RuPaul’s Drag Race
Have thine appetites yet been spoilt, children? In this Golden Age of Drag, we may or may not be hitting critical mass in terms of Drag Race content, what with a controversial All Stars run followed immediately by this full-fledged season of supersized episodes (plus the glorious return of televised Untucked), but here we are again, recapping every moment and fattening ourselves for the slaughter! Or is it the slay? In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed this premiere. It’s dimes across the board and a refreshing return back to basics (clock the Xtina reference), so let’s meet our fresh-faced queens, shall we?
First to march out the gate and into a refurbished workroom is season nine’s Eureka O’Hara, who comes in hot with a great phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes look. It’s nice to see her having fully bounced back and ready to follow through on the competition, and we’re gagged to see what she has in store. After practicing conversation with an overturned stool, Eureka is joined by pageant veteran Asia O’Hara, of the Dallas O’Haras, followed by Hell’s Kitchen staple and Harlem resident Miz Cracker. She’s a self-described “Barbie on bath salts,” but we’ve always known her to be composed, put-together, and charming at her live shows, so the jury’s out on how much crazy is really there. Prove us wrong, Cracker! Eat another contestant!
Speaking of crazy, or at least shen jing bing (that’s “insane” in Mandarin, y’all), Yuhua Hamasaki enters and greets the girls with a sunny, “Hi, gay people!” Okay fine, it’s pretty funny. Her entrance look is something you might see at Bubble_T in that a white gay might elbow aside an Asian gay to take a closer look at it, and the whole thing is simply stunning. Next is Blair St. Clair dressed in an adorable vintage jet-set outfit. She introduces herself as a Broadway queen from Indianapolis, which is honestly an act of bravery in a NASCAR town. We then get a fun Rosie the Riveter tearaway gag (no but like, literally a prop gag) from Monét X Change, who we can already tell will be a great narrator in confessionals. She, Yuhua, and Cracker have the first of many squealing New York reunions, but thankfully they open up the banter to the rest of the ladies and there’s a nice, promising repartee to soak in. Dare we say the vibe reminds us of the first episode of season five?
We meet Kameron Michaels, a perfectly likable queen who we predict will coast on this muscle-queen angle for a decent amount of time in the competition. Let’s give it seven weeks, even. Any longer than that, we riot. Mayhem Miller floats in later on and declares the party crashed, then name=drops prominent members of her iconic drag family including Detox, Morgan McMichaels, and Delta Work. She’s auditioned every single year, and finally making it on season ten feels like an overdue vindication. Next, Kalorie Karbdashian-Williams struts in, shows off her curves, and gives the girls a twerking demonstration that is her apparent trademark.
Moments later — as soon as she sets foot in the room — a true star is born in Monique Heart, also known as “the ooh-ah-ah sensation.” Before you say something foolish like, “Her squeals are so extra,” allow yourself to feel the warmth and effervescence and heart emanating from Monique, who is giving you face and fashion and charisma in spades. Her face crack at learning Miz Cracker’s name is an instant classic, and our heads are spinning just thinking about Monique’s infinite watchability this season. In walks Dusty Ray Bottoms, a New York queen with questionable makeup motifs but some fun Patricia Field looks, perhaps? There’s a deliciously off-kilter quality about her that will probably end up being good TV as well.
Following Dusty is the Vixen, who purchased her entire outfit at a gift shop in O’Hare International Airport. She presents herself as an outspoken woke queen who works primarily in protest art, and the other queens politely nod at this information. Vanessa Vanjie Mateo stomps in next and moves through the room with such fierceness and personality that her vocab-based misfires remind us of a post-season Alyssa Edwards, and our minds go down a dangerously fun path.
Finally there’s Aquaria, who hobbles in looking like a cute Joan Jett Muppet and sets off the first big feud of the season with Miz Cracker, based solely on the fact that they look alike. Monét informs us that Aquaria and Cracker are often confused for each other, although it’s not yet clear how this has manifested conflict. For now, watch this space. As far as Aquaria’s confessional persona goes, we’re picking up dry, petulant little rich-boy vibes, like Pearl but more fun.
With the full roster assembled, an onscreen Ru calls the girls over for their first “She Done Already Done Had Herses” transmission, in which she alludes heavily to past winners. Soon enough the real RuPaul enters the workroom to greet the queens and commemorate a full decade of Drag Race, and a hot second later we move on to the first mini-challenge of the season, featuring some stacked company.
