Photo: Courtesy of VH1/WORLD OF WONDER
Well, the proverbial disguises are off, and our celebrity queens have been revealed. Everyone’s precisely who I and everyone else thought they were, which is to say that Donna Bellissima is Daniel Franzese, Poppy Love is AJ McLean, Thirsty Von Trap is Mark Indelicato, Chic-Li-Fay is Kevin McHale, and Chakra 7 is Tatyana Ali. Ho-hum. Ru has (obviously prewritten) snappy referential quips each time a celebrity is revealed (did she say “Hacks is wax?” Am I hearing that wrong? I truly do not know), and Carson seems truly shocked that Poppy is a Backstreet Boy. Thankfully, AJ does a little “Everybody” slide to help get the message across.
Fast forward a little 3, 2, 1, and it’s the next taping day onstage. Ross has replaced Carson, Ru and Michelle are in new looks, and it’s apparently several days and/or weeks later. This week, Ru announces the theme is RuPaul-a-Palooza, meaning the queens will all have to perform songs by Mother Ru herself (i.e., the show doesn’t have to pay to license these tracks). The Queen Supremes emerge, resplendent in red, and I stand awed by Monet’s full face mask. It’s no facekini, but it’s close.
Backstage, we see the whole unmasked gang of celebs hanging out and working together for the first time. There are talking heads, and Kevin McHale delivers both an honest emotion and a sick burn when he says, “Knowing who everyone is makes it scarier, like, ‘Oh yeah, you were a Backstreet Boy. You’ve been performing as long as I’ve been alive.’” Tatyana says she liked the freedom of drag because she’s been recognized since she was a kid, which, again, is both a real statement and a semi-sick burn to those who aren’t.
And then, shock of shocks, there’s RuMail! The drag diva’s disembodied head pops up to inform the queens that from here on out, in addition to solo performances, they’ll be expected to complete classic Drag Race challenges. This week’s is (yawn) a group lip sync of “Baby, I Made It,” from the always too hyped RuPaul’s Drag Race Live show currently playing at the Flamingo Las Vegas with an always unpredictable roster of mostly queens you kind of like and maybe one or two you actually love.
The contestants seem to agree that they like performing together, but it also gives them a chance to size each other up and see who’s got what it takes. Sure, they’ve all seen each other performing every single week, but apparently seeing who can deliver in rehearsal matters too. We’re quickly into the performance of “Baby, I Made It,” which finds all the queens clad in identical sequins, big hair, and tiaras and lip-syncing to voices that come from performers who have definitely never appeared as contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. They all do fine, which doesn’t seem hard, considering the choreo is mainly just swishing your hands back and forth. Poppy gets some comedic moments. Chic gets some blowjob jokes in, and you really get a sense of how little Tatyana is compared to the other queens.
Wham-bam-boom, we’re into the solo lip syncs, opening with Thirsty’s take on “Sissy That Walk.” Now, “Sissy That Walk” is a great track with lots of sass, and it can really benefit from ballroom-style elements, but Thirsty and company bring none of that. Instead, Thirsty’s clad as some latex-clad drill sergeant, and the dancers are all shirtless soldiers. There’s a lot of walking back and forth, and Thirsty does okay, but the judges don’t seem thrilled. Ross says he smiled at the moment when he thought Thirsty acted like the pop star he knows she is, “but is it too late?” Ru gets Thirsty to open up and admit she’s afraid of being embarrassed, and Ru tells her to “start the conversation with the child inside you who says ‘Let it all hang out.’”
Next up, Chakra tackles a dog-themed version of “Cha Cha Bitch.” Here’s where I’ll say that I had absolutely no idea that she was a dog until deep into the performance since her purple outfit and huge whiskers didn’t exactly read dog, but whatever. She does a good job with the song’s Spanish lyrics, and Ru seems to like it well enough, because she ultimately gives Chakra the win for the evening. It feels like they’re just rewarding her for going full stupid, which I still don’t think she did, but whatever.
