Of all the tropes RuPaul’s Drag Race trots out each year, the penultimate episode (I don’t count the Ru-union) is perhaps the most dependable.
In an attempt to maximize tension, the judges typically spend the episode lavishing near universal praise on the remaining queens. It’s not undeserved, but they want us to be on the edge of our seats going into the finale so it feels like anyone’s game.
This season, of course, the praise feels more earned than usual. This was an exceptional Top Six (Heidi, we miss you!), and even this Rusical was a joy to watch from start to finish. For a season that was light on queen-on-queen drama, these gals have been irresistibly compelling.
Part of it has to do with the natural spread of types: camp, fashion, pageant, weirdo. It’s easier for everyone to shine when they’re running unopposed in their own race. Again, I can’t stress enough the talent of these queens, but it felt like Ru’s mind was made up before a single heel click-clacked down the runway to lip sync their way through the Vegas-inspired(?) number.
That was perhaps my biggest gripe for the episode. In lieu of the annual music video we’ve become accustomed to (which typically hews closer to contemporary pop music), we basically got another Rusical sold as a Vegas showgirls number. Except, it wasn’t. The only thing Vegas about it was how mercilessly it was branded by RuPaul, presented by the Flamingo Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Strip, home of RuPaul’s Drag Race Live™.
Of course the biggest question remains: How will the finale work? Not just the disqualified queen (a lingering question since before the season premiered) but also in the face of coronavirus? Other shows, like, say, tattoo competition Ink Master (hey, I’m a complex person with multiple facets!), opted to just flat out cancel the usual live finale and split the prize money among the finalists. We both know that shit would not fly here. They already canceled Pride. If these last 12 weeks were all for naught, the gays would riot (inside, #AloneTogether).
Producers have confirmed a finale was filmed using “boundary-pushing technology to highlight the creativity of each queen.” Some shows, like Real Housewives of Atlanta and Parks and Recreation, have proven it’s possible to thrive in these new mediums. Others, like WWE’s weekly pro-wrestling programming (again, multi-faceted!), are a haunting reminder of our grim reality.
However, if anyone can get creative, get scrappy and make it work, it’s drag queens, bitch.
I’m excited to see what they do, but I’m also just exhausted. From everything, all of it.
Despite the nagging, little, gray rain cloud hanging above my head (sorry, guys, it’s a dark time!), I deeply enjoyed last night’s episode, as inconsequential as it ultimately felt.
Let’s Ru-view, Ru-cap and Ru-cyc– wait, I’m losing control of this wordplay.
After a bizarre blackout, (OK, is this season actually CURSED?), our final mini-challenge tasks the queens with creating a quick-drag, Vegas-ready headpiece to wear as they vamp for the camera to Ru’s narration. It’s fun, silly and Ru picks Gigi as the winner, because, sure, why not? She does a jumping stage bellyflop that makes even Ru gasp, and Ru has seen everything. (She’s shared holiday meals with Lady Bunny, Amanda Lepore and Susanne Bartsch, I’m sure of it.) Gigi’s win nets her a trip for two to Las Vegas, including tickets to see RuPaul’s Drag Race Live™ at the Flamingo Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip, but no advantage in the final main challenge.
The challenge is a doozy: The gals will be doing a performance inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race Live™ at the Flamingo– you know the rest. There’s a big opening, emotional ballad and big disco closer that includes a unique rap verse written by each queen. They’ll run the gamut of recording, rehearsing and choreo in preparation for the big stage number.
(Though, oddly, there was no podcast interview/Tic Tac luncheon, and I sort of missed it. I wonder if they had filmed it, scrapped it and are planning to do something similar during the socially-distant finale, since it’s a good fit for the format. Just speculating.)
As I said earlier, the road to the runway, felt particularly tension-free. So, let’s skip ahead.
The performance is surprisingly delightful. The opening number, featuring the remaining queens revisiting their very first lewks of the season is probably the lowpoint. It’s standard Drag Race cheese, but it’s passably charming, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The big emotional number — the segment I was certainly most nervous for — turns out to be a season highlight. Drag Race isn’t known for this kind of purposeful pathos, but these queens are so talented, so vulnerable, that they lend a gravitas to the performance that, truly, the material did not deserve. Jackie in particular proves she’s a capital-A ACTRESS with a glint in her eye that sizzles with star power. Gigi, too, over delivers. Once again, it’s clear her mother’s work in the theater has affected much more than just her wardrobe. Crystal is no slouch either, and I’ve yet to see her face painted more beautifully. Even Jaida, whose vocals sound like they were run through the I Am T-Pain app on an iPhone 3G, at least looks gorgeous. (I would say she is “television actress playing Roxie Hart on Broadway” levels of passable.)