One at a time the girls walk into a room full of Drag Race alums lining a raised catwalk. Eureka is first to be given Ru’s assignment: to literally be a star and stand out whilst dancing, strutting, and living among some of the fiercest girls to ever grace this television program. You have to shine, mama. This is the moment to show how serious you are about this opportunity. As Eureka starts her performance, there is a moment where we’re hesitant about just how far she can physically push herself post-injury. Tearing your ACL is no joke, and it seems that the Eureka we get in these first moments is not necessarily the dancing diva known to leap into a split, laws of physics be damned. Mrs. Kasha Davis — who is in the building, y’all! — shares our concerns, but we’ll chalk it up to some wise energy conservation. Eureka looks fierce and powerful, and that’s good for now. “Work that knee replacement!” shouts Peppermint. We gag.
Mayhem Miller, surrounded by her legendary sisters, feels confident enough to land a cartwheel in a floor-length gown, and is an early contender to win this mini-challenge. Also competitive is Miz Cracker, serving equal parts comedy and crouching and wild gesticulation. She is showered with love by her proud drag mother Bob the Drag Queen, and that stamp of maternal approval must mean good things. Asia O’Hara gives you classic broken-body runway stomp, but the star of her big moment is Peppermint again, who clocks her fringed jacket as functioning “like a car wash, bitch!” Was Pep this fun on season nine?!
Kalorie, who actually bears a strong resemblance to Khloe Kardashian, rests on her twerking a bit too much before surprising at the last minute with a fun, crowd-pleasing split, even if Mariah Balenciaga clocks her for having — gasp! — ripped fishnets. Her name is now blackened in the village. Monique Heart confidently struts on down the runway looking gorgeous. Extra points to the editor of this episode for featuring a Monique-focused Derrick Barry talking head that … makes us miss Derrick Barry?! The whole mini-challenge succeeds at evoking all sorts of nostalgia while also delightfully introducing us to these new queens. Emmys! Emmys across the board!
The Vixen flops around and we guess it’s great! It’s definitely physical and definitely ruins her costume, but she’s giving full Wrigleyville voguing teas for your nerves, and Dusty Ray Bottoms recalls Sharon Needles with an “I’m scared and also scary!” alt approach to her performance that’s mostly concerning. Yuhua Hamasaki, who lets us know she is “actually a very silly person,” earns what will almost surely be a recurring catchphrase from RuPaul: “Yuhua Hamasaki? Yuhua HO!” It makes us laugh, maybe too much, as does Yara Sofia’s Battlefield Earth regalia. Vanessa Vanjie Mateo rips off her golden cage so she can dance and death-drop with abandon, Kameron Michaels moves surprisingly well (though we’re noticing now that her dress is kind of a flop), and then comes Monét X Change to give you everything. There is obviously already a lot of respect in the room for this queen, who slays it, making Trixie Mattel laugh like only Katya can.
Blair St. Clair overcomes her own shock at the magnitude of the moment and confidently struts to and fro down the runway. Someone, we think Jinkx, calls her “Emma Stone” and we nearly turn off the television, emotionally satiated. Cool Girl Aquaria gets the Cool Girl stamp of approval from Cool Girl Adore Delano, despite literally stumbling over and backhanding Jinkx, who charmingly says she’s “Just happy for the airtime!” Can we get a show that’s just this mini-challenge? We would watch ten seasons, at least.
Shedding their drag personas, the ladies finally introduce themselves to each other as men, and it’s pretty a good-looking group! We see baseball caps galore, and there’s a lot of focus on Kameron Michaels’ appearance as “actual trade,” which is a bit of an eye roll, but at least we get some fun, salivating commentary from Eureka. Meanwhile, Yuhua can’t tell the black queens apart and tries to pass it off as cutesy, but a concerned RuPaul immediately enters and convenes a 30-minute symposium on race, which takes up the rest of the episode.
Just kidding, bish. Monét wins the mini-challenge, and it’s well deserved! We’re almost immediately thrust into the maxi-challenge, which is a callback to Drag Race’s very first challenge of the very first episode of the very first season, Drag on a Dime. The Pit Crew enters wheeling in hundreds of dollar-store items, and the queens are told they must create fabulous couture looks in this Project Runway–esque design challenge. This obviously earns a mixed reaction from the group, which, this being RuPaul’s Drag Race, we can safely assume has several individuals who bafflingly cannot sew. It’s common for the first challenge of the season to be a design-and-sewing challenge, so you gotta be at least an adequate seamstress to make it to episode two.
