BY Eric Rezsnyak
It was the semifinals for Season 5, and also the roast challenge. There was a weird, seemingly nonsensical connection to the British show “Gladiators” (which I’m assuming was just the UK version of “American Gladiators”?) but ultimately what you need to know is that the Final 4 did well to amazing in this last challenge. And if you were one of the many viewers upset at Kate Butch’s elimination last episode, you were probably spitting bile thinking about how well she would have almost certainly done in this episode. (Which is also precisely why they eliminated her, as I don’t think they ever saw Kate as a finalist.)
I’ll break it down queen by queen in order of performance.
Tomara Thomas: Tomara was the first, and also the weakest, of the night. I fell in love with Tomara over the first few episodes of this season. She is giving energy, she is giving sexiness, she is giving body, she is giving nan out for a night on the town. Unfortunately Tomara has not really progressed over the course of this competition. It’s been all screeching and thongs, bellowing and exposed ass cheeks. Cute for a taste, not for a swallow. Unfortunately, the judges have been pushing and/or protecting Tomara for weeks now. She should have been B2 for the makeover, she was deservedly B2 for this. Tomara’s set could barely be classified as a roast. It was mostly her just yelling on stage and being Boo-Boo the Fool. The fact that it worked at all is a testament to Tomara’s charms — and she IS charming. There’s no doubt about that. But Tomara has a very specific lane and she stays firmly in it. In many ways she reminds me of Alyssa Edwards, and that is absolutely a compliment. But do I think that Tomara should have made Final 3 over several of the contestants who have gone home, who were more well rounded or at least more intentional in their drag? Honestly no.
DeDeLicious: DeDe went second in the roast, and was scared out of her mind. Comedy has not been kind to DeDe this season, and she’s been on one hell of a losing streak lately, having lipsynched three times in eight episodes. So consider me surprised and impressed when DeDe came out and actually did really well in the roast. Great? No, but really solid to good. She had some zingers directed toward the eliminated girls, who were all there except Cara Melle (we were told later that Cara was ill). She got in some good digs at the rest of the F4. And DeDe mostly sold it. It’s important to remember that DeDe is 20 (or was when she filmed this) and over the past few weeks I have been repeatedly impressed by how self-possessed she is already. I could never have done a fraction of the things DeDe has done on this show when I was her age, and DeDe makes them look easy. I do think she has grown throughout this competition, and beyond that, she acknowledges her mistakes, and the areas in which she needs further improvement. I didn’t care for DeDe in the first episode, and I had some issues with some of her runways (specifically she often looked far older than she is, and the exaggerated elements weren’t always flattering). But she has really won me over the past few weeks. She’s a terrific queen, especially for someone her age. The thing I kept thinking this episode specifically is that DeDe is considerably stronger in many areas than her drag sister, Krystal Versace, and Krystal WON her season. DeDe placed fourth in Season 5, which I think speaks to the very strong group she was up against.
Ginger Johnson: Specifically Ginger Johnson, who went third in the roast and who I think you could make a case for winning literally the past six challenges. Ginger ate this roast up. The guest judge referred to her as a tennis-ball machine because she just kept shooting jokes at them rapid fire, and every one of them hit. At judging, RuPaul raved about what a professional she is and how all her years of work have prepared her for this competition. I know some people who are still cool on Ginger. They feel she has been pushed by production — hard disagree, she has earned every win and lost some she really could/should have won — and they take issue with her runways. To a degree I understand the runway critique, because Ginger always offers an unexpected interpretation of the runway prompt, and it doesn’t always connect. She also has a garish, bordering on clownish drag style that is not going to vibe with certain viewers. But it is certainly vibing with the judges, and it’s vibing with me as well. Ginger has dominated this competition since the Rusical, and that continued this episode. She is one of the most exciting queens I’ve seen on this show and I’m so glad she’s in the finale.
