RuPaul’s Drag Race
There you have it, folks! After 14 episodes, we’ve arrived at our finalists of the season. For the first time in Drag Race Herstory, a top five.
As far as episodes of season 14 go, this one is pretty par for the course: a perfectly agreeable 90 minutes of television with little to no narrative momentum. I, for one, can’t wait for the finale where RuPaul will break the crown into pieces like Cady Heron at Spring Fling and then proceed just to crown them all in a five-way tie. They’re all cut $150,000 checks (at that point, more “stimulus check” than “prize money”), and we can all go along our merry way.
However, as difficult as it is to find anything extraordinary in this episode, there’s also little to find fault with. As in seasons past, the queens are playing triple duty. In between trauma dumping on the main stage over a tic-tac hors d’oeuvres, they must write and perform verses to the RuPaul song du jour. In this case, it’s the slow jam “Catwalk” off Ru’s new, critically acknowledged hyperpop album Mamaru. It’s one of her better tracks, and it gives me hope that this might prove to be a more memorable iteration of this classic final-five challenge. Let’s talk about it:
I almost called Lady Camden the competition’s dark horse, but nothing could be further from the truth. She’s the full-blown front-runner now, baby! Lady Camden came into this episode with momentum to spare and came out having picked up yet another win to add to her collection. She’s now tied with Bosco for three wins and has never lip-synced for her life once (except for the post-Snatch Game fiasco.) I don’t know what it means that I have never (and still don’t) consider Lady Camden “the” frontrunner. Perhaps it’s Ru’s forever obsession with Willow Pill, Daya Betty’s sudden villain-to-underdog pivot, or my Irish urge to put down the British. It’s certainly not that I dislike Lady Camden. Far from it! There’s a reason she’s risen to the top. I expected her to slay the choreography (which she did,) but she also surprised me with her fun, catchy verse and her skill as a video vixen. Hours later, I still find myself whispering, “twist, turn … levitate. Act, pose … captivate.” On the runway, it’s classic Lady: elegant, expensive, and likable. Lady Camden wasn’t on my original list of guesses for the top four, but she proved me wrong. I’m excited to see what she has in store for the finale.
Well, I must admit I didn’t see this coming either. Daya Betty is officially a Drag Race finalist. She joins the ranks of Miss Vanjie and Shangela as the first eliminated queen who proved she had a lot more to show. And much like her sister Crystal, Daya Betty finds herself on the rise at just the right time, capturing the attention of the judges just as the pack thins out. In the immortal words of the season’s narrator, Bosco: “She clawed her way to the top off of talent and pure hatred of Jasmine.” There’s no denying Daya is a savvy player. She says multiple times in this episode that she will do whatever it takes to get to the top, and I don’t doubt it. She soaks up every hint the judges throw at her and takes it out on herself (and often her sisters) if she’s not at the tippy top of her game. Look no further than rehearsal when Michelle suggests to Angeria that she might want to crawl on stage to make an impression. Angeria is too preoccupied to take any choreo notes, but Daya Betty hears her loud and clear. She immediately enters on all fours, cosplaying some catlike creature, stealing the scene, and earning praise from Michelle in the process. A lot has been made of the strategic minds of Bosco and Willow, but Daya is no slouch either.
As for her verse? I’m not impressed. The lyrics aren’t particularly memorable, and her flow leaves plenty to be desired. In my eyes, she’s immediately outshined by Lady Camden seconds later. But on the runway, there’s no denying Daya slays it. Her scorched Victorian dress with a singed side bustle steals the show, and the judges eat it up. She’s safe, and I can only imagine what tricks (or sabotage) she has up her sleeve next week.
