Tag Archives: RuPaul’s Drag race

RuPaul’s Drag Race goes Sisters Grimm

The problem with reality show competitions is that sometimes the show runners struggle to come up with meaningful challenges, but often fail, coming up with stupid ideas, instead. Project Runway is a repeat offender (making dresses out of garbage, designing mail carrier uniforms, using material from hardware stores). RuPaul’s Drag Race has some goofy challenges, too – and “Draggily Ever After” is pret-ty goofy. The queens are tasked to create fairy tale princesses, and in a nod toward Disney (though I don’t think the House of Mouse was ever mentioned in the episode), each princess gets a sassy sidekick, too – sort of like the singing rodent or bird that keeps Disney princesses company.

So the queens have to be creative as well as glamorous, and not surprisingly, some queens fail, most do okay, and a couple hit the mark. During the workroom scenes, the queens chat about makeup, until the talk turns to the tragic Orlando Pulse shooting. I was nervous about the inclusion of the tragedy because often reality shows exploit tragic events to manufacture emotion; I also worry when people bring up tragic events and try to center themselves into the narrative, however tenuous their connection is to the tragedy.

It was a relief then, when the queens shared their feelings of Orlando, and it became about how the tragedy impacted the queer community. Cynthia has real, concrete stakes in the tragedy, having lost a good friend. The discussion turns to the feelings of empowerment that is integral to drag. These ladies are flouting societal rules, thumbing their noses at the patriarchy, and as Sasha Velour so sagely said, “It’s so important as queer entertainers to lead the way. We need to come together and be proudly, visibly queer.” I’ll be curious to see if the election will find its way in the show, as well, seeing how political RuPaul has been during the election year.

And even though Orlando has imbued the show some gravitas, the show is still a competition with drag queens, so there were huge doses of absurdity. When the queens were given templates to create their sidekick characters, the challenge took on a Mad Libs kind of tone, with Kimora struggling with the assignment, wondering aloud what an adjective is (Cynthia, putting on her teacher’s cap, did a great job explaining what the word meant). Kimora smugly said, “Thank god I’m pretty…”

Kimora is gorgeous, but she isn’t suited for the competition. She seems a touch bored and not up to the challenge. That she’s in the bottom two is not surprising, and I think that it should’ve been she not Jaymes that should’ve gone home last week. Jaymes was a nervous wreck last week, but I think she would’ve done better with this challenge, at least in creating the sidekick.

But Kimora’s sidekick character to her Tarzan-inspired princess was a boring, robotic mess; she read her nonsensical spiel like she was reading a ransom note.

The other queen on the bottom was Aja, who like Kimora, struggled to make any sense with her sidekick story. Choosing to be some kind of volcano princess. Though she was livelier than Kimora (which isn’t saying much, ‘cuz the RuPaul wax figure was more lively), her makeup was awful – too dark and messy – and she made the tacky mistake of wearing chaps.

The two lip synch to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” a choice pick. Neither queen did great, though, Kimora’s phoned-in performance sent her home. It’s always funny when gorgeous, snotty, know-it-alls go home early.

As for the winner, Trinity wins with an under the sea outfit, topped by an impressive headdress of seaside paraphernalia.

I have to say that even though Kimora’s cartoon was a disaster, none of the characters were good because the premise was destined to fail: these computer cartoons had the queen’s face inserted, and each had to give a stupid monologue to explain the relationship each sidekick has with its princess. None of the queens have displayed the kind of comedic talent of Bianca Del Rio or Pandora Boxx, but Charlie Hides’ British fairy godmother comes close to the wit the challenge was hoping to achieve.

The guest judges this week were singer/actor Cheyenne Jackson and YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, whose made a career out of creating Disney-inspired music videos, so it’s super appropriate that he’s a judge, though both Hall and Jackson have such limited screen time, that neither makes a big impression. (which is a shame, because Hall is a fabulous talent, and should be tapped to be a permanent judge)

“Draggily Ever After” is the kind of Drag Race that highlights the show at its best and its worst, and it shows off its contestants at their best and worst. The runway, for the most part, was serviceable and eye-popping, and the creative part of the challenge was a messy hot mess.

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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ eliminates its first contestant, gives viewers a cheer, and teases us with Lisa Kudrow

When the trailer for the ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race aired, I was very excited to see Lisa Kudrow. I was looking forward to see how she’d do on the show – I assumed she’d probably be some kind of mentor or coach for the comedy challenge (Cheri Oteri and Kudrow’s Groundlings pal Kathy Griffen were great teaching the girls the ins and  outs of being funny).

So, it was very disappointing to see the brilliant comedienne pop by the work room for a minute, throw out some great Comeback catchphrases, before dashing away, leaving the contestants in a daze. Instead of the great Lisa Kudrow, the second episode of Drag Race features the great B-52s as guest judges, joining Ross Mathews, Carson Kressley, and Michelle Visage to watch the contestants participate in a nutty cheerleading challenge, and then parade around in drag that is inspired by White Parties.

