Ooh, gurl, I’ve got EXHAUSTION. We are only a few short weeks removed from the controversial conclusion to RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4, and now we’ve got a fresh crop of queens competing for the Season 11 crown.
And what a crop it is! Not only in quality, but we are suffocating in an avalanche of queens. Fifteen gurlz walked the runway in an indulgent, overly-long premiere that barely earned its 90-minute runtime (120 minutes, if you count Untucked).
If this early episode is any indication, we’ll have a few more weeks of fat trimming before the competition picks up. Fifteen just feels like too many queens. Personally, I feel like 12 should be the limit. This many queens all but guarantees too many big group challenges frontloading what’s going to be a slog of an early season.
The good news is there are also a lot of gems among this crowded field.
(But there are a couple of stinkers, too.)
Let’s dive in to all the glitz (and the cyst) from last night’s episode.
Rather than break down each entrance and runway appearance, I’ll weigh in on all the lewks in the rankings below.
After the customary individual entrances, the ladies were greeted by Ru and brought to their first mini-challenge. Each queen would be the creative director of their own photo shoot alongside a former Drag Race legend or also-ran. Returning queens appearing in the photos included Farrah Moan, Raja, Ginger Minj, Delta Work, Jasmine Masters, Adore Delano, Derrick Barry, Sonique and others.
It was tough to tell exactly who turned it out and who whiffed the challenge, but it was fun to see the returning queens. Luckily, it wasn’t up to us to pick a winner, but Mama Ru chose Silky Nutmeg Ganache, a plus-size queen with a massive personality to match.
(Sidebar: I want to know the story of this drag name. I just imagine her at a Cheesecake Factory perusing the menu, coming across the phrase “Silky Nutmeg Ganache,” maybe topping a special seasonal slice of eggnog cheesecake, and thinking, “yes, this is my brand.”)
For her win, Silky got a major advantage. The queens were tasked with creating an ensemble for the runway using only “scraps” from previous contestants. Silky got the power to assign each gal a trunk, but, despite only knowing most queens for a matter of moments, she tried her damnedest to give each lady a trunk that matched their personal style.
The rest of the work room time painted Silky in a much less generous light. Look, bitch is A LOT. She is the Queen of A-lot-endale. She is not just extra, she is extra extra. But, damn, she is also a drag queen. Extra is implied.
The rest of the competitors don’t seem to agree. They were bothered by all the catchphrases and spin-off aspirations. Silky certainly sucks all the air out of a room, but it also doesn’t seem particularly put on. It’s who she is. She’s Eureka O’Hara, super-sized, but, for now, she hasn’t also displayed an overly earnest side like Ms. O’Hara, so I give Silky an edge. I get why the other queens competing for camera time are frustrated, but as a viewer? I am ENTERTAINED, HUNTY.
This week’s special guest judge, Miley Cyrus, put her own spin on the undercover diva trope we’ve become accustomed to over the last few seasons. This time, the pansexual, gender-fluid popstar donned the boy drag of a boom mic operator and worked among the girls until Silky clocked her. Everyone howled for a sustained 90 seconds, then Miley reminded them to breathe, and we were off to the runway.
We had four tops and four bottoms this week. The judges loved Plastique Tiara’s elegant presentation inspired by Sasha Velour’s aesthetic. They called Brooke Lynn Hytes’ outfit a “mic drop,” and we agree. It was like Detox designed a costume for an ’90s X-Men spin-off team (specifically for my fellow geeks, X-Factor’s Polaris). RuPaul herself was impressed with the sheer volume of wiggery A’Keria C. Davenport stacked upon her head (five wigs!), but it was Miss … Vanjie we really were happy to see succeed. Having made her memorable exit in the first episode of last season, this was her chance at redemption, and she killed it.
Mercedes Iman Diamond was less fortunate. Based on fabric inspired by Bianca del Rio, she crafted an outfit Michelle Visage described as off-the-rack, and Carson compared to a slutty Sea World employee. Michelle also clocked the — admittedly very bad — make-up. Not a strong first showing.
Likewise, veteran performer Nina West found herself in tears facing the judges. After nine years of auditions, she finally made it, only to piece together a ho-hum dress with questionable embellishments. Kahanna Montrese, of the Coco Montreses, sent down an ensemble that looked like it was salvaged from a riot at a joint estate sale for Selena and Aaliyah.
