Oh happy day, it’s a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race!
That’s cause for celebration in my house (well, mostly just for me, but still), but coming from a stellar season of All Stars, I can’t help but wonder: Can this season of brand new drag racers possibly stand up to what many fans have called the best season of Drag Race of all time?
I don’t know, but a good way to get things off on the right kinky book is to book Lady Gaga as the guest for your first episode.
When I first heard that Lady Gaga would be on the premiere of Drag Race, my fervent hope was that they’d go for the BBC Adele impersonator trick, gussying up Gaga as a lower-rent drag queen version of her high class drag queen self to try to fool the other contestants. The episode played at that for a moment, but it’s real use for Gaga was much more clever – they used her as the best possible judge of drag the show has ever featured. Short of commentary from RuPaul herself (which usually comes only in the workroom), we’ve never seen this level of consistently incisive candor from a single judge before.
But, enough about Mother Monster – how did all the little monsters fare under her tutelage? Read on for my RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Nine Week One Power Rankings.
If you want to read more each week, please leave a comment and share on social media, okurrrrr? It’s the only way I can know someone is out there listening, henny.
1. Nina Bo’nina Brown
Nina has some sort of ineffable magic in this episode that, if she can sustain it, could send her all the way to victory.
It’s not just the crafty, jagged, special effects make-up. It’s not just the leggy, rubbery body made all the more cartoonish by her outrageous padding. It’s the ability to make something out of nothing – whether that nothing is paper maché or dead air while the other girls aren’t speaking.
Nina’s Mini Mouse entry number was wild – like Courtney Act’s Klaus Nomi butler crossed with something cartoonish and much more unsettling, like Beetlejuice.
(It’s also maybe the first time I’ve ever seen a queen on this show successfully pull off a blackout chinstrap to shape her face.)
Her Georgia Peach hometown look was stunning. It was by far the most memorable look of the entire episode for combining an outrageous and well-executed concept with such a simple, pleasant look.
Her pink lace take on Gaga’s iconic blood red number from the VMAs was the perfect amount of deviation from the original. In some ways it was an improvement! The only thing I can really think to ding her on is the overwhelming breastplate she wore in the VMA look.
This is what everyone was hoping for from Dax Exclamation Point, but really Nina might be more of an Acid Betty without the corrosive personality.
We almost made magic with Chi Chi in this same mold, but she was a little too self-defeating and low-fi when the other girls were high-def – the show was the arc of her learning just how crafty should could really be.
Nina is already there. She might not always look perfect in her HD close-up, but the details she leaves jagged are going to be with great intent.
Can she win? Absolutely. As long as she can fend off her inner saboteur and not turn into a cheeky merged clone of Bob and Chi Chi, she’s got the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent in the bag.
Here’s what Peppermint has working in her favor – there’s not anyone obvious to whom we can compare her.
Maybe there’s a certain “A-Student” quality we could compare to Dida Ritz, but Dida did not have the sheer star power of Peppermint except in limited performance settings. To me, she almost harkens back to an early-season queen like Jujubee, who couldn’t so easily be pegged with an archetype because they didn’t exist yet!
Peppermint’s entry look was beautiful – a corseted robe gown that was right on the line between high-end daily streetwear for a sophisticated woman and relatable fashion that’s not too couture for the average person relate to. Her wig was great (those are box braids, yes?), even if the baby hair was a little over-pronounced.
If her Statue of Liberty was a bit safe and expected, going for Gaga’s gender-bending Bowie look (and doing it so well, aside from the hoop earrings) speaks well of how adventurous she is willing to be in the future.
Peppermint is pretty, bold, detail-oriented, clever, and talented. She also happens to be a transwoman, which is sure to become a plot point as the series continues. I think she’s in this for the long run.
Can she win? Yes, but she’s going to have to outgun both Alexis Michelle and Eureka in the all-around category as well as dip into that Bowie inspiration to fend off all these high-concept girls.
