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Above, Season 4's first mini-challenge (2012) Below: Alexander McQueen's Summer 1999 runway show
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When RuPaul's Drag Race started out, it was a bit... different from most other reality shows. Aside from the subject matter, portraying drag queens in a realistic light, which even in 2009 was controversial, the entire presentation was different than what other reality shows did. Slang terms exclusive to gay and drag queen communities were being said on TV for the first time, RuPaul was constantly joking with the contestants and having fun on the show, and the show was willing to break its own format for the sake of a joke. In its earlier seasons, drag race was more a parody of reality shows that an honest reality show itself. A part of this meant lots and lots of references to almost every aspect of gay culture. Even in more recent years, as the show has somewhat mellowed out, it continues to be borderline Reference Overdosed with the number of shout outs made in the average episode.

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This is a page to catalog the many, many references made throughout Drag Race's lifetime.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     General 
  • About 90% of the lingo used on the show ("shade", "reading", "sashay", "shante") is a reference to the film Paris Is Burning. Ru explicitly mentions the movie whenever it's time for the reading mini-challenge.
  • The suits Ru wears in boy mode at the beginning of each episode have been referred to as "Tim Gunn drag".
  • The Once a Season "Snatch Game" challenge is a reference to the game show Match Game.

     Season 1 
  • A scene that only appears in the Episode 1 promo montage has Ru screaming "How dare you! I flew you first class to this competition!" at an unseen queen. This is likely a parody of the famous "I was rooting for you!" scene from America's Next Top Model.

     Season 2 
  • The first challenge of this season had the queens making outfits out of curtains. The photo shoot mini-challenge also paid tribute to the movie by having the girls pose in a Civil War battlefield.
  • This season had the very first appearance of Snatch Game, and the episode parodied several other game shows in the process.
    • The mini-challenge involved trying to guess the price of drag queen products like duct tape and glue sticks.
    • On the runway, rather than Ru telling each queen whether they were safe, they found out by opening a briefcase which would either contain a heel or no heel.
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     Season 3 
  • The name of Mariah and Delta's character in the sci-fi acting challenge is "Boobarella".
  • A mini challenge late in the season had the queens selling products on "RuVC"

     Season 4 
  • As seen in the page image, the first mini-challenge of this season had the queens wearing white dresses and spinning on a turntable while being sprayed with paint. This was a reference to an Alexander McQueen fashion exhibition from 1999 where the exact same thing was done.
  • The first episode, being apocalypse-themed, contains a few other references to apocalypse movies and scenarios.
    • Ru claims that the only things that will survive the apocalypse are "cockroaches, Cher, and drag queen zombies".
    • In response to Phi Phi's outfit on the runway, Santino exclaims, "Maybe we do need another hero".
  • After Kenya Michaels' piss-poor Beyoncé impression on Snatch Game, Ru announces her up for elimination with the line "Kenya Michaels, impersonating Beyoncé is not your destiny, child."

     Season 5 
  • The episode in which the queens create their own children's shows is titled "Draggle Rock".
  • In the season finale, Ru explains that his over the top pronunciation of "Ivyyyy Winterssss" is a very specific reference to the way LaToya Jackson introduced Edgar Winter during a 1989 concert she held. LaToya is brought out to recreate the moment, and is clearly just as confused as everyone else.

     Season 6 
  • The season's acting challenge was called "Drag Race Me to Hell".
  • Shade: The Rusical, a main stage performance stuffed to the gills with Broadway references:
    • At the end of Act 1, DeLa repeatedly yells "Drink for me!" at Courtney.
    • Courtney's line "And you, and you, and all of you: I'll make you love me." references "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls.
    • Milk's character is named "Les Mizabella," a reference to both Les Misérables and Grizabella from Cats.
    • During the final song all the girls sing "2,603,040 sisters", which the musical's writer said was directly meant to reference "525,600 minutes" from RENT.
  • One group in the season's rap challenge was called the "Ru Tang Clan".

     Season 7 
  • The "How's your head?" line that Miss Fame infamously didn't understand was taken from the first Elvira movie.
  • When Santino does his workroom walkthrough and jokingly flirts with Violet, she asks him if they can go to Red Lobster. This is a reference to a scene from Project Runway (which Santino started as a contestant on) where Santino does an impression of Tim Gunn going on a date with fellow contestant Andrae to Red Lobster.

