You’re not alone in thinking something felt oddly familiar about the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race new season. No, I’m not talking about the customary workroom entrances or Ru’s wig.
For starters, the season is doing a two-part premiere, similar to season six. That was a particularly strong season, including queens like BenDeLaCreme, Adore Delano, Courtney Act and Bianca Del Rio, so that may bode well. Plus, by only introducing seven queens at a time, it lets the audience get to know each gal a little better, rather than having to whip through a baker’s dozen of queens in an hour.
That also means, like season six, there are a lot of queens, which, as I’ve opined previously, is not a good thing. Look no further than the widely disparaged season seven that dragged on for weeks of awful group challenges before we got to the good stuff.
In fact, despite the two-part format, there are more things in common with season seven than six. There’s a preponderance of fashion queens (then it was Violet and Pearl, here it’s Nicky Doll and Gigi Goode), and even the first challenge is nearly identical. What that means for whatever is ahead, who’s to say?
The episode begins with a disappointingly toothless politics-themed video, before dropping us into the workroom to meet our queens. First up is one of New York City’s most beloved queens (and, full disclosure, one of this author’s favorite performers), Brita Filter. The Polynesian Princess who claims to be Maui by day, Moana by night arrives in glam leopard garb with bright pink accents.
Next up is Nicky Doll, a New York by way of Paris fashionista who arrives in basically a high-fashion costume of a French person, complete with black and white stripes, winged eyeliner and red lip. All she needed was a cigarette and mime makeup.
Widow Von’Du is up next, and we’re immediately in love. The big girl with a bigger personality arrives in an all-black number with dramatic feathers, sparkles and high hair. It’s part Angelina Jolie in Maleficent and part Auntie Entity.
It’s another New York gal coming in behind her. This time, it’s Jackie Cox, a Persian beauty (in and out of drag) with a campy energy that lights up the room immediately upon arrival.
Things take an interesting turn when Heidi N Closet enters with an extended high-pitched trill. She’s a country queen who thinks she’s wearing “leprosy print,” which is doubly funny because it’s actually not even leopard print. Count on this one to supply the Alyssa Edwards malapropisms this season. What she lacks in polish, she more than makes up for with personality.
Gigi Goode is another fashion queen. She makes an entrance in a flawless pirate-inspired garb, created by her theatrical costume designer mother. Makes sense she relies on her mommy, since she’s a baby at only 21 years old.
Our final queen for the first half of the premiere, Crystal Methyd, arrives, and she is a lot! She’s decked out in a bright green (Michelle, avert your eyes!) CLOWN SUIT and some true Trixie Mattel paint. It’s a lot of look! You can tell she’s going to take some bold swings, but, as fellow Missouri queen Widow tells us, Crystal has the goods to back it up.
They’re expecting another 3-7 more queens when Ru shows up to welcome them. The first challenge is the aforementioned season seven-style runway show. Although it lacks a moment as iconic as Violet’s spinning, plaid reveal, it’s actually a really nice showcase for every gal. We’ll discuss some of the lewks (hi, haters!) in the rankings below, but Nicky and Gigi overdeliver, while Heidi has a headpiece mishap.
The maxi challenge is an original group number, including rap solos and DIY choreo. At first, making your own original choreography feels like an advantage over trying to master whatever Travis Wall throws at you. However, when the ladies are left to fend for themselves, it takes almost no time for a power struggle to break out. Widow initially took the lead, but quickly was bowled over by Brita, Jackie and others.
The performance itself is … fine. Widow steals the show with stunts and a sickening backbend (plus the most savage lyrics of the group), while Heidi makes up for a sloppy fashion show showing earlier with a wild solo performed upside-down and in perpetual motion.
The judges have high praise for the group as a whole and individually. Nicky Doll gets clocked for being a little apprehensive and Heidi’s hair and makeup get read by guest judge Nicki Minaj. Ru sends everyone to safety except Widow and Gigi, which is shocking, as they seemingly dominated these early challenges.