Chic-Li-Fay has opted for “Peanut Butter,” which Brooke Lynn says is Ru’s best song, and I don’t really disagree. Whereas last week Chic relied on subtle beauty to get her point across, this week she says she’s going “full whore.” Her shtick is selling “Hot Nutz” to some baseball-pant-clad spectators, which makes little sense, because why are they in the stands in baseball pants? Why is she in a tuxedo leotard and a top hat? Regardless, there’s lots of crowd work and dancer twerking, and Chic seems to really love rocking her padded hips. She stumbles a little when doing her twerking, but props to her for trying. At the end of the performance, Ru is cackling, and I think it’s safe to say that Chic is one of her favorites. She’s one of mine, to be sure, because I love how she blends all the elements of her performances, and I think she’s both funny and beautiful. Will I still think that if she’s challenged to do anything other than lip syncs? I guess we’ll see.
Poppy Love has picked the lesser-known Ru track “The Devil Made Me Do It,” which he says he relates to because he’s been sober for 20 years. The Queen Supremes advise AJ McLean to go bigger, and he sort of does onstage, rocking a big pink eye and a Lucille Ball–style pouf. It’s not my favorite Poppy look, and the nun’s habit does him no favors, but he pulls out an “Everybody” slide once again, so congrats to him. Michelle tells Poppy, “Just tell your face it’s okay to express,” and I get the sense that the judges are beginning to think Poppy may have peaked. That being said, will they keep her around because she’s arguably the biggest name still on the show’s roster? I certainly wouldn’t put it past these producers.
Donna Bellissima is this week’s eliminated contestant, and I say that here because I knew from the second she said “I don’t want to dance at all this week,” “Stillness has power,” and “Less is more” that she was toast. If we’ve learned anything from 100,000 seasons of every Drag Race iteration, it’s to never go against the coaches’ wishes. Both Jamal Sims and Monet X Change try and talk Donna out of her decisions, but she stays steadfast, and we get “your funeral” type looks from both of them.
Donna’s performance of “Born Naked” is confounding at best. She spends the whole thing atop a go-go pedestal and ultimately does a reveal to a latex (?) bodysuit that’s either supposed to look like she’s got a nude bathing suit on top or like she has serious tan lines but absolutely no sex organs or nipples? I truly do not know what was going on there. (It was also a different material on the back side, but I digress.) Michelle points out that Donna actually never wore shoes during the performance, either, which … I will say this one time, and let that be enough: If you take your shoes off in a Drag Race performance and you are not on the Pit Crew, you will be eliminated. It happens all the time in the lip sync for your lives, and it’s always a bad omen, second only to getting fully undressed for no good reason.
Anyway, Chakra wins, and Thirsty and Donna go head to head for “You Wear It Well.” Thirsty moves with purpose, whereas Donna just kind of stands there. It’s easy enough to attribute that to Thirsty’s youth and relatively tiny statue, especially since Franzese said something to that effect at the beginning of the show when they were all rehearsing together, but I don’t know. I feel like Donna/Danny could have done something more in this performance, other than a sudden reveal to pasties that seem to have appeared out of thin air. It kind of feels like Donna gave up this week or maybe self-sabotaged, but at the same time, it does feel like she still wanted to be there. Her performance instincts just weren’t the right ones — or at least the right ones when RuPaul is the judge — and she paid the price.
• Mark Indelicato made a good point when he said that, as a TV actor, he’s been told for years to tone his performances down because the cameras are just right there. Drag’s not like that. It’s big and theatrical and loud, and I don’t blame him for having trouble reaccessing that if it’s a muscle, he hasn’t exercised in years.
• This week it really struck me how much I miss getting to see the judges’ deliberation. We never really know why they picked the two they did, though we can guess from critiques. How do they pick the winner, too? And what do they really think? I suspect part of the celebs’ deal in signing onto the show was getting an agreement that they wouldn’t be made to look less than talented, similar to the deal the All-Winners All Stars cast made. All of this is to say: I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s boring and I hate it.
• I’m intrigued by the idea of seeing these ding-dongs doing classic Drag Race challenges, though I’m wondering what those will be. Fingers crossed for a truly terrible Snatch Game!
• On Race Chaser, Alaska and Willam’s very excellent Drag Race and beyond podcast, Willam went off on Secret Celebrity Drag Race, and I recommend giving it a listen. It starts at about 17:10 in the “Hot Goss: What’s Tina Got to Do With It, Master’s Good Pup, and Car Talk” episode, and it goes on for a few minutes. He hates it so much, with a fervor that you really have to respect. Also, he pointed out that giving AJ the win in the first episode felt very “Wow, a straight man doing drag? How brave,” which is absolutely true. Yuck, ugh, etc.