Part of the Drag Race viewing experience seems to always include sitting around bitching about how this season’s queens aren’t as good as previous competitors. I’m certainly guilty myself. But watching this week’s charmer of an ep, the star power of this top six seemed undeniable.
I don’t know, maybe I’m so desperate for contact it doesn’t take much to fill me with warm and fuzzies. Or maybe I’m a sucker for a Queer Eye-style confidence boosting makeover. (Or maybe Alex Newell’s “Kill the Lights” is an undeniable bop that should be administered intravenously to the American populace during this time of need. WHO KNOWS.)
But whatever the case, I was thoroughly delighted for the entirety of last night’s episode. The makeover episodes always give the queens a generous edit as to not rain on the guests’ parade, but I found myself rooting for every single queen there.
Another surprising thing (what am I, like a wide-eyed, newborn baby today?), I wasn’t even bothered by the women who got the makeovers. I mean, on paper, the idea of watching these supremely talented queer people play out the “gay bestie” fantasy dolling up a variety of shrieking Karens and Beckys and Emmas makes my skin crawl a little bit. Especially in the absence of a personal connection to the queens, at the outset, it felt like a particularly subservient sort of setup on a show that is supposed to be first and foremost about queer people and culture.
However, the women selected were not just some dummies off the street. These superfans at the very least came with an understanding of the power of drag and an appropriate reverence for its impact. They also all took a backseat to their new drag moms and let them lead the way.
Let’s see which pairs dazzled in our recap and rankings, below!
We’re off fairly quickly this week. There’s no mini-challenge. Instead, Ru introduces six Drag Race superfans who had no idea they were going to be the subject of today’s makeover. It’s a hacky TV trick, but it’s a trope because it works. There is shrieking and tears and we’re only like one Ty Pennington “MOVE THAT BUS” away from some real mainstream, Middle America stuff.
Since she was the winner of last week’s challenge, Jaida gets to pair the queens with the gals, but the show doesn’t really give anyone a real advantage with one over any other. All the gals are gorgeous and mostly game.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s go pair by pair.
Gigi Goode with Bebe Bad: The season’s early frontrunner continues to slip behind some of the rising queens with a safe, but more than adequate runway. The Goode/Bad dynamic feels very “first idea,” but they pull it off with style. Gigi decks her gal out in contrasting chic fur outfits, but it’s Bebe who really sells it. She’s in character the whole time on the mainstage, and during the series of spliced together lip sync duos, Bebe is the only one to pull off a deathdrop! (Yes, she started from a crouch, but it looked great, and that’s a brilliant little cheat!) All in all, it was just a night where Goode just wasn’t good enough, so Gigi and Bebe settle for safety.
Jaida Essence Hall and Jazz: Finally! Here’s a challenge where Jaida’s skills can really shine. While Gigi has obviously spent serious time perfecting her own look and feel, Jaida has tons of experience designing for and painting others on the pageant circuit. In the workroom, Jaida is all business. She will not give her gal a lower heel. She will not lower her expectations. She makes it clear they will do anything it takes to win. Jaida even has a (long-overdue) humanizing moment when the pressure of the competition collides with missing her man, and, luckily, Jazz is there to support. It’s nice to see a softer side to Jaida. Jazz’s apprehension evaporates once Jaida paints her face, and I can’t blame her. It’s some of the best makeup we’ve ever seen, period, and definitely the best for a makeover challenge. On top of that, Jaida dresses them in custom-made, matching, red cow stunning, sparkling giraffe-print showgirl gowns that would be impossible NOT to feel like a diva in. Despite a lot of tough competition, there’s no denying Jaida’s much-deserved win.
She Who Must Not Be Named* and Tara Misu: I’d be remiss not to honor the incredible Janet the Planet, a human woman who went the extra mile to legally change her name. (Meanwhile, Heidi still can’t even pick one.) Janet is 6 feet tall, and she’s encountered a lot of bullying for her size. However, she’s also a true blue drag diva with a connection to the community that pre-dates the Drag Race craze sweeping the nation. Under her guiding queen’s tutelage, Janet the Planet (a drag name even better than Tara Misu) delivers the most confident, comfortable comedy performance. She’s a sassy waitress from an old-school diner, and she sells it, baby. Had no one told you, you would think she was a professional competing for the crown. (Is it too late to swap Tara in instead?) While the judges eat her up, it’s not enough to secure the win against Jaida and another surprising queen.
