Yikes. After last week’s lip sync bloodbath, the pressure was high to deliver this week on RuPaul’s Drag Race. The gals tried their best to step it up, but some truly lackluster creative left us with one of the limpest episodes in the series’ 11-season stretch.
With a field of competitors that still feels bloated three eliminations later, it’s more important than ever to shine under the spotlights.
Unfortunately, with challenges like these, it’s even tougher to put on a good showing.
Take last night’s mini challenge. The queens had to get in Rachel Maddow drag (am I a bad feminist for initially thinking it was a Hannah Gadsby-inspired challenge from last week’s preview?) and then deliver breaking news from a teleprompter.
Few queens even tried to approximate Rachel’s Maddowisms, with only Nina, Brooke, Yvie and Ariel registering any Rachel at all. Scarlet, whom I would slot in fifth, was awarded the win somehow. I don’t know if anyone really knocked it out of the park, including Maddow whose own read was interspersed. The copy was bad, the drag was bad and watching the queens struggle with the language wasn’t nearly as funny as they intended.
Her prize included the power to assign roles in this week’s big lip sync performance, TRUMP: The Rusical. Ugh. This is my escapism, can we just not? Everything is such a mess in the world, and the sharpest comedic minds have already wrung every drop of humor from this. After seeing the queens’ simply reading the news in the mini-challenge, I don’t need to see them *finger wag* reeeeeeaadd the news, ya know?
Scarlet wielded her power mostly responsibly, sincerely attempting to pair girls with parts that suit them. Mercedes attempted to throw herself at the largest role, which caused everyone a bit of alarm. I understand her thinking here, trying to take a big swing, but, gurl, know your limits.
Silky also wasn’t thrilled with her assigned role: Oprah. Which, huh? What are we doing here? How is Oprah involved?
There was minimal squabbling over parts before the group went to choreo with famed Deadpool ballet dancer, Yanis Marshall. In addition to being a ballet assassin, Yanis is not afraid to cut a bitch with his words. Brooke impressed Mr. Marshall with years of professional ballet training, while Ra’Jah chimed in to share she’s trained various styles. O RLY, GURL?
Turns out, that training was some 15 years ago. Ra’Jah is 33, so that basically means she was a child when she was taking dance training. It’s not the same as Brooke, not by a longshot.
Ra’Jah struggled to keep up, Scarlet looked awkward, but it was Ariel who really seemed the most shooketh. Saddled with the largest role, the Instagram queen was already feeling a little insecure. At one point during rehearsal, she completely froze.
Luckily, she did better in the performance itself. The entire thing was structured as a sort of parody of Grease, except it followed all the women in Trump’s orbit. (The less anyone tries to discern a cohesive plot or narrative arc, the better.) Even in the canon of Rusicals, this was one of the weaker entries. It was saved by some real stand-out performances from Yvie (as Kellyanne Conway), Nina (Sarah Huckabee Sanders), Brooke (Ivana Trump) and Silky (Oprah).
Oddly enough, it’s Silky that picked up the win, despite the other three queens named above outshining her (in my opinion, at least). Vanjie, Ra’Jah and, of course, Merceds fail to make an impression impersonating Rosie O’Donnell, Omarosa and Ivanka, respectively.
Most of the girls werked the runway for an Orange Alert theme, as guest judges Tiffany “New York” Pollard and The Soup‘s Joel McHale whooped and hollered. McHale irked Michelle Visage with his shouting, treating the runway more like March Madness than Mystery Science Theater.
It came down to Ra’Jah and Mercedes in the lip sync, and, really, the writing was on the wall before the track “Living In America” even began. Ra’Jah gave a lot of energy, and, even though she lost her wig during the performance, it was Mercedes’ time to go.
Let’s dive deeper into the individual performances in our rankings below.
- After a strong start and a few subsequent middling weeks, Brooke Lynn Hytes is back on top, baby. She took the relatively small role of Ivana, and she spun it into gold. She knew the character she was playing, she made smart choices about how to heighten it and delivered it flawlessly. Add to that Brooke’s futuristic knockout runway, and she is surging. (Plus, her little ‘ho-mance with Vanjie will be a storyline too delicious for producers to pass up any time soon.)
