BY Eric Rezsnyak
After last week’s highly entertaining — but devastating (RIP Kitten Kaboodle) — lipsynch smackdown, we were down to our Final 6, who had to take on the dreaded Rusical. This year’s edition: “From Drags to Riches: The Unauthorized Brooke Lynn Hytes Rusical.” Overall I thought it was another good episode, as this cast has stepped it up significantly since a dreadful beginning of the season.
There was no better indication of that than the minichallenge, a quasi-improv in which the queens had to offer sex advice via fake call-in show, a la the late Sue Johanson’s iconic program. If you think back to the improv challenge in the beginning of the season, QVShe, the majority of the queens fully bombed. But here, most of them did pretty well. Even when they were flubbing things, they were having fun with it. What a difference five episodes make. In the end, Venus was the justifiable winner. At this point, it is clearly Venus’s season to lose — she’s doing pretty well to excellent in just about every challenge, and seems like a fully formed queen when the others still seem like they’re figuring most of it out.
That brought us to the Rusical. I thought this was a fun, generally successful musical, and it further endeared Brooke to me. (Which is saying something, because I am already quite fond of Brooke, who I think has really blossomed during her time as host of this show.) The queens did not have to sing their parts, but some of them did have challenging choreography, set in a variety of musical styles. We’ll go through each queen’s performance one by one, in order of presentation, including their Always a Bridesmaid runway.
Before we get into it, I want to acknowledge guest judge LuAnn de Lesseps, AKA Countess LuAnn from “Real Housewives of New York.” LuAnn was great in this, she brought positive energy and some genuinely good critiques to the table. Once again I found myself feeling that the guest judge was giving more than a certain regular judge on the show, and I cannot be the only person who is having that realization.
Melinda Verga got child Brooke/Brock, in a fairly straightforward Broadway musical number. The judges mentioned that Melinda was giving them a bit of Bette Davis from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and I totally got it. I think it was a compliment, as the delusional, verging on deranged presentation totally worked for the character Melinda was trying to convey. I thought it was a very successful week for Melinda, who also arguably has never looked better on the runway. It was ironic, then, that this was the first time we’ve seen her get notes from the judges on her aesthetic, which has been crunchy at best and unacceptable at worst. Melinda did place Low this week, but that was more a factor of there only being so many High/Safe spots left. She did nothing wrong this week, but she has been put on notice that her performances cannot save her from the bottom forever.
Aurora Matrix was ballet Brooke, and I’m torn here. Aurora had probably the most challenging choreography, being an un-trained ballet performer expected to sell ballet-level movement. I think Aurora pulled off the steps and holds as well as or better than anyone else could. My issue is that I felt she largely missed the comedy of Brooke’s sexual awakening while performing with the strapping male dancers. There were times I thought she was late or missed the various reaction cues, and I certainly thought she could have milked all of them more for laughs. I actively disliked Aurora’s runway, which again falls into the familiar problem with her looks: high concept, middling execution. She was a tortured bridesmaid driven to the grave by sadness at never being the bride herself, with invitations to other people’s weddings festooned to her outfit. I think where she lost me was the letters, which made her look like a plucked pinata. Aurora won this week, and personally, I would have given it to Venus. But I can at least see the justification for the win. (Also, they can’t give every week to Venus.)
Kiki Coe was Brooke as a baby drag queen, presented via a cabaret act, and she was awful. I thought the judges were overly kind to Kiki, because this was pretty much a complete flop. They commented on her issues with her props — which, yeah, hard to ignore — but Kiki also didn’t seem to know the words, and she seemed way off in the choreo. If it’s a rusical challenge, and you are not singing the piece — much less singing it LIVE, as some rusicals have required — you better be able to nail the rest of it. Kiki didn’t come close. Her bridesmaid runway was objectively pretty, but I personally can’t stand when queens do old-age make-up and a fake geriatric presentation. It feels ageist, it puts me off, and that’s a me problem — but it’s my blog, and I stand by it. I am sure Kiki was not making fun of old people, and was just leaning into, “never been married, still having a great time as a bridesmaid.” At least here the high concept was delivered well. I just didn’t care for the concept.
