Even as someone who has seen countless friends’ solo shows, directed solo shows and, yes, I’ll admit, even performed one or two myself, I still can admit they are a tough sell. (Not quite improv or slam poetry tough, mind you.) They can get real self-indulgent and navel-gazey, real quick. You’ve seen La La Land, you get it.
So, sure, I shuddered at the thought of six, 5-minute one-woman shows. However, the presence of legend Whoopi Goldberg lent an air of artistry to the proceedings that brought out the best from a few of the queens. Not that all the gals should be booking it to Edinburgh Fringe just yet.
Category is Obie Award Realness in our recap below!
Fresh off last week’s double-save, an emotional (still) Top Six, started the week with the annual puppet mini-challenge, a tradition that may have started to overstay its welcome. The puppet challenge started as an absurd addition to the Drag Race routine, but it feels long overdue for a twist or an overhaul to freshen it up.
Jackie gets the win for skewering Sherry, but there are few truly memorable, laugh-out-loud moments to be had. The win gives Jackie the power to set the line-up for the main challenge.
Ru tasks the queens with creating and presenting their own short, one-woman shows. Weirdly, the directions here feel like they’re missing some key information. The host sets it up as a comedy challenge, but the absolute clutch here is not in the humor, it’s in the vision. More important than the jokes is the structure, the point of view and the clear concept.
That’s probably why so many come into rehearsals with Ru and guest Whoopi Goldberg with such half-baked stand-up sets. It’s the piece of advice everyone seems to be dancing around. For simplicity’s sake, let’s break down each queen’s week:
Jackie initially comes into the rehearsal with a premise that revolves around a sort of “Everything You Wanted to Know About Drag Race (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)” recap. It’s a mix of obvious observations (How about that season one filter, amiright?!) and attempts at the absurd (a shark-filled moat around the mainstage). It’s neither funny nor clever enough to work. Instead, Jackie wisely scraps the entire idea, abandons the need to be funny, and embraces a more earnest approach. Her new show is about her parents, and it feels the closest to an actual one-woman show. There are some jokes scatter throughout, and, even though they’re not super sophisticated, they hit harder by contract to the more emotional material.
Next up is Crystal. Man, this weirdo. Crystal takes the complete opposite approach, but still manages to keep it focused. It’s a bizarre, gender-fluid Magic Mike character on shrooms, and, despite it all, it completely works. Phenomenal Phil presents a sort of infomercial preview of a dance DVD that is so profoundly stupid, it circles back around to profound. She’s wearing a tattooed muscle suit, and fully commits to every aspect of the bit. It’s a massive tonal shift from Jackie’s, but it’s irresistibly fun.
Heidi’s concept has some promise when she presents it to Whoopi and Ru in rehearsals. She’s going to do a spate of characters based around her family at a cookout. Solid idea! Unfortunately, it’s a bit too ambitious for Heidi’s skillset. She’s punching above her weight class here. In the performance, none of the characters develop beyond a few “funny” lines, and Heidi can’t create enough defining characteristics to differentiate between them. It ends up feeling more like an exhausting story at a party, despite Heidi’s best efforts.
I know I only very recently referenced the classic scene from The Simpsons when Bart replays the moment Ralph Wiggum’s heart breaks thanks to Lisa’s rejection. However, there is just no better reference point for Gigi during rehearsals. As always, the young queen comes hyper-prepared. She broadly boasts that she has a whole sketch and character and concept ready. Just as she prepares for Ru and Whoopi to lavish her with praise, they instead tell her it all feels rather forced. Ruh roh. It was only a matter of time before Gigi’s polished perfection collided with most reality’s show’s obsession with authenticity. She integrates a little more audience improv into the mainstage performance, but it’s still fairly stilted throughout.
Jaida has the misfortune to follow this season’s disqualified queen’s overlong set. Not just overlong, REAL overlong. The admitted catfish performed for 17 minutes, leaving a frustrated Jaida to then take the stage in front of an exhausted crowd. And maybe it wouldn’t be good anyway, but she really struggles. It’s a pretty funny story about peeing herself at a pageant. However, anyone who has sat through a night at The Moth knows that it’s not enough for a story to be funny; it also has be told well. Jaida lacks the energy and the rhythm to deliver the story in a compelling fashion.
This week’s runway theme is The Color Purple, one of my favorite films of all time, and also one of the strongest runways of the season. We’ll discuss the lewks in more detail in our rankings below.