3. Sasha Velour
In keeping with the general theme this season of contestants being upgraded versions of prior archetypes, Sasha feels like a Milk plus Max rolled up with Acid Betty and Thorgy Thor in a way that’s potentially superior to all of those precedents.
Sasha is all about art art art and bending gender while still being a fashionable look queen who wants to be stunning – and she’s focused on the details the entire time.
Her simple black entrance frock was nothing special, but her mug was fantastic. Her make-up was unclockable, really transforming her masculine features into something feminine (but also a bit androgynous).
While her hometown presentation was too propped-up, the actual look was fantastic. And, she totally nailed her Gaga “Applause” look, taking something that could have been messy and basic and making it wild and high fashion. She was unrecognizable beneath the face paint – it wasn’t just the makeup, but her whole face that was different.
We haven’t had this brand of avant-garde queen make it to the finals since Alaska, and the mold has significantly evolved since then. It might be time to revisit it.
Can she win? Absolutely, as long as she doesn’t disappear too far up her own ass like… well, pretty much every previous queen I mentioned. Each of of them was pegged for a winner before they defeated themselves in spectacular fashion. Maybe Sasha can break the art-queen curse.
Is the constant chorus of Eureka going to wear thin? Girl, it might have already. But, I think I was right on in my pre-race prediction that she’s a big girl who came to play. Based on what we’ve seen so far we already know she has one of the stronger editorial senses in the cast and her construction has been dead on.
Eureka’s trash glam entry look was vivid and polished to a sheen – straight up Mimi from The Drew Carey Show, which was always high drag. It might have been the best entry drag of the entire cast!
Her hometown look was pure Hedwig, to the point that I was shocked that no one mentioned it. And, her Gaga drag – what can I say? It’s pretty remarkable for a bigger girl to translate such an iconic look perfectly onto her frame, and Eureka nailed it. The construction was dead on across all three pieces.
Given Ru’s seeming focus on diversifying the winners’ circle in different ways each year, Eureka could go far if she doesn’t descend into being a Bitter Betty. (Or, should I say, a Bitter Minj?) The danger is that she is a Mimi Imfurst or a Ginjer Minj, who can’t tame her constant monologuing long enough to be likable. Also, there’s the nagging question of if she can sing, which was unclear in her pre-season Drag Queen Carpool with Ru.
Can she win? Definitely. RuPaul keeps attempting the “big girl takes it all” narrative and Eureka might be the girl best-suited to make it finally happen.
5. Alexis Michelle
I’ll freely admit I’m in love with this broadway-trained queen, who feels like the most traditional drag star of this entire cast. She looks and sounds like Ms. Kasha Davis, but she also gives major Alexis Matteo vibes – just a regular, fun-loving guy who happens to look surprisingly stunning in a gown.
Her glittering bodysuit entry look was a stunner that was a bit disarmed by that fantasy lilac hair. (I know I’m not one to talk with my year of purple hair, but did these girls pack any natural-color wigs?).
Alex’s hometown fan-tailed look was well-executed even if its tacked-on messages took away from its clean lines. Her Gaga Golden Globes dress was spectacular – beautiful construction per a unanimous judges vote, plus all of her detailing was perfect.
The only detraction across all of the looks was her intensely silvery highlight around the eyes, but that could partly be a function of not knowing how to paint for TV lighting and HD cameras.
The question is: can a traditional drag queen still win this race?
If we were just talking about a man who looks good in a dress, I’d say no – that ship sailed at the end of Season 2. However, what we haven’t really had is a perfectly well-rounded traditional drag queen. You could point to Jinx, but she had her dowdy moments and weaknesses in fashion and craft. You could nod at Bianca, but she was primarily about craft and comedy and had trouble serving sex that wasn’t old-Hollywood glamour. And, Raja, Sharon, Violet, and Bob were anything but traditional!
