RuPaul’s Drag Race
Drag Race remains compelling to watch because it’s a reality show about performance. It’s about performers and performing and performativity, the contours of which the show constantly explores in order to gag the children. And in this new era of the drag-industrial complex, going pro as a queen means setting up a booth, sitting on some loosely themed panels, and moving some mother-tucking product on the convention-center floor. Jarring as it may be for this Drag Con–focused episode to acknowledge the cottage industry of profit-driven merch rackets, we get a fresh new take on a performance challenge that — hey! — also ends up being educational. Let’s walk through this Javits Center–sized episode, and maybe later on we can meet by the step-and-repeat!
We start with Monét X Change wiping off Mayhem’s lipstick message, and Cracker bemoans her status as, to quote Monét, the “Susan Lucci of season ten” for winning no challenges despite placing in the top almost every week. After some playful ribbing at Monét’s expense, we cut to the next day, when Ru shows up to play a game that’s sure to be a staple at every Fire Island house party this summer: Sitting on a Secret, which requires the queens to identify various hard and soft goods (*wink*) using their tactile-sensory butts. This has to be one of the funniest mini-challenges ever, and we are extremely thankful that there’s a TV show that can feature RuPaul offering the Vixen the following advice as she attempts to sit on a traffic cone: “If you want it, it will not hurt.” A fax machine, an eggplant, “a real fish,” and a few ruined cakes later, Asia O’Hara wins the challenge, and the girls learn that this week’s maxi-challenge is to develop a Drag Con–style panel that includes a discussion, demonstration, and Q&A session. And so the portion of this episode in which we watch Aquaria sit on an eggplant and say “It feels good, Ru!” draws to an unfortunate close. (We can’t wait for the deleted scenes.)
The groupings are a free-for-all, with Ru assigning Kameron, Monét, and Eureka a panel on constructing the perfect drag body; Aquaria, Monique, and Asia focusing on makeup tips and beautifying one’s face; and Cracker, Blair, and the Vixen discussing wigs. Of course, the other queens have a lot of commentary on Team Body, which contains legendarily difficult-to-work-with Eureka, quiet Kameron, and recurring Bottom Two dweller Monét. But Eureka’s familiarity with Drag Con is a boon for the Body girls, who stumble on the cutely conjugated term “Proportionizing.” Monét brands the word right as it comes out of Eureka’s mouth, and it suddenly becomes the hook of their whole presentation. The rest of the girls roll their eyes at its overuse, but we know a bop when we hear one. “Proportionizing” is so silly and hooky that it’s obviously going to go a long way.
Ru pops in to check on the teams and imparts some sage advice about making sure Team Face doesn’t sacrifice joy for the sake of sharing their expertise. Monique dutifully picks up Ru’s every kernel of wisdom, determined to succeed and stand out. Over at Team Hair, Ru questions how the presentation will be rolled out and seems a little skeptical of the answer. The girls have decided to be very loose about the whole affair and go sans moderator, opting for more of a hangout vibe onstage. Team Body’s talk with Ru offers viewers a long-awaited glimpse into Kameron’s mentality as a muscle queen, and there’s certainly lots to unpack when it comes to feminizing a masculine body. After grilling Monét a little bit about her stint on the chopping block, Ru encourages the team to be entertaining and fun. Just before she makes her exit, Ru drops a final bomb: Every team, and every individual, will be evaluated by the live audience watching the panel presentations. Suddenly, the pressure is on to not only work as a cohesive unit, but to stand out individually as well.
The next day, two of the teams deal with their own set of challenges. Monique and Asia worry that Aquaria may not be a clear and engaging presence in front of an audience, and Blair feverishly tells Cracker and The Vixen that they need to focus on being natural and likable and “normal girls,” like, at “Sunday brunch.” (Her teammates nod along as if to say, “Yeah, bitch, we know.”) She sounds a little bit like an alien guessing at the behavior of human women, but in what is actually an endearing confessional, Blair reveals that she is obsessive about the competition and shows off a notebook that is chock full of handwritten data about past challenges and what may be coming based on the history of the competition. It is an in-depth farmer’s almanac of drag, honey. So, yes, let’s remember to be natural and normal, says the girl with the book of stats. Like Sunday brunch!
Meanwhile, Team Body is having a gay old time. A positive Eureka is sure they’ll do well, and Monét takes a minute to say how much she enjoys working with her, surmising that maybe the queens who don’t like Eureka are the ones with the problems. The camera can’t cut to B-roll of the Vixen quickly enough.
