Gird your tucked loins because RuPaul is taking another crack at a celebrity version of Drag Race. While the first season — which seemingly aired a decade ago — challenged groups of three “mystery” celebrities to compete against each other in one-off drag challenges with a winner decided at the end of each episode, the new second season has a decidedly Masked Singer twist. We won’t know who the celebrities in drag are until they’re eliminated, at which point all will be revealed.
All of this is bullshit, of course, because as Drag Race fans and viewers, we all have eyes, ears, and Reddit, and it’s easy enough to figure out who basically everyone is right out of the gate. Take, for instance, the queen eliminated in the show’s first episode: Fabulosity. From the moment any culturally savvy person heard her speak in the show’s very first trailer, they could have told you that voice was Loretta Devine, longtime star of stage and screen. Her distinctive voice made her basically impossible to hide, no matter how many layers of dusty makeup and flaps of fabric anyone threw on top of her. And yet, that’s the show’s whole premise, so we roll on.
I suppose you could argue in some sense that it doesn’t matter. Even if we know who every queen is within a couple of episodes, that doesn’t mean it won’t be captivating to watch a de-bearded boy band legend go up against a bunch of former child actors. (And there are multiple child actors.) They’ll just have to bring it, and based on the show’s first episode, it does seem like some of them can.
Take Poppy Love, for instance, who opens episode one with his take on Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” So far, we know he’s a straight man who’s had a beard for 20 years, though he’s a big advocate for the LGBTQ community. Everyone online has nailed who they think he is but for the sake of propriety, I won’t name names until the notes at the bottom of the recap, so just skip those if you want to keep a little mystery alive. His dancing isn’t as good as I expected, but Poppy Love brings a little pizzazz and faux-fellatio to his number, much to judge Carson Kressley’s eye-popping delight. He wins the episode somehow because it’s Drag Race and who does the best never really seems to matter, but he had a good tuck, moved around well, and seems to want it, so that counts for something.
Chakra 7, on the other hand, delivered. A performer since she was a little girl who says, “people always know who I am,” she’s been listening to RuPaul songs for decades, so it seems like she knows what she’s getting into with this challenge. Drag, she says, makes her feel free, even though the corsets are tight, the heels are high, and the makeup takes hours. Her version of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” is charismatic and fun, albeit a little basic. This track isn’t winning any awards for drag originality, after all. That being said, I would have put Chakra 7 in the top three, and I look forward to seeing where she goes in future episodes.
Donna Belissima is the Eureka O’Hara of the Secret Celebrity Drag Race gang, with her interest in combining comedy and beauty. The actor inside the paint says he’s spent 20 years in the closet, grappling with his femininity, and he’s signed onto the show to reclaim his pride. He opts for Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” which somehow turns into a number involving a grocery store that Ru and the gang seem to enjoy. (“I had a good time watching you have a good time up there,” Ru says in a way that’s both shady and stuffed with a modicum of praise.) The judges tell him to trust the process and move him along to the next round.
Milli Von Sunshine’s paint is a lot. Her eyes are drawn up to her hairline, and her dark lips are so big they look like they’re Joker-inspired. Still, she’s fun to watch, seems to know that drag can be about both positivity and mania, and she’s clearly been dancing for a long time. Her version of “Sweet but Psycho” by Ava Max is safe enough to earn her another episode, and that seems to be fine with her. Meanwhile, Carson and Michelle seem befuddled by who is behind the makeup, with Michelle tells her table-end counterpart, “I haven’t been fuckin’ gettin’ any of them.” Given Secret Celebrity Drag Race’s traditionally loose use of the word “celebrity” one could argue that even if someone came out in street clothes and no makeup, Michelle and Carson might not know who they are, but I digress.
Carson should know who Jackie Would is (I’ll explain why in the notes below). This fiftysomething silver fox says he’s an expert in his field, “but not in this space,” and can really rock a white jean and some stacked bracelets. He struggles with Jamal Sims’ choreo but somehow manages to do a passable version of Lizzo’s “Juice.” The judges ding him for being too timid, though, and he lands in the episode’s bottom two.
Electra Owl seems to be around the same age as Jackie and has a New York accent that should make her stand out to any savvy guessers. She says she’s been an entertainer for many years and signed onto the show because she likes to put herself in the lion’s den. She’s also a tiny little thing, though you wouldn’t know it from her version of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” which seems just big enough. It’s not the best lip sync of the night, though it’s also not the worst, even though Ru seems to be harboring a very forced smile when they pan to her reaction. The name Electra Owl comes from her love of “electricity, nighttime, and experience,” and she gives Ru a little shit for not doing her own looks, which … Electra. You don’t have much of a heel to stand on there either, little miss.