Even if you scour the final three of each season, we’d probably be looking back to Roxxxy in Season 5 for the last similarly traditional queen, and she had a lot of weak spots that Alexis Michelle doesn’t seem to share.
Can she win? Probably not, unless she has Bianca-level strength on the runway (and, based on that Gaga gown, she might) and Jinx-level performance chops (which we saw a hint of in Carpool)? If so, can anyone in this cast put a stop that?
6. Shea Couleé
Like Peppermint, I think Shea is going to make it far both on uniqueness and all-around talent. I had the sense that she was somewhat hanging back in this episode, as much as someone can be hanging back while dressed up with a yard-long wiener attached to her head.
Her entrance look was just a graphic mini-dress with good accessories. If you go back to review it, you’ll see that the red boa is fighting with the pink trim of the dress, but the pop of the green leggings distracted from the dissonance. Also, she had cliff-hangers – toes far exceeding the boundaries of her high heels. It’s easy to skimp on this stuff in episode one, but a few runaways from now it’ll haunt her.
Her hometown hotdog look was just the right amount of silly for a first episode, which let her skate by while wearing a glittering bathing suit.
Her Gaga look was one of the weakest – it looked identifiably Gaga, but just barely evoked the architectural marvel that was her living dress from Monster Ball. Even the ultra-kind Gaga seemed unimpressed by it.
What already comes through for Shea is that she is high concept. She’s not only going to think of out of the box ideas, she’s comfortable crafting them around herself like she’s just one element of a larger art installation. Can she outdo Nina in outlandish looks while also combatting Peppermint and Alexis on sheer glamour? I’m not sure, but she might be the best black horse you could bet on.
Can she win? Only if she has a lot more to show and turns out to be the best performed. Even still, I feel like she’s going to feel like a Bob retread unless her performance skills are way more Grace Jones than comedy queen.
This girl is the X-factor of this competition. We’ve never had anything quite like her before – a gorgeous, inexperienced Latina who already has a stunning editorial sense intact.
Well, I mean, we have, but no one wants to be compared to Serena ChaCha and I don’t think Valentina’s fashion is quite fantastic enough to merit a mention of April Carrión.
Valentina’s entry look was ultimately a very plain red dress perked up with as much Latina flavor as she could fit on her head.
It was a very paint-by-the-numbers attempt at the look. That was literal when it came to her make-up, which seemed like a “I learned it on YouTube” tutorial slightly mismatched to her facial features. It left her face dominated by a big nose and hairy-looking drawn on eyebrows. A more experienced queen would have blending and contoured more.
I also wasn’t a fan of either of her pageant choices. I pegged both her flat-chested hometown look and low-rent Gaga as basic, cobbled together from disparate pieces without strong detail or a unified element.
While I totally acknowledge her awesome runway model stomp, the judges are clearly seeing something I don’t yet see when it comes to her star power. I get the feeling she has some in-person magic that doesn’t quite come through the screen in the same fashion as possessed by Adore Delano.
Of course, Adore was a musical artist who happened to be a decent drag queen. If Valentina is also that kind of a star – a star who isn’t necessarily just a drag star – then the risk becomes that drag is just another costume she’s putting on. We saw this with Phi Phi after All-Stars – that all of the dress-up aesthetic worked just as well for boy him as girl him. Especially coming off of her historic meltdown, Ru might not be eager to reward that kind of lack of commitment to the craft in a brand new queen.
But, by then Valentina’s ingenue arc might be too undeniable to stop.
Can she win? Not unless she maintains her flawless editorial sense, ups the detail level, and winds up with a Pearl-like wave of public support. Even still, I doubt Ru would pick such an inexperienced queen to represent her – even Violet was a stretch, and she was already consummate drag performer in her early 20s.
8. Super Secret Ru-turning Queen
This returning queen is already obvious, both based on the hints we got from her body and her between-seasons narrative arc.
Said queen happened to be one of my favorites of her season who I think got particularly short-shrift, but it was the fault of a particularly mega-bad fashion choice. I hope a year of performing with the best of the best in drag changed up her aesthetic enough to make a deeper run.