At this point, we get some fascinating information about several of the contestants. While many of the other queens have arrived with dozens of constructed garments and custom-made looks, Monique Heart has only brought along a few completed ensembles and tons of fabric and materials to work with. All she has, in her words, are “Glitter and Jesus,” which she should silkscreen onto a T-shirt posthaste. Monique has had to be truly resourceful, often putting together her runway looks on the fly for elimination day, and this week’s is a particularly tough squeeze. The runway theme is Hats Incredible, and footage of Monique creating her look hours before the girls are to present them paints her as being disadvantaged. But as Monique makes clear, a lot of eliminated contestants brought a ton of fancy stuff and where are they now? Home! Or a hotel. We don’t know what happens when these girls get eliminated. On Survivor, they send you to, like, a nice resort, we hear.
Kameron also reveals that she used to have a completely different, much leaner body that transformed whilst in a relationship with a gym-going man. She also threw out half of her drag during that relationship at the behest of her boyfriend, disavowing her drag career. When the relationship ended, Kameron was the muscled man we see now, and faced backlash from her peers in the drag community for her masculine physique upon resuming her passion. It’s not what you’d typically expect to hear when it comes to a discussion on body positivity, but Kameron’s belief that you can be a great — and feminine — drag artist regardless of your body size and shape is inspiring. Bitch has depth!
Finally, Monét tells the story of how her family back home on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia woke up one day to find their beloved Kevin’s face all over their island’s newspaper in full drag as the winner of Miss Gay Caribbean. Shocked, they contacted Monét demanding to know if he was gay or trans. Monét explains to the girls that the Caribbean is not an LGBT-friendly place, and that, even then, she had to explain to her relatives that the picture was merely something she did for a movie, withholding the truth about her successful career as a drag queen. As one of the more prolific members of the drag community in NYC, it’s surprising to hear that Monét is still, in a way, not out to a family that she loves.
Soon it’s time for Mini–Drag Con, and Team Body is first up. They set a pretty high bar for the rest of the teams, with every member holding their own as an engaging Paley Center–esque presence. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that all three of the girls stick to specific roles and are therefore a well-oiled machine: Eureka moderates and keeps things moving, Monét provides witty color commentary, and Kameron takes care of the practical elements, such as helping the Pit Crew member they’re using for the demonstration get into his body padding. Kameron is clear and confident in front of the audience when describing how to get a feminine shape using padding, and balanced against Monét and Eureka’s comedic heavy lifting, Kameron’s presence is a very welcome and grounding one. The Body girls altogether have the most successful panel presentation, as we feel like we not only get an education on their topic, but an insight into each queen’s specific personality as well. Eureka also handles a question about “today’s political climate” (eyeroll, bitch) from an audience member with aplomb. It’s entertaining, educational and still feels spontaneous. Work!
Team Face do themselves a favor by sending Monique Heart out ahead of the other two girls to warm the audience up with some humor. She introduces Asia and her “Danny Glover illusion,” followed by Aquaria, and things get off to a good start as the three share how they all got into cosmetics. Both Aquaria and Asia very ably answer a question from a woman in the audience about what she can learn from a drag queen when it comes to makeup. They encourage her to have fun, try new things, and to remember that there are no rules when it comes to painting your geish. It’s good advice, and the vibe in the house is overall extremely warm and positive. Monique demonstrates how to do a shimmer highlight on the Pit Crew stand-in like she’s some sort of drag college professor. She also tickles Ru with her now-signature low chortle and by dropping her signature “Ooh ahh ahh sensation” line, something she should really do more often! If we heard half as many “Ooh ahh ahh sensations” as “Hallelloos,” we’d be happy gay boys! If there is one thing that seems to ruffle the judges’ feathers, it’s that Aquaria and Asia’s simultaneous eyelash and lipstick demo may be more confusing than time-efficient, but other than that, this is a success. Yas!
Team Hair, however, has a bit more difficulty than the other panels, and it comes down to a lack of group chemistry and task delineation. There’s something just slightly off with the combination of Miz Cracker, Blair, and the Vixen, and things quickly veer in a mock-adversarial direction that seems to alienate people in the room. Perhaps it’s the fact that the other two groups have established a positive vibe that this doesn’t sit well, but everything about the back and forth among this trio feels rough as everyone steps on each other. Maybe if Blair didn’t appear so much softer and more passive than Cracker and Vixen, their comments wouldn’t seem so harsh, but they do, and before we know it, we’re distracted from any information they’re putting out about hair. It also seems that they didn’t land on a way to end their presentation, as Cracker is ready to walk off before Blair stops her so the three queens can throw wigs out into the audience. Overall, what was meant to be casual actually reads as unprepared, and it’s not hard to see this will be the bottom group. Gag. (The sad kind.)