The queens are broken up into two teams, and are tasked with making a splash and stand out, despite appearing in a crowded and messy cheerleading routine. Immediately, we see that poor Jaymes Mansfield is struggling, which is a shame because she seems to be the only comedy queen (in last week’s premier, she announced her arrival with a puppet). Initially, she wants the character of Floozy, but fails to imbue the character with enough sex appeal, so she takes on Snoozy, which has unintended irony has her performance throughout episode two is a bit sleepy; it’s a bit of a wonder that she doesn’t do well, because she’s a very funny queen.

The other queen to struggle is Kimora Blac, a stunner, who has a stank attitude throughout the proceedings, especially when the queens are putting together their cheerleading costumes; she’s pissed and bored that she has to stud her uniform with jewels, and pouts throughout the activity. She also fails at the White Party runway challenge, recreating her leather Cher “Turn Back Time” look from last week, only this time in white (with a tacky Red, White & Blue bustier).

Valentina, the newbie, is the winner. She performs well during the cheerleading competition, but really rocks the White Party runway challenge by channeling a gorgeous virginal bride. Despite being a drag queen for only 10 months (she’s chosen last team captains were building their teams), she has the beauty and the confidence to be a contender.

Shea Couleé and Trinity Taylor also perform well during the cheerleading challenge. Shea is a Chicago queen (I’m from Chicago so I’m rooting for her), and she performed beautifully, doing some great tumbling

The cheerleading challenge was stupid – the kind of stupid that is a highlight of the show. The girls are jumping all over the place, trying to stick with the choreography. I find it amusing that the judges were supposed to assess who these ladies were performing, because the challenge was messy and a bit nuts, as 14 drag queens were flailing around, throwing their bodies around and launching into dodgy somersaults.

Because of the who was guest judges were, the lip sync was to “Love Shack.” Kimora Blac and Jaymes Mansfield are in the bottom, and are squaring off – both do okay, Blac manages to edge Mansfield out a bit, because she’s just more confident at this point (though Mansfield’s va-va-voom performance is fun). My partner pointed out that “Love Shack” is a silly choice because Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Fred Schneider each have solos, so it’s a bit unclear whose parts the queens should lip sync to. The queens just sort of mouth to all the parts, and Kimora is able to save herself.

Poor Jaymes Mansfield leaves and that’s too bad because comedy queens are often the most fun to watch: Biana Del Rio, Jinkx Monsoon, Pandora Boxx provided some of the best moments of Drag Race (they were great during the snatch games). Right now, Charlie Hides seems to be the only comedy queen left, and he was in the bottom three, so hopefully, he’ll be able to improve as he goes along.

Because I missed the first two Friday airings, I had to wake up hella early on Saturday, setting my alarm for 8 am so that I could catch the repeats (VH1 should follow FX’s rerun schedule of Feud and air Drag Race at decent times).

One thing that I noticed with this season of Drag Race is that two of the contestants are YouTubers. While the YouTube celebrity was a thing since the beginning of the show’s first season, the stars that came out of the channel have really blown up in the ensuing 9 years. That means that comedians and actors from YouTube have side-stepped due paying like summer stock, improv classes, comedy clubs, community theater. As a result, when YouTube queens like Charlie Hides and Jaymes Mansfield step outside the 10-minute online video, they have to rely on skills that may not be as fully developed, yet. Jaymes Mansfield’s videos are hi-larious, but she struggled to transfer her comedy skills to television.

Speaking of YouTube, next week, YouTube entertainer Todrick Hall – someone who has performed with RuPaul – appears with Cheyenne Jackson. What’s interesting is that if Hall wasn’t so famous at this point, he’d be a great contestant (he got strong reviews for his performance on Broadway’s Kinky Boots).

The only sour point – and this may be the latent Catholic in me – but I didn’t like how Valentina’s faith was played for kooky laughs. Not cute.

Otherwise, the second episode of the VH1 Drag Race is pretty much what I expect from the show at this point: bitchy jokes, maudlin scenes of forced poignancy, some high quality drag mixed with some amateurish failure.

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RuPaul’s puts together a fantastic show with ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 2’

I give RuPaul a hard time over some of her word choices when it comes to the trans community. I also find her support of drag/minstrel artist Shirley Q. Liquor a problem. That being said, I’m a fan of RuPaul – I think she’s an incredibly ingratiating and witty performer and a talented singer/entertainer. When she became a mainstream media celebrity in the early 1990s, she was extremely subversive, upending gender and race roles with her drag persona. I haven’t given her reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race a chance – but in light of all the controversy around the transphobic language that is reportedly on the show, I thought I’d give the show a chance and sped through the second season in a marathon binge of two nights. And even though I still maintain that anti-trans language is wrong, I have to admit, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a fantastic show, full of campy humor and some very intelligent and cutting wit from its star.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is a bit like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model. The contestants are but through various challenges in which they are asked to perform tasks and throw together great outfits and looks in a very limited amount of time. Then the queens are judged by a panel of experts which in season 2 includes Santino Rice, the reformed villain of Project Runway‘s second season, and fashion writer Merle Ginsberg, along with some really great, b-listy celebrity hosts, who add to the kitsch of the show (often the guests will somehow be tied to the theme of the show).