Another child actor, Thirsty Von Trap, says he’s there to find a new sense of confidence. He wants to feel hot, delusional, and unbothered and says he’s worn heels before‚ even if he hasn’t danced in them. She tackles “Don’t Cha” this week, complete with a pole, and does a perfectly fine job. I will say I think it’s slightly unfair to compare a Thirsty with a Jackie, say, because you’re talking about 30 years of knee damage and body weight, but, again, it’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race, in which nothing matters at all.
After Fabulosity’s arm-waving attempt at “Just Fine,” we get a look at Chic-Li-Fay, who wins this season’s award for best drag name. She says she’s most at home performing in an arena or on a stage and came from a TV show about music, of which there are only so many. She tackles Ciara’s “Goodes” in a Katy Perry-esque get-up, and it is my favorite performance of the night. She drops it low and her sass level feels real and from an authentic, drag-ish place. Carson tells Chic, “you should be a professional drag queen,” which is a great idea until you consider she hasn’t actually learned any of the drag skills a queen would need, like padding, makeup, wigs, and so on — but does that even matter in 2022? Debatable!
In the end, Jackie Would and Fabulosity face off in a lip sync for their lives, taking a turn at “Venus” by Bananarama. Jackie wins, for whatever reason, since neither performance was all that great. I would venture to say that maybe Jackie just wanted it a bit more since Loretta Devine seemed happy just to be there for an episode and say she did it, but, sure, whatever.
Here’s where I’ll say that I’m fairly unclear at this point about what the actual rules or arc of Secret Celebrity Drag Race will be. It doesn’t seem like anyone will get shit on, judging-wise, and everyone’s just there for charity. Will there be challenges that aren’t just lip syncs? And why can’t traditional Drag Race get a full season of songs this good? Are we judging everyone on a curve? Or should we be? I have a lot of questions, and none of them are about the actual identities of the people behind the makeup. We’ll just have to see as this season plays out, I suppose. I hope to be wowed, but let’s just say my expectations aren’t incredibly high.
• Okay, so here are my thoughts about who everyone is. I will say that when I had a guess, I’d go look at their Instas and instantly find out that all the mentors followed them, which seems like a giveaway.
• Personally, I would put money on Poppy Love being AJ McLean of Backstreet Boys fame. I was a little surprised that the boy band legend and Dancing With The Stars alum couldn’t move a little better — and has he worked with Jamal Sims before? — but I’m optimistic.
• Chakra 7, I had thought, was Kim Fields, but I now think it’s The Fresh Prince’s Tatyana Ali. The name seems to vibe with her Insta content, and she’s got a youthfulness I don’t think Fields possesses, bless her heart.
• Donna Belissima is, I think, Mean Girls’ Daniel Franzese. He’s always at RuPaul’s Drag Con, and the whole “grew up in church, Italian” thing checks out, I think. Plus, look at him.
• I’m not 100 percent sure about Milli Von Sunshine, but based on some titter I heard online and some Instagram perusal, I think Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz. This is made all the more interesting, considering I think Chic-Li-Fay is her Glee co-star and podcast co-host Kevin McHale, but no one ever said the contestants didn’t know each other.
• Speaking of, I would bet my house that Jackie Would is Thom Filicia, who’s starred in multiple TV shows with Carson Kressley, including the original Queer Eye. Carson seemed to recognize his voice and was overly complimentary to him during the lip sync for your life, so I would bet Carson has him pegged, too.
• Electra Owl is, I think, Taylor Dayne. I initially got big Cyndi Lauper or Debbie Gibson energy from her, but the accents don’t really mesh. Nor do the tattoos. The brassiness and body say Dayne to me, as does — again — a perusal of her Insta followers.
• Thirsty Von Trap is the one contestant I’m not sure of. I’m 41, and they seem to be 25 or so and say they’re a former child performer, putting them in the precise window of young people I cannot place at all. I feel like I know the voice and the nose, but I just can’t place them yet. The second I read one of your guesses in the comments, though, I’ll either kick myself in recognition or have to Google who it is because I really have no idea, even without makeup.
• I should mention that I appreciate that Jujubee, Brooke Lynn Hytes, and Money X Change are there, though I really don’t think they do much of anything. Maybe they will later in the season, but I’m glad they have gigs. I also look forward to whoever comes in to mentor down the road.
• Is it petty of me to ask why Secret Celebrity Drag Race can’t get better celebrities? Are they paying like shit? Are they trying to find people that RuPaul actually recognizes rather than cool, fun talent? I think we’d all love to see a season that’s Nicole Byer vs. Matt Rogers vs. Ronan Farrow vs. whoever, but maybe they’re all just too booked and blessed, and that’s how we end up with this wild slate of former child actors. Whatever. It’s Drag Race, I’m watching it, and I’m glad it’s in the world.