RuPaul’s Drag Race
Season 15 has largely been about what makes a good drag queen — or, more accurately, a good Drag Race queen. The show gave a lot of airtime in the premiere to the discussion of shade as an integral part of the drag-queen oeuvre. There have been discussions of social-media queens versus performers. Sasha has been held up as the platonic ideal of a queen. Marcia x3 has been all but held down and physically forced to apply more makeup. Season 15 is about drag. Then smack in the middle of all that, is Loosey LaDuca. Not really a part of that larger narrative, Loosey has been a story unto herself, getting madder and madder at her perceived lack of recognition, culminating in an episode this week that feels less like the story of Why Sasha Won than it does the story of Why Loosey Lost.
At the start of the season, I assumed that the Charlie Brown would be Marcia x3. She had all the makings of a classic Jan (a queen so viciously gunning for the win that the producers have fun never giving it to her) with her musical-theater training and a singular note applied to her over and over again. (For Jan, it was her one-note peppiness; Marcia’s was … well, you know.) Instead, Marcia has revealed herself to be pretty chill. A musical-theater performer, she’s used to taking notes. When she complains in this episode about not being a winner, it’s a little annoying, as this complaint literally always is, but nowhere near Loosey’s absolute breakdown in Untucked during the acting challenge. “I’m the only person who has won three challenges,” Loosey claimed, trying to convince both the audience and, I assume, herself that mini-challenges mean anything. “I have won some of the most iconic challenges in Drag Race herstory, so I think I have earned a certain level of respect.” You want respect? In a room of drag queens? Because you won Snatch Game? More than Jan, even, that statement is reminiscent of Alexis Michelle telling the girls it was their fault she looked bad on the runway because they didn’t tell her that her dress was ugly. Drag delusion, girl.
And here’s the thing: It’s great TV. I’ll get to Loosey’s big loss later on, but the truth is that this is a television program. Loosey is clearly an incredibly competitive queen. She started the competition with two fellow Connecticut queens who clearly consider her a remarkable performer, but they’re both gone now; as the number of queens dwindles, she’s letting the competition get to her. If Sasha is the platonic ideal of a Drag Race contestant, Loosey is something even more sublime: a queen who is unaware of how she comes across, who is seemingly not acting for TV, and who is allowing the manipulations of reality TV to make her crack. If Mistress is a great character because she stirs shit up, then Loosey is her perfect match because she is incapable of ignoring the shit-stirring. I hope she is in eight-to-12 more seasons.
This week’s challenge seems like a Loosey slam dunk from the start. In the show’s rotation, the interview challenge hasn’t come up a lot despite normally yielding great results. It first appeared in season one in the challenge that, for some reason, was part of an episode-long salute to Oprah, and it garnered one of my favorite moments in Shannel’s incredibly long question to Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott. (That was also the episode when Jade Sotomayor almost darkened her skin to appear more like Oprah. Season one was weird). It later came up on season six, which got us both Joslyn Fox asking a tone-deaf question about abortion and Trinity K. Bonet calling Chaz Bono “Chad.” Other than that, the show has been light on this challenge, which is odd given that it’s modeled on RuPaul’s career and that her talk show was one of her most iconic career moments.
The implicit challenge this week, however, lies in the interviewees. Love Connie, Charo, and Frankie Grande are all Drag Race staples, yes, but they’re also big personalities. Really big. The kinds of personalities that are like gas, expanding to fill the entire room — and Drag Race is a really big room. This challenge benefits a queen who can roll with the punches and meet the guests on their level. Some queens attempt to tackle the challenge straight on, and when confronted with a personality that doesn’t really work that way, they cannot adjust. At this point in the competition, the ability to handle a whirling ball of chaos is a reasonable expectation. Drag Race contestants need to be able to do press appearances with everybody from NPR to Watch What Happens Live to The Drew Barrymore Show. They have to be clean representatives of the show, both quick-witted and adaptable.