What’s great about RuPaul’s Drag Race is that it’s one of the few shows where there is such a large number of queer people of color – Asian, black, and Latino queer folks have been invisible on television, despite the LGBT community’s growing acceptance in the mainstream media. Also – and this is very important – many of the queens on the show are trying to transcend poverty. I know it sounds like I’m watching the show through a sociological or feminist lens, and that I should just be watching it as a fun, diverting bit of fluff – but when we’re dealing with groups as marginalized as queer folks of color, everything has some social relevance. As RuPaul herself once said, “Every time I bat my eyelashes, it’s a political statement.” The political is personal for these ladies, who overcome some heart-breaking adversity to be who they want to be and to achieve their goals.

I know some of you reading this review will think, whew, this is pretty heavy. And yeah, I can’t help but watch anything without dissecting it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh and find the show ridiculously entertaining. Even with all the trappings of reality television, RuPaul’s Drag Race is the best of the lot.

The second season is a great introduction to the show (and the first season has yet to be released due to music licensing issues). The group of drag queens competing are wonderful, with some great standouts. Pandora Boxx is a breakout star – a kind and lovely performer who combines the ersatz glamour with a razor-sharp sense of humor. She was continually compared to comedy legend Goldie Hawn, and it makes sense – not only does Pandora look like Ms. Hawn, but she has a great act: beautiful, but hilarious. Because I look at a lot of drag queens as comediennes, I respond to the funnier ones more than with the glamazons, which is why along with Pandora Boxx, I also loved Jujubee, a Laotian-American drag queen who not only was funny but possessed a fierce intellect. And though a lot of her comedy was unintentional, Latina Jessica Wild (she was born in Puerto Rico) was a scene-stealing wonder, bringing to mind the cartoony, broad comedy of Sofia Vergara (and the two divas have the same accents). Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the funny drag queens that found the most mileage, but it was the more model-like beauties that prevailed. This is surprising because comedy is  such a large part of RuPaul’s act, and often when being judged personality was being raised.

And because this is reality TV and because we’re watching drag queens, there is drama. Like every reality show, there are villains – namely Raven and Tyra Sanchez. Raven is a hard-edged, viper-tongued beauty, whose vulnerability was well-hidden by the quartz-like armor she built up (a neat detail: when out of drag, Raven looked eerily like Joey Lawrence). And Tyra – billed “the other Tyra – channels the self-involved diva antics of Diana Ross at her worst. Happily ignoring the stank eye from her fellow queens, Tyra cared little about the feelings of others, and was gleefully self-centered – she must’ve been a nightmare to hang out with, but she made for great television.

As expected when watching a show about gay people, there are some moments of vunlerability, too. Most of these ladies have had some wretched backgrounds: Jujubee was abandoned by her mother at 15, Pandora Boxx attempted suicide, the late Sahara Davenport went through drug addiction, and Tyra was one of two drag queens who was also a father. I wish the show delved more into the issue of drag queens being parents: it’s not as rare an occurrence as many would think (I worked in an LGBT center and came across lots of drag kids who had kids of their own). These queens are dads (to sons), and issues of masculinity must come up – and I’d be very curious to see how they reconcile these two seemingly incongruous identities.

But maybe I’m expecting too much from a show that features puns like “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, Talent” (get it? I’ll give you a moment), or has challenges where the queens film a hixploitation commercial selling Disco vegetable shortening. But all of the groan-inducing yuks are purposeful and funny. What’s great about RuPaul’s Drag Race is how meta it is: it’s a weird blend of sincerity and irony. Winning a competition like this could change the life of one of these queens, so they do take the challenges seriously, but, there’s still a heavy dose of self-referential comedy.

The tattered, oh-so-slightly second-rate kitsch that is prevalent in drag performance, is proudly lampooned on the show – namely when it comes to the hilariously Love Boaty guests that judge: when a challenge uses award shows as a theme, RuPaul had a challenge: how can she get an Oscar-winner on the show’s budget: get Tatum O’Neill! When the queens have to do country & western burlesque, “Delta Dawn” warbler Tanya Tucker shows up. In a rock n roll challenge, the queens get coached by Berlin frontwoman, Terri Nunn. But not all of the guest judges are potential Dancing with the Stars contestants: comic greats Kathy Najimy and Kathy Griffin appear, as does punk rock giant Henry Rollins. And in a fantastic episode in which the queens were called on to drag out older gentlemen, Cloris Leachman and Debbie Reynolds were guesting, each trying to outbrass the other.

At this point, RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a cult pop hit, deservedly so. It’s also being credited with promoting LGBT rights to a larger audience – I’ll question that argument, as the show definitely feels like it’s preaching to a very specific (and flamboyant) choir. But for up-and-coming LGBTs, particularly, those of color, RuPaul’s Drag Race does provide a great image of fun, creativity, and wit – and that’s always a good thing.

Click here to buy RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 2 on DVD from amazon.com.

**quick note: as I’m not a regular watcher of the show, I didn’t know that the DVD set of season 2 does not contain a segment called “Untucked” which is the behind-the-scenes moments. For many, this omission is a deal-breaker. I still found the show hilarious, even without the segments.

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