A panel at 2018’s RuPaul’s Drag Con LA brought together five very different drag queens Pandora Boxx, Latrice Royale, BenDeLaCreme, Cynthia Lee Fontaine, and Valentina for one very specific reason. Though their style ranges from the classic to the campy, and their comedy differs from the loud-and-broad to the quiet-and-quirky, they share a vital trait in common: They were all voted Miss Congeniality on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
At other Drag Cons, such a panel might be a fun diversion, a chance to see some of the most fan-beloved queens come together for a kiki. But season nine Miss Congeniality Valentina’s presence on the panel indicated this would be a different kind of conversation: one about the very nature of being Miss Congeniality. After all, Valentina’s win caused such a stir not just within the fandom, but among the other queens, that the rest of the season nine girls led a small rebellion to change the name of the award to Fan Favorite.
The “Fan Favorite” joke was a popular one during the panel. Moderator and Extra Lap recap show host John Polly even made it a question, asking about the importance of fans to the Miss Congenialities. But it wasn’t until Valentina herself answered a question about what makes a Miss Congeniality “or a Fan Favorite,” Polly noted that the controversial nature of Valentina’s win came up, though subtly.
“To be honest, I was voted Miss Congeniality, [but] on my season there were very congenial queens,” she said. “Cynthia, and Peppermint. [Miss] Congeniality or Fan Favorite, you might call it was something voted for me by people. Now I have to live up to the standard for myself to always be Miss Congeniality. I feel a lot more responsibility to be a lot more congenial than I actually am.”
Valentina is never going to be the queen to say ‘I didn’t deserve this award.’ But the fact that she gestured at other congenial queens, noted her own desire to be more congenial, and feeling like receiving the award gave her a new standard to strive for? That all indicates she knows why she won, and is trying to make the most of it.
The Miss Congeniality vs. Fan Favorite problem extends far back into Drag Race herstory. Of the nine Miss Congenialities, the award went to a clear Fan Favorite four times (season two’s Pandora Boxx, season six’s BenDeLaCreme, season seven’s Katya, and season nine’s Valentina), and a clear Miss Congeniality three times (season three’s Yara Sofia, season five’s Ivy Winters, and season eight’s Cynthia Lee Fontaine). Only twice did the award go to a queen who could totally fulfill both titles: season one’s Nina Flowers, and season four’s Latrice Royale. This is not to say that Katya and Ben weren’t congenial, for instance, or that the purer Miss Congenialities weren’t also beloved by fans just that it’s rare to feel a complete balance between the two sides of the award.
This year, we’re facing a potential split once again. Season 10’s Monique Heart, the “ooh-ah-ah sensation,” would be the clear Miss Congeniality, but love for the scrappy underdog Miz Cracker abides online, particularly in the show’s thriving-and-infamous subreddit. The answer would seem to be a simple one: split the award into a Miss Congeniality prize that the queens themselves vote on, as is done in pageants, and make Fan Favorite a separate award. Get a sponsor to give $5,000 for each. If a queen happens to win both, good for her! She’s $10,000 richer.
But even though I had been a supporter of such a plan in the past, Valentina’s answer made me reconsider. If winning Miss Congeniality has challenged her to be more congenial and, judging by her reception by the other queens on the panel, there does seem to be genuine affection for her maybe the prize should remain the same. Maybe Miss Congeniality can be not just a reward, but a motivation for queens to do more.
When the prize was first introduced in season one, I doubt anyone thought Miss Congeniality would turn into such a contentious title. But it is nonetheless, and will likely remain such. For the girls who win it, the best example to follow may well be Valentina’s: take the honor with a smile, and rise up.