Nearah Nuff as “Drag Race” Brooke: I get the feeling that the editors are trying to make Nearah our late-season villain. If their idea of a villain is someone who absolutely slays challenges and gives hilarious talking-heads, I’ll take 10 more, please. Nearah was terrific this entire episode. I LOL’d repeatedly at her mini-challenge performance, I thought her talking heads were entertaining as hell (“I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do, but I’m going to fucking DO IT”), and she was spectacular in the rusical. Her piece was all based around Brooke’s “Sorry Not Sorry” lipsynch on Season 11, which had some iconic moves. This was challenging choreo, and she crushed it. She had the cold confidence Brooke projected during her run on “Drag Race.” And yet, the judges criticized her for serving up “more of the same” that she showed in the lipsynch challenge last week, even doing side-by-side montages showing Nearah repeating moves. I kind of see the argument here, but…this was a role. Nearah was given this role because the other girls did not think they could handle it. She could, and she excelled at it. The role called for lipsynch tricks, which she deployed expertly. Had she just done some of them last challenge, when she lipsynched three times back to back to back? Sure, but it’s not her fault y’all put these challenges together. Would they have critiqued anyone else in this role for pulling in moves from their lipsynch smackdown performances? The judges were reaching to discredit Nearah here — I also thought her 80s bridesmaid runway was up there with Melinda as best delivery on the brief — but god bless her, she just brushed it off. Nearah placed High, as she should have.
Venus as post-“Drag Race” Brooke: I thought Venus was excellent this entire episode. In addition to winning the mini-challenge, she did a flawless job with her operatic segment of the rusical, in which she had to be restrained yet emotionally evocative while lamenting her loss and presumably the end of her drag career. Venus also presented the most eye-popping runway of the night, an elaborate flower outfit that referenced a bridesmaid bouquet. She was pretty much flawless the whole way through, and I would have given her the win.
Denim as “Canada’s Drag Race” host Brooke: I was sure they were going to give Denim the mini-challenge win, as they have yet to score a win, and they clearly want them to. Denim did not do poorly this week. I thought the mini-challenge had a few funny moments, and they didn’t bomb the rusical the way that Kiki did. But it was clear that Denim was struggling, and I agreed with the judge note that when the other queens came in to join her at the end, Denim got completely lost in the sea during her own segment. I thought the garter runway was a clever idea and well executed. It was the most fem Denim has been the whole competition, and I liked seeing that side of them.
Ultimately the Bottom 2 was Denim vs. Kiki Coe, which was the correct call. The lipsynch was to “Seven-Day Fool” by Jully Black, and I was so insulted that this show had a Countess LuAnn guest spot and did not give us a Countess LuAnn song. “Money Can’t Buy You Class”? “Chic C’est La Vie”?! “Feeling Jovani”?!? How could you do this to me, “Canada’s Drag Race.” Question mark.
I thought Denim was pretty clearly winning this lipsynch for the first half, but Kiki really came alive in the back half, while Denim faded considerably. I thought it could go either way, and ultimately Denim was declared the winner, Kiki was eliminated. Kiki came into this season as a big threat. She blew the others out of the water with her promo look, and she had the most elaborate runway package of the season (I won’t say it was the BEST runway package, but certainly the most elaborate). But while Kiki gets big points for looks and is a solid lipsyncher, she has colossal weaknesses in the comedy and personality departments. I believe this was her fourth time in the bottom in seven episodes, and she was saved twice by the Golden Beaver. So…it was time.
But Denim also seems to be running out of time. It’s clear that the show WANTS Denim to be successful. Denim’s drag is unique, Denim is unique period. But we’re now at the point where we are losing fan favorites (again, RIP Kitten), and Denim is already starting to get pushback on social media for being saved when their performance might not be justifying it. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. *RuPaul opera glasses gif*
One last note: there was an absolutely hilarious moment during the runway segment where Brooke said, in relation to Kiki, “She’s ready to get fingered.” The entire panel gasped and turned to Brooke, who seemed to point to a sheet of paper on the judges table before correcting herself and saying, “She’s ready to get RING fingered.” This was not only one of the funniest exchanges I’ve seen on any “Drag Race,” but it also more or less confirms what we have all suspected — but have been repeatedly told is not true — that there are writers behind the scenes feeding puns to the judges. (Further proof: Traci made some comment shortly after, and Brad said, “Did you just come up with that yourself? Good for you.”) I certainly don’t begrudge them their writing assistance. I just want them to hire me to do it.
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