The queens are nominally put into groups, but that’s mostly just to divide the interviewees up equally; they interview solo and are judged individually. Salina, Luxx, and Mistress get Love Connie; Sasha and Marcia x3 get Charo; and Loosey, Anetra, and Malaysia get Frankie Grande. The interviews take up the lion’s share of the episode, but I’m not mad at that. This is the last week that we’ll have 60-minute episodes this season, but by now I’ve settled into that routine, and the individual nature of the challenge means we get enough of each queen.
We start the segment with Salina, who is not good. Salina has an idea of what listening looks like (smiling, nodding head) so she just does that while her eyes reveal utter turmoil. It’s honestly a little eerie. Connie talks for a long time, but instead of reining her in with follow-up questions, Salina just kind of … interrupts and asks a different, completely off-topic question. She tries to give Barbara Walters drag, but this kind of self-seriousness was really just a trap set by the producers. It’s drag. Have fun.
Having fun is exactly how Luxx succeeds. “Hey, Connie girl!” is how she enters, and she keeps up that energy through their golf-cart interview. Connie seems a lot more receptive to the questions Luxx is asking because when Connie wants to go off-script, Luxx plays right along. When Connie asks, “Do you have any more questions for me before we die?” while flooring the gas, Luxx quickly responds, “What’s your favorite food?” Plus, I love hearing Luxx give a very feminine little scream.
For reasons I cannot determine, Mistress falls apart this week. She stumbles over her words early and never regains the confidence that is usually her signature. Connie sees an opening and goes into overdrive, dominating the conversation and never letting Mistress get a joke in edgewise. It’s an uncharacteristic fail for Mistress, and it seems like, for the first time, her youth is showing. I hope this doesn’t portend anything down the line.
Next up are the Charo girls. Charo is both the most fun interviewee and also the biggest challenge. You could put this woman on a two-foot-by-two-foot stage in the basement of a finance building, and she would still be entertaining. She’s not the kind of personality that fits neatly into a classic interview style. Sasha gets that, Marcia does not. Sasha does the cooking segment, and by halfway through the interview, she’s thrown her cards away and is just bantering with Charo. It’s a solid effort for an interview with somebody who seems to be actively avoiding being interviewed.
Marcia, meanwhile, cannot understand a word Charo is saying and resorts to smiling, nodding, and lightly laughing at everything she says. There’s not much to say about it. She just never gets a foothold. What is worth saying something about, though, is that Marcia’s Barbara Walters/Diane Sawyer drag is among the worst of the week. I know she’s a drag queen, and drag queens are obsessed with chunky belts, but why on earth did she plant a chunky white belt in the middle of her bright-yellow (ill-fitting) suit? Combined with her very, very bad runway look later in the episode, I’m worried that Marcia’s drag is reaching its limit.
Frankie Grande is probably the easiest guest to work with, and Loosey capitalizes on that. Of all the queens, her drag is naturally the closest to that kind of Diane Sawyer look that they’re parodying, so she has a natural upper hand. She’s consistently polished and professional, and her line readings are the most natural of the night. Ru later notes that she misses a follow-up question when Frankie Grande says a South African doctor sicced a spider on him (what?), and that’s a fair critique. Still, though, Loosey blows just about everybody else in the competition away with her ability to listen, to banter, and to feel like she controls the room.
I don’t have a lot to say about Anetra. She is fine!
Malaysia completely cedes the floor to Frankie during their pizza-making segment. Pretty quickly, he is interviewing her, rather than the other way around. He mentions Big Brother, and she doesn’t ask about that. He asks her about her dick preferences, and she can’t turn it around back to him. She lacks the presence to ever feel in control of her surroundings. With Charo, that is forgivable. With Frankie, it is not. She should be able to dominate that twink.
I don’t quite know what to make of the makeup segment, in which Sasha says Beyoncé got her idea for the name Sasha Fierce from her because she knows Beyoncé’s backup dancers and her name is also Sasha and she is also fierce. My guess is that it was a joke that didn’t play well in the room. The editors leaving that in could be an ominous sign. Despite her win, this episode shows some flaws in Sasha’s winner’s edit. I still don’t really have a sense of her relationships with the other queens beyond those whom she is mothering, which is a bad sign. This segment is edited to make her look delusional, and until now, it seems like production was wary of over-rewarding her. Now, with three challenge wins, she’s the obvious front-runner with quite a bit of the season left to go. Will they try to knock her off her pedestal? I’m not sure.
