This week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race had one of the most peculiar challenges of all time!
The remaining 13 queens presented fully-developed princess characters on the runway, but each one had to be accompanied by a dweeby floating-head sidekick which later had an animated body added to it.
Maybe some fans weren’t into this Roger Rabbit, Space Jam sort of realness, but I loved the juxtaposition – plus, I adore any challenge where the queens have to get literary.
This week on Untucked, the safe queens opined that most of them belonged in the top group, and I can’t help but agree. I think all of them were better than the queens that remained on the stage (yes, even Trinity).
Despite loving drag even as a child that I’ve only been in what I’d call “full drag” – with makeup and everything – twice in my life. One of those times was for Halloween, the other was on stage. Both were now half a life ago during my willowy, longhaired youth when I would easily pass for a woman just walking down the street.
Thinking and looking back at those occasions, getting dressed up specifically to read as “woman” and not “man in dress” was still a challenge. Even with an easy-to-dress figure, soft features, and no issue with affecting a feminine walk, there were still a hundred details to presenting myself as womanly I had to figure out. Not just padding, make-up, and jewelry, but how to stand with my legs held demurely or how to toss my hair.
That’s why for me drag is not only about a heightened reality of womanhood and blurred gender lines, but also a reminder of the exceptional expectations the world places on every woman, every day. Women are held to a ridiculous standard of seamless beauty whenever they leave the house, always treated by some as an object which must always make itself worthy of attention.
And, if they have the temerity to appear in front of a camera? I believe the term for the world’s expectation is “picture perfect.”
Is there some hypocrisy to me – a guy who hasn’t been in a dress for many years – ranking queens who do this professionally multiple nights a week on their picture perfectness? Absolutely! At the same time, there’s a reason why I watch Drag Race and not a single other reality TV show, and that’s to see people at the height of their craft showing off their abilities.
I know that even on my best day I probably couldn’t do drag as good as the last-place contestant in any season of Drag Race. However, I’ve also done a lot of the other things they have to do to win – some professionally – and I think it’s fascinating to dissect their performances.
With that off my chest, let’s begin!
Average 3; was 7, 2.
Valentina has cracked the code of Drag Race.
That’s a joke we all make at the unfortunate expense of Season 7’s Sasha Belle, who thought she had all of the secrets of the show unlocked from her obsessive fandom.
Valentina is the real deal version of that joke. It’s clear that she took an academic approach to prepping for the show, and is very carefully ticking boxes with each challenge to prove her worthiness.
I didn’t find this week’s Princess Vira look to be as entrancing as her bridal runway, but it also wasn’t as quite as pieced together from disparate parts as what we saw in her Gaga looks. Some awkwardness of the velvet one-piece around the chest and crotch was offset by the clever jeweled halter design and a perfect amount of accessorizing.
Once again, Valentina’s make-up was set to stun. She made great use of her newly-shaved eyebrows (and gave us one of the more ridiculous Ru encounters in the workroom with her incognito look). The only other girl in the cast who seems to be able to give her a run for her money when it comes to sheer beauty-of-mug is Alexis Michelle.
The real news here was Valentina’s silly sidekick character. Not that anyone would expect the girl who is doing boy confessionals in all black and a beret to fail at being theatrical, but her sidekick was tremendously goofy and her story made sense.
Knowing when to be both funny and ugly is a major boon on Drag Race, as is the ability to share a cogent narrative. Valentina now has that all on lock.
Will this A-student ever get a “we don’t know the real you” ding from Michelle, or is Valentina’s smile so charming that it diffuses any chance of that? I don’t know, but there’s no denying that she’s the queen to beat right now – and all the other girls seem to know it.
2. Trinity Taylor
Average: 6; was 11, 6.
This week’s Princess Aquapussy win from Trinity was all about being messy.
Not her look, mind you. While Trinity’s one-piece swimsuit was simple, it wasn’t basic and it was finely detailed. It fit her body snugly and matched perfectly to her fall-away mermaid look, plus its plainness was offset by a comedically busy headdress.
On look alone many of the other queens had Trinity beat this week … and they were all safe, save for Peppermint. Where Trinity had them beat was with her ridiculous Stanky the Starfish sidekick and her zany, cross-eyed demeanor on the runway.
They were both a deliberate mess, and the judges were living for it. Stanky’s monologue was mostly one big joke about Aquapussy’s aquatic diseases, but Trinity sold it so fucking hard both as her sidekick and in her physical response to the monologue while strutting on the main stage.