- This was a great week for Yvie. She was robbed of that win. Her performance in the Rusical was far and away the strongest. She made a full character out of Kellyanne that elevated the cheesy material to the next level. She didn’t just serve haggard, she served “Bitch, I’ve been on four morning shows, physically wrestled the President’s cell phone away, attended two couples counseling sessions, and it’s not even noon!” I loved it. On the runway, the citrus circus ensemble was a highlight, especially alongside so many similar showgirl looks.
- Even though I may be the world’s biggest Silky STAN, I wasn’t nearly as enamored with her performance this week as the judges were. Her Oprah was on-target, but I don’t think she brought anything extra to the part. She also didn’t wow me on the runway. Silky is still a strong (and strange) competitor, but I would only give her a B+ this week.
- Vanjie may be down, but she’s not out. Rosie O’Donnell is probably the toughest character to portray. Should she have fired some koosh balls? Maybe put on a fat suit? (No. No, she should not.) It’s a shame, because even her lyrics were strikingly devoid of jokes. It was a little bit of a raw deal. I might feel even more sympathy if Michelle wasn’t spot-on in her critique, calling out the sameness of Vanjie’s runways. I hope this is a wake-up call for Vanjie, and she comes soaring back next week. (Also, it was nice to hear Ru echo my own assertion that there is a direct line from Alyssa Edwards to Vanjie.)
- I was surprised to see Plastique overlooked this week as well. Her Milania makeup and mannerisms were spot on. Even her reactions and moments out of the spotlight stayed consistent. Don’t sleep on Plastique.
- Another unsung shero this week was Nina West. As Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Nina nailed every single moment on stage. Her little solo was perfect, and she imbued every note with appropriate emotion. She gave Sarah tics and mannerisms that both made sense and made fun. I loved her thinking when it comes to the Hello, Dolly runway, but it may have been a bit too literal of an homage to Barbra Streisand.
- It finally felt like A’Keria landed herself in the right place at the right time. Stormy Daniels wasn’t the star of the show, but at least she wasn’t stuck in a dead-end like with the Mariah show last week. I was in love with her nude illusion, fringe lewk on the runway with long, long, long, orange wig. A’Keria is exciting in a way that makes me look forward to a time when she’s sharing the screen with less filler queens.
- Am I the only one not totally into Scarlet? I just don’t think there’s a whole lot of there there that we haven’t seen yet. Her drag looks expensive and refined. Her aesthetic is classic. Her acting chops are solidly average. I wasn’t crazy about her Betsy DeVos. What was with the martini? Is DeVos a drunk? I thought she was just an idiot. I liked her runway, but the same fabric head-to-toe made it seem like it was created by the absolute most talented person in a freshman fashion design college course.
- Shuga is fading into the background for me. So much so, in fact, I forgot to include her when originally working on this post. I enjoyed her Hillary, and I wish we heard the judges’ reactions to her gender-bending runway. Treading water in the middle of the pack is costing Shuga dearly.
- Ariel was fine. She was fine in the challenge, she was fine on the runway. She’s fine. I’m waiting for her to go full villain (as opposed to the semi-villain all people who build their brand on Instagram become), which may make her more interesting — and keep her around longer.
- When it comes to Ra’Jah, it doesn’t seem like she’s lacking talent. She also doesn’t strike me as inexperienced. It doesn’t appear that her skills don’t translate to this competition. It’s my belief that what’s holding Ra’Jah back is HUBRIS. Oh, the hubris. Her over-singing in the Mariah show and the way she volunteered that dance experience like it was yesterday was almost shocking. Her attitude seems to indicate she has quite the inflated sense of self. That lack of awareness is going to be a huge disadvantage as she makes decisions as a performer under pressure. Her Omarosa was so … small … , and that runway felt truly Junior Varsity next to some of the more exciting ensembles. She needs a more self-critical eye to avoid further pitfalls.
- Goodbye, Mercedes. As Drag Race‘s first Muslim queen, I’m glad you were able to share a bit more about your experience as a Muslim person with this audience. She was just way over her head. Granted, Ivanka is almost more about being devoid of personality, but even the wig was bad. (As an aside, if you haven’t seen Comedy Central’s brilliant Jared & Ivanka series starring queer comedians Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, drop everything and do that right now.) Back to Mercedes … if Ra’Jah’s runway was JV, Mercedes’ look was Pee-Wee league. The lip sync was also lacking. It was her time.
How would you rank the queens?