And then there’s Soju. Oh, honey, Soju. Her mess of a runway was the equivalent of a no-bake dessert. It was just yards of tulle tied into knots to create a bell shape. It wasn’t designed as much as it was assembled. Under pressure from the judges, Soju popped. Literally. First she started a sob story about tendonitis that quickly transitioned into an epic about a cyst that burst on the plane. It was definitely gross, but also a little charming. (The story took another turn on Untucked, where Soju revealed the cyst was located on her perineum, which adds another layer of depth to this whole — hole? — journey.)
The judges gave the win to Brooke, and set up Kahanna and Soju for the lip sync. Instead of opting for a Miley hit like “Wrecking Ball” (which could be epic), “Party in the U.S.A.” or new single “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart,” the producers chose the old Hannah Montana classic “Best of Both Worlds,” which is truly a gag.
Kahanna had tons of energy and (a few repetitive) dance moves, but compared to Soju, she was a superstar. Soju did a mostly sloppy lip sync in a dress she could barely walk in, let alone dance. It felt like watching myself in the mirror. Ninety percent of gays could have done an equivalent performance. Her big reveal moment during the breakdown was the removal of a single glove. She spun, spun, spun, and just barely ripped off a glove. That’s it. Meanwhile, Kahanna did a backflip. It was no contest. So long, Soju.
That brings us to the first installment of our weekly rankings. Remember, these are wholly subjective and change week-to-week based on challenge performance, likelihood of winning the crown, star power and my own personal whims. Disagree? (Of course you do.) Leave your rankings in the comments.
- Once again, it’s tradition to start every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race asking ourselves if this is the season a big girl finally wins the crown. If this is it, you could do worse than Silky Nutmeg Ganache, a queen who really might be America’s Next Drag Superstar. Her entrance was memorable for all the right reasons: She had personality, she looked great and she ate a cookie out of her bra. She slayed the first mini-challenge, and her look on the runway signaled she’s not just all bluster. Right now, I can only assume she is equally charismatic as a performer. Unless that’s wildly off, Silky could go far.
- I wasn’t wowed by Brooke Lynn Hytes‘ entrance, but she made up for it later. Brooke celebrated being the first Canadian queen by arriving in an homage to the iconic Canadian Mountie uniform. The jacket, wig and boots were great, but those pants gave me pause. She rightfully won the main challenge with her perfectly tailored superhero-meets-aerobic instructor couture. I was gagged for the draping that ran from her shoulder, across her back and attached to her opposite hip. This gurl knows what she’s doing. Definitely a contender.
- If you’re good enough for Alyssa Edwards, you’re good enough for me. We didn’t get a whole lot of Plastique Tiara in last night’s episode, but what we saw was exciting. She entered the work room looking gorgeous, and she was stunning on the runway. I agree with Michelle when she wondered if Plastique can be more than just pretty, but, for now, it’s enough.
- The viral sensation, Miss Vanessa Vanjie Mateo has returned. She’s already off to a much stronger start than last season, and her notoriety all but guarantees she’ll be sticking around for at least a little while. She made a statement in her entrance, arriving first in a dramatic red, Grecian wrap dress with bright red fishnets and garters. Then, on the runway, she masterfully interpreted her Valentina-inspired box to create something special. I just want to know how she got all that glitter off her chest later, because it was an impressive amount. Vanjie is a font of meme-ability, from her arrival and subsequent hiding to her kooky confessionals. What I love most about the returning gal is, unlike previous comeback kids (like Shangela, Cynthia Lee Fontaine and even to an extent Monique Heart), Vanjie isn’t beating us over the head with her catchphrase. (Everyone else is already doing that heavy lifting.) Already she’s more than just that moment. It’s hard NOT to root for her.
- How many wigs is too many wigs? Certainly not five. That’s my big take away from A’Keria Chanel Davenport. She arrived serving sexy, showing off some body, but her hair left something to be desired. Guess she was saving all the wigs for the runway. There was drama and vision there that piques my interest. The judges may have thought her accessories were a lot, but this is drag. I’m here for a lot. While this week’s accessories may have just toed the line, I’ll be keeping an eye on A’Keria’s taste level going forward.