If there was any queen I was expecting to show off comedic acting chops, it certainly wasn’t Trinity! This performance puts last week’s cheerleader into better perspective. It wasn’t just excitement and dumb luck that found her on top of the pyramid. This queen has a keen sense of when to deliver a punchline.
That’s something we haven’t seen from a pageant queen for a long while. It’s become fashionable to root against those contestants because they tend to be so clueless when it comes to anything but being gorgeous. Even our beloved All-Star Alyssa Edwards has us laughing at her as often as we’re laughing with her.
Trinity is something very different, and this show rewards originality. While I’m not exactly hot on Trinity to take home the entire competition, there is no denying that with two top weeks in a row she’s cementing her place as a queen to defeat to get into the final three.
3. Shea Couleé
Average: 3; was 6, 1.
Shea Couleé has proven herself not only as a queen who can execute, but also the season’s best slightly-shady narrator.
That recipe is generally good to get a queen at least into the top half of the competition, especially when it’s backed up with runway looks like Shea’s Princess Aquaria.
We’ve had a lot of girls present a lot of mermaid dresses over the years, but Shea went full mermaid with a long-sleeved sheath of blue glitter and one of the widest fishtail trains we’ve ever seen on the show. An illusion of a cinched seafoam corset at the waist and a a wide crown of crimson curls were the perfect complement, both in color and shape.
It was altogether awesome – another high-concept, well-executed look with an obvious nod to the Diamonds of Steven Universe confirmed by her sidekick’s narration (even if it turns out she couldn’t walk in it so well, per tea in Untucked).
Shea came off as a potential repeat of her Chicago homegirl Trixie in the first episode, but with another two weeks of performance she turns out to be a totally memorable, totally unique queen.
Right now I’m not sure if there’s anything that can take Shea down a peg, and I’m pretty happy about that.
Average 4; was 4, 5.
Eureka delivered yet another delightful performance, although on closer examination her fashion was a little lacking.
That’s not a bad thing. It took me several passes on her corset and half-cape outfit to notice that the only real detailing was a bushel of Mardi Gras beads dangling from every possible place because it flattered her figure so damn well.
Meanwhile, the judges couldn’t stop giggling at her Princess You-Reek-of-Daria’s ridiculous kangaroo rat companion. When you’ve got a mug this pretty and a sense of humor this wicked, you can get away with some cheap beads every so often.
Like Valentina, Eureka is another contestant who clearly has the show’s code cracked and came to win. Despite being assertive and self-confident, she seems to have little delusion about her place in the cast or the strength of her talents.
While I wouldn’t necessarily call Eureka and Valentina even based on the last pair of runways, I think it’s an interesting narrative on the show’s part that Valentina gets the “clear frontrunner” tag while Eureka seems to be known as “the loud one.” The only thing really differentiating the two of them so far is Valentina’s bridal runway (and her slimness).
Is Eureka due for a standout week that will prove she’s just as fierce and fashionable as all these other top queens? I really hope so. I’m rooting for her to stay neck and neck with Trinity to the end.
Average 3; was 2, 3.
Peppermint had a number of good qualities on display for a third week in a row, and this time she did it without wearing another kimono robe dress!
In fact, her Princess Carcinogenetta dress more than made up for some sameness across her first two weeks. Peppermint’s dress had the most drama and highest level of construction of everything we saw on the runway. I loved it. She made a floor-length mermaid gown that switched from gold lamè to black vinyl after the bust with an architectural marvel of a poof at the floor that had a suggestion of trailing flames behind it!
It’s comparatively rare to see a queen carry off a sartorial special effect on a week when she has to construct her own look, but Peppermint nailed it. She also had a cool, coherent story drawn from her real life and one of the panel’s favorite sidekick’s – even if her princess name was an awkward mouthful. Her dancing flame-head sidekick was reminiscent of Jambi from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
After all that gushing, why not have Peppermint in the top three? I still think she’s got to simplify her styling a bit. While her accessories were way more under control this week, her makeup was a bit … peculiar.
I think she was going for a face-shrinking chin-strap effect with her sooty neck make-up, but those sorts of choices can read really strangely on camera. It actually worked pretty well during her runway strut, but during critiques it looked odd.
It’s clear Peppermint is a favorite of the judges and the editors, which tends to indicate a deep run on this show. Without anyone totally solidified in the top three the way we saw in the past three seasons, Peppermint can lock up a top spot with one flawless performance.
