I’ve been low-key dreading this challenge since I first heard about it. I usually enjoy the makeover episodes each season. But this time, I knew that — due to COVID — the twist would be for the remaining eight queens to pair up and make over each other to be drag doppelgangers. I guess I just didn’t understand how that would be a challenge. You are taking another professional drag queen, who knows how to serve it on the runway, and dressing them up in your existing drag. Besides the make-up component — which also shouldn’t be a big stretch — where exactly is the challenge here? And yes, I know they previously did makeovers with eliminated contestants in Season 7 and Season 11, but they had to create whole new characters and, I believe, entirely new garments as well. The challenge level seemed dramatically lower this time.
But I was wrong. It was actually a great challenge, and in my opinion, one of the most overall enjoyable episodes we’ve had this season. If anything, I wish they had done it earlier, with more girls left, because I actually enjoyed almost all of the queens this episode. (Kandy, of course, had to go and ruin an otherwise lovely evening with an outburst on the runway, but I will say that her mother seems like a delight.) This to me was less a makeover and more a partner challenge in which the members of the teams had to learn the strengths of their teammates, and discover weaknesses about themselves. Kind of like the F6 challenge in Season 4, the “I Can Do It So Much Better Than You” number. In that way it was incredibly humanizing, and that’s something that has been sorely lacking in this season, which has been far more focused on forced drama plot twists.
Speaking of forced drama, the pairs were determined by celebrity psychic Char Margolis, which is an awfully funny misspelling of “the producers.” The queens got a speed reading by Char, who outed the intense bond between Rose and Denali — it is confirmed, Char has a head — and the fact that Tina’s dad drove a truck and that Utica used to bottle feed farm animals, none of which surprises anyone. Show, if you are going to give us famous psychics, go all in and get us Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Allison DuBois. If the psychic isn’t chainsmoking an ecig and haughtily telling the girls that their lovers will never emotionally fulfill them, I’m not interested.
The resulting pairs, and my thoughts on them:
Symone & Utica Queen: Polar opposites in so many ways — and that is precisely why this worked. The one way in which both of these queens are similar is that they are so thoughtful, and you could tell how invested they were in making this work. Utica was immediately concerned that Symone’s runway concept, based on the Halle Berry cinematic classic BAPS, might be offensive due to cultural appropriation. Symone just flat out did not understand where Utica and her kooky persona comes from. But they worked together beautifully and rightfully won the challenge. I do think that Utica’s outfit on Symone was stronger, but I think Symone did a better job working the runway with Utica’s energy than Utica did with Symone’s. That said, it was refreshing to see Utica confident on that runway, and I’d like to see more of that from her going forward. (Also, once again, just crown Symone now, if only for bringing BAPS to the children.)
GottMik & Kandy Muse: As Kandy defensively argued on the runway, this pair certainly had the biggest physical challenge, as they are not remotely each others’ sizes. They had to completely rejigger garments when most of the rest simply had to step into each others’ clothes. I thought GottMik looked fabulous, but did I necessarily see Kandy Muse in a flame-painted bodysuit and bright yellow hair? No ma’am, I did not. I loved the banjie energy GottMik brought to the runway, but they possessed a vigor and an effortless sensuality that, again, is not Kandy, who plods down the runway and gives you nothing BUT effort in her attempts to appear sexy. At first I thought Kandy looked ridiculous in GottMik’s gig, but I actually liked it the more I looked at it. It was almost like an adult tried to put on a child’s Halloween costume, and I guess that’s…charming? Kandy definitely served a different energy than usual on the runway, but I wouldn’t say it was GottMik, who has an innate coolness about them that I don’t think Kandy is capable of accessing. I thought these two were lucky to be safe.
Rose & Tina Burner: They were safe because this team 50 percent failed the challenge. I have gotten a lot of (playful) shit for being the only person on this planet defending Tina Burner’s fashion choices this season, and I have routinely critiqued Rose’s garments. So the two of them already had that stacked against them. But while Rose did a good job making Tina believably look and act like Rose, Tina really struggled the other way around. A lot of this had to do with Tina’s signature beat — the raccoon eyes, the shiny foundation, the baffling eyebrows — looking just terrible on Rose’s very angular face. This was like beating a rock against a rock, and whew, church. I can only imagine Tina watching this episode, because virtually everyone, from her partner to the other queens to the judges, were just reading her style and make-up skills to filth. It did not help that Tina sent Rose out initially in a green/yellow 1950s housewife look that did not say Tina Burner AT ALL, but which revealed into a red/yellow bodysuit. Definitely Tina’s signature palette, but since when does Tina wear bodysuits? Odd choices all around.
