Do you feel that tingle in your tuck? It’s that magical time of year where 13, no, FOURTEEN drag queens are carted off to Los Angeles to sling lashes and insults at each other in hopes of being crowned America’s Next Top Host of Logo’s Gay Aspen Ski Weekend.
Like most reality TV competitions, the prize truly doesn’t matter. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a bonafide phenomenon, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a treasure trove of pop culture knowledge, excavating retro gems and fueling the catchphrases of our future; Ru and the writers craft some of the most wickedly naughty and gleefully cheesy turns of phrase you’ll hear anywhere on basic cable; and the contestants showcase a level of talent that spans so many skill sets, it’s hard to watch and not be dumbfounded why these people aren’t huge stars already.
And that’s what brings us to the show’s most important element: It tells stories about queer people from the most marginalized segments of our society. RuPaul’s Drag Race engages gender head-on (sometimes with mixed results), but it also boasts one of television’s most diverse contestant pools, highlights the queer experience in small-town USA and celebrates the ingenuity of creative artists struggling to work on a budget.
This season marks a big step for the scrappy show that was once considered a cult favorite. It’s leaving its home at the LGBT channel Logo for its much more mainstream fellow Viacom property, VH1. Little seems to have been lost in translation, so hopefully the only result is a wider audience for this excellent series.
But enough throat clearing. Gentlemen, start your engines, and let’s get this recap going.
We kick things off with our traditional arrivals into the workroom, starting with Peppermint. Some notable entrances include Brooklyn’s Sasha Velour stepping into the workroom and letting out a guttural scream, Nina Bo’nina’s cartoon mouse and a nearly naked Farrah Moan. We also got a hint at Eureka and Trinity’s pageant rivalry (and Trinity’s concern about the, ahem, “astigmatism” against pageant girls). Is it possible for a tuck to cut off circulation to your brain?
Of course, the real star of the workroom is Lady Gaga herself. She initially tries to pass herself off as a Gaga impersonator (Gaga’s most meta ARTPOP project yet?), but before it really gets to be any fun, she reveals herself to the momentarily befuddled queens. That sure was a lot of buildup about going stealth for what amounted to maybe 40 seconds of suspense.
Once the reveal has been made, the ladies collectively lose their minds over her presence. Eureka even goes so far as to break down in tears over how Gaga saved her from the brink of death many times. It may seem like hyperbole, and for a lot of snarky internet commenters out there, it’s tempting to give it an eyeroll, but the power of pop culture icons like Gaga — especially for small-town queer kids — cannot be overstated. It was a sweet moment, and Gaga seemed genuinely moved.
Ru enters the workroom to declare two pieces of important information. First, the ladies will be competing in a special pageant showcasing both a look that represents their hometown and then something inspired by Lady Gaga. (Please someone come out in an egg, please someone come out in an egg, please …) The other news is no one is going home this week.
These sort of challenges have become less and less exciting the more and more evident it is that the girls come prepared. They all knew this would be a challenge and packed accordingly. I miss the old days where they had to think on their feet and creatively piece together a garment on the spot. Sure, the finished products are much more exciting now, but it makes the workroom a snore when all the pre-runway time is just watching them unpack.
As a guest judge, Gaga was game, if a little subdued. She fired off a few good one-liners, shed some interesting background onto the ladies’ Gaga gown choices and even tried really hard to squeeze out a few very sincere tears of appreciation. I’m not sure what I wanted from her exactly, but I feel like it was more than failing to shine brighter than Michelle Visage at the judges table.
Nina Bo’Nina was crowned the first Miss Charisma Uniqueness Nerve & Talent, with Eureka and Sasha as runners-up. Just when you think it’s safe to return to the Interior Illusions Lounge or whatever, turns out there’s a TWIST! We’ve got one more new queen! Or one new old queen!
Who is it? I don’t know, I don’t read Reddit. But! We’ll all find out next week together, like a family.
Now, our impressions of the individual girls’ performances tonight may be influenced by our first encounter with them at the NYC premiere, but you can scope out our totally subjective power rankings below:
1. The judges made the right call crowning Nina Bo’nina Miss Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent. She’s a true original, and she killed the runway. Her hometown look was quirky, but still artistic, and her Lady Gaga look honored Mother Monster while still putting her own spin on it. If this first runway is any indication, expect Nina to push the boundaries of each challenge for weeks to come.
2. There’s nothing we love more than “a wiener sandwiched between two buns,” so Shea had us gagging on her hometown headpiece. Her homage to Gaga wasn’t a total stunner (and the judges clocked her for not being detail-oriented enough). Still, I loved the creativity and attitude throughout. She’s truly here to slay.
3. I’m still a little concerned Sasha Velour’s drag is too over-thought, which was a problem for her over-accessorized hometown look. However, her entrance to the workroom and knockout “Applause” lewk showed she can let loose (in carefully considered situations). Let’s hope she can deliver more spontaneous delight as the weeks race on.
4. Eureka stepped up with a full hometown performance, not just an outfit, and I appreciated that. I was not as in love with her Gaga choice as the judges were. I thought it looked like a Walmart Halloween costume (which is very on-brand for Eureka, actually). It’s a crowded field though, so for Eureka to stand out at all is an achievement.
5. Perhaps Aja can borrow Eureka’s vacuum to pick up all those names she’s dropping. It’s not a great sign she’s already getting a little bit of an insufferable edit, but she’s got such a cool edge to her, it makes me think she’s going to keep things fresh. Lady Liberty was a snooze, but her Comme des Garçons one-size-fits-all dress was an inspired choice.
6. Thank goodness for the Globes gown, or Alexis Michelle would land much lower on this list. Her first outfit was a bit of a mess, and the reveal of her pop-up sail thing was like a very awkward stage fart.
7. I still have super high hopes for Peppermint. She landed firmly in the middle of the pack this week, but the potential is there.
8. It’s fortunate for Valentina that this week was all about looks, because, as I mentioned, I’m no fan of her performance. I’m not in a rush to be rid of Valentina, she seems fun enough, but 10 months tucked does not a superstar make.
9. Trinity missed an opportunity to pay tribute to Orlando with a simple, powerful “One Pulse” message. Instead, she opted for a pretty hideous airbrush visual of rollercoasters. Snooze. The Countess look was almost there, but the blood on the neck just didn’t work for me. It looked faker than fake. If you’re going to go for it, you gotta give us a wound. It just looked like she dribbled some merlot down her neck. I honestly think it would have been better with just the hair, the glove and no blood at all.
10. If Charlie Hides is known for her wicked humor, where was it? The pilgrim ensemble (both before and after the clumsy reveal) was a bore. Then, she played Gaga super straight. Where’s that celebrity skewering we’ve heard so much about? I may be way off the mark here, but there’s just something not clicking with Charlie for me.
11. My hypothesis is Kimora was trying to channel her inner pageant queen, but the result was a dead-eyed, charisma-free biker peacock? Maybe it was the parameters of the challenge (I feel like producers encouraged them to ham up the pageant aspect), but I just didn’t get to see enough of her out there.
12. What WAS Farrah’s Vegas outfit? I have to concur with the judges that it did not read Vegas at all. Then, when she attempted Gaga, it read more like Assassin’s Creed. I’d say she’s in an urgent place to prove her stuff.
13. Oh, poor, sweet Jaymes. I think you may be in over your head. That hometown get-up gave me pure Magnoooooolia Crawford, and that is never a good thing. Her attempt to channel Vogue was vague. It was neither a dead-on recreation nor a stylized satire in her point of view. Jaymes, you seem lovely, but it might be time to start to packing the puppets.
How would you rank the queens?