The disco closer is fun. The queens’ performances crackle with energy (or maybe that’s just in contrast to the blank, wall-eyed, shirtless back-up dancers). It’s not ABBA, but it’s also better than most of Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again.
Our final runway is simply Eleganza Extravaganza, and, once more, everyone brings their A-game. One of the most special things about this group is how they all have incredible senses of self. So, when tasked to show us who they are, these gals came prepared. (We’ll hash out the particulars in the rankings below.)
Judging is nothing more than sort of an anti-roast. One by one, they go down the line praising everyone’s performance, looks and season-long growth. They’re all great.
(Another missing element: Ru’s usual trauma S&M play, wherein he holds up a photo and asks, “What would you say to Little Rodney?” I do NOT miss this segment, since the ladies usually know it’s coming, and the last few seasons have been tough to watch every queen try to wring tears out of their lashes.)
Ultimately, Gigi is first sent to the finale, joined by Jaida (and she who must not be named).
It stinks to see Jackie and Crystal fight for their spot, because truly they both deserve to be there. (And there’s a good chance they WILL both be there, all things considered.) Still, it’s tough to look at Crystal’s trajectory and not admit she has the edge here.
The lip sync is another fun one. I’m loving this season’s lip syncs, because they’re not all tricks. It’s just good performing, comic timing and pure personality. That’s worth more than a million dips and splits.
Ultimately, the judges make the right call and send Crystal to the finale. The unfortunate side effect is that means Jackie is sent home. (HAHA WE’RE ALL HOME NOW LOL I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE OMG.)
So where do we stand ahead of the finale?
- I’m still stanning Gigi. I know folks had some feedback about my persistent support of Ms. Goode (yes, I read the comments), but, like NeNe Leakes before me, I said what I said. She faltered the last few challenges, but here’s the thing: The challenges do not matter. Shilling your own brand of bottled water is actually not a skill drag queens ACTUALLY need to have. Even the show barely plays by its own rules. My assessments are loosely trying to read the tea leaves of the edit, gauging each performer’s overall star power (already a squishy metric), and, of course, my own personal biases. I’m not a drag expert, but neither is Vanessa Hudgens, y’all, and she actually got to weigh in on eliminations. ANYWAY. As the judges noted, Gigi is not your typical fashion queen. She can perform comedy, sing, dance (enough) and she’s got a twisted little brain that sets her apart. I adored her wacky, tacky, Joan Cusack-inspired runway. It was pure camp couture. I think she’s the total package with the most goods to go all the way, but I also might be #Alone … Alone on this one.
- Jaida, too, is greater than the sum of her pageant parts. I do not want to download her single on iTunes (OK, boomer), but she is gorgeous and clever and meticulously devoted to her craft in a way that should be an inspiration to anyone. It took me too long to warm to Jaida, but once you get through the polished exterior, you find the inside just as well-appointed. Her final runway was quintessential Jaida, and the more I studied the details, the more I found myself emotionally moved by the care she puts into executing her vision every time. She’d be a worthy winner and a reminder that “pageant” isn’t a four-letter word.
- It’s easy to draw a parallel from Crystal’s signature clown makeup to previous All Stars winner (and one of Drag Race‘s ultimate success stories) Trixie Mattel. However, I think she’s shown how much more adaptable she is. Crystal manages to always look different, while always looking like Crystal. Whether she is a Muppet, a male exotic dancer, a purple monster or serving Jambi from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse realness, as she did tonight, she’s unmistakably her. It almost feels like Ru did her super dirty by focusing so myopically on the mullet, which is probably the least interesting thing about her. I think she’s got an uphill battle to the crown, but don’t count this underdog out yet.
- Aw, Jackie. The Persian princess is the heart of season 12, and in any other collection of queens, she’d shine even brighter. The campy queen delivered high-quality looks, but they just never were at the level of the other girls. It felt like she was the shining star of the musical, bringing the same emotion that helped her during the one-woman show. Jackie is a brilliant artist, and I trust she will find the perfect platform that allows her to showcase not only her drag expertise, but also her intelligence, ideals and emotional intelligence.
How would you rank the queens?
- Quick programming note: I don’t recap reunions, which are really just recaps themselves, so I’ll be back for the finale. Clearly, I could use the time off.