After three weeks of feel-good vibes, RuPaul’s Drag Race finally gave us a villain for season 14.
It all starts innocently enough, as the gals gather following June Jambalaya’s elimination. Pathological overachiever Jasmine Kennedie cannot resist the opportunity to feel the Jantasy. (Jantasy, noun /ˈjan(t)əsē’/ 1. The belief that your undeniable talents are unrecognized by reality show judges.) What follows is a teary breakdown about not winning last week’s ball challenge.
You can probably imagine how this is received. Luckily, this season’s union rep Kornbread is on the case. She immediately calls out Jasmine for steamrolling conversations and taking up too much space. The feedback is direct and actionable. Gauging by the reactions of the other queens, it needed to be said.
In Jasmine’s defense, self-awareness is not a switch one can merely flip on. You can tell she genuinely is trying to do right the remainder of the episode, but, ho boy, it’s a rough ride.
This week’s challenge splits the queens into two teams to complete a fictional “super tease” parody montage for the season. The voiceover is provided by Ru and consistent for both teams, so they get to choose how to bring things like “catfights” and “shocking revelations” to life.
It’s one of those acting challenges where most of the humor comes from the edit. It’s a very narrow ask, and a lot of the ladies’ choices are left on the cutting room floor.
Ru appoints last week’s winner, Willow, and last week’s lip sync survivor (winner feels like an overstatement), Maddy Morphosis, team captains. As the last queen picked, Jasmine chooses to walk her chatterbox over to team Willow, alongside the recently riled Kornbread.
As the queens hash out their ideas, the tension between Kornbread and Jasmine on Team Willow is thicker than Roxxxy Andrews’ padding. It’s not that Kornbread is wrong, per se, but she relentlessly harps on every faux pas Jasmine makes. (And, to be fair, there are a lot!) Eventually it’s like watching someone rub a puppy’s face into their mess, and we the viewers are the carpet.
Over on Team Maddy, we ask the age old question: Can heterosexual men be funny? The jury is still out, but Maddy does impress with some legit joke pitches that demonstrate a fluency in drag humor belied by Maddy’s chill, Buffalo Wild Wings vibe.
Predictably, we get to see the pretty girls struggle to find their funny. Jorgeous and Kerri can’t let go of being sexy long enough to make fools of themselves. Puerto Rican pageant princess Alyssa Hunter doesn’t have a lot of funny ideas to contribute, and during filming she misses key set-ups for punchlines. It feels reductive to blame it all on language barrier. It feels much more like Alyssa, like so many pageant queens before her, just doesn’t excel at this brand of humor.
The finished products are pretty good! On Team Willow, the team captain totally slays with jokes even Marc Maron would appreciate. My favorite bit involves realizing she’s not competing for a shot at love with Jeffrey Boyer-Chapman on The Bitchelor. She secures a top spot with a great interpretation of this week’s “Night of 1,000 J.Los” runway, choosing to wear one of J.Lo’s most Romy and Michelle ensembles from her first Grammy Awards in 1998. It’s basically camp, and the judges eat it up.
Some of her teammates are not as successful. Iconic guest judge [everybody say] Loni Love reads Kornbread for relying on fat jokes, which is a valid criticism. However, Kornbread’s Met Gala-inspired runway is stunning. It doesn’t feel like the performance is worth of a bottom-three finish. Kornbread was still funny, still went for it, and she looked great on the mainstage.
Kerri also looks incredible in the actual green Versace dress J.Lo wore in 2019 as an homage to her legendary lewk from 20 years earlier. Not a recreation, not a copy, THE DRESS. Like, the fabric has graced both ladies’ skin.
It’s an impressive sight, but is it an impressive achievement? It doesn’t really showcase Kerri’s personal taste, talent, ingenuity, point of view or anything other than her personal connections. Once the immediate shock reaction wears off, it’s actually a little disappointing.
Her comedy is a lot disappointing. There’s just no “there” there. She’s relying on pretty. It’s bottom two for her.
Team Maddy fares better overall with DeJa and eventual winner Angeria taking top spots. DeJa especially shines this week, giving us slapstick, character, one-liners and some actual acting. If her runway was better, she’d have my vote for this week’s win.
Instead, that goes to Angeria. As usual, she looks great on the mainstage dripping stones as J.Lo at the Met Gala 2019. Even more than Kerri’s genuine artifact, Angeria just knows how to make the judges (and audience) gag on her eleganza. She’s undeniably funny in the clip, but the humor is much more personality-driven than cleverly crafted. It’s no less valid (especially in this context), but depending on your personal tastes, your mileage may vary.