The judges love what Jackie did with her show, even if her campy monster costume hews a bit too close to crafty instead of couture. Crystal’s dirty dancer tickled the judges to such an extent, it’s already become a deeply self-referential Drag Race touchstone. (If/when we get out of our houses, we’re all definitely going to be doing the Dump It.) Her fully-committed performance earns her the challenge win.
Gigi managed to pull it together just enough to stay safe. (That flawless Scooby-Doo-inspired runway certainly helped.) But Heidi and Jaida are not so lucky. Although both queens look stunning on the runway (truly season highs for both), they are both sent to the bottom to lip sync.
They’re facing off to Prince’s “1999”, which immediately called to mind Naomi Smalls’ iconic Prince runway. However, move over, Smalls, because Jaida is the queen of Prince now. Jaida is an INCREDIBLE sight to behold. She looks drop-dead gorgeous, she is serving just the right amount of tricks and stunts, and, most importantly, she looks like she is truly bringing end-of-the-world party energy to the stage. She reveals a short, blonde, Sheila E. “Holly Rock” wig that is note-perfect. Every move, every fiber of every muscle is perfectly controlled. It’s fantastic.
Heidi does her best, but she’s limited by her gown and, to be frank, her inexperience. Heidi is a star, no doubt, but Jaida is a superstar, and this performance convinced me fully that she is the one to beat.
Ru feels similarly, sending Heidi home, but not before saying in no uncertain terms that Heidi is destined for big things.
And I couldn’t agree more.
So what are our standings as we barrel toward one of the weirdest finales in the show’s history? Let’s check in with our rankings.
- I’m going all in on Jaida. She’s been a consistently strong performer throughout the competition, but her makeup, costuming and dance skills are damn near lethal. With the majority of the comedy/acting challenges in the rearview, she has everything necessary to destroy the rest of the competition. Her purple runway was, if I may be blunt, chic as hell. And that lip sync, truly, I cannot praise enough. The only thing I’m missing from Jaida is a sort of … why? Jaida is skilled, but as America’s Next Drag Superstar, what drives her and what is the sort of impact she wants to make on the artform (outside proving her own proficiency)?
- Gigi’s small stumble this week still wasn’t nearly as dramatic as maybe the edit suggested. Yes, it clearly shook her when she was expecting a gold star and instead Whoopi wrote “See Me” on her assignment. However, she bounced back for a decent enough time in the actual performance. Plus, that Daphne drag was great, but it was her entire runway presentation — the faces, the walk, the dancing — that really sold it.
- Crystal and Jackie are neck and neck, but the weirder of the two is continuing to surge at a prime opportunity. What I love about Crystal is that when she succeeds, it’s IN SPITE OF expectations, not because she perfected the formula to please the judges (cough, Gigi, cough). The sort of Where the Wild Things Are runway was strange, but, again, a full commitment, down to the shoes, which added a little cloven hoof flavor. I’m not sure when Crystal gave herself permission to be fully Crystal, but I’m sure glad she did.
- I’m not even sure Jackie thought she would get this far. It does feel like she’s still straddling the line between trying to be herself and trying to nail the assignment. I blame Ru for giving the girls bad directions up top, but I also think Jackie would have veered in the wrong direction initially regardless. Her one-woman show felt the most true to the form, but maybe the least effective in this setting. I was a much bigger fan of the runway than the judges were, but the devil I suppose is in the details, especially with a group of finalists this polished and professional. Here’s hoping our top four get there on their own merits and no one has to replace the disqualified queen. Though, no doubt, they are all worthy on their own merits.
- I have so much love for Heidi. And, to be clear, it’s not like, aw, way to try, you nice, simple, country gal. Heidi (who should absolutely adopt the moniker HEIDI HEPIPHANY, COME ON), had all the right ideas, but she needs a bit more time to study and work on her craft. However, she’s got a charisma that you cannot learn. She’s undeniably lovable. After years of queens trying to be the next Alyssa Edwards, Heidi might be the most natural successor to the throne. I’d love to see a Netflix series about her life in Ramseur. I’d love to see her start the next phase of her life in Manhattan or Los Angeles. I just want to watch her. In drag, out of drag, I don’t care. (Just not a YouTube channel. Please.) She looked her best ever on the runway tonight, with a gorgeous face and immaculate gown. If someone had to go tonight, it makes sense it was her (especially after Jaida’s lip sync left Ru no choice), but she would not have been out of place at a finale.
How would you rank the queens?