The return of RuPaul’s Drag Race is typically cause for celebration, but thanks to the steady drip of All Stars, Secret Celebrity and several many international iterations, it feels like Drag Race never really ends.
There’s something to be said for the familiar — especially in the throes of Omicron chaos. The first installment of the fourteenth season was a showcase of some of the show’s familiar premiere episode elements — an opening talent show, quippy queens not here to make friends, RuPaul lazily step-touching while lip-syncing her latest single.
That doesn’t mean there’s no gimmicks; we’re getting a two-part premiere with one queen sashaying away from each starting group. It’s my preferred way to start a season, and it makes it much easier to get to know the queens quickly. There’s plenty to savor with this cast, who have already proven to be a talented, twisted bunch.
We’ll get into the individual workroom lewks in our rankings below, but suffice to say, it’s clear these queens came to play. (Even Willow Pill in her lil’ platform sandals.) There are a lot of strong presentations, and the jokes are already flying fast and furious.
This week’s mini-challenge is another standard: the photoshoot with a twist. We’ve seen pillow fights, flying leaps, giant tanks of water, powerful wind machines and now they’re strapped to a spinning wheel. RuPaul picks Texas-native Kerri Colby as the mini-challenge winner, but, I don’t know, all these photos always look roughly the same to me?
Luckily, the talent show maxi challenge is a much more meaningful measure.
First up is June Jambalaya, performing an African dance number in traditional dress. She gives a passionate performance, but a slipping headband and unflattering undergarment sort of kill the illusion.
Next up, Bosco, a Seattle weirdo that knows how to balance sexy, spooky and chic. For her talent, she performs a burlesque striptease that picks the petals off her floral dress until she’s down to nothing but a few well-placed sparkles. It’s not ground breaking, but it’s executed with precision and a little wink at the end (a rose seemingly blooming out of her rosebud).
Puerto Rican pageant queen Alyssa Hunter rocks the stage with an edgy, rock ‘n’ roll lip sync. It’s a genre we don’t dip into nearly enough on the show, but the lip sync leaves plenty to be desired. At one point she uses a prop guitar but doesn’t really play it, and the whole thing just looks sort of silly.
Things pick up with Kerri Colby. It begins as another lip sync (this time to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”), but her true talent is in jump rope. This ain’t yo mama’s Double Dutch. Kerri is a former competitive jump roper, so there are enough kicks, tricks and splits to delight the judges.
Then there’s Michigan’s first RuPaul’s Drag Race queen, Orion Story, and, well, alright, they all can’t be winners. Orion is doing a trailer park yoga instructor character that’s part Drop Dead Gorgeous, part Jerri Blank. There’s a funny idea here, but, as the judges would later point out, the whole act needs to be workshopped a bit more before it’s ready for primetime. There’s hardly a laugh to be found, and the bit never finds a rhythm.
Thankfully, Kornbread follows up with a banger. Yes, it’s a lip sync, and, yes, it’s to an “original track” (two things that usually tank a talent performance for me), but the song slaps, the lyrics are sharp and Kornbread is bursting with star power. It’s easily the most entertaining performance of the night.
Finally, we’ve got to talk about Willow Pill. The young queen gets a lot of spotlight during the premiere. The gals can’t stop dunking on her choice of arrival footwear (the aforementioned platform sandals). She reveals some of her backstory to Ru, including a lifelong battle with illness. Then, the ladies struggle to understand what talent she’s presenting, and, honestly, even after watching it, I do, too.
But, as it is my job, let me try.
I guess you would call it “performance art,” and I don’t mean that to be an insult. As Enya plays, Willow prepares a bubble bath, then dumps red wine in, then a plate of spaghetti, then a toaster. It’s strange and funny and has a point of view. Ru goes absolutely gaga for it. If nothing else, Willow has our attention.
After a solid Signature Show-stopping Drag runway, the judges give the win, rightfully, to Kornbread. Guest judge Lizzo makes a strong case to give Kornbread the win, even if some of the lyrics went over Michelle’s head. The win feels justified and earned.
So, too, are our bottom two. Nothing against June Jambalaya nor Orion Story, but they were clearly this week’s weakest performers. June had that unfortunate headband issue during her dance, and, again, Michelle could see her undergarments through her runway. Orion’s character was more cringe than a Ché Diaz comedy concert.
There’s been a lot of questionable judging across the greater RuPaul’s Drag Race Cinematic Universe lately, so to see a bottom two make clear sense in itself was comforting.
They lip sync to Lizzo’s “Water Me,” and Orion does the absolute worst thing a drag queen can do to a Lizzo song, which is dance like a white guy. It just feels like awkward, middle school moves. Chet Haze vibes. It’s … not good.
June takes a straightforward, passionate approach and easily performs circles around Orion.
No surprises here, June gets the save, and Orion sashays away.
We’ve still got seven queens to meet next week. Let’s see where the first batch stands in our rankings below. Leave your rankings in the comments!
- I’m all in on Kornbread. She’s giving me excellent talking head interview quips. She’s firing off one-liners in the workroom. She looks polished and beautiful. She’s got a sense of humor and a point of view. She came PREPAPRED (including a fully-produced new single). I can see Michelle’s point about wanting more height on her show-stopping runway, but it’s really a small quibble. All in all, a great intro.
- Kerri Colby‘s jump rope skills will only take her so far, so it’s a good thing she’s also gorgeous with a great sense of style. We got a tiny taste of her backstory while chatting with Ru, so we know there’s more to this queen than just a pretty face and banging bod. (Though that bod was definitely banging in that barely-there runway.)
- Bosco is bringing camp, fashion and a little spook to the competition. So far, she’s stayed in the Dita Von Teese/Bettie Page lane, but she’s doing it with a lot more polish than we’re used to from the alternative queens. The trick will be not to fall into the trap of being too one-note.
- Yes, Willow Pill‘s entrance look was very bad. Yes, she wore the precise, specific shade of green that makes Michelle Visage violently ill. No, the green latex did not even fit properly. And yet? None of it was bad enough to overpower her charming weirdness. I get what she was trying to do when she arrived, including the misspelled “angel”/”angle” and the full early-aughts Paris Hilton fantasy. But it was still basically a walking Forever 21 bargain bin. Ru clearly has a fondness for her, though, and that will take her far.
- I feel like there’s a lot more to June Jambalaya than we saw in this first episode. Hopefully she finds her footing (and some more subtle undergarments) for next week.
- I don’t want Alyssa Hunter to go home soon (if for no other reason than to look at that pretty face out of drag), but I have some concerns. She looked beautiful in both the talent show and the runway, but they both just felt like pretty clothes and not a performance. I want her to loosen up.
- It’s not that I think Orion Story’s signature show-stopping drag shouldn’t be a mushroom-themed ensemble with three prosthetic breasts — by all means — but if you’re going to do that you better make sure all three boobs are securely in place! Is that so much to ask? I could see the ends popping up on the left-most, and it was very distracting on the runway. It’s a point so small, it’s not even mentioned as one of this week’s deciding factors. She’s positioning herself as a comedian, but she ain’t funny. Her entrance catchphrase was another bomb. Although it may not be the end of her tale, this is the conclusion of this chapter of Orion’s RuPaul’s Drag Race story.
What did you think of the premiere?