It’s becoming pretty clear that each week’s episode of RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race will bring pretty much the same thing: Decent lip syncs from a slate of semi-celebrities who are wearing drag outfits but pretty much have no drag personas otherwise. Seriously, though, how is Thirsty Von Trap different from Chic-Li-Fay? Without non-lip-sync performances, we don’t have any real way to fall in love with these queens or their personalities — or even get a sense that the celebrities behind the makeup have any idea of who their queens really are.
I suppose that this week, at least, it does seem like the queens are beginning to unlock a little of their drag potential. In episode three, the theme is “Money, honey,” and while that’s a loose through line at best, each celebriqueen is tasked with performing a lip sync somehow based around the concept of money. The Queen Supremes are clad in animal print — or in Monét’s case, an actual animal costume — and Ru is joined on the panel by Carson Kressley and Michelle Visage.
We open this week’s slate of performances with a meh take on “9 to 5” from Poppy Love. Many a drag queen has slayed this number, and it’s admittedly hard to outdrag Dolly herself, so Poppy gets props for trying, but I really just don’t think this was her song. She looked beautiful and, as the Queens Supreme note, her choreography is always “pageant-level-talent clean” (something you’d expect from someone who’s been in a boy band for decades), but I would almost have put Poppy in the bottom this week while still knowing she’d destroy the inevitable loser in the lip sync. (No offense to Jackie Would.) Carson tells Poppy that she’s missing “the sassy ease that a great drag queen has,” and Ru agrees, telling Poppy, “Bitch, you need to sissy that walk.” Poppy has everything the judges are looking for, but she’s just missing a certain something. I think it’s possible that she can find it, but it’s almost like they need to do character exercises backstage or something to figure out who they really are beyond just dancers in these performances. I never thought I’d say this, but we could use a good Drag Race improv challenge right about now.
Milli Von Sunshine is up next with her take on Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home,” which she does in a getup she dubs “1950s housewife meets sex worker.” She struggles with a tough robe reveal that threatens to derail her, but she pushes through and proves that the show must go on. I still struggle with why they’re absolutely slathering Milli with makeup, gems, and doodads considering she’s such a lovely girl, but I suppose it could be under the guise of hiding her identity. I would argue that you could do that with contouring, face taping, wigs, and beyond, but what do I know? I’m certainly no makeup artist.
Chic-Li-Fay finally gets her just desserts with a winning take on Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which she delivers in high Girl Scout–whore drag — latex booty shorts and all. Chic is a proud member of Troop 6969, and her padding is on A-1 point. She’s got a little red nose and freckles, and the judges applaud her for going “all the way there.” She’s fully living in “magical whorish mean-bitch land,” and I think that, of all the girls, Chic might have the best sense of who she could be in drag. I can almost understand how Chic would react to situations or the retorts she might deliver at a drag brunch, and my only regret is that we don’t really get to see any of that in this show.
But wait! Finally, in the third episode, we’re getting a tiny glimpse backstage at the post-performance action. It’s like Secret Celebrity Drag Race’s version of Untucked, and it makes the show perhaps a full percentage point better. Now that each episode isn’t jam-packed with just-okay lip syncs, it’s nice to get to see the queens interact and become actual friends. We even get to see Jujubee deliver sage wisdom about how drag queens’ superpower is their performance, which does actually make a lot of sense — especially when she’s talking to a bunch of performers.
Well, they’re not all performers. Without revealing who everyone is — you can go to the “Drag Me” section below for that — it’s worth remembering here that the person behind Jackie Would is more of an interior designer than he is a seasoned stage performer, even if he’s been on a few TV shows. It makes a lot of sense that her take on “Work Bitch” would send her home this week, because a) it’s not a great song for a 50-something guy who can’t dance and b) when you’re going up in a lip-sync competition against people who literally sing and dance for a living and you do not, you have to understand that your time is limited. Still, Jackie does seem to have captured a lot of hearts (onstage and off) on Secret Celebrity Drag Race — including Carson’s, who I still contend has absolutely known who she is the whole time. You can just tell by the way he says, “Hi, Jackie Would!”