Michael Marouli: After Ginger smashed the roast, I thought the closer, Michael, was going to be in trouble. Instead this bitch walked out, threw away her cue cards, and proceeded to offer up one of the most scorching roasts on any edition of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This may be a new benchmark for roasts on this show, or at least up there with Jinkx Monsoon on “All Stars 7.” Michael annihilated this challenge. I wouldn’t have changed a single fucking thing — it was as close to a perfect challenge performance as I can think of. Michael had a strong start to the season, and never really did poorly in my opinion. But she had lost some steam in the last few weeks. She got all that back and more this episode, surging for another challenge win just before the finale, and making a VERY strong argument for why she deserves the crown. Her runway package has been among the best of the season. She can do comedy, she can dance, she can act. She’s an all-arounder, a real professional.
After the Poof! There It Is runway — in which DeDe and Michael both looked spectacular — the judges lavished all four girls with praise, which was lovely to see. Tomara and DeDe lipsynched to Annie Lennox’s “Little Bird” — a song I’ve been waiting years to see on this show — and I thought this was close, if not edging toward DeDe. But it was also her fourth lipsynch, and she was ultimately eliminated. That gives us an F3 of Tomara, Michael, and Ginger. In my opinion, this crown is between Michael and Ginger. No disrespect to Tomara, but she’s just outclassed at this point. I have no idea which one of the old pro brigade will take it. But even based on what they’ve done up to now, they’ll more than deserve it.
Who are you rooting for? Do you think DeDe lost the lipsynch? Who would you have put in your F3 if you could pick any of this season’s queens? Drop your thoughts in the comments.
International “Drag Race” Round-Up
I watch all the international seasons so you don’t have to!
“Canada’s Drag Race”
Last week I wrote a whole blog about how excited I was about the premiere of “Canada’s Drag Race” S4, and how it looked like we had another solid season ahead of us. After watching Episode 2, I’m going to retract that statement. What a fucking mess. I can’t think of a challenge from any franchise in which so many girls bombed as hard as the majority of the “Canada” 4 cast did on “QVShe.” Absolute trainwreck. I thought the judges were being kind giving this a Top 3. In my opinion, Kitten Kaboodle — who won the episode — was easily the standout in the challenge, and Venus was decent in the improv challenge with easily the best look in the Precious Gems runway. I thought Melinda Verga should have been Safe. She was fine in the challenge — Kitten did the heavy lifting, Melinda just didn’t get in her way — and was a big meh on the runway. Also, I’m just going to say it: Melinda’s make-up is among the worst I have seen on any “Drag Race.” I don’t know how she’s looking at the other queens in that room, then looking at her mug, and not seeing the colossal delta. I get that queens can have a signature style, I am not trying to detract from that or saying every queen’s makeup should be the same. But this reads amateur more than it reads deliberate aesthetic choice.
Speaking of amateur: the majority of the girls in this cast need to step up their pussies in a big way. The challenge was a total disaster for The Girlfriend Experience, Luna Dubois, Nearah Nuff, Sisi Superstar, and Denim. Like, truly awful. Remember how the judges kept telling us how bad “Snatch Game” was on US Season 14? This was so much worse than that. It was embarrassing to watch. Aurora Matrix and Kiki Coe were completely forgettable — like literally I can’t even remember what they did in it. Regarding Aimee Yonce Shannel, I fear that she’s going to fall into the “constantly yelling in a barely discernible manner” crutch that she thinks equals “comedy,” but which gets very old for viewers very quickly.
The runways also are not it. The last two seasons of “Canada’s Drag Race” — and even some of the runways on Season 1 — were at a very high level. There were some gagworthy looks that put the U.S. runways to shame. Two episodes in, I’m very concerned about what I’m seeing so far as a group. Denim is giving us very conceptual, interesting looks — but they’re not always aesthetically pleasing, like her moonstone look this week. Venus is giving us Capital-F fashion, and thank god for her. Again I found that Aurora’s concept for her jade look was strong, but her execution lacked polish (her skin color didn’t come close to the color of her body suit, among other issues). Many of the other queens committed the even worse sin of being totally forgettable. I am really hoping this runway was an exception and not the rule, because these looks were not it.