- Even though she is primarily known as an Instagram queen, Ariel Versace (one of my least favorite drag names since Derrick Barry) came to prove she’s more than a filter. We didn’t get much from her this week, but what we got was good. I didn’t love her massive white hoop skirt entrance, but she was going for SOMETHING, and I appreciate that. I was a much bigger fan of her Poison Ivy-meets-Broad City body suit. (Sorry, Michelle.) She assures us she’s a PERFORMER, and I hope she’s right.
- They all but told us Shuga Cain‘s relative inexperience is going to be her downfall this season, but I’m here for the ride. She’s an “older queen” (sorry, people, I’m not saying 40 is old, but among the 20-year-old Instagrammers we’ve been getting lately on this show, it’s certainly on the upper end), but she’s only been doing drag for less than two years. I wasn’t wowed by her entrance bodysuit, though I did find the detailing interesting. And on the runway, I didn’t love the vintage camp flair she took from the Sharon box. (The Ouija hair accessory was nice, though.) Taken together, the two looks didn’t tell me who Shuga is in a cohesive way. I love her personality, and there’s definitely great ideas there. Let’s just hope she can avoid making rookie mistakes along the way.
- This year’s avant garde gal, Yvie Oddly, isn’t afraid to mix things up. Her entrance look was memorable for the remote-controlled toy car that made her improvised train make an entrance ahead of her, but the rest of the gown was a little lackluster. On the runway, she served Alaska by way of Hobby Lobby. I was not gooped, but I am intrigued.
- Scarlet Envy may have gotten Violet Chachki’s trunk, but she struck me much more like Ivy Winters. Something(s) felt off about her entrance. The corset was cut too low, and her chest wasn’t contoured properly. What I can only describes as the “vagina chain” struck me as bizarre. Everything just felt slightly “off.” On the runway, she served a simple (some might say stale) slice of classic camp. It didn’t feel special. It wasn’t a disaster, but I would put it on the lower end of safe.
- I liked Ra’Jah O’Hara‘s wacky, tacky, but joyful runway much more than her entrance. First off, those earrings were not worth the trouble. Cut your losses, honey. The newsprint dress was good, but the semi-sheer sleeve cheapened the whole look.
- There’s room for improvement from Honey Davenport as well. Her entrance was a fun play on her name, and it gave me serious Gladys Knight on The Masked Singer vibes, but it didn’t make a huge impact. Her runway ode to Bendelacreme felt a little too Limited Too. I liked the big hat and the peplum, but it was too simple considering how important it is to break away from the pack.
- Nina West arrived ready to play. I loved her bright yellow, vintage jet-setter arrival which perfectly showcased her aesthetic and successfully demonstrated a good understanding of how to dress for her frame. All of us — Nina included — knew that runway was a tragedy. Let’s hope it’s a one-off case of nerves and she bounces back.
- I am much more concerned with Mercedes Iman Diamond. Her makeup and runway look feel like they were her at her best, which isn’t a great sign. Then again, she looked nearly note-perfect for her entrance, with gorgeous makeup, dramatic white gown and dripping in jewels. More of that, please.
- Sorry, but Kahanna Montrese feels dead on arrival. How is she going to say that her Katya look was not representative of her drag when her entrance look was eerily similar? Same black sparkle bra, similarly oddly stoned tights, arms and abs out. For someone who really leans into her identity as a dancer, the lip sync was good, but still not GREAT. I think Nina had a wake-up call on the runway this week, but I think it’s the judges’ eyes that were opened to Kahanna for all the wrong reasons.
- Oh, Soju. There have been plenty of very talented queens who have not succeeded on this show due to the format. They’re great at what they do, they just don’t do THIS particularly well. However, Soju is not one of those queens. She’s a vlogger, she’s a fan, she’s maybe a make-up artist, but she is not a performer. It was a very, very advanced take on drag queen cosplay. Not like how Dax Exclamation Point does drag cosplay, but rather someone cosplaying AS a drag queen. It was immediately clear Soju was out of her depth. She is so sweet, and being a host is a skill you could build a whole career on (just ask Ross Mathews). It’s not that she needs to work harder to be better at this game; she’s just in the wrong game. I want to support any aspiring artist to follow their passion, but at the same time it feels unfair to put Soju on that runway next to any number of Drag Race queens past and present.
How would you rank the queens?