The queens scramble to assemble props that they can turn into realized concepts and stunning garments. They must both show their skills as designers and accurately communicate their personas to ensure a lasting first impression, which is a demanding challenge if you think about it! Cracker, unsatisfied with her foraging, barters with Monique for more materials. We learn that she comes from a poor background and is accustomed to rummaging her costume elements from the streets of New York City. Dusty and Blair have some parallel Judy Jetson thinking when it comes to their materials and concepts, and Yuhua gathers opinions from Aquaria and Monét on whether a caution-tape look is the way to go. Monét throws a little shade about Yuhua being a seamstress, which is decidedly different from being a designer, honey. Do we see some cracks in our polished coterie of NYC queens?! Hmm…
The next day, “buttholes are clenched” and the designs are almost finished. Kalorie is satisfied with her questionable-looking gown, which is literally just a bunch of fake dollar bills that look to be stapled onto a dress. “They wanted a million-dollar dress, so I’m giving them a million-dollar dress!” she says, almost oblivious to the superior designs around her. Bless up, queen! Monique is equally confident, but with good reason, as it looks like her deck-of-cards dress, complete with a sleekly constructed wig made of plastic, is going to be fab. The fact that she exclusively uses Queen of Hearts cards is an inspired touch, and we’re excited to see it walk the runway.
It’s at this point in the episode that Eureka gets a moment to explain the extent of her injury last season, and it’s emotional to see her recount what was obviously a huge stumbling block in her career. There was evidently a moment where it seemed untenable to return to a competition as physically relentless as Drag Race, and she describes the recovery process as “horrible.” It’s going to be difficult not to root for this queen, whose personality is more winning than ever, with a story line more ripe for Rudemption than any queen so far. Also, she’s just plain fierce. We’re here for Eureka! It’s also a sympathetic moment for Kalorie and Mayhem, who attentively listen to Eureka. The latter gets some airtime for her “I’ve been doing drag for centuries” story line, and you root for her as well. That’s something to note about this season: not a lot of filler queens! We’ve got a group of real gems here, and we are blessed.
But before you assume the workroom is drama-free this season, we revisit the Aquaria versus Cracker feud when they start painting almost the same exact face for the runway. It seems to crack Aquaria in a certain kind of way, as she explains that this isn’t exactly a one-off incident. We’re going to step in here to say that, having seen both of these queens live, Aquaria and Cracker are very different in terms of performance and vibe, though it’ll be interesting to hear if there is a genuine history of copycat behavior. Meow, bitch. Meow.
While we’re meowing, RuPaul hits the runway in the fierce black-and-white catsuit look from the season-ten promos, and it’s a gag to see Ru … tucked?! When you’re ten years into a relationship, sometimes you just don’t bother with your tucks anymore. Thanks for the effort, babe! Michelle, Ross, and Carson seem to have dusted off the cobwebs from All Stars 3, their game faces painted right the fuck on, as the girls hit the runway.
Aquaria’s Little Bo Beep number isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a solid start. Asia’s extremely busy and colorful ensemble is a bit noisy but not badly constructed. We also could have done without the “Pick Me” sign, but we don’t think she’s in danger this week, especially with what Kalorie is bringing. The dollar-bill gown looks shoddy and unfinished. Less sympathy for Eureka and more innovation, honey!
Blair St. Clair is beat and rocks her futuristic Vivienne Westwood–inspired garment. Not coincidentally she is followed by Dusty Ray Bottoms, and it’s a small relief that both queens haven’t actually made something that similar. Dusty looks like a high fashion tin man, but you can tell we are moments away from a passive-aggressive run of questions from Michelle Visage on Dusty’s trademark spotted, trypophobia-inducing makeup. It’s exactly the kind of thing Michelle exists to nitpick, and we love her for it.
Kameron is surprisingly fishy, but the more we see of this queen, the more it’s evident that she’s there to juxtapose a narrow view of “masculinity” with drag and not because of artistic excellence. We might be a little hard on her, but this runway look is pretty by the numbers. Meanwhile, Monét X Change waddles in with a concept, honey, and while the hem is questionable and the dress may not be as narratively clear to the viewer as it is to Monét herself, it’s different, memorable, and the dress itself can be used to clean up the workroom after a long day of shooting. The Vixen’s outfit is a bit basic and may have taken half the time to construct as everything else on the runway, but she brings a unique POV to it for now. Overall, we’re getting her Chicago sister Shea Couleé–lite thus far, and we have a feeling she may hear that at some point.
