BY Eric Rezsnyak
This week we had two iconic Drag Race challenges: the Reading Challenge and the Rusical. And as become the standard for this season, the gals did not disappoint in either one.
I wish we got to see more of the Reading Challenge. There was only one obvious bomb — Cara Melle, whose edit is taking a nose dive in the past few episodes — but everyone else seemed to get in a few good cracks. Kate Butch ended up the winner. As a Kate fan I was glad to see it, but I didn’t think her jokes were significantly funnier than some of the other girls. I wonder if perhaps some of them got cut for time? Regardless, Stan Kate Butch.
As winner of the mini challenge, Kate was given her choice of roles in this year’s Rusical, “Pant-Oh No She Better Don’t,” a send-up to classic British pantomimes. I think American audiences are at a bit of a disadvantage on this one, because I don’t think most of us uncultured swine even know what a panto is. In fact, my partner thought it was miming, with no talking at all. Based on context clues from past references on this show, as well as British media in general, my sense of panto is that it is camp theater that is intended for kids but with lots of winks and nods to very adult humor. And that’s what “Pant-Oh No She Better Don’t” gave us.
I won’t bother going into the story, because honestly, it doesn’t matter. What you need to know is that the queens all the queens did at least decently here, and several of them much better than that. Sometimes the judges will tell you everyone did well and you’re not completely sold on it, but this time, I genuinely think that was the case. There was a Top 4, two queens safe, and a Bottom 2. And honestly the Bottom 2 wasn’t even bad. Just not as good as everyone else.
Kate Butch took the role of Twinkerbell, the narrator of the story who opened the show but then had very little to do. She was very good in her opening song, and solid in her physical comedy bits. But by the middle of the Rusical she had kind of gotten lost in the mix. That’s more a fault of the writing than Kate, I think, but still she did very well. I rather liked her “Phantom of the Opera”-inspired look for the Mirror, Mirror runway challenge, but agreed with Graham Norton that the cape reveal took too long, and was probably unnecessary period.
Michael Marouli played Dick, the genderqueer protagonist of the panto. Michael was fully committed to this role and managed to stand out even when not speaking due to the camp overreactions. Michael’s runway was stunning, she is delivering a stellar runway package thus far. She spared no expense, girls.
DeDeLicious played Miss Muffin Top, an over-the-top, past-her-prime drag queen who had a bawdy rap about cream pies and all that. I took a real turn with DeDe this week. While before I had been overwhelmingly cool on her, I actually found her quite relatable this week, as she threw herself into a challenge she knew nothing about (DeDe had not only never seen a panto, she had never seen any live theater). I thought she gave it her all in the role, but agree she was at a disadvantage here. I also found her Mirror, Mirror runway the most successful look she’s delivered so far. The judges had notes, but I thought the Bloody Mary-inspired concept was very smart, I loved that collar, the make-up was evocative — I was really feeling DeDe this week.
Vicki Vivacious played the Milkmaid, the dim pretty girl who instantly falls into mutual, passionate love with Dick. The judges were effusive in their praise of Vicki this week, and she was very good in the role. But I did think they overhyped her just a tad. (I say this as someone who really likes Vicki.) Her Mirror runway was a real showstopper for me, it played with proportions and had a unique silhouette. She’s also regularly killing the runway this season.
Ginger Johnson had to fight for the right to play Daisy, the cow who has been overlooked all her life but who finally gets a big show-stopping number a la “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy.” Ginger was excellent in the song and funny in her delivery, but I’m not convinced she was the strongest in the challenge — it was a small part and she milked it (pun intended) for all it was worth. Her runway was absolutely batshit, a bodysuit with massive iridescent ruffles that completely covered her sides — she had no arms. The judges were howling with laughter over this, Ginger explained that she actually had an arm reveal but had an accident backstage that broke some of her nails so she just…didn’t do it. It was a unique look, and I loved Ginger’s hair and makeup. I will say I’m not sure how it met the Mirror, Mirror prompt, and it’s the second week in a row that Ginger’s look had a VERY loose connection to the theme.
Cara Melle and Tomara Thomas got the duo roles that were references to former pop stars who now get work as panto cast members. This probably made no sense to most American viewers, who not only don’t understand what panto is, but also understand the repeated references to Stairs, which was a play on Steps, at one time a very popular British pop group that never really crossed over in America. Cara and Tomara were good in their number, which was heavily choreographed. I also though Cara was quite funny in her non-singing delivery. On the runway, Cara wore a costume designed for actual Beyonce, and Tomara wore chrome pieces on a bodysuit. They were both…fine. They’ve both given us much better.
Finally, Banksie took the stage as Butterface, the bitter former contestant who is now harassing the denizens of Panto Land. Banksie came in strong but I agreed with the judges that she seemed tentative in her big song. She had some great moments but there was hesitation in the performance, there can be no doubt. On the runway she gave a reflective suit with exaggerated hips and shoulders, and absolutely no ass covering at all.
In the end, Cara and Tomara were deemed safe, Michael, Vicki, Kate, and Ginger were the top, and Banksie and DeDe were the bottom. A few interesting elements here. First, Cara and Tomara were unhappy at merely being safe. They want to destroy this competition. They are HUNGRY — all these girls are. It’s a big departure from the last two seasons, where most of the queens seemed to just be floating along week to week. Second, both Banksie and DeDe seemed at peace with their Bottom 2 placements — they agreed with the critiques and owned up to the issues. Third, Vicki seemed absolutely certain she had earned the win, possibly shared with Michael, but there was almost an expectation that she won this won. Meanwhile, we got a shot of Ginger rehearsing the lipsynch song, which showed that she wasn’t at all convinced she was even in the top.