     Season 8 
  • The shot of Morgan firing a ping pong ball out of her ass is a reference to a scene from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
  • One challenge had the girls performing an a capella group lip sync. The tile of the challenge was "Bitch Perfect".
  • Upon seeing Betty's apocalyptic roller girl outfit, Ru shouts out "Acid Betty: Beyond Thunderdome".
  • Season 8 started the trend of acting challenges parodying specific shows, with RuCo's Empire.
  • The "Night of 1000 Madonnas" runway had everyone donning famous looks worn by the Queen of Pop.
  • When Robbie Turner comes out in her Cowardly Lion-inspired outfit, Ru tells the other judges "okay nobody mention Cecil", a reference to the controversial trophy killing of a lion named Cecil that happened a few weeks before the season started filming.

     Season 9 
  • As a theater performer, Alexis Michelle made several musical theater references throughout her time on the show:
  • During one the "Naughty Nighties" runway, where Shea Coulee came out wearing vintage-looking lingerie, Ru immediately screamed out "He had it coming!" Especially appropriate, as Shea is from Chicago.
  • Whereas Shade: The Rusical was a shout out to the musical genre as a whole, Kardashian: The Musical was specifically a shout out to Hamilton, which premiered after the first musical challenge and was enough of a cultural phenomenon to merit its own homage. Several direct Hamilton references can be seen throughout.
  • After Nina gets extremely emotional on the main stage, Ru drops the brilliant one-liner "Nina Bo'Nina Brown, tonight you stepped out on the runway looking like Mary J. Blige, but please, No More Drama."
  • The "Night of 1000 Madonnas" runway makes a return, this time with Ru taking note to tell nobody to wear a kimono.
  • The acting challenge was called 9021-Ho.
  • Another challenge, the RuPaul Roast, saw Alexis Michelle with painted green skin, the judges immediately referencing her to Elphaba from Wicked. During the proceeding lip sync, Alexis even pulls out a tiny witch hat to further cement the connection.

     Season 10 
  • The Bossy Rossy Show was a parody of Maury and Jerry Springer.
  • Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical challenge is chock-full of Cher references. Each verse lifts its tune from a Cher song appropriate to the era:
    • Kameron's verse used the tune of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" along with some "I Got You Babe."
    • Monet's verse was a combination of "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and "Half-Breed."
    • The Vixen's verse used "Dark Lady."
    • Aquaria's verse was inspired by "Take Me Home." The line "even wear roller skates" specifically references "Hell On Wheels" from the same era.
    • Asia's verse references "That's Amore." While not performed by Cher, it's the theme tune to Cher's starring movie Moonstruck.
    • Eureka's verse uses "If I Could Turn Back Time."
    • Cracker's autotune-heavy verse is a clear reference to "Believe."
  • The season's acting challenge was called Breastworld.

     Season 11 
  • The acting challenge involved two Hollywood parodies: Good God Girl, Get Out and Why It Gotta Be Black, Panther?
  • Trump: The Rusical is a Whole Plot Reference to Grease.
    • The song lamenting Omarosa also has Ross call out "Loved you on Celebrity Big Brother!", a reference to the fact that Ross and Omarosa competed on the first season of the US Celebrity Big Brother together.
      • Ross himself points out this connection during the judge critiques saying "I know what Omarosa is like, I shared a toilet with her for 30 days."
  • Snatch Game: Yvie Oddly delivers a bad performance of Whoopi Goldberg, and Ru announces her up for elimination with "Yvie Oddly, after that performance as Whoopi Goldberg, you in danger, girl."
  • Season 11: L.A.D.P., the season's improv comedy challenge, was a parody of COPS.