Mayhem Miller’s cocktail dress made of black latex gloves is a real achievement, and it’s truly clear how seasoned she is in this moment. If the outfit didn’t excite us enough, the turn over the shoulder and single, severe blink before she exits does. We’re all in for this ho. Eureka’s look is familiar but well done, and Monique delivers on the promise she showed earlier in the workroom. The dress, which looks almost impossible to make, is stunning and visionary, and that wig exceeds all expectations. Royal flush, ooh-ah-ah!
That hot streak comes to an end with Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, and it makes us sad. Her pink flowers-and-Barbies dress ruins her silhouette, and it’s obviously the weakest look besides Kalorie’s. She’s trying to sell it with her voice-over, but no amount of charm can save this. Yuhua’s caution tape is something we’ve seen before, but it’s good enough to be safe. We also get another “Yuhua ho!” from RuPaul, and that’s reason enough to keep her around for several more weeks. We love a catchphrase! We are catchphrase queens. We’re easy that way.
Next, Miz Cracker comes out in an elegant mid-century peplum look, complete with a gorgeous pillbox hat. Despite her beat being similar to Aquaria’s, the whole ensemble is distinct and wonderfully supported by a forlorn housewife character that she manages to pantomime in her walk.
Ru announces half the queens as safe, including Monique, who is a little perturbed by landing in the middle of the pack. Soon enough, everyone’s spirits are lifted with an adorably silly fake-out in which Christina Aguilera (!) as “Farrah Moan” enters and gags the girls with her famously throaty vocal runs. Standing ovation to Xtina for being game to participate in one of the more frivolous bits in the show’s herstory, and soon enough she joins the panel to guest judge and begin critiquing the queens.
Kalorie gets a dressing down for her poorly executed and well-trod dress, and Blair gets lightly knocked for some small costume elements but moves on pretty unscathed. Michelle Visage then performs a classic interrogation on Dusty’s cone hat and Kusama-wannabe makeup job, and Mayhem gets showered in accolades for her ingenious dishwasher-glove creation. She’s overcome with emotion and bears the weight of a full decade’s worth of seeing herself on this mainstage, which is truly moving to watch. Ross offers Mayhem a nice, Oprah-esque bromide about the universe or something, and then we move on to Vanessa. Everyone agrees that her charm is infectious, but that the dress is a bit fussy in its composition. Yuhua gets some positive remarks despite delivering an uninspired concept, and we get a fun moment in which she’s blithely unaware of the Egyptian symbolism she’s so prominently featuring in her headdress.
Finally, the judges get to Cracker, who impressively zings in some laughs with every response to the judges’ questions. After being commended for her resourcefulness, she addresses the guest judge of honor with a mannerly “thank you, Christina Aguilera,” and with that we have a wonderfully charming start to Miz Cracker’s runway presence.
After much deliberation, Mayhem earns a rightful first win of the season, and it looks like we’ve got a real crier on our hands, which we fully support. Dusty, Vanessa, and Kalorie land in the bottom, and a few suspenseful moments later our first Lip Sync for Your Life of the season comes down to Kalorie and Vanessa, who have been asked to prepare a lip sync to Christina Aguilera’s seminal hit “Ain’t No Other Man.” It starts off as a real toss-up, but once both queens tear away parts of their outfits (Vanessa her cape and Kalorie her skirt), it becomes a bit clearer who should win. Ru furrows her brow at Vanessa getting her heel stuck in the tulle of her cape, and Kalorie assures her win by reaching into her bodice and making it rain with dollar bills. Ultimately Vanessa goes home, and we mourn the cocksure cluelessness we hardly got to know. Here’s hoping she makes some kind of return soon, but for now, we’re satisfied with this promising group of skilled, fascinating and obsession-worthy queens. We’re simply stuffed, but all we want is more, more, more. Here’s to a surfeit of Drag Race to satisfy our eternal hunger.
SAID THE BITCH: A Weekly Quote Spotlight
Dusty: “Ladies, I have to say I was really, really, really trying to spot the booger, but everyone looks fierce. Y’all are cute!”
The Vixen: “If you can’t spot the booger…”
…SAID THE BITCH!!! This one’s self-explanatory, but as Dusty marvels at all the trade in the room while the queens disrobe, the Vixen throws an ingenious bit of shade. Don’t sleep on the Vixen!