We have come to the end of in-season play for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11, with only the reunion and finale to go. But, of course, we currently sit at a final five, and the Lip Sync for the Crown tournament format of the VH1 finales requires exactly four queens. So it’s time to lose one more!
The queens are in high spirits this week, having buried a few hatchets from previous episodes and seemingly ready to move forward as . . . colleagues, not friends, but hardly foes. This makes this episode short on drama, though one storyline does rear its head in a big way: Branjie.
Yes, Brooke Lynn Hytes and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s relationship takes centre stage this week, both in the interviews for RuPaul and Michelle Visage’s “What’s the Tee?” podcast, in the workroom, and finally in the results of the episode. Anyone who’s watched any reality TV could’ve seen this coming, frankly; there was too much invested in this narrative for it to not pay off by the end. Though I will say I’m surprised that it’s the only storyline in this episode.
The challenge this week tasks the queens with writing and performing verses to accompany RuPaul’s latest club track, “Queens Everywhere.” After the supremely underwhelming “Super Queen” from All Stars 4, “Queens Everywhere” is a major step up, if not quite at the same level as the legendary “Read U Wrote U” and “Category Is.” It’s fun, fast-paced and gives the girls plenty of room to shine.
A’keria Chanel Davenport does a solid job throughout the episode, including and especially with her rap. She whips out two pages worth of lines in the workroom, and has to edit it down — that’s how you know this is going to be her challenge. “I’m the Diahann Carroll of Ru’s Dynasty” is one of my favourite lines in any Drag Race final rap performance. It’s clever as hell and fits the boast-heavy template of these performances.
It’s easy to forget A’keria is as much of a beast as she is because she so often comes across as chill and composed. During her “What’s the Tee?” interview — which, I renew my demand that they release the interviews as actual episodes of the podcast — A’keria breezes through the questions. She’s lovely, she’s agreeable, but she’s not giving any major drama. Even after we find out that she is raising her two-year-old nephew, she still keeps things light. A’keria! Why are we only finding out about this now? Tyra Sanchez talked about her son every episode of Season 2! That’s a ticket into both Ru’s and fans’ hearts!
Her calm demeanour prevents A’keria from being the clear standout this episode; that honour instead goes to Yvie Oddly. Coming off of a couple of rough weeks, Yvie has a lot to prove — and she does it several times over. Her verse for “Queens Everywhere” is great (second only to A’keria’s), and she nails some incredibly tricky choreography. She also gives a great speech on the runway when Ru presents her with a picture of her younger self and works well with choreographer Todrick Hall in rehearsals and recording time.
I come away from this episode the most impressed with Yvie of any of the final four. Yes, she’s been a bit pushy and opinionated at times this season. Sure, she’s had some off weeks. But Yvie reminds me of Sharon Needles in all the best ways. She pushes the boundaries and looks good doing it. She maybe skews a little performative, but she makes for good TV. I can tell she really fucking loves drag because there’s tremendous heart in what she does.
Combined with her terrific performance in this episode, I think Yvie has a strong argument for herself in the finale — even if she is walking in with just one challenge win. Compare that to Silky Nutmeg Ganache, who may have two wins, but has basically no argument for the win. Fans loathe her, and the edit has clearly turned against her. She presents better than she has the past few weeks in this episode, but not by much. And I have a feeling Ross Mathews’ forgiveness of her flaws in the “Queens Everywhere” performance will draw much ire from the fanbase.
“Technically perfect? No,” Ross says. “But filled with passion and fun? Yes!” That’s a hell of a lot more forgiving than the judges are of our bottom two this week, who, yes, are indeed Brooke Lynn and Vanjie.
Vanjie deserves every bit of criticism she gets. She falls apart during the “Queens Everywhere” performance, flubbing her choreography after nailing it in rehearsal, and missing about half the words in her lip sync. These are lyrics she writes herself! Nerves clearly overtake her, and she can’t keep up.
At least Vanjie’s verse is good, though. Brooke Lynn’s is highly forgettable, a tribute to Canada in rap form (which is just about the whitest thing I’ve heard on this show in a minute). Her performance is technically strong, but the judges are missing edge from her. Make no mistake: I think the judges are bizarrely harsh on Brooke Lynn this week, in a way they aren’t on Silky (who I think was absolutely worse in the challenge). But then you remember that the end goal here is clearly the boyfriends lip-syncing against each other, and the critiques make more sense.