Crystal and Opal Methyd: Talk about a match made in heaven! Quirky, crafty Crystal is paired with a kindergarten teacher, and it is truly a match made in art class heaven. They exchange tips for confidence boosting, and Opal gives Crystal carte blanche to execute her vision. Of course, Crystal takes it as a license to THRILL, and crafts an utterly unique Bert and Ernie-inspired drag duo unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Yes, Jaida was great, but come on, this is iconic. This will go down with Courtney Act’s wings, Sharon Needles’ apocalyptic mouth of blood, Violet Chachki’s oxygen tank and more in the pantheon of legendary runway presentations. Finally, I feel like I “get” Crystal, and Opal more than carries her half of the load. During the lip sync, more than any other guest gal, she performs every single word of that song from the bottom of her toes to the top of her Troll Doll hair. Talk about nailing the assignment!
Jackie and Lil’ Snacky Cox: Jackie is almost cursed with too good a partner. Snacky is a beautiful, young, vibrant gal who knows her way around a split. She can dance, she can riff. I mean, I think she could do better in this competition than Jackie has, really. Maybe that confidence is what led Jackie to a rather mild runway presentation, hoping instead her drag daughter’s talents would be enough. Despite Snacky’s best efforts, though, the judges just aren’t jazzed with Jackie, and she’s in the bottom. (One of my favorite moments in the episode is when Jackie tries to intimidate the other queens in the work room by showing off Snacky’s splits, and Jaida snaps back “Your turn, Jackie!” knowing full well Ms. Cox isn’t known for slamming the floor with her, well, you know. Then, before even Jackie could clapback, Snacky chimes in: “She just gave birth!” Perfect.)
Heidi Afrodite and Honey Almighty: I had concerns about Honey at first. The soon-to-be queen isn’t exactly used to the spotlight, having spent years hiding herself for fear of bullying and shame. (The stuff she was saying about pictures and memes felt a little too … specific, right?) However, when she gets on the runway for rehearsal, it’s clear there is a diva in there dying to get out. Heidi is a lovable enough fairy godmother figure, but her entire presentation is a mess. It’s supposed to be Diana Ross and Donna Summer, but Heidi is wearing a sparkling disco number with exaggerated wizard sleeves, while Honey is in a rather pedestrian minidress. It doesn’t go together at all, and the judges can’t find a shred of effort going into the resemblance. They don’t look like sisters, they don’t even look like they’re at the same party. The lack of the gap-tooth painted on Honey is just one miss too many, and Heidi joins Jackie in the bottom two.
The queens duel to the aforementioned “Kill the Lights,” a song that occupied most of my summer of 2016 and never fails to brighten my spirits. It’s another stunner of a sync with Heidi blending heart and humor, while Jackie takes a very different tact. She comes prepared with a full, creative narrative, taking the fun and flirty lyrics and twisting them into a Fatal Attraction-like menace. It’s wholly original and hysterical, but Heidi is no slouch, either.
In the end, Ru has no choice but to keep both queens, and I breathe a sigh of relief because I’m not ready for them to go.
So, we’ve got the same pack of queens, but a bit of a reshuffling of the standings. Let’s review in our rankings below.
- It was great to finally see Jaida ascend. She’s had the goods from the jump, but her tough exterior earlier in the competition made it tough to connect. Now that she’s had the chance to showcase her skills and her softer side, she’s surpassed the studied Gigi to take the first spot.
- That doesn’t mean we should write Gigi off. The Goode queen may have skated by the last few weeks, but she always has a plan. Expect big things in the coming challenges. I’d be shocked if she didn’t make the final four.
- Everyone’s right, of course, about Crystal picking the perfect time to peak. If this is, to borrow a phrase, pure Crystal, it’s good sh*t. I hope the last few successful weeks will give her the confidence to keep bringing her whole self to the competition. She’s much more than the mullet Ru is so fixated on.
- Similarly, I feel like that Jackie lip sync is Jackie at her best. It was smart, it was funny, it was totally considered and flawlessly executed. Again, I think Snacky gave her a bit too much confidence going in, so she sort of phoned in her part. This is a wake up call. Jackie would have won this week’s lip sync by a hair, but she might not be so lucky next week.
- Woof. Heidi dropped the ball so thoroughly this week. She completely missed the mark at the most basic levels of the assignment. It’s a big red flag just as the competition is at its fiercest. I want to see Heidi succeed, because I still think she has an incredibly high ceiling, but another miss like this will be unforgivable.
* I’ve gotten some flack from readers about my treatment of the disqualified queen, and I get it. There’s not really a playbook here. To me, the worst punishment for a performer/wannabe celebrity is to give them no mention at all. Nothing Googleable, no press clipping, nothing. It doesn’t matter to me if she excels. It doesn’t matter if an entire episode is built around her. This is the consequence (and a rather mild one) of her actions. Will she ever be able to redeem herself? I don’t know, but she certainly hasn’t earned that yet.