     Season 12 
  • Jan's entrance line, "Let's play some basketball!", was a reference to a quote from Fergi's virally bad performance of the national anthem at an NBA game in 2018.
  • Episode 2's musical challenge, "You Don't Know Me", is a style parody of Bob Fosse numbers, in particular the Cell Block Tango.
  • The improv comedy challenge was called World's Worst and parodied American Idol
  • The acting challenge Gay's Anatomy.
  • Like the Cher Rusical two seasons prior, Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical is stuffed to the gills with references to Madonna's entire 40+ year career.
    • The opening scene, with Michelle in a suit and eyepatch standing close to the camera, is a reference to the "Medellín" music video which contains a similar shot.
    • Jan as Early Madonna:
      • The verse sounds like a mixture of "Lucky Star" and "Holiday". Some of the choreography is actually directly lifted from the music videos for those two songs.
      • The premise, Madonna saying she wants to rule the world, is taken from an interview Madonna gave on American Bandstand in 1983 where she stated she wishes to rule the world
    • Jackie as Boy Toy Madonna:
      • Done in the style of "Like A Virgin". Jackie's outfit, a wedding dress, was worn by Madonna on the album's cover and at her 1984 VMA performance of that song.
      • The "rolling around in a wedding gown" line is a reference to Madonna doing just that during the aforementioned performance.
      • "Just like Marilyn" references how Marilyn Monroe's influence on Madonna really came to light at this point, especially in the "Material Girl" music video. The choreography again has some direct shout outs to moves from that video.
    • Gigi as Unapologetic Madonna:
      • Done in the style of "Papa Don't Preach". Gigi's outfit and much of her choreography is again a reference to the music video.
    • Brita as Cone Bra Madonna:
      • A mixture of "Express Yourself" and "Like a Prayer". The use of tambourines near the end is especially a call out to "Like A Prayer"
      • Brita's outfit is a reference to one of Madonna's most famous outfits, her cone bra suit worn during the Blonde Ambition Tour.
    • Jaida as Sexy Madonna:
      • Done in the style of "Justify My Love". Jaida's outfit is also a copy of the outfit from the music video.
      • The lyrics and some moves also contain references to Erotica and Bedtime Stories, Madonna's two subsequent albums which contain similar erotic themes.
      • The "I made a video, it was too hot for MTV. So it became the first VHS single" references how MTV outright refused to air the music video for "Justify My Love" due to its explicit imagery, leading Madonna and her team to instead sell it on VHS tapes as a "video single".
      • "I'm seductive, not reductive" refers to an interview Madonna gave on Good Morning America in 2012, where she claims that being compared to Lady Gaga and her style feels "reductive".
    • Sherry as Movie Star Madonna:
    • Crystal as Enlightened Madonna:
      • Crystal's outfit is a copy of Madonna's outfit in the "Ray of Light" music video, with the style parodying that song as well.
      • The hand movement choreography is a reference to her 1998 VMA performance of "Shanti/Ashtangi".
    • Widow as Femmepire Madonna:
      • Done in the style of "Music", which Widow's outfit also references.
      • Widow's cane is a reference to the "Me Against the Music" video from the same time.
      • "I kissed Britney and Christina." Something Madonna infamously did at the 2003 VM As.
      • "And I liked it, Katy Perry", a reference to Katy's song "I Kissed A Girl".
    • Heidi as Madonna Forever:
      • A reference to Madonna's modern work, from American Life onward.
      • "I did pilates with some hotties in the oughts" copies "I did yoga and pilates and the room was full of hotties" from "American Life"
      • "Took to the dance floor wearing pink for my confession."
      • "Super Bowl" references her performance at the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show.
      • "Hard Candy" is a quick shout out to the album of the same name.
      • "Malawi" is a reference to Raisin Malawi, the charity Madonna founded in 2006 to benefit orphans in Malawi.
      • "I'm M.A.D.O.N.N.A., bitch!" is a reference to "Bitch I'm Madonna". The spelling out of her name is also a potential reference to "Give Me All Your Luvin'".
      • "I think the most controversial thing I have done is to stick around." is a direct quote from Madonna, at her 2016 Billboard Woman of the Year Award acceptance speech.
    • The finale number has all the queens come out, dance with hand fans, and list off many of Madonna's most well-known songs. This is a clear reference to her famous performance of "Vogue" at the 1990 VMAs.
      • "Sorry hydrangea, I still loathe you" is both a reference to "Bette Davis, we love you" from "Vogue", as well as to an incident where Madonna whispered to a friend that she loathes hydrangeas after being handed them by a fan.
  • The runway theme for the episode with Whoopi Goldberg as guest judge? "The Color Purple".
  • Due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the queens have to film the Season 12 reunion from their own homes. The producers take advantage of the "people in boxes next to each other" layout this puts the queens in, and have the queens create a music video intro for "The Shady Bunch"
    • When Brita reveals she's sheltering in her parents home in Maine, Ru tells her "If you run into Jessica Fletcher, say hi for me."
    • Ru also calls Jackie the "Susan Lucci of Drag Race."

