someone had to innovate.

Game changer

In her audition tape for RuPaul’s Drag Race, season five queen Ivy Winters did a wig pull with something of a twist: Instead of merely revealing a cap, or her natural hair, Ivy unleashed a full second wig underneath the first. Because it was just an audition tape, the move didn’t get much traction but one of Ivy’s fellow season five queens managed to pull it off on the main stage. That queen, of course, was Roxxxy Andrews.

Part of what makes Roxxxy’s wig-under-a-wig reveal so iconic is the circumstances surrounding it. She was lip syncing against Alyssa Edwards to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” a perfect moment to drop such a move. But the other part is just the sheer audacity of the move. Drag is, at its core, about subverting expectations. Having a whole other wig underneath the one you have on is the definition of such a subversion.

The wig under another wig became the standard, with Laganja Estranja and Peppermint most infamously repeating the trick in their respective seasons. Other queens tried to do more simple wig pulls, including Naysha Lopez and Robbie Turner in season eight, only to be eliminated every time. The only instance of a simple wig pull not resulting in an elimination was Ginger Minj and Sasha Belle on “I Think We’re Alone Now,” but that lip sync was so insane that you barely notice their wigs are gone anyway.

Innovation in bloom

By the time Peppermint did another wig-under-a-wig reveal during the season nine finale, though, the trick was growing somewhat tired. No longer was the move subversive; instead, it felt expected. Once again, someone needed to move the goal post forward.

We didn’t have to wait long, though. The very next lip sync in that finale brought us Sasha Velour and the “So Emotional” rose petals. No longer was a wig reveal about hair at all it was about what kind of explosive, absurd, off-the-wall thing could come from between your scalp and hairpiece. The rest, as they say, is herstory.

During All Stars 3, Bebe Zahara Benet made a major unforced error when facing off against BenDeLaCreme in a lip sync to Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.” She was, to be blunt, murdering the lip sync, Ben, and everything around her. It was a bloodbath, one of the show’s all-time greatest lip sync performances.

Then she took off her wig. And there was nothing underneath.

In that moment, the evolution from Shannel to Sasha was complete. The winner of season one was playing by season one rules, unaware of how far the wig reveal had come since then.

The mistake will be made again, of course Monique Heart just made it during season 10’s “Cut to the Feeling” lip sync. But for both Bebe and Monique, there’s no longer an excuse. On Drag Race, knowing what was subversive and exciting a decade ago is pointless: innovating into the future is the only way forward. That is what makes or breaks a queen, and what can prepare them to become America’s Next Drag Superstar.

Tags: Drag, TV
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