6. Alexis Michelle
Average: 6; was 5, 7.
Alexis Michelle came to play this week and might have ranked even higher if not for a slightly flat story from her NYC bro of a tadpole sidekick.
Alexis’s Princess #SubwayFish looked great. Really great. Her dress was much simpler than Peppermint’s and Charlie’s, but her face. Alexis was the prettiest girl on the runway this week, and that was as one of the more fantastical and inhuman of all the Princess creations aside from Nina.
I am particularly obsessed her mound of rainbow hair. Not only was it something out of Rainbow Brite come to life, but it was something massive, vivid, and cartoonish brought to life in a glamorous, attractive way. It wasn’t too glossy, or too lumpy – it was just right.
That’s something some of these other queens are having a little trouble with this season so far. It makes me think the slight awkwardness of Alexis’s white make-up was more down to the coloring than any particular bad choices.
Yet, there’s something about Alexis that just isn’t won’t come through, to use a popular phrase of season’s past. Alexis really needs a break-out in the next few weeks to make herself distinct from these other middle queens, even if I’m already in love with her personality and her focus on details.
7. Nina Bo’nina Brown
Average: 4; was 1, 3.
Nina’s week one ingenuity is starting to resemble a bit of crutch in week three.
Nina was unquestionably strong this week, both in the detailing of her Princess Zathena robot look and in her sardonic uni-wheel sidekick. Her silvery, hooded jumpsuit was sexy, futuristic, and completely flattering to Nina’s ultra-padded figure.
There’s no denying this challenge played directly to Nina’s strengths of crafting and character. However, after being virtually a no-show in last week’s cheer squad challenge, the question I’m starting to have is, “What are her other strengths?”
Is Nina a fantastic dancer? Actress? Singer?
It’s not Nina’s fault that the early challenges aren’t showing off her other talents, but without a stellar showing and with zero presence from her boy interview segments she’s turing into a cipher while half of the cast are angling for a top spot.
We need another breakout week from her on the order of week one, but she probably has another few weeks (and some accumulated good will) before it becomes critical to deliver it.
8. Sasha Velour
Average: 6; was 3, 8.
Sasha Velour might have been safe this week, but she showed a sign of her eventual downfall.
Sasha’s runway look was utterly plain, but her Princess Uglina story (as related by a ridiculous Shrek-like sidekick) was one of the most complete fairy tales of all the queens. If we were ranking just on narrative creativity and comedic sidekicks, Sasha would be in the top group.
It would hard to know that just from looking at her beyond the empty birdcage on her head. The only burst of whimsy was the tiny rainbow splay in the train of her gown.
In the workroom, Sasha was unrecognizable in her basic foundation and winged eyes as the queens discussed the tragedy at Pulse. It wasn’t just the lack of her unibrow – this lady knows how to completely transform her face!
The birdcage was a weirdly apt metaphor for Sasha the hyper-intellectual queen. She’s got to set free all of the thoughts in her head and actually catch hold of them. If she did, she’d be the queen to beat in this competition – she’s got the beauty and performance chops for it.
9. Cynthia Lee Fontaine
Average: 8; was 8, 9.
Cynthia finally got to show the force of her personality in a solo creative challenge, even if her fashion wasn’t anything new.
Cynthia’s pretty pink princess look was her standard floor-length gown, but her sideways cucu humor came through from her ridiculous rabbit sidekick. If last week’s gown was too much, this week I felt it was a bit plain around the middle. I kind of wanted a sash or a belt to break it up and add some shape to the middle of Cynthia’s body.
I did dig the asymmetry of her sleeves, with one massive poof on the upper arm ending in a tight sleeve on her forearm and a sleeveless other side with an atomic burst at the shoulder.
I wish Cynthia would make more pronounced and unusual choices like that across all of her fashion. Her tall, slender frame really lends itself to counterbalancing these sorts of asymmetric elements – especially when she adds even more height with a tall headpiece.
From a princess named “Cuculina” I was expecting a little more sass – or, if we’re being honest, a little more ass. Can you imagine if the dress had a Detox-style butt cutout, or if Cynthia padded with an entire sofa of cushions like Nina? Both would have sold this look a lot more.
Can Cynthia survive a few more cuts to make it to the top half of the competition? Tonight’s performance is a strong sign, but she has to keep pushing both the comedy chops and the fashion envelope in this group of remarkable queens to stay alive.
Average 10; was 9, 11.