On the runway, the Hats Incredible theme is indeed incredible! Kameron Michaels serves a fun Lady Gaga–inspired spinning head-cage on top, but with a basic bodysuit on the bottom. Monét is officially out of her runway slump with a vibrant, colorful, Caribbean church lady look, and Eureka looks absolutely luscious in a black and white houndstooth, skin-tight caped bodysuit that’s serving, in her words, “Samurai realness” (we’ll let it slide). Aquaria’s stunning and magical Klaus Nomi–esque look comes complete with bunny ears, one of which is covered with a top hat that sits at the perfect angle. Monique Heart positively shimmers down the runway, in a look she has made mere hours before, with a twisted translucent fascinator that serves fashion. You have to give her credit for blending in with the rest of these queens and their obviously capital-E Expensive looks.
It’s Asia O’Hara that steals the whole show with a dandelion look that the judges can barely even muster any puns about. It is gorgeous, memorable, and brand new. The dress fits perfectly, the huge dandelion hat sits and moves gorgeously and gracefully, and an added touch of the windblown spurs flying through the air as she moves creates a full illusion. This is one of the best runway moments Drag Race has ever seen.
Miz Cracker continues to slay the ‘way with her gown, a reference to My Fair Lady that comes complete with a wide-brimmed hat made out of blonde hair that could not have been easy to construct. It’s not only gorgeous, but also conveniently on-theme for what she’s done in the episode thus far, results of the challenge be damned. Blair’s Kentucky Derby realness is gorgeous but ultimately doesn’t stand out in this crowd or from what she’s offered so far, and the Vixen’s creative attempt to create an entire garment out of hats is better in theory than in practice. The construction is a little iffy, especially in the back, and we wish that the brim on her head were a bit firmer so we could see her face. The idea, however, is great. A strong runway paired with a strong challenge, but in terms of how everything should shake out, it seems pretty cut, color, and dry for us.
And the judges agree. Team Body is named the top group of the week, Team Hair is told they are the bottom, and Team Face is deemed safe — with an extra little moment of praise from Ru thrown in for Asia, who has served us some true gloriousness with this runway. We mean, God.
Cracker gets flak for digging deeply into Blair, who in turn gets critiqued for being a little too saccharine in her stage presence. It’s here that Blair reveals the deeply scarring experience of being raped during her first sexual encounter in college, and that her ebullient personality and drag style are the painful counterweights to that trauma. It’s an absolutely devastating confession, and we learn in Untucked that this is the first time she’s outwardly expressed that hurt to anyone in her life. As she reckons with the experience in real time on the mainstage, Blair’s sisters tearfully take this information in. The Vixen speaks for all of us when she tearfully says, “I’m very shaken, and I can’t wait to find that motherfucker.” Us neither, Vix. It’s a beautiful show of support, and an immensely brave moment from Blair.
After the Vixen gets read by the judges for matching Cracker’s antagonizing shtick on the panel, the bottom two comes down to Blair and the Vixen, who lip sync to the perennial queer-liberation anthem that is “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross. It’s a LSFYL that’s both inspiring and gut-wrenching when you consider Blair’s freshly raw vulnerability that she brings to her performance. She gets on her knees as if to bellows the lyrics from a roof, newly unshackled by her harrowing past. The Vixen somersaults and tumbles and breaks into the splits, and ultimately walks away with the win.
As Blair receives an emotional send-off from the rest of the queens, we reach something of a midway point in the season at which the competition shakes up — and before Snatch Game, no less. Kameron’s challenge to bring more personality is a lingering call to action, and Eureka’s position as the statistical front-runner kicks things into high gear. All hail these merch-peddling artistic geniuses.
SAID THE BITCH! A Weekly Quote Roundup
Monét: “Asia, your back is ashy. That is not cute.”
Asia: “And your talent is in the bottom two.”
…SAID THE BITCH! Asia deserves some official accolades for this comeback, which comes without missing a beat. The best part of this, pardon, exchange has to be Monét’s absolutely gagged reaction. Being read for struggling in the competition has to sting, but when it’s delivered in as deliciously bitchy a package as this, you gotta give props. Asia O’Hara read ha.