RuPaul’s Drag Race
To paraphrase a Kanye lyric from a simpler time, “RuPaul’s Drag Race, how could you be so Monique Heart-less?” We are still wiping tears from our eyes after last week’s elimination, in which our one true queen half-cartwheeled, and then sashayed, away, but we bravely soldier on with the show. We’ve got a Cher-themed episode on our hands and, according to her legendary ass, the beat goes on!
At the top of the episode, the Vixen is pissed that the rest of the girls — who she thought were her friends! — turned on her on the Mainstage last week; Monét wants a win badly; and Asia’s fish mask is still the best thing that’s ever happened to us and deserves a Vanjie-level of notoriety, in our opinion. It’s almost as funny as what happens the next day when, pre–RuPaul riddeo (a cute li’l made up word we have created for her famous riddle videos), an arm-wrestling match between Kameron Michaels and Asia O’Hara is abruptly interrupted by a cameo appearance by Chad Michaels as Cher. Because, bitch, we are not going to watch an arm-wrestling match on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Arm-wrestling matches do not exist here. Those belong in middle schools, and we wish a drag queen dressed as the Goddess of Pop could have stepped in when we were forced to participate in them there. We always lost! We have small, gay arms!
RuPaul announces that, in the great tradition of Cher in Moonstruck, the mini challenge will be a competition to see who can serve the sauciest comment worthy of a slap across the face from RuPaul, and react to that slap with the appropriate amount of histrionics. The winner is Asia O’Hara, who literally gets slapped across the face by Ru accidentally. For taking it like a champ (and not suing), she gets the W.
The maxi challenge is a massive tribute to RuPaul’s idol. The girls will be starring in Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical, each portraying the Dark Lady from a different era of her six-decade-long career. But this ain’t no lip-sync challenge! The girls are singing live. You know, a thing that drag queens are totally, absolutely, commonly expected to do! This one’s really gonna separate the women from the girls. Or at least the queens who can sing from the queens who can’t.
Ru does a walk-through as the girls each prepare to inhabit their assigned Cher personas. It goes as follows: Asia does not sing or act or want to do this challenge. Kameron must find a way to channel any charisma at all in order to play one of the most charismatic figures in pop-culture history. Monét is a legit opera singer but acts like being a bass vocalist and not a pop alto is a hindrance in a singing challenge in which she is the only trained singer. Eureka, a drag queen who has performed for thousands, hints at a fear of singing in front of people. Miz Cracker was so poor growing up that she didn’t even know what pop culture was until she was in her late 50s. The Vixen says she “sometimes” sings. Finally, Aquaria admits to having a five-note vocal range. It’s gonna be a toss-up, y’all!
Enter Todrick Hall to make sure any confidence the girls have is totally destroyed. It’s what makes him a quadruple threat! Singing, Dancing, Acting, and Getting His Moment When He Senses a Contestant Is Weak. A producer’s dream, he nearly creates several emotional breakdowns in rehearsal. Eureka, in particular, looks on the verge of tears throughout the entire segment, and explains in a talking head that she is currently reminded of a T.S.E. (Traumatic Singing Experience) she had as a child in which her father forced her to sing for his friends and it got physical when she refused. Maybe Todrick wouldn’t have been hard on her if he knew that. Or maybe he is getting a bonus for creating all this drama! He’s gotta hang with T. Swift in Rhode Island this summer, people! He’s in charge of the slip-and-slide rental! He needs coins!
On the mainstage, Ru welcomes the talented Andrew Rannells and Billy Eichner, he of The Street, as guest judges. We launch into the number, which begins promisingly. Kameron Michaels looks the part of 1960s Cher and belts out exposition with a vocal timbre that can only be described as “in the same ballpark as Cher.” To give credit where it’s due, it is arguably more daunting to stand alone onstage and belt out a song than it is to be joined by a fleet of dancers slaying choreography. She is serving you Amy Adams performing “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted at the Oscars, and she carries on the tradition of Being Alone Out There well.
Serving both more sass and more iconic-Cher hair flip is Monét X Change, as the first of two 1970s Variety Show–era Chers. Monét is given probably the funniest material to perform lyrically, as her verse is almost entirely about how cultural appropriation didn’t really exist as a known phenomenon at the time Cher famously rocked a Native American headdress. Faring a little worse is the Vixen, who is assigned the second Variety Show Cher and is unable to fit many Cher-isms into her choreography-heavy performance. The outfit she is wearing, an homage to Cher’s performance with the Jackson 5, is less identifiably Cher than what we’ve seen so far, and unfortunately, if you watched the performance isolated from the rest of this number, we don’t think you’d clock it as a Cher tribute at all.
Aquaria’s performance as Disco Cher is a success in our eyes, as she executes choreography and comedic material. It’s not the most “Cher” of the bunch, but it manages to get Cher across while also juggling a lot of choreo, which is more than we can say for the Vixen’s performance. It also looks very, very good in comparison to Asia O’Hara’s offering, which stands out as the worst of the bunch. She forgets the words, laughs at her own feeble attempt at a Cher impression, and laboriously stomps through the dance steps she is assigned as Movie Star Cher. At least she seems like she is having fun while she is failing, even making a joke to a backup dancer about how she messed up her lyrics. It’s failure with a big fake smile!
Eureka may not be no damn singer, but she makes up for that with sheer stage presence and fun comedic choices as ’80s Pop Icon Cher in an “If I Could Turn Back Time”–inspired performance that bares ass and soul. This is part of what makes Eureka’s hemming, hawing, and crying during the episodes so irritating: Usually you know she’s going to turn it all the way the fuck out. Also nailing it for us this week is Miz Cracker, who’s given a lot to juggle as the fully reinvented Cher of the Believe era, but commits to what is probably the most fun Cher impression. Cracker looks like she is really enjoying this performance, which is different from the preoccupied contestant we’ve been watching for the last couple weeks.
