RuPaul’s Drag Race
Well, after a long, long, and chaotic season, she won: Silky Nutmeg Ganache is season 11’s victor, and this was well deserved indeed.
Just allow me to picture what all your faces looked like after reading that.
No, oddly enough, you can survive doing that impression of Whoopi Goldberg during Snatch Game and still win a season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and so Yvie Oddly is our winner. Snarkiness about that performance aside, you really can’t argue that this wasn’t her season to win. Armed with a personal narrative we’ve never seen before, a unique take on drag and performance, a singular attitude, and enough versatility to always make her a contender in challenges, Yvie took it hands down.
Runner-up Brooke Lynn Hytes gave her quite a run for her $100,000 as the clear favorite throughout the season, but in the final lip sync for the crown, to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” Brooke Lynn’s clean and articulate performance of the tune was edged out by Yvie’s daring, innovative, and thrilling one. Brooke Lynn removed a cloak covered in the word reveal to, yes, reveal a glittery bodysuit, while Yvie used a mirrored headpiece to create the illusion that she had three faces before revealing another one on the back of her head. By the time the song was over, it felt like a complete slam dunk for the latter. Watching Yvie literally bend over backward to grimace at the audience, you had to forgive her for Whoopi. She was willing to break herself in half to win, and that was felt.
Outside of that final lip sync, a lot was revealed in this grand finale. One of the most interesting and telling moments was the first spin of the wheel that dictates who goes first, thereby choosing their opponent in this, the lip-sync tournament to end all lip-sync tournaments. That wheel landed on Silky Nutmeg Ganache. So here was her moment: Choose Yvie Oddly and let the fans have the matchup we’ve been waiting for. You did say, queen, that you would send her home the second you got the chance to lip sync against her. So crack the knuckles, pop the poppers, and let’s go!
She picked Brooke Lynn. Bizarre, but I do have a theory as to why. I think Silky wanted this shit to be over. She wasn’t particularly well liked by fans as the season rolled on, anyone with eyes could see she was absolutely paralyzed with fear, and I think she knew she had been talking a talk she couldn’t walk. Why pick A’Keria, whom you may be able to beat, if you’re going to face off against Yvie later and have the final moment of the season’s narrative be that you were defeated by your nemesis? I think Silky wanted to be put out of her misery, and she was.
When the lip-sync song was revealed as “Bootylicious,” I was excited because I am gay. I was also interested to see Silky slay a song that was really right for her. I wondered for a second what Brooke Lynn must have been thinking when that song was revealed, and then I remembered she’s Brooke Lynn Hytes and probably doesn’t worry about lip syncs unless she’s up against someone like Yvie. Brooke Lynn was able to dispose of Silky handily here; all the wig reveals in the world could not compete with the sight of Brooke Lynn turned upside down against the ball, twirling, and, of course, en pointe for a large part of the number.
The other lip sync was anticlimactic to say the least, but it came with a phenomenal throwback of a song: “S.O.S.,” by Rihanna. Yvie Oddly obviously won this to take the crown minutes later, but the real story here for me is the lack of gaggery and goopery served by A’Keria C. Davenport. Coming into the top four, A’Keria seemed to be feeling herself in her feathered gown ensemble and had the fire in her eyes that suggested tricks up her sleeve. But a litany of issues quickly revealed themselves. First, that was the wig, girl?! It basically blended into the red curtains behind you. Second, why you look so small?! Yvie looked like a damn monster next to you. Again, A’Keria, give volume! We know this, right?! Third, mama, a dress reveal wherein you have the same dress on but this time there is a little more fabric on it is … not it! Fourth, did you not know all the words to this song? By God, this was not A’Keria’s performance or day, but we do have to be thankful that we got some more time with her mother and granny, who are absolute riots. When asked by Ru where A’Keria got her ass from, her mama turned right the hell around and gave us her ass. Shantay, you may forever stay. Where is the body, you ask? Right here on A’Keria’s mother. The original Miss Ass Almighty, as it were.
So the lip syncs were pretty good, with the gags being, in this order, “Edge of Glory,” “Bootylicious,” and “S.O.S.” Outside of the competition, we got a new Miss Congeniality in Nina West, one of the most deserved wins of this kind in many years. When last year’s Miss Congeniality, Monét X Change, announced who had won, you could feel the love for Nina in the room and nationwide. Somewhere Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez whipped out her phone to go live on Instagram, and a close friend and adviser gently tapped her on her shoulder to say, “Babe, not all the time. Who are you? Nina Bo’Nina Brown? Chill.” Nina West was perfectly earnest in her acceptance but not before tossing in a little “meh” at the sight of her Miss Congeniality trophy, a cheeky little reference to Ru’s dissatisfaction with her lip-sync performance from weeks ago.
Before I get into some final thoughts on this season, I have to shout out what was the most iconic moment of the finale for me: Aquaria’s entrance as last year’s winner to hand over the inaugural crown. Dear God. This may rival Violet Chachki’s season-eight-finale look as one of the gaggiest ever on the series. Gazing up at a television screen, surrounded by queers, all I could muster out loud was, “She looks like a damn bird!” She really did. Today I found out the look was designed by current Project Runway contestant Garo Sparo, so I guess I’m tuning back into that shit even though a Kushner hosts it now.
Overall, this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race was a vexing one, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. Is it just that we have Drag Race fatigue in general? Is it that All Stars is poisoning the well a little bit, not allowing us enough breathing room between seasons, pretending to be something other than fan-service chaos? Is it that we’re getting a little lazy and stock in casting? I think I know what it is, and I hate to say it, but … it falls on Ru.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. But filling this episode with Montel Williams–esque pretapes instead of interviews with the final four made me really think about where exactly Ru has been in terms of visible, soulful, onscreen work this year and the past couple of seasons. I have no doubt Ru is still having fun with the show, but the soul is missing. The Montel clips weren’t a complete and utter disaster, but they were way too long and did not allow us a real emotional connection with any of these girls. Something is just missing when all we’re seeing is a lip-sync smackdown without the emotional element. I think that’s why Yvie Oddly’s win felt so hands-down: She felt like someone you could root for, and she was the only one of those all season, really. Ultimately, RuPaul is a crucial element in picking the right girls, getting them out of their shell enough to be vulnerable, and then encouraging them to match their talent with that vulnerability until they become a full-blown star right before our eyes. And she has to be onscreen interacting with the queens to do that. That only sort of happened.
My two cents for how to come back next year? Fewer queens. Let’s do 12. Let’s really get to know them. Let’s move away from hiring stock types and really look at who is sending in the most interesting audition tapes. Who is going to do and say things we have never seen before? The talent show is an amazing way to showcase the All Stars girls on those seasons — why not try it here as well? The walk-throughs with Ru are crucial and important and should remain a huge part of the show, but that’s not enough. Bring back the Tic Tac lunches instead of the weird What’s the Tee? promo. We know the podcast exists. Let’s mix it up in terms of the acting challenges; the movie parodies can feel a little dated by the time the season airs. And if we’re going to do a lip sync for the crown, which I do believe we should, then let’s give it a proper frame that centers the competition around the emotional and triumphant element of being there and not the tacky Montel nature of it all.
I don’t think Drag Race is dead, but I do think it needs to be revived. Sure, it wins Emmys. But the fact of the matter is Drag Race was successful to us, the people it matters most to, when it wasn’t. Fuck a lean, mean, clean reality-television show. That isn’t what got us here. With some heart and thought, we can get back to the show we had. And like a phoenix from the ashes, Drag Race can rise again.