‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello, and welcome back, “Drag Race UK”! What was once the gold-standard international series has had a bit of a falling off since the unimpeachable Season 2. Season 3 was a bit of a mess (I blame injuries and expected frontrunners underperforming), and Season 4 was a two-horse race from the very beginning, with everyone else just along for the ride. Months before Season 5’s premiere, the rumor mill had been in overdrive regarding behind-the-scenes drama (more on that in a moment). Would the season be cursed? Or could it be a return to form for a once-great franchise?
Based on Episode 1, I’m delighted to say that the season seems to be — to borrow Ru’s newly learned phrase — tickety boo. It’s a terrific premiere and has me very excited to see where the season will go. The episode brought a fresh energy that the show badly needed, and the 10 contestants brought more laughs and personality in one episode than I feel the previous two seasons did altogether. They seemed to cast for humor and likability this time out, and I have zero complaints about that.
The premiere took a slightly different approach than previous seasons, abandoning the introductory photo shoot and instead having the queens participate in a quasi-ball, in which they were judged on their entrance looks, a high-end club look they had to deliver on the catwalk in front of international “Drag Race” alumni, and finally an attention-grabbing fierce runway look.
Let’s quickly run through our 10 contestants competing for the crappiest prize in “Drag Race” history, and how they fared in Episode 1. **SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 1 AFTER THIS POINT**
Alexis Saint-Pete: Alexis is our first-ever “Drag Race” contestant originally from Poland. She’s cute, sexy, and serves body. In the premiere Alexis admitted that she struggles with confidence, so we’ll see how that bodes for her. But I found her very likable and one of the sexiest contestants we’ve had on RPDRUK.
Banksie: Banksie is Cheddar Gorgeous’ drag child. A skyscraper of a human, Banksie is towering even in flats, and brings a decidedly artistic and unconventional approach to drag. I’ll be honest, I expected more in the looks department from Banskie. The entrance look and club look were very similar — the stole made out of fake rats was fun, but the garment underneath looked practically identical to the entrance look. The runway certainly made an artistic statement, but sister could barely walk in it (by their own admission). My fear is that Banskie will go the way of Season 3’s Charity Kase, who veered so far into the artistic that they forgot this is a competition in which there are specific metrics of success you have to hit. We’ll see.
Cara Melle: Cara Melle is a superstar, full stop. It is fascinating that this is her sixth attempt at auditioning for “Drag Race,” because based on E1, she’s got everything she needs to be a top-tier Ru Girl, no matter which country she represents. Cara is originally from Atlanta but has resided in London for years. She absolutely obliterated every element of Episode 1 — no crumbs were left. In my opinion, she should have gotten extra credit in that Top 2 lipsynch for the win, as she performed strongly with an extremely heavy headpiece that looked precarious from the start. Regardless, what a first episode for Cara. I predict she will be the breakout star of the season.
DeDeLicious: Of the 10 contestants, DeDe was the one to whom I felt the least connection. She’s the drag sister of Season 3 winner Krystle Versace — you can see it in the paint — and she’s just 20. So there’s a lot of bravado, a lot of gassing up. That’s fine. In the club catwalk, DeDe committed the cardinal sin of not having her wig tacked on tight enough, losing her luscious mane mid-performance — a definite no-no on “Drag Race,” and according to her, a first on the UK edition (I think she’s right). I found her third look to be among the least successful of the night. She acknowledged that the massive collar was off, which could have explained her almost hunched runway presentation. But overall I didn’t find it fashion forward or particularly memorable. Bold? Sure. But aesthetically pleasing? I don’t think.
Ginger Johnson: I haven’t quite figured out what to make of Ginger. She’s likable — she has an approachable every-person quality to her, and narrated a good chunk of this episode. There’s a healthy dose of self deprecation, and a clear lack of comfort with dancing and projecting sexuality. That’s fine — not every queen needs to be a sex bomb. Ginger’s first two looks were VERY similar, including the use of the same base fabric, which makes sense once you learn she made all but one outfit she brought for the entire series. Her third look was a refreshing 70s-inspired flower-power gown. It was simple but lovely, and the judges ate it up. If this is an indication of her construction skills, Ginger may be stiff competition in design challenges.
Kate Butch: Kate may be my favorite of this new crop. Quick as a whip and very funny both in confessionals and interacting with her fellow contestants. Kate is a stand-up comic and so far she has the wit to back that up. I enjoyed all three of her looks. What they lacked in modernity they made up for in detail, and she did a great job selling them, including gliding down the final runway on what I assume were wheelie shoes. I think she’s absolutely fabulous and so excited to see more of her.
Michael Marouli: Michael is one of the older contestants of the season, and gives me a Chad Michaels vibe. Consummate pro who has been doing the damned thing for years, but hasn’t necessarily broken through to international stardom. Michael’s first two looks gave me Gaga mixed with lady of a certain age — a compliment — and I was in love with her final look, a super-exaggerated number with massive hips and spikes. It was WILD and it definitely made a statement. A great first episode for Michael as well.
Naomi Carter: I need to see more from Naomi before I can make an assessment. She’s gorgeous, seems bubbly and fun, but I didn’t get a real sense of who she is as a queen just yet. Her entrance look was stunning and her final runway gave us Diana Ross excellence. But this is a tough group to stand out in, and I’ll be curious to see if Naomi can break through the crowd.