Of course, it’s a twist. No one is going home this week. They are the top two, and they’ll be lip syncing for the win.
They duel to Minaj’s “Starships” (a song so infectious a friend once successfully justified speeding to a police officer by saying it came on the radio). Gigi is surprisingly adept, considering her youth and “fashion queen” tag. Her performance isn’t full of complex choreo or big stunts, but she has perfectly crafted moments that fit the song. It’s a skill I typically value more than big, flashy moves that could be put to any track, and it showcases a clever sense of humor from such a young queen.
And at the same time, Widow delivers a performance that’s almost nothing but big, flashy moves and stunts that absolutely kills. Ru has no choice but to give her the win. (Honestly, they’re going to have to remodel the whole studio, because she left the room GUTTED.)
The gals all come out to celebrate with a couple of sad, little register to vote signs. It’s a cute gesture for an incredibly important issue, but, like, again, where’s the bite? I’m not saying the show needs to endorse a Dem candidate, but the political messages in the ep felt particularly tacked on considering the, you know, everything we’re dealing with.
How do our first seven queens stack up? We’re back with another round of rankings, and y’all know the drill: This is completely subjective, based on nothing but my own personal POV. Disagree? Cool! Leave yours in the comments.
- I know I’ve said this many times before, but we might have our first big girl winner in Widow. Not only were her rap lyrics great, but her delivery was expert. She can stunt and move like no other, and she clearly came to play with her ensembles. I loved the idea of her spring neon neoprene, but I do wish the fit was either more snug or more oversized. I’m also a little hesitant about her attitude, considering her difficulties leading her team in the choreo.
- I was ready to really dislike Gigi on sight (I think because her makeup is ripped right from James Charles’ YouTube channel), but she surprised me in the performance and lip sync. A queen with that much fashion sense that doesn’t need to learn personality on the job is a potentially lethal combo. Her spring pastel biker outfit was so chic, and the autumnal S&M jockey fantasy was everything. Plus, I’ve loved a good helmet lewk ever since Yoanna House in cycle two of America’s Next Top Model, okrr?
- I’ll be honest: I’m being generous with Brita this high. I was a little disappointed with her performance in the challenge, and I wasn’t nearly as crazy about her fashion show garments as the judges were (I thought the spring look in particular was a little wrinkly). However, I have faith in Brita. But my appreciation for her work off the show can only carry her so far here. I did love her sparkly runway, and I completely agree with the judges about the details.
- I’m so excited to see more from Jackie Cox. She should be a strong competitor in any writing or comedy challenge, as she showcased with her rap verse. Obviously, she feels more confident with her with than her outfits, so she’s clearly found her niche in the vintage, go-go inspired, which really does work for her. However, looking around the room, these gals came to slay, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s starts to feel like “and then there’s Mod.”
- I’m very intrigued by Crystal Methyd. She’s unconventional, obviously, but there’s a finesse to this freak that may placate even Michelle Visage. It’s only episode one, and she already got clocked as too costumey, so it all depends on how much versatility she brought to display. She’s the wildcard of this whole bunch. She could go home first or ride this whole thing until the end. Her take on Freddy for the fall runway was perfectly wacky without being tacky. More of that, please.
- Is this the first time we saw the judges rag on a queen’s name like they did to Heidi? The cute country queen is no slouch. She showed up with some fun fashion and plenty of personality. As the gals reminded her during Untucked, she can buy new wigs, but not a new personality. I could easily see her become a fan favorite. But, um, maybe she should buy those new wigs first?
- Nicky is something of Heidi’s opposite. Her fashions are cool, but her personality is cold. RuPaul, despite her punk roots and iconoclast persona, can still be deeply earnest, so vulnerability is going to be Nicky’s white whale this season. I do think she was much warmer in the confessional, so it might just be first day jitters. Runway vs. runway, she’s the only one who can come close to Gigi.
How would you rank the queens?