RuPaul’s Drag Race
Nothing stresses me out quite like a Drag Race roast. Yes, there are always a couple standout sets, but the remainder tend to be disasters. All in all, I’d say the anxiety it produces is roughly on par with a hypothetical four-hour Safdie Brothers cut of Uncut Gems. Complicating matters further, this season’s roast has no in-studio audience beyond the judges and the three former Miss Congeniality queens (Nina West, Valentina, and Heidi N Closet) who show up to be the targets of this season’s “Nice Girls Roast.” Now, as a Brooklyn-based performer, I’m of course no stranger to performing to an audience of four, but it’s not a fate I would wish on anyone! The queens do their best (well, some of them do) and put on an admirable show that will go down as one of the most perfectly average stand-up challenges in Drag Race herstory. There’s no runway to speak of this week, so let’s just go queen by queen:
Kandy “Producer” Muse
Like it or not, Kandy Muse is the main character. By my count, this is the third week in a row where the emotional arc of the episode is about Kandy’s growth in the competition. This culminates in Kandy claiming her first-ever main challenge win, and it’s richly deserved. Drag, of course, is an art form that encompasses many different skills. But if you’re a born-and-bred NYC girl like Kandy, the most crucial one is the ability to kill on a mic. When Kandy comes out onstage, she fills the room with her energy and makes the cavernous soundstage feel like a crowded bar. In this group, personality alone is plenty to launch her into the top, but to top it all off, Kandy has great jokes, too. Telling Nina West, “Drag Race is the Olympics, and, baby, you the stadium,” is body-shaming excellence. (Take notes, Utica!) The most heartwarming moment of the episode comes when Ru tells Kandy she’s the winner. The contestants erupt in cheers and applause, and they seem genuinely thrilled for their sister. When you can spend an hour roasting someone, and then have them celebrating your success minutes later? That is charisma, baby. And Kandy has it in spades.
The further the competition stretches, the more Symone’s weaknesses start to become glaringly obvious. This week, she runs into the same problem as she did in the Rusical: her own damn self! At this stage of the competition, the fans, the queens, and judges alike all know Symone has the goods. Her runways are God-tier, and she’s won four challenges, making her the clear statistical front-runner. But if there’s one thing Symone’s gonna do, it’s get in her own way. Just like in the Rusical, Symone begins to self-destruct early this episode in the werkroom with Gottmik. They commiserate over dreading a roast challenge, but while Gottmik overcomes her fears, Symone succumbs to hers. As was foretold, she totally bombs, and it’s painful to watch. This episode sets up an interesting dichotomy between Gottmik and Symone. Whereas the roast highlights how much Gottmik has grown since episode one, it also emphasizes how Symone is stuck in her same old patterns. That said, her baseline is so incredibly high it’s almost hard to care. Symone still has room to grow in the final few installments of the season, and I think it’s necessary to flesh out a true winner’s arc.
Tonight, we witnessed the definitive downfall of Utica Queen. I can see why the judges kept her around so long, because there is something truly intriguing about her. A drag queen from a town of 300 in rural Minnesota who somehow possesses an unparalleled eye for fashion? A Christian queen who’s so terrified of being offensive she wears an afro made of squirrels, but will break out an extensive list of “backup reads” to insult her fellow queens off camera? Honey, I’m interested! But ultimately, Utica just doesn’t have the goods. She failed hard at every single comedy challenge this season threw her. She’s thoroughly delusional (which can be fun!), but not in the iconic, Alyssa Edwards way; more in the kinda sad, Alexis Michelle way. Her final week is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. At the top of the episode, she’s fishing for compliments on her lip-sync performance and the other queens simply are not biting. After that, she spends her rehearsal time calling Michelle and Loni Love fat for five minutes. And finally, she bombs the roast, putting her in the unfortunate position of lip-syncing for a third time against fan favorite Symone. The jokes are bad, but more than that, they’re mean. I wanted to cover my eyes her whole set, and I can’t think of a worse note for Utica to go out on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s no worse fate for a Drag Race queen than staying two episodes too long.
Comedy queen Gottmik! A fashion girl who can win Snatch Game and deliver a roast? That’s a high-level triple threat; somebody call in the bomb squad! Gottmik may not get the gold this episode, but it’s a victory overall. While Symone (her biggest competition by a mile) struggles with her self-inflicted wounds, Gottmik demonstrates yet again her ability to conquer her insecurities and deliver a great performance. The judges love her to death, and RuPaul says Gottmik reminds her of Phyllis Diller and that she has a career as a stand-up. Hard to imagine better praise than that. A top-four spot has felt set in stone for Gottmik since midseason, but now I’m starting to think she could win this whole damn thing!
I think it’s safe to say Olivia will be heading out next in this competition. She’s definitely not the worst this episode. In fact, she gets in a couple killer jokes. RuPaul signing the Declaration of Independence as “Parent/Guardian” is a top-tier age joke (one which I will be stealing). However, the “nice girl” shtick falls very flat, primarily because she isn’t acting all that “nice.” She’s just saying mean things while smiling, which is a move straight out of the mean-girl handbook. But luckily for Olivia, Utica delivers a veritable Hindenburg crash of a performance, so she’s solidly safe for at least one more week.
Thrilled to report that both my New York girls showed up tonight (as I knew they would). A little roast isn’t nearly enough to spook a queen used to riding the C in full drag at 4 a.m. Rosé has the same comfort in front of a “crowd” that Kandy brings (which serves her well), but Kandy and Gottmik edge her out in the joke department. Rosé gets in some good zingers, though! Only Rosé could successfully use the term “recording artist” as a slur. But Loni’s critique is on point: Rosé was better in rehearsal. But therein lies the genius of Kandy. Kandy knew from the jump that she could deliver a roast, but she was also experienced enough to realize that the last thing you want to do at a roast is repeat a joke. She’s also clever enough to know that the only way to convince Rosé to go last is through flattery. “You’re really good with jokes, you could hold any placement,” Kandy gushes. “Well … tea,” Rosé replies, sealing her fate as third place. Kandy is here to win, bitch! Rosé’s jokes kill in rehearsal, because it’s the first time we hear them, but when placed after five other “Nina West has broad shoulders” bits, they just don’t have the same bite. Nonetheless, Rosé’s consistency is a force to be reckoned with. She’s outlasting her competitors through a war of attrition, and it’s paying off for her.
With the roast over, it’s Symone and Utica who are (correctly) placed in the bottom two. Neither is a stranger to a lip sync at this point in the competition, and neither manages to pull out any big surprises or tricks that we haven’t seen before with their “No Tears Left to Cry” showdown. However, Symone is as mesmerizing as ever, and nails every syllable of Ariana Grande’s italicized, Wingdings-font singing. It’s pure fun and an instant reminder of why we love Symone so much in the first place, the goal of any good lip sync. Predictably, Symone stays and Utica, having overstayed her welcome, sashays away.
While the beginning of this season seemed to progress at a snail’s pace, we’re rapidly approaching the finish line. Top four is one elimination away, and, within a few weeks’ time, we’ll have our season 13 winner. Finally! See you next week.