Despite Bosco’s middling critiques in this episode, I remain no less enthusiastic. I grow ever more fond of her as I hear her discuss her relationship with her mother during her tic-tac lunch, and she makes me laugh again and again as she describes the season’s antics with practiced ease in her confessionals. What can I say? I have a soft spot for a narrator queen. That said, she has one major shortcoming in this episode: that outfit. In a new twist, the queens design their own outfits for the “Catwalk” music video, but they don’t have to sew them themselves. (I imagine production has Deja toiling away in her hotel room as they pass yards of fabric under her door.) Perhaps it’s the material, perhaps it’s the cut of the bodice, but Willow is on the money when she says Bosco’s outfit is giving “soccer mom in space.” Not a bad aesthetic by any means. On Katya, for instance, it would be perfectly on brand. But for Bosco, it’s out of place, and it’s distractingly incongruous with the sexy, sinful lyrics she’s written for her verse. I just don’t know that one can realistically pull off the lyric “forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I did show some skin,” when wearing a full coverage velour bodysuit while sporting a feathery bob. That said, the lyrics are cool and her singing isn’t bad at all. The judges aren’t necessarily on board, but they do make sure to praise her journey this season from burlesque girl to comedy queen and admire the sheer versatility of skills (though not of silhouettes) Bosco has developed over her run in the competition. As for the finale: a top-two slot? I would very much like to see it.
It’s almost baffling to me how negative the reception to Willow’s verse is, but let’s back up a little first. As always, Willow is serving major BWE (Big Winner Energy) throughout this episode. For most queens, The tic-tac lunch serves primarily as a final chance to reinforce their narrative arc and major talking points that we’ve seen throughout the season. It is a way to wrap a bow around their finale package from a storyboarding perspective. But Willow, as usual, manages to elevate it to something more. Throughout her talk with Ru and Michelle, we learn more about her experiences with her disability, her resilience, and (perhaps most fascinating) her perspective on death and creating a legacy and art under a finite timeline. It’s something that we last touched on back in season eleven with Willow’s drag sister Yvie Oddly (who’s diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), but Willow brings a grounded-ness and perspective to the topic that’s completely fresh: a wisdom that we’ve been lucky to bear witness to all season.
In “Catwalk,” Willow is as good as we’ve come to expect from her. The lyrics (while perhaps a little pander-y to RuPaul) are clever, the costume is right, and I’m thoroughly entertained. So you can imagine my surprise when the judges don’t seem to echo my praise. Ross says that she was dead in the face during the choreo, and Ru says she seemed unsure of her lyrics. News to me! I found Willow’s performance compelling, and I had her pegged for the top two this episode. That said, RuPaul seems no less enamored with Willow than he did in episode one. I can hear her fighting back the tears as she tells Willow, “you’re a part of my tribe.” So despite this week’s setback, I’m not counting her out one bit.
Angera Paris Van Michaels
There’s no denying Angeria struggles in this episode, and it’s telegraphed from the beginning. Angie’s adversarial relationship with rhythm has been well-documented this season. From the Rusical, to the girl group challenge, Angeria’s struggle to pick up and memorize choreo has been a plot staple of every challenge. So it should come as no surprise that this challenge, which involves learning group choreography and then performing it mere minutes later, proves a real … well… “challenge” for Angeria this week. Nothing is funnier to me than Michelle categorizing Angeria’s inability to pick up choreography — a skill that dancers work at for years if not decades — as an “inner saboteur” issue. Yes, truly, if only Angeria were to believe in herself more, she would suddenly be able to master intermediate-level hip-hop. But the end result is the same: a cute verse, a lovely outfit, but a somewhat shaky performance. She pays the price and lands at the bottom, where (much to the producers’ collective delight) she’s forced to lip-sync against her best friend, Willow.
So we arrive at the final lip-sync: Angeria versus Willow. As soon as they announce these bottom two, I can tell shenanigans are afoot. Two of the internet’s most beloved queens being forced to choose between their friendship and their place in this competition? Ru’s favorite queen in the world, Willow Pill? It simply stinks of producer shenanigans, and I have a hard time believing either of them will be sashaying away. Nonetheless, they do indeed lip-sync to the iconic Lady Gaga and Beyoncé duet “Telephone,” where Willow knocks it out of the park. Every beat is accounted for, not one comedic opportunity is squandered, and she even finds time to loop Angeria into her onstage antics. She’s a born performer, and she’s effortlessly able to turn this song to her strengths. So when Ru announces Angeria’s name first, my suspicions are confirmed. There’s no way Ru would send Willow home after that performance. And thank God I’m right. As repetitive as it’s been to witness non-elimination after non-elimination, the end of Willow Pill’s Drag Race run would not be a worthy trade-off.
So, with a small eye-roll and a big sigh of relief, the episode comes to a close, and our final five are decided. With the addition of an extra queen to the usual lineup, there are sure to be stunts planned at the finale. Another lollapaRuza? A cage match? Mud wrestling? I can’t wait to find out.