Prop queen Donna Bellissima is next, and she’s committed to storytelling. She says she’s aiming for Anna Nicole, but I think she ends up looking a little more like Kim Chi with that baby-doll dress. (Speaking of which, what was going on with that thing? It looked like it had a hoop skirt, and I kept waiting for a reveal, then nothing? Was the crinoline just piled up weird or something? I hated it.) Her take on Kim Petras’s “I Don’t Want It at All” was okay, with its Veruca Salt energy, but the judges all agreed there was just too much going on. It’s hard to blame her for that entirely, given that we don’t know how much say these queens actually have in their staging, but it does seem like Donna might believe that more is absolutely better. That’s not a terrible energy to have when you’re doing drag, but you just need to be able to pull it off, and she can’t just yet. It lands her in the bottom, but luckily, she’s still safe to slay another day.
Speaking of landing in the bottom, Thirsty Von Trap was there last week, and she’s absolutely committed to not going back anytime soon. She knows her performances can be a little cold and distant, so she kicks off her version of Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” in the audience before dancers lift her onto the stage. I thought her dance break was a little too short, but she looked beautiful, so I don’t disagree that she probably deserved to land somewhere in the safe middle. Ru tells Thirsty that it took her decades to learn that she could use the power she has in drag out of drag, and while it’s not entirely clear how that applies to Thirsty, one can assume it means that Ru needs to see a little more confidence from her. She’s so beautiful and tiny and is, in some ways, not dissimilar from Ariana Grande, but I still don’t believe that she believes she owns the stage.
The judges certainly believe Chakra 7 does, though. They gave her the week’s second win, alongside Chic, hailing her performance of Fergie’s “M.I.L.F. $.” While Chakra seemed convinced that somehow her performance was about “the power of childbirth,” I would argue that it was more about the power of the mother as a whole, but Chakra did deliver. I didn’t entirely buy that she knew the whole song, but she lip-synced it with ferocity, and Ru said she was well on her way to “being reborn” to her “higher self,” which is something it seems like Chakra could be into.
After Chic and Chakra are awarded a double win that means absolutely nothing, Donna and Jackie go head to head in a lip sync of Gwen Guthrie’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On but the Rent.” I’m admittedly barely familiar with this song, but I did prefer Donna’s take, which I thought was all face while Jackie’s was all arms and crowd work. This isn’t Jackie’s first lip sync, and she fell into the trap of having nothing new to deliver the second time around. The judges and audience had seen all her tricks already — not that she had many — and while I know I certainly fell for Jackie’s personality, I still don’t think it was enough to keep her around much longer. Many apologies to the great Thom Filicia, who was behind Jackie Would’s paint and pizzazz, but I just don’t think he had the skills to pay the bills in this particular competition.
• Does anyone else think it’s weird that the Queen Supremes are literally never seen out of drag? It’s weird, right? Like, why couldn’t they be in boy clothes in the werkroom and in drag on the main stage? It’s not that they don’t always look fabulous, but I think we’re losing a little of that transformative power. Then again, if Mama Ru doesn’t get to be in boy clothes, maybe they don’t either.
• For an episode that used the word bling so much, these queens barely wore any. I expected these girls to be dripping! A single statement bib necklace just isn’t going to do it for me, thanks.
• I love the image of little Ru and Michelle sitting at their respective homes circling outfits in the Frederick’s Of Hollywood catalogs. Their dreams have come true, and that’s very cute.
• In that little backstage bit, we saw all the contestants saying that if Chakra didn’t win, they’d revolt. That made me wonder if Ru wanted Chic to win but heard about that from producers — and thus the double win. Just a thought.
• As a reminder, my very educated guesses as to who’s who in the world of Secret Celebrity Drag Race:
Poppy Love is Backstreet Boy AJ McLean
Chic-Li-Fay is Glee alum Kevin McHale
Milli Von Sunshine is Glee alum Jenna Ushkowitz
Chakra 7 is The Fresh Prince’s Tatyana Ali
Donna Bellisima is Mean Girls’ Daniel Franzese
Thirsty Von Trap is Ugly Betty and Hacks’ Mark Indelicato