Can she win? I don’t think so – not against this killer’s row of queens. She’s going to make it to the middle and then hit the same barrier she did the first time.
I’m torn on Aja.
Her energy runs hot and cold, sometimes lively and sometimes a stoop-shouldered dead weight. She clearly has a fashion sense greater than what was telegraphed in her limp Meet The Queens outfit, but her bad choice in wigs and make-up will likely be her undoing.
Cool kid Sasha positively purrs about Aja’s domination of the Brooklyn scene in an interview segment, so maybe she’s an unstoppable performer – but, we’ve seen a lot of queens fail at Drag Race when the only thing they’re truly great at doing is lip syncing for their lives.
Aja’s vinyl-coated banjee girl was fantastical and the perfect entry look for a Lady Gaga episode – probably the most couture of all the looks. Also, bitch totally stole my hair.
Seriously, that is exactly what my hair looks like between re-purpling.
Aja’s Statue of Liberty was fundamentally well-executed but also pretty basic, especially with the garish day-glo orange clown hair. Yet, her Gaga-inspired Comme Des Garçons felt dress swung right back to couture (and knowing how and when to deploy it). It looking just as perfect as the original did on Gaga.
That make-up, though. It’s going to be a problem. So far we haven’t seen this girl get her overdrawn lips right a single time out of four tries, and her hair lines are suspicious. All the charm in the world isn’t going to stop Michelle Visage from reading that into the ground.
Can she win? Let’s imagine for a moment that she gets an early make-up tutorial and stops slouching. To get to the final three, she’d still need to maintain non-stop couture and be good at some kind of performing other than lip sync. Given her hesitant singing in the Carpool, I’m not seeing it.
10. Farrah Moan
I adore Farrah, but I think she arrived on Drag Race a year or two too soon both for her and for the overarching arc of the show.
Farrah has the same paradoxical showgirl timidity as Derrick Barry, borne from executing for the stage over and over without the wild variety that comes from stringing together a show in smaller clubs.
Is there also a little bit of Ms. Fame there – a certain “How’s your head?” stiffness to her pretty face that stifles the creative fire within? I think so.
Her entry look wasn’t actually a look so much as it was a Violet Chachki runway re-run. Her outfit was non-existent. Her body, slim as it may be, was giving me total “boy.” While her make-up was on-point, her hair was subtly too big. It dominating her tiny face.
That theme of being worn by her look ran across all of her looks. I know she’s got to go big for the Vegas stage, but with such a petite frame she couldn’t sell the Katya-style Russian oligarch bodysuit as being a lively showgirl or the Gaga vinyl white robe. She looked like a salt shaker in the latter.
Ironically, her best look – a vinyl suit based on the “Bad Romance” video – never got its tear-away moment. (We caught a glimpse in Untucked.)
I’m hoping there’s enough fodder beneath her that Ross or Michelle can shake her out of her meekness … that is, if Lady Gaga’s pointed Untucked critique didn’t do the trick already. Yet, even if they do, I think this fishy queen needed a few more years of development to be ready to race against the best in drag.
Can she win? Let’s be honest – she’s not going to win when we are just two-years removed from the memory of the vastly superior version of this same model, Violet Chachki.
11. Trinity Taylor
Why are the self-proclaimed pageant girls always such a hot mess? Trinity is a big old tangle of plastic, showing her ass in a pair of inadvisable body suits that recalled all of the marginal pageant and/or plastic queens before her, like Naysha Lopez and Venus D-Lite.
Her tattered and bejewled entry look was pure Joslyn Fox with none of that honk-honk wacky charm. Her spray-painted, be-winged hometown bodysuit might have evoked the sun-glazed culture of her town, but it was completely unflattering.