The lip sync to Aretha Franklin’s “Pride: A Higher Love,” takes a minute to warm up, but Brooke Lynn, in particular, does get pretty good by the end. It probably doesn’t actually matter how the Canadian queen performs, though. This is Vanjie’s time to go. She clearly knows it throughout the episode and just looks defeated from the second Brooke Lynn is called out as the other member of the bottom two.
I’ve spent a lot of this season frustrated with Vanjie, after initially being so enthusiastic about her performance in the early episodes. Here’s how I see it: she came in with a budget and natural charisma, while the other queens were still getting their sea legs. That natural advantage kept her afloat in the early weeks. But when the other queens caught up, she quickly sunk. I’m glad she came back for another season, but her elimination is a just one.
After the streak of Cynthia Lee Fontaine, Eureka, Manila Luzon and Latrice Royale, and now Vanjie, I’m hopeful we can take a break from returning queens for a while. Time to let new stars shine.
- A quick runway rundown for the Best Drag category: Silky looks like she borrowed one of A’keria’s wigs, and presents a nude illusion that is anything but illusory. Good corset, though. A’keria looks like she borrowed Vanjie’s wig, but presents it a hell of a lot better than Silky. Her custom-made gown is a marvel. Brooke Lynn Hytes does ballerina drag, complete with en pointe presentation, and it just feels like everything we’ve already seen from her. Vanjie gives a polished runway presentation — her makeup and hair have never looked better — but it feels distinctly un-Vanjie. Yvie’s glamour-meets-camp gown is breathtaking and offers all the more evidence that she should’ve won this episode.
- Love that the runway is Best Drag. That should always be the final category.
- After her description of Silky’s lip sync, I want A’keria to colour-commentate every lip sync. “She just snatched off her wig, just threw it. She just broke the paper lights in the back,” she says through laughter. “A lot of people’s bark is worse than their bite!”
- I love that the show adapted from All Stars 3 the extra difficult challenge of doing a one-take number for the final four — well, now final five — rap performance. “Kitty Girl” was easily the highlight of that very lacklustre season, and “Queens Everywhere” was all the better for copying its style.
- When the queens get drinks sponsored by Micky’s West Hollywood, a club that regularly shows the episodes every week, Vanjie notes that maybe the club can book them all together. In fact, just last Thursday, Silky, A’keria, and Brooke Lynn all hosted the viewing party at Micky’s together! So not quite all of them, but pretty close.
- If they’re not gonna release the damn “What’s the Tee?” interviews, at least Ru got into drag for them this time, That’s been inconsistent over the seasons. And the inclusion of Tic-Tacs for the queens to snack on is a lovely callback to when this part of the final episodes used to be a Tic-Tac lunch with Ru.
- Todrick compares Brooke Lynn’s ballerina drag to Sahara Davenport, which is the latest in a line of references to Drag Race’s only deceased competitor this year. Because of all the Davenports this season, as well as Manila Luzon speaking about missing her in a deleted scene from All Stars 4, Sahara’s presence has been stronger than ever. She really was a wonderful presence back in Season 2, and I would’ve loved to see her interacting with the new generations of Drag Race queens.
- Credit where it’s due: SIlky’s speech to her younger self is really touching and well-spoken. One of her best and most genuine moments of the season.
- CARSON KRESSLEY IS HERE! And they actually acknowledged that he’d been gone all season! It’s funny to hear him critique contestants he hasn’t seen since top 15, like when he tells Brooke Lynn he wants to see what he saw in her drag back in the first episode — which is the last time he saw her. But hey, glad to have him back.
- A note for transparency’s sake: I went to the taping of the Season 11 finale on Monday, and thus know how things go in the Lip Sync for the Crown tournament (but do not know who wins, owing to the show’s habit of filming multiple crownings). I am under embargo, and thus will continue to write about the show until the finale excluding knowledge of future events. But I will give you guys all the inside tea from the finale after it airs!
The reunion episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11 airs Thursday, May 23, at 9 pm ET on VH1 in the US and OUTtv in Canada.