Which is hilarious, because she WON. I suspect this win may be controversial for some viewers. The runway outfit is going to polarize people for sure, and while she was very good in the panto, just about everyone was. I won’t be surprised if we start to get some Ginger backlash, especially since Kate — a clear fan favorite — has yet to win a badge, and Cara — the other fan favorite — is experiencing quite a bit of turbulence. But let me be clear, I like Ginger quite a lot, and I don’t begrudge her this win.
The two bottom queens, Banksie and DeDe, lipsynched to “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables (the English version of which debuted in London’s West End), unfortunately taking the Susan Boyle one and not one of the original cast recordings. Pity. Anyway, Banksie was awfully sure of herself going into this lipsynch, but it was an absolute routing by DeDe, who gave us the DRAMA mawma. My sense is that Banksie was indeed feeling the song very powerfully, but that wasn’t coming through in her performance — it was very internalized, whereas DeDe let every ounce of that agony show on her face. Again, I didn’t know DeDe had this in her.
And so, Banksie was our third* queen eliminated from the season. That is absolutely wild to me, because Banksie is very clearly a star. She’s gorgeous, she’s funny, she’s smart, she’s likable, she is unmistakable in her drag. In the previous two seasons I think Banksie would have made it much deeper. But this is an incredibly strong group, and she was, sadly, out performed in both the challenge and the lipsynch. I have nothing but love and respect for Banksie and I would be delighted to see her again.
Next: it’s Snatch Game, people.
International “Drag Race” Round-Up
I watch all the international seasons so you don’t have to!
Drag Race Brasil Season 1: I literally have to force myself to watch Brasil each week. It is simply not an enjoyable experience for me. And I really think it comes down to the queens. There are a lot of sharp edges on this bunch, and I’m not just talking about the jawlines. There is a pettiness and a nastiness to most of these girls that I don’t think would be well received on any other franchise. The most recent episode I watched — the roast — started off with some of them just tearing into the girl who got eliminated in the previous episode, and further insulting another recently eliminated girl for no reason. The negativity even came up in the work room, as the girls discussed how vicious they can be to one another, with some of them playing it off as “we’re being funny, we’re being shady.” This goes beyond shade, it’s bullying, and it’s personal. I was so glad Shannon called out Organzza for being full of shit as she waxed on about how awful that kind of behavior is, because Organzza has been more guilty of it than most of the other girls. Except this episode, where Miranda was just fucking relentless in her negativity. She was brutal regarding the just-eliminated Naza, and in the roast itself she sat there with the stankest look on her face as the other queens took shots at her — it was a ROAST, that’s the POINT — and then took things way too personally in her own insults back. It was an awful look for Miranda, who I had largely enjoyed up until this episode, and whose background of being seriously burned as a child I sympathize with. But man, the attitudes on this group. Stink, stank, STUNK. The only pleasant one is Bettina Polaroid and I’m stanning her right to the end. Which, incidentally, cannot come soon enough. Cast more likable people next time, Brasil.
Drag Race Germany Season 1: I also just watched the roast of Germany, and after a few episodes with highly questionable judging, I think they got this one mostly right. I’m not sure I would have given the win to Yvonne Nighstand — I thought Metamorkid was better in the challenge and the runway — but it meant that everyone in the F5 had a win. This was another case where the cast was bullying one cast member, specifically Lorelai Rivers, who has been a punching bag for some of these girls for weeks now. She must be shitting in people’s coffee because I just don’t see why all of them hate her so much. Yes, she is neurotic, worrying about her performance even when the judges were eating her up. But seriously you would think she personally assaulted some of these people’s mothers. It was difficult to listen to most of these queens bash her, and none of it felt playful. Lorelai herself bombed the challenge, as did frontrunner Pandora Nox, who is a great many things, but funny is not one of them. I was stunned when her painfully unfunny Arnold Schwarzenegger somehow won Snatch Game, but this was even worse. Pandora does have one thing going for her: she truly loves lipsynching, she gets giddy over it. So when she was put Bottom 2 against Lorelai, she could not have been happier. I actually am not a huge fan of Pandora’s approach — a lot of upside down splits, which are certainly physically impressive, but not particularly relevant to the task at hand. She also flirted with assaulting the judges’ booth as Victoria Shakespears did a few episodes before, and some of the judges specifically told her NOT to AS she was lipsynching. But it was another case of a queen demanding attention instead of commanding attention, and that’s just not exciting to watch (or a fair fight). Ultimately, Lorelai was pushed out. She’s a great queen and I’m bummed she was treated so poorly by her competitors. Do better.
Drag Race Italia Season 3: I continue to be impressed by the step up in quality between S2 and S3. I was shocked at the winning team for the comedy improv challenge inspired by Grease, as I thought the winning team’s skit was interminable and cringe as all hell, whereas the losing team had a cohesion and it actually made some kind of sense. I disagreed with the challenge winner completely, and I didn’t agree with the Bottom 2 either. I do think the right queen won the lipsynch. I’m going to chalk the decision on the winning team up to me not understanding Italian culture and what it finds funny.
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