Denali & Olivia Lux: But that was irrelevant, because these two didn’t make odd choices — they made bad choices, or no choices at all. We should pause at this point to acknowledge that the format of this challenge meant that someone was going to get screwed here. If one queen in a team blew it, the OTHER queen would be the one on the runway SHOWCASING that work. And we should also acknowledge that Char — *wink wink* — created pairs that had one “expendable” queen in the duo, a queen that clearly was never going to get to the finish line. So even if one of the frontrunners flopped here, they were still going to be protected once they slipped into the B2. Which is precisely what happened, when Oliva — who I think has been repeatedly pushed to the top by the judges/producers/editors — blew it, and Denali — who has just as frequently been paid dust by the Powers That Be — had to suffer the consequences.
I should say that Denali did not exactly do anything to save herself in making over Olivia. She put her into a look that was almost identical to her entrance look, which I would remind you the judges already saw due to the change in format in Episode 1. The mega-long braid, the fluffy skater outfit, the nails — it was basic a Copy/Paste of a previous runway look, which Ru will never appreciate. Also, her make-up on Olivia was the worst of the bunch. Even worse than Tina on Rose. I really mean that. Denali’s contour was severe early in the season, and on Olivia, it was EXTREME. And that eye make-up? I weep.
But that all said, you could instantly tell that Olivia was Denali. When Denali turned the corner in what was supposed to be Olivia, my response was, “Who is this woman?” Denali looked pretty. I actually thought the softer make-up was something of an improvement (although ironically less feminizing than Denali’s usual beat). But the hair? The dress? Nothing about that was Olivia. It was average, garden-variety queen at the cabaret. There was zero identity there, and that’s because — as I have been saying about Olivia all season — Olivia HAS no identity. There is nothing about her that is singularly Olivia, because I don’t think Olivia knows who Olivia is yet. I don’t think she has an aesthetic. I don’t think she has a perspective. I think she is lovely and bubbly and obviously talented. But as a drag brand? She’s not there yet. She’s not fully baked. I think she snaps up things that she thinks are “pretty,” like a drag magpie. But that’s not America’s Next Drag Superstar. That’s a drag superfan who has started to experiment in the art form.
And hey: go for it! Clearly Olivia has potential. Extremely charismatic. And she’s gorgeous. But she isn’t ready yet, and this challenge really exposed that — and doomed Denali. Denali said herself, “I am in the Bottom 2 for mistakes my partner made.” Completely true. And as soon as judging was over, Denali knew she was done. Her behavior in Untucked was akin to someone headed to the gallows. She knew she was done, and the lipsynch to “Shackles” (which I believe was a lipsynch in Season 1, and of all the songs to repeat, THAT is the one we’re choosing?) was merely a formality. Olivia won two challenges in a row. I don’t think she deserved either one of them, but she won them. Denali was named the Best of the Worst and then only just started being paid any attention by the judges in the past two weeks. The writing on the wall was clear. I’m sure it didn’t help that she was lipsynching in a tight gown, while Olivia was in a garment that let her spin and move freely.
And so Denali was eliminated in 8th place. I think in many other seasons Denali could have easily been in Final 4. She actually hasn’t been doing drag that much longer than Olivia, but she is a fully realized queen. She knows her strengths, she knows her aesthetic (even if I didn’t always respond positively to it, you could tell those looks were HER), she has grit. But she was not one of the queens that producers wanted to win this season, and her continuing much further could have jeopardized one of the chosen ones. I genuinely believe that — and we have seen it before, many times. Over on UK, we just saw it with A’Whora going before Tayce or Ellie. (Side note: they have obviously learned nothing from the Sherry Pie situation, and that is shocking.)
I think Denali is destined for a great All Stars run, and hopefully that will provide her a more even playing field. I thought her farewell was heartfelt and really lovely. No bitterness, and I think she had ample reason to be bitter. Denali is a class act, and if you have not checked out the videos she has released on social, you should do so. Particularly the Chicago queens’ mash-up to “100 Percent Pure Love,” which is a gag-a-rama.
Next week: a branding challenge in which the queens have to create their own signature soda. Let’s hope this goes better than the last time they tried this with soup…
Here is this week’s Photo Finish, featuring guest judge Dan Howell!
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