The Gliteriffic runway is stunning all around. Kameron looks angelic, beautiful, and Knots Landing–wealthy in her rhinestone ensemble. Monét’s black glittery pantsuit is striking on first glance, but a closer look does reveal some tape showing in the front and back, which breaks the initially startling illusion. The Vixen’s colorful outfit, which she made out of construction foam, is extremely impressive and possibly ranks as her top runway effort. Aquaria may as well be at this year’s Met Gala with her sexy, stylish, golden ode to Christianity, complete with a halo and a sheer rhinestone veil that blocks her vision. Asia’s clown look hugs her curves in all the right ways, and she’s able to move freely in it. Eureka’s silvery gown is gorgeous, and the loaf has never looked so fierce, but the makeup on her face may go just a touch too far. Finally, Miz Cracker stays on theme serving equal parts comedy and fashion in a gorgeous golden gown which is attached to a ring that holds a glitter-vomiting skull. It’s extremely weird and extremely Cracker. It’s hard to picture anyone else thinking of it.
Kameron Michaels receives great feedback all-around, whereas everyone else is read for one thing or another. Monét is praised for her energetic performance, but is clocked for that damn tape on her outfit. The Vixen’s outfit is beloved by the judges, but is told she did not invoke Cher in the challenge. As is custom, Aquaria earns accolades for her runway but, in the challenge, Michelle got more Madonna than Cher. Asia’s Cher is … well, Asia’s Cher, and Eureka and Cracker both don’t get enough credit for what they did in the challenge. Cracker’s critiques, in particular, boggle our mind. Michelle’s note that she “put too much on” with her Cher impression is nonsensical. She’s a drag queen doing Cher. What do you mean “too much”? We wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that she had to use a vocoder had something to do with the judges note that they couldn’t make out Cracker’s words during her performance. It was clear to us at home!
The bottom two are Asia O’Hara and the Vixen, and the lip sync to “Groove Is in the Heart” is one of the most solid and joyful we’ve seen all season, particularly from Asia. In the end, this lip sync is the third strike for the Vixen, and she is sent home. It almost feels weird to watch her leave the competition, as she’s been the center of it from a dramatic standpoint for many weeks.
Here’s the thing about the Vixen, or at least the version of the Vixen that we saw on this highly produced and edited television program: She is what the kids call “extra AF.” The choice to enter the workroom with literal fightin’ words, the insertion of herself into a budding conflict between Aquaria and Miz Cracker until it was centered almost entirely on herself, the zero-to-sixty escalation of her Untucked blowup with Eureka, last week’s runway, and so on. The Vixen stirs it up because she operates in extremes. Everything feels personal. Shit gets blown all the way out. And her narrative requires the audience, if they want to judge her fairly, to consider the bigger picture surrounding her Drag Race participation and candidacy for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar more than they have before, with probably any other contestant.
And you know what? Good.
For a long ten seasons’ worth of time, we’ve pretended that the playing field is even between white or white-passing queens with massive Instagram followings and black queens from parts of the country that see real struggle. But the playing field is not even, and the show hasn’t always cared until now. By pushing this narrative to the forefront week after week, by highlighting the differences between queens like the Vixen and Aquaria, RuPaul’s Drag Race is embracing the fact that it is political by nature of its existence. In the world in which it currently airs, this show cannot continue to ignore the bias it has had, the bias its audience very much has, and the bias there is in this country at large. Enter the Vixen, calling herself a political artist. When asked, several times, by white queens to “tone it down” or “come in at a 5 instead of a 10” for the sake of everyone else’s comfort, she refused. It is actually only in this episode, many weeks into the competition, that she entertains constructive and loving feedback from another queen, and that is likely only because in Asia O’Hara she sees someone who has experienced a similar or comparable struggle to get to this very big, career-defining moment.
The Vixen is not perfect but she should be proud of what she has accomplished on Drag Race. In a way, she forced a rapidly growing audience that assumes it has little work to do because it belongs to a marginalized community to look seriously at the work it has to do. Each week, we winced when a coded comment that could be taken “the wrong way” was actually taken for what it was and responded to. When the Vixen revealed that a bartender who told her “south side trash was ruining Pride” caused her to radicalize her drag, she exposed a hard truth about racism in the community. We’re no better than America right now, and turning on Drag Race doesn’t make this shit go away. The fact that the show cast the Vixen and didn’t shy away or back down from exactly who she is is an important step in the right direction. We’re gonna bet most drag queens in the world didn’t end up in drag just because they liked makeup and dancing. They’re artists and entertainers with things to say about topics that matter, and many of them have had to fight hard to be heard.
Ironically, the queen with the least amount to say in terms of actual words spoken, Kameron Michaels, walks away with the win on this episode, but deservedly so. Her performance as ’60s Cher was fun and accurate, and her runway was superlative, as hers typically have been. But we will miss the girl who never ran out of things to say and spoke truth to power. We’re gonna miss the Vixen, wild behavior and all, not just because she was good television, but because she was important television. And important television, it turns out, can contain men in wigs doing C+ Cher impressions. Snap … into it.
SAID THE BITCH! A Weekly Quote Roundup
Kameron: I think I need to take it up an octave, ’cause I am singing like baritone Cher.
Asia: Monét, start getting ready ’cause you need to take your makeup up an octave.
… SAID THE BITCH! The most fun dynamic on this season is between Monét and Asia. The latter queen could teach a college course on off-the-cuff reads, and the former is always gagged, even when the comments are at her expense. Their playful hug after this exchange says it all. Sisters!