I was struck this week by Aja and the commentary around her in Untucked more than in the actual episode.
On one hand, all of the queens seem to perceive Aja as a force of nature who is going to get high marks. It’s not just the other Brooklyn/NYC girls who have seen her live. She’s got some kind of star power in person that’s hypnotizing.
On the other other, she doesn’t seem ready to grow at all. She bragged extensively of her sewing in the episode, but her Princess Disastah outfit didn’t have the polish of the other girls. It was a pair of saggy, crooked chaps and a bikini!
To be fair, the chaps looked pretty well constructed – the issue was more about its lines. The downward angle of the bikini top widened her torso, ruining any illusion of curves as framed but her muppet fur jacket. With the too-wide V of her bikini bottoms fought with the lines of the chaps’ cutout. It was only an inch worth of crookedness, but it took the air out of Aja’s volcanic look.
Ironically, she didn’t even get read for her detailing by the judges. Instead, they came for her completely nonsensical story and her heavy black eye make-up. Michelle was relatively nice in calling it out (well, nice for Michelle), but Aja didn’t seem very receptive to the critique.
I think Shea rightfully tagged Aja earlier in the episode as someone who is used to seeing herself in her own photos. When you’re always the one choosing your angels and retouching, you have a very different idea of what you look like than if you’re seeing the worst of other people’s pictures of you.
I do think Aja has a certain fire to her that some of the other queens are lacking, and her lip sync skills are strong (even if her actual sync was a bit off at points). I think she’s going to dig in hard next week to escape being in the bottom two, but that volcanic streak of resistance is not going to serve her well if we hit another creative challenge.
11. Charlie Hides
Average 11; was 12, 10.
I’m really feeling for Charlie Hides.
I don’t think her perspective that she’s being ignored by Ru as an irrelevant, elderly queen is all in her head, as it seemed it might be in Untucked last week.
Charlie has turned in pair stellar runways for each of the past two weeks, and this week her comedy shone through in her fairy sidekick next to the pure glamazon Princess Climaxica look. Her layered skirts swept up around her like the petals of a rose as she spun on the runway.
While Charlie’s safety was predicated on her cheer performance last week, this time it didn’t make sense – her sidekick was funnier than Peppermint’s, and her look was better than Valentina’s. Based on that, it’s weird to place her down her in the power ranking. When it comes to sheer skill, she’s ought to be much higher.
When it comes to her momentum in the narrative of the show, she’s stalled. Ultimately, that sends a strong message about her being a filler queen, as does the utter lack of her boy confessional footage.
I think her slightly reserved personality combined with self-doubt as to if she belongs in the competition (justified by the judge’s cool reception) will assassinate her when the chips are down for a lip sync.
12. Farrah Moan
Average 11; was 10, 12.
Farrah lost me this week.
It wasn’t just her lamenting a lack of seamstress abilities, as that’s no surprise from a Vegas queen at this point. It that she continued to whine about doing something unfamiliar after it was explained to her in great detail.
We’ve seen a few queens overcome this habit to really shine (Adore, Chi Chi), but usually it’s the mark of a girl who isn’t hungry enough to make it to the final three.
If Farrah really wanted that win, she’d simply respond, “Yes ma’am,” to Eureka’s instructions.
Also, for a girl that’s so much about serving a fishy, feminine face, I once again got “boy body” from Farrah in her skin-baring mermaid costume as Princess Pacifica. Yes, boys have a certain shape to our bodies that can’t be helped. Yet, if you think back to prior “all about nudity” queens, they always found a way to add some feminizing touches and details to their looks to disguise the flat squareness of boy chests, stomachs, and hips.
Farrah managed to sell slinky, girly hips last week, but when left to her own construction she’s missing some form of tailoring to her barely-there outfits to give the suggestion of womanly curves – or, perhaps she’s in need of a corset or a cinch.
The less said about her lackluster, monotoned sidekick struggling to read words from a page, the better.
At this point, Farrah’s not charming and she’s utterly failing on nerve. I cannot imagine what they challenge they could serve her next week where she can get back to safety. If she’s in a lip sync against any of these other girls, she’s headed back to Vegas right on the heels of her sister Kimora.
Farewell to Kimora Blac, with her average of 13. She was a classier queen in her exit than she was in her time on the show! Based on her farewell in Untucked and the sheer number of notes she received from the other girls, it seems the editing was so busy shaping her as a stuck-up body queen that we missed out on her sweet demeanor entirely.