Tomara Thomas: Tomara seems like a hoot. I didn’t take much more away from her in this episode, besides the fact that she talks a mile a minute, is roomies with Cara Melle (which apparently leads to tension next episode), and knows how to work a stage, per her club performance. Again, the first two looks were VERY similar, and I have to wonder if there was a specific element to the prompt we just didn’t hear.
Vicki Vivacious: Vicki is also one of the elder statesmen competing this season, and I loved her instantly. She describes herself as a drag Joan Collins, and while I wasn’t entirely getting that from what she served this episode, I loved everything she sent out. Great attitude, fun, a solid performer based on the Top 2 lipsynch — really great start for Vicki. I can’t want to see what she does for Snatch Game.
As previously mentioned, we had a twist for the premiere, as there was as Top 5 and no bottoms, and the win was decided by a lipsynch that ultimately went to Vicki. I thought it was pretty close, and Cara was hampered by her gorgeous runway outfit that was ill suited for lipsynching to Gina G’s classic “Ooh Ahh (Just a Little Bit.” Nobody was eliminated.
There may be a reason for that. As I mentioned in the beginning, the rumor mill has been swirling about UK5 since it filmed months ago. This is all rumor and unverified, so take all of this as potential bullshit. But reportedly, two members of the cast quit right before filming started, and only one alternate was available to fill their spots. So what was supposed to be a 12-queen, 10-episode season was suddenly an 11-queen, 10-episode season, meaning a second non-elimination episode had to be added to fulfill the episode order. (Every season already has one non-elimination baked into the schedule.) Therefore, they made the premiere the additional non-elim, to give each of the girls a little more screen time. (This happened with “Drag Race Mexico” as well, another unexpected 11-queen season; there it was disguised as “both of you sucked in the lipsynch so you get a do-over.”)
But wait…there are only 10 queens in “Drag Race UK5.” Not 11! What if I told you there was in fact an 11th queen who actually DID film for the season, but who was removed within the first few episodes for legal reasons, and subsequently edited out completely. Never named. Never referenced. And based on the premiere, never shown at all. Because that’s the other big rumor. I won’t go into the details of who the queen was, or the reported details about why they were pulled — although that information is very much out there, from various sources, should you care to look. I will also say that I do believe I spied a big blonde, coiffed wig behind Cara Melle after the lipsynch that I’m fairly confident didn’t belong to any of the other 9 queens we met in the premiere. But if this whole story IS true, bravo to the editors for doing such an amazing job with the cropping (note how few full-cast shots we got, and how quickly the camera cuts to close-ups) because I doubt the vast majority of viewers would have any idea. If the rumors are true, the queen in question has really and truly been scrubbed from the season.
Next: the dreaded design challenge, and tensions rise between roommates Cara and Tomara.
International “Drag Race” Recap
I watch all the international seasons so you don’t have to!
“Drag Race” Germany S1: If you are only watching one non-English “Drag Race” right now, it should be Germany. The most recently filmed of the Paramount-produced series (US viewers can watch it on WoW Presents Plus) took me totally by surprise. A vivacious, talented, but also reasonably shady cast; weird but enjoyable challenges (that “CSI”-inspired Rusical featuring a cocaine gnome — WHAT?!); and it was love at first sight with host Barbie Breakout, an international treasure who must be protected at all costs. We’re only three episodes in, so it’s easy to catch up.
“Drag Race” Philippines S2: Season 2 of DRPh started out rough. Plenty of drama, right from the jump, but some of the drag was crunchy and it took a while for the cast to really gel. The back half of the season has come alive, and the episodes since the Top 6 have been terrific, giving us memorable moments, superstar queens, and incredibly emotional judging segments. Honestly, it’s giving Golden Age of “Drag Race” vibes, evoking US seasons 3-6. The biggest issue with the season/franchise is frankly host Paolo Ballestros, who still has not learned how to read a Teleprompter without being obvious about it, and who very clearly was going through Some Shit during the filming of S2, because…girl. What is even going on with these looks? The finale airs next week, and I’m intrigued as to how it will play out, as I found the final decision in Season 1 completely baffling, given the strength disparity of the Final 2. This time it’s more or less anyone’s game. (US viewers can watch it on WoW Presents Plus)
“Drag Race” Brasil S1: Five episodes in DRBr is showing signs of improving, but as of right now it’s one of the weakest international seasons of the year. I’m not entirely sure what isn’t working. Host Grag Queen is a superstar when interacting with the queens in the work room, but during judging there’s a downshift in intensity. That extends to the judging panel in general. It’s far too low energy, and my interest in the episodes comes to a screeching halt as soon as we get to the mainstage. It took me until Episode 4 to really resonate with any of the queens, and I’m going to chalk it up to prickly attitudes and runways that have been, by and large, not great. Put it this way: almost every one of the queens looked better in their design challenge looks in E4 than they have on runways they brought from home. Given the high expectations for Brasil, and the extremely vocal Brazilian drag fanbase, I’m genuinely surprised this season is such a struggle bus. (US viewers can watch it on WoW Presents Plus)
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