The category on the runway is Night of 1,000 Beyoncés. Luxx fucking serves. Her dress is a re-creation of a Bob Mackie original that Ru has also worn, which is either an incredible stroke of luck or a wildly savvy move. Either way, Luxx is by far the best at presenting her looks this season. She is a star as she walks down the runway. Mistress is also great, wearing a Destiny’s Child–era look with puppets on either shoulder representing Michelle and the second lead vocalist of the group, Kelly Rowland. It’s funny and fun. This is probably Salina’s best look, and it may be a bad sign that her best look is someone else’s. Sasha re-creates a dress from one of Bey’s best performances ever, the 2006 BET Awards performance of “Déjà Vu.” To this, I say: “Déjà Vu” lip sync WHEN? Not to sound like Tyra Sanchez, but Marcia’s look is disrespectful to Beyoncé. Anetra gives the most opulent look of the night and deserves credit for a pretty accurate re-creation. She does, however, claim that “the breasts are breasting.” They are not. Malaysia looks sick. Loosey gives a reference to the most iconic Bey look of the night, the 2011 “Love on Top” VMA performance in which Bey revealed her Blue Ivy baby bump. It’s a good pick for a queen who does not naturally have Beyoncé as one of her direct inspirations.
Anetra and Marcia x3 are safe. I don’t think this is wrong per se because the bottom three are all deservedly there, but I do wish Marcia had been called out on her sloppy drag this week. Sasha scores raves for her performance, which I get. Loosey gets one note about the missed follow-up question, which I also get. But the truth is that Loosey was better. She doesn’t get the win this week, and I think that’s less about that one note and more about fucking with Loosey’s head. She really wanted it. The cut to her following Sasha’s win is less “Jan face crack” and more just sad. To be clear, this is all well within the grounds of typical reality-TV production. Cannot wait to see if she goes off the rails next week.
The lip sync is between Salina and Malaysia, with Mistress saved, I assume, due to her superior runway look. It’s not a great lip sync. Salina basically operates under the assumption that this song already has choreo built in so she should just use that. The hair gets messy, but that’s not too big of a mark against her because Malaysia, again, flops in a lip sync. We bid farewell to the Babydoll this week, which is sad. There was a moment during the acting challenge when her fight with Mistress seemed to compel her to give something more than safe, but she never got that energy back. She will be missed, but at this point, all the queens are talented enough that you’ve got to be able to grab the spotlight to stay, and Malaysia never did.
Also on Untucked …
• Production seems to be aware of the problem that I mentioned last week with Luxx seeming a bit one-dimensional. She gets a video message from her family, after which she breaks down and reveals a little more of herself than she had before. I would never want Luxx to lose any of that confidence, but I do like knowing more sides to her than just her confidence.
• Last season, it was rumored the queens were not allowed to do music-video or movie looks for the J.Lo runway because of copyright issues, which, I assume, is why we didn’t see any of that here. Beyoncé looks I would’ve wanted to see: anything from Homecoming, Deena from Dreamgirls, Foxy Cleopatra from Austin Powers, the Black Panther look she wore when she and Bruno took over Coldplay’s Super Bowl halftime show.
• Beyoncé looks I’m glad we didn’t/couldn’t see: the “Hold Up” dress we already saw Kandy in, that pimply Met Gala dress I’ve never really liked.
• As an interviewer, I found this week only occasionally triggering for me. I will remember Salina’s “listening” face for years to come while doing interviews. Also, in the spirit of RuPaul: shameless plug of my own work.
• Predicted top four: I’m still going with Sasha, Mistress, Luxx, and Anetra. I’m just gonna assume that the order at this point is Salina, Marcia, then Loosey going home. That seems safe.