RuPaul’s Drag Race
Friends, lovers, enemies keeping a close tab on my career, this season is almost at its end. And we have a top three again! Throwback much?
Overall, this episode is (to use a technical recapping term) not great. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work for reasons both in and out of the show’s control. First and foremost, the entire episode serves as a long-form advertisement for RuPaul’s new Las Vegas residency. Yes, 90-minute infomercials for RuPaul properties are a time-honored Drag Race tradition, but this one is bleaker than usual. If you haven’t been keeping up with news lately, I am sorry to be the one to tell you that you will not be traveling on a packed plane to Vegas to sit in a crowded theater anytime soon. It was my lifelong dream to watch Derrick Barry sing the baritone harmonies of “The Mirror and Me,” so personally I’m crushed.
But while we can trace a lot of our collective trauma back to decisions made by Drag Race producers, COVID-19 is not one of them (yet …). So, let’s for one blissful moment pretend that we are not watching this episode from our living rooms amidst a pandemic. I still think this final challenge is ultimately a miss. The content of these songs does not lend itself to a final 5 medley. For the performance’s climax, the queens must write rap verses for the disco finale “Losing is the New Winning.” That’s right, our top five queens, who are currently striving to prove why winning is the new winning, sing lines such as, “I’m not bringing home the winning crown.” It makes no earthly sense! On top of that, the number is structurally all over the place. Solos bleed into dance breaks, which bleed into rap verses from queens we think have already finished their part of the song. This variety might work in a Vegas show, but in a competition setting it’s confusing, and it leaves us more befuddled than entertained.
My qualms with the challenge aside, the queens do slay this challenge. They are each excellent entertainers, so it’s still a joyful victory lap for four queens we’ve come to love over the past 11 episodes. Unfortunately, we also must say good-bye to Jackie Cox. The smart, funny, and heartfelt queen from NYC sashays away this week, having survived an admirable two lip syncs. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with Jackie’s performance this week. However, as the queens predicted in the Werkroom, the top three usually comes down to track record. With zero main challenge wins, Jackie was left with her pretty little head on the chopping block. But Jackie walks away with the season’s true prize: being deemed the hottest by Twitter. Hit me up on Scruff, queen!
After all is said and done, we are blessed with a sickening top three: A group of queens that represents three unique, compelling perspectives on the art of drag. But there can only be one winner. And who better to break down who should get the crown than me? A loudmouthed gay man who doesn’t do drag.
Gigi Goode has impressed us from day zero of this competition. She practically went viral for her Meet the Queens promo look, and hasn’t stopped impressing us since. Gigi has it all: the raw talent; a discerning eye for aesthetics and fashion; and a loving, supporting mom who nurtured a precious, little gay boy into a prodigious drag queen. I myself have sung Gigi’s praises in almost every recap. To top it all off, Gigi has demonstrated an incredible versatility rarely seen even within the Drag Race winner’s circle. When she soared, she soared. Acting, comedy, dance, she can truly do it all.
However, along with her laundry list of talents and accomplishments, we’ve also seen a hell of a lot of self-doubt. In her one-woman show, we watched Gigi crumble under scrutiny. In the puppet mini-challenge, we saw the same. Gigi does a good job of hiding this insecurity, often under a mask of cockiness, but it bursts to the surface in key moments. But is that enough to disqualify her from the crown? Almost certainly not. It certainly doesn’t erase the dominance she exerted week after week in one of the show’s most competitive seasons yet. At 21 years of age, Gigi would be Drag Race’s first Gen-Z winner. (Aquaria, born in 1996, is technically a millennial i.e. an old crone.) And what is a coming-of-age zoomer without a little self-doubt? The world around us is tumultuous and scary, so perhaps Gigi’s anxieties surrounding it should be considered humanizing and apt as opposed to disqualifying. With four challenge wins, Gigi goes into the finale with the most momentum. She’s a tough one to beat.