That leaves Alyssa to lip sync against Kerri to “Play” by J.Lo. The sync leaves a lot to be desired. Kerri is clearly trying not to damage the dress, so her range of motion is “limited.” Alyssa attempts to incorporate one of those cash guns, but it jams in a big “womp, womp” moment.
Alyssa is certainly doing more overall, but this isn’t a dance competition. Personally, I found Alyssa’s efforts to impress to be a bit frantic and disconnected from the energy of the song. Even though Kerri is decidedly sleepier, she punctuates some lines with facial expressions, and there was almost something charming about her ease.
That’s why I don’t feel Alyssa’s elimination is the injustice some folks on Twitter seem to think it is. A successful pageant girl, she doesn’t need a lowly recapper like me to tell her she’s talented and gorgeous. However, this show looks for some very specific criteria, and I’m not sure Alyssa has the full arsenal Ru is looking for.
(As an aside, I hate this chocolate bar gimmick. Unless it’s notable, I’m not going to bother with it week-to-week.)
How are our ladies faring after the first comedy challenge? Let’s take stock with our rankings below.
- Angeria continues to ride a wave of momentum, racking up another win (her third, if you include the mini-challenge). Even when the judges fawn over her runways, I still feel like they’re underselling how beautiful the garments are. Plus, she’s got an irresistible personality AND can make Ru laugh? So far, no notes!
- There’s a good case to be made that Willow is the true top contender this season. After a … let’s call it “disarming” … entrance look, Willow unleashed an original vision that extends from performance to fashion. She was funnier than anything the writers for this show have ever come up with, and her J.Lo outfit was outside-the-box, hideous, beautiful and perfect all at once. I give the slight edge to Angeria, because there’s potential for Willow to easily go too cerebral and alienate the judges. Angeria is more aligned with what works on this show.
- Why aren’t we talking more about Bosco? She cracks me up in the confessionals, she regularly transforms her face with different makeup techniques, and, even when her runways are a little similar, there’s a lot of thought there. I like what she brought to the teaser, though she was a bit hampered working with the so-so Jorgeous.
- There was nothing wrong with Kornbread‘s work this week, but once the judges get one of these ideas in their heads, it tends to stick. While she initially seemed squarely in the right during the conflict with Jasmine, her doggedness quickly became off-putting. I didn’t find her performance any more obvious than Angeria’s, but I agree it was a bit one-note. Then again, like, this is a super cut? There’s not exactly room for character development. Plus, she had one of my favorite looks on the runway. She should’ve been safe.
- Jasmine hasn’t hit peak levels of insufferability for me as a viewer, even if she may have long past that point for her fellow cast members. We know she can sew. We know she can dance. We know she’s got some exquisite gowns. She even delivered decent enough comedy. Her competency is well established, but can she wow the judges with any particular mastery?
- It’s a shame for Jorgeous this was the J.Lo episode. I like the mirrorball nude-illusion bodysuit inspired by a similar outfit Jennifer wore to something called the “Super Bowl.” But, more than that, I loved her J.Lo dance moves, which were super specific and recognizable. Unfortunately, the comedy just wasn’t there.
- Meanwhile, DeJa comes charging back into the competition. She landed early in the bottom two, but this week absolutely slayed every scene she was in. Oddly enough for this established seamstress, her runway was my problem (and kept her from an even higher ranking). Ross correctly clocked the design for not being close enough to J.Lo’s original, but I could not disagree more with his assertion that DeJa’s was an improvement. It was more like a knockoff Halloween costume for “Dance Diva from the Bronx.”
- I guess Lady Camden was trying to sell a character that, underneath all the red, white and blue regalia, was secretly British. Um, ok? Since the edit didn’t provide that context, it just sort of read as bizarre. These other queens are here to play this season, and several have already made very strong impressions. The clock (Big Ben, in this case) is ticking.
- There wasn’t too much Daya to discuss in this episode, but she’s been proving worthy of the second chance, no matter how sloppily it was justified by Ru.
- I’m still a big Kerri Colby fan, but being told you’re too concerned with being pretty is a kiss of death. Of course the dress was incredible. Of course. It was incredible when J.Lo did it. Twice. I’m also being pretty generous about the lip sync. Hopefully in a less precious garment, she’s got more to give.
- Orion‘s J.Lo lewk was faithfully recreated by hand, and she held her own during the tease. A solid, safe week, but she’s got to give us something memorable to erase the bad taste from her first talent show performance.
- Eep! I don’t mean to harp on Maddy, but … her best work (coming out as straight) was cut from the final teaser and her runway looked very off-the-rack, J.Lo inauguration-by-way-of-ASOS.
- It’s not that I think Alyssa is the least talented queen here; it’s just I think she was the least successful at this competition after this week.
How would you rank the queens?