What this cast DOES have going for it is personality/likability. I like every one of these queens. I felt terrible for Sisi Superstar — our first eliminee, after falling into the B2 a second time, this time with Luna Dubois — who clearly wanted to be there, but who just couldn’t find a way to be successful in the competition. (Not helping: her decision to walk the runway in stocking feet, and hoping the judges weren’t going to notice. Like…girl. You are on fucking “Drag Race.” I can’t.) I was rooting for The Girlfriend Experience during her emotional meltdown in the Untucked lounge, and I find her story so interesting. I like Luna SO much as a person and as a reality-show character, but that challenge performance was dreadful. I also was really bummed by her runway (she even acknowledged to the judges that her cat look really had nothing to do with topaz, her assigned gem, except they’re both orange — come on, sis, you’re better than that). I want all of these girls to succeed. But likability is only going to last so long if they keep tanking challenges as badly as most of them did this week. I am officially concerned about this season…
“Drag Race Germany”
We have our first winner of “Drag Race Germany,” and to little surprise, it is Pandora Nox. Going into this week’s finale I assumed she would win the crown. It’s a historical win, our first bio-queen victor in “Drag Race” history (or hyper queen, or AFAB queen — I appreciate the cast of “Canada’s Drag Race” for explaining the intricacies of the terminology around queens assigned female at birth doing female-presenting drag). I would call the finale challenge of lipsynching to RuPaul’s “Call Me Mother” almost a wash as I don’t think any of the finalists were particularly great in it, but I do think Pandora had the most impactful finale runway look. The final lipsynch, to Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like the Phoenix,” I would have given to my personal choice for winner, Metamorkid, who I thought sold the song better than Pandora, and committed to the emotion of it — as did Yvonne Nightstand — while Pandora seemed disconnected and had a weird dye gag that just didn’t really do anything for me personally. But I get it. Pandora’s win is buzzy. It will get headlines. She is terrific in certain areas, especially around physicality, movement, and serving looks. I will die on the hill that Metamorkid is more well-rounded, and will make a terrific All Star candidate at some point. But I’m certainly not mad at the Pandora win. Overall I think the first season of “DR Germany” was solid. It started out great, sagged in the middle, and ended with a bit of an uptick. I think the host, Barbie Breakout, is terrific, and although they’re polarizing, I would bring back the whole regular panel. I do hope that they work on some better challenges for Season 2. That was the biggest weakness of the season for me.
“Drag Race Italia”
Finally caught up on “Italia” Season 3 this week — although I haven’t watched the episode released on November 24 — and it’s been a wild ride. A strong, memorable group of queens. Some absolutely sickening looks (Lina Galore and that bee look, literally anything worn by Melissa Bianchini who is EATING that runway every week). Generally good or better challenge performances. The biggest issue I’m having with it is that some of the judging decisions have been baffling. I understand as an American I may be missing cultural cues, or translations might be off, but I am routinely dumbfounded by the winners of the challenges. La Sheeva winning the design challenge was especially egregious, and I defy anyone to explain that to me as anything other than, “We need to give her a win to justify her continued place in this competition, as she’s the antagonist of the season.” Because that’s all I got. For the past few weeks the judges seemed to be almost inventing reasons to chuck queens into the B2 who they saw as filler. That happens to a degree on every “Drag Race,” but it was especially obvious here. That said, I think the entire F6 is memorable, one way or another, and I’m intrigued to see how the season progresses. The revamped judging panel is largely great. Priscilla has never been better — take that, haters — and Chiara Francini is up there with Ana Locking as the best international Michelle Visage. Italian disco goddess Paola Iezzi is a bit low energy on the panel, but you can tell she genuinely loves being there and respects the queens. I think actor Paolo Camillis is, sadly, a dud. He’s hot, but he’s bringing Santino Rice energy to the proceedings. Instead of picking on fashion he’s focused on “comfort zones” and other ephemeral qualities that, frankly, he doesn’t seem qualified to comment on. I’m not convinced we need a four-person permanent judging crew, especially since they’ve been pulling in some big-time Italian celebs for guest spots. Regardless, now that “Germany” is over, “UK” is wrapping up quickly, and “Canada” is stumbling out of the starting gate, I think “Italia” is probably the most exciting international franchise currently airing.
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