Yet, she landed a solid blow with a mature, well-executed take on Gaga’s American Horror Story character, The Countess. It wasn’t just the wig like whipped butter that Gaga oohed over, but the character. Trinity managed to silently convey the Countess’s ageless power in the lift of her chin and the grasp of her outstretched hand.
It’s that sudden burst of maturity and horror that might set her apart from similar queens who have failed hard before her in the past. Could this finally, finally be a plastic pageant girl who is yearning to break out of her mold and get a little grown up and also a little weird?
If she is, she’s only got a few weeks of runaway for that plane to take off.
Can she win? Only if she turns out to be the most self-aware pageant queen in all the land.
12. Charlie Hides
Charlie can’t help but come off a bit like fellow elderly drag artist Chad Michael, but I also got a Willam vibe from her. She has Willam’s compulsion to constantly riff, but without all the messy self-promoting BS baggage that came along with it.
Perhaps that makes her more similar to Trixie Mattel? If anything screamed Trixie tonight other than her Chicago buddy Shea’s pursed lips and squinted eyes, it was Charlie’s entrance look. The giant handbag cosplay plus oversized glasses was gleeful camp that also had a hint of a cartoonish, toddlerized take on Anna Wintour.
Unlike Trixie, Charlie seems to know what to leave out of her cartoon vision to get the point across. However, her Halloween costume pilgrim with its stilted tearaway was one of the episode’s biggest fails.
She was saved only by her stunning Lady Gaga imitation. There’s no denying the craft of her Gaga garment was to die for – I mean, look at all those hems.
In all seriousness, every ruffle and fold of her frock was dead on to the Gaga original.
However, her pilgrim massacre was more telling. This is a YouTube queen who is used to trying to snag a good take, messing up, and either going with it anyway, editing around it, or just re-shooting.
I’m certain that the edit (or, more accurately, the editors) is going to do her in.
Can she win? Ru has no reason to play out the Chad narrative again, so it will only happen if she turns out to be a more consistent and fashionable Trixie.
13. Kimora Blac
Have we ever seen such a gorgeous and funny boy be such a flatline as a queen before?
I know it’s tempting to compare Kimora to fellow fresh tilapia Gia Gunn, but Gia was a space cadet both in and out of drag. Boy Kimora is sharp as a tack and breathtakingly handsome, but drag Kimora is as boring as watching foundation set on a craggly mug.
Her entrance look was a lacy bodysuit and cheap-looking jewels. Her hometown look was a lacy bodysuit and cheap-looking jewels with large feathers. (Did you clock Michelle’s total resting bitchface in reaction?) And, her Gaga look was a barely-there bodysuit with cheap-looking jewels and vinyl.
Her omnipresent oversized chest-plate is hideous. Has any queen outside of Alexis or Roxxxy ever made one work consistently? Both of those queens were considerably more thick and juicy than Kimora, who is mostly working a big ass.
In sum, she’s everything that Gia’s Snatch Game impersonation of Kim Kardashian wanted to be, but little else.
Plus, her make-up is :whispers: a little bit busted. I know Drag Race wrongs queens by supplying odd, “only whites need apply” colors of foundation, but Kimora looked positively silvery on the runaway. Not to mention her penchant for dark lipstick would work better if she ever lined her lips strongly enough to give them a shape and filled in the gaps with some liquid color.
Does Kimora have some secret talents to get her through a few weeks? I’m willing to bet she can dance well enough to make it through her first lip sync. The real question is if she has any secret hidden taste.
Can she win? I’m afraid not.
14. Jaymes Mansfield
Jaymes delivered perhaps the worst first-episode performance of all time, and that’s saying a lot considering the first episode of Drag Race I ever saw was the one with Magnolia Crawford!
Jaymes wore some clothes. Her purple Gaga dress was actually quite lovely, and she could have sold it with a solid strut down the runaway and appropriately teased hair.
She comes off like a terrible Delta Work impersonator. She can’t even beat her face. She better be the first to go next week.
Can she make it past more than two more weeks? Maybe if Charlie breaks a hip first.