Jaida Essence Hall:
Okay first off, can we just agree that Jaida is fucking STUNNING? Thank you. Jaida Essence Hall is a drag queen’s drag queen. As the judges have pointed out on numerous occasions, there’s never a hair out of place, or a nail unglued. With basically no exceptions, she has delivered pageant drag perfection each and every week. If you think of drag as a craft, then Jaida has mastered it. On top of technical perfection, Jaida has brought a level of poise, wisdom, and experience (yes, I know those are all euphemisms for old, but I swear I’m not being shady!) that the rest of the top 3 lacks. She’s the first to offer sage advice to a fellow queen in the Werkroom, and she has an admirable, fully formed sense of self. As Ru often says: “Know yourself and deliver it at all times.” Jaida has mastered that art as well. In each and every challenge, Jaida was thoroughly herself. Her “versatility” didn’t stem from gaming the challenges or showing the judges what she thought they wanted to see (a trap many contestants are wont to fall into); it came from Jaida authentically offering us a different, but equally compelling piece of herself each week. This manifested in a compelling season long arc — by far the most consistent of the top three.
However, despite the consistency and polish, did Jaida shine as much as Gigi? If we go by the math, the answer is no. Jaida rightfully lip synced last week after a major fail in her one-woman show, and has one less challenge win than Gigi. But why should we go by the math? Gays can’t do math anyway. If instead, we go by gut feelings, then I pick Jaida. Her talent, her beauty, and her spirit have floored me throughout this competition, and she would make an excellent addition to the Drag Race winner’s circle.
Many have called Crystal the dark horse of this competition. Crystal has an inimitable weirdness, a unique perspective, and eclectic pool of references that have never before been seen on Drag Race. Each week, Crystal brought us daring silhouettes, gag-worthy makeup artistry, and sharp, compelling comedy to boot. Crystal’s charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent are undeniable. But to me, Crystal’s true genius lies in her ability to refract her weirdness through the lens of Drag Race and succeed. She never backed down from her bizarre costumes, her alt-comedy, or her kooky personality. When the judges questioned them, she merely refined them. She didn’t dull her shine, or tone down her wackiness, she channelled it. The judges framed this pattern as a growth narrative, but I disagree: I think Crystal’s intelligence, artistry, and sense of self were already fine-tuned from day one (Freddy Krueger!), and the “learning curve” we observed was Crystal discovering how to showcase her existing skills in a way the judges could appreciate.
Yes, Crystal has only one win, but she shone so fiercely in so many challenges (her Bert and Ernie makeover, her Droop commercial, etc.) that it feels like she’s been winning all along. Even her lip sync this week is a perfect representation of her smarts: She manages to do a callback to her kitty litter dance move on the J.Lo lyric “if you’re an animal, then tear up the floor.” Genius.
However, if we’re knocking Jaida for not performing quite as well statistically as Gigi, then we must do the same for Crystal fourfold. Drag Race is a competition-based reality show. At a certain point, Ru must base her decisions on the queen’s statistical performance in the challenges, or the format loses its meaning. Sure, Yvie Oddly only won one challenge, but should we make a habit out of thinking of challenge wins as mere accessories? On one hand, it sets a bad precedent, but on the other hand, I love accessories! Crystal has the path of most resistance to the crown, but (as she has time and time again) she just might just surprise us.
Well, there you have it. Three incredible, unique queens, and a multitude of reasons to stan each one. As I sit writing this, VH1 has just announced that it will air a lip sync for the crown-style finale shot with “boundary-pushing technology.” I have no idea what that means, but I’m excited! My prediction? Crystal snatches the crown after lip syncing to Lady Gaga’s “The Cure.” During the bridge, she rips off her wig and pipettes full of a COVID-19 vaccine tumble to the ground like rose petals.
See you next week!
“It DO Take Nerve!”
Quotes that left me mouth agape
• “So, Jackie, it was so nice getting to know you…” -Gigi Goode
OOF. Gigi (correctly) prophesized Jackie’s demise in this challenge. She’s right, but she shouldn’t say it!
• “Thank you for showing me that even if you’re a little black gay boy, you can grow up and become whatever you want to be, even if that’s a black woman.” -Jaida Essence Hall
I love this woman so much. Crown her!
• “I think first and foremost you should not be focusing on the beat of the song” - Gigi Goode
Gigi (the most caucasian queen remaining in the competition) gives Crystal some sage rap advice. Do NOT focus on the beat!!