     Season 13 

     All-Stars 1 
  • Chad Michaels enters with the line "Happy Hunger Games, bitches!"
  • The season had a replacement challenge for Snatch Game called RuPaul's Gaff-In

     All-Stars 2 
  • When Ru reveals that the queens will be eliminating each other, Ginger has a confessional where she says "You're telling me we gotta vote each other off the island now?"
  • "Herstory of the World" has many comedic references to both modern and historical events.
    • Eve's verse was done in the style of a Britney Spears song. Alaska's outfit for that challenge, with a snake around her shoulders, was referencing Britney's 2001 VMA performance.
      • The Britney allusion crosses over into Casting Gag or even Genius Bonus territory when you realize the singer of the Eve Verse is Myah Marie, one of Britney's background singers who has been accused of singing in place of Britney on some tracks.
    • Ginger Minj as Catherine the Great sings about how she "had a great many lovers that she took to bed/Every Tom, Dick, and Igor, and even Mr. Ed." Mister Ed was a talking horse from a 1960's sitcom, a joke about the myth that Catherine the Great died while banging a horse.
    • As one could guess, the verse about Eva Perón contains a number of references to Evita, specifically the lines "I'm Eva Perón, so honey don't you cry for me" and "I was Evita after all, I played it better than Madonna."
  • All Stars 2's acting challenge had a triple threat of references with Showsquirrels, Velma and Wheezy, and Wha' Ha' Happened to Baby JJ?.

     All-Stars 3 
  • The season begins with a scene showing Chad Michaels and Alaska (the two previous AS winners) dressed in the red robes and white hats of The Handmaid's Tale.
  • The improv comedy challenge was called The Bitchelor, and was a clear parody of The Bachelor.
  • For the "Flower Power" runway, Shangela wears a look meant to resemble Beyoncé's pregnancy announcement photo from 2017.
  • My Best Squirrelfriend's Dragmaid's Wedding Trip is a mashup of several Oscar movies, with each character based on an Oscar-winning female performance:

     All-Stars 4 
  • This season's spin on Snatch Game, called Snatch Game of Love, was a parody of The Dating Game.
  • During the "Boots the House Down" runway, Michelle responds to Gia's jean boot runway by saying "She wore blue... denim", a reference to the Bobby Vinton song "Blue Velvet".
  • Jersey Justice, the season's improv comedy challenge, was a parody daytime court shows such as The People's Court and Judge Judy.
  • The acting challenge Sex and the Kitty Girl.

     All-Stars 5 
  • After Mariah Balenciaga's spoken-word poetry performance in the Variety Show challenge, Jujubee gives her the nickname "Mariah Angelou".
  • The season's improv challenge was called She-MZ, a reference to infamous paparazzi show TMZ.

     UK Season 1 
  • Cheryl Hole's name is an clear reference to Cheryl, her biggest idol who she got the chance to meet during one of the season's episodes.
  • Sum Ting Wong's name is a reference to a viral video of a news anchor who was tricked into reading fake names for victims of a crashed flight.
  • Vinegar Strokes enters saying "I didn't become a little bit of a slag, I became a total slag!", a famous line said by Kat Slater from EastEnders.
  • As a reward for challenge wins, contestants receive "Ru Peter Badges".
  • The acting challenge Downton Draggy.

     UK Season 2 
  • This season's Rusical challenge was Rats: The Rusical. The show also featured a song that was an extended Take That! against the then-recent film adaption. The costumes for the "Rat Pack" feature conspicuous green gloves intended for Chroma Key, a reference to the notorious Blooper in the film's first theatrical cut in which Judi Dench's human hands could be seen in several shots without the CGI fur applied over it.
  • The season's improvisation challenge is "Morning Glory", a parody of morning talk shows in the vein of Good Morning Britain and Lorraine.
  • The singing challenge is the RuRuvision Song Contest.
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