RuPaul’s Drag Race does not exist in a vacuum. When it’s in season—and even sometimes when it’s not!—there’s a constant conversation about it among fans, and sometimes even in the greater cultural space. (Look what happened with the news about Sherry Pie’s disqualification, which made headlines even in outlets that don’t regularly cover Drag Race.) That dialogue is only growing this season, as folks are forced to stay in on Friday nights and watch Drag Race at home, resulting in the show’s ratings spike. But when the conversation gets particularly heated, it can overwhelm even Drag Race itself.
This week, that dialogue hit a fever pitch, as fans got into it online over women being the makeover challenge subjects—specifically, Drag Race labelling them “superfans”—for this episode. Some of the initial negative response targeted the women themselves as problems: That by being fans at all, much less being on the show, they are taking up queer space. This prompted a lot of pushback, largely from queens themselves; as many pointed out, women can be drag’s most enthusiastic and, crucially, financially supportive fans. The conversation grew to such a size that alumni like Season 10 winner Aquaria weighed in.
I’m not inclined to harp on this, but I do want to say one thing: Certainly, there’s something to be discussed about Drag Race’s audience becoming increasingly female, just as it has become younger, straighter, and whiter. It’s a subject I’ve talked about before, as have many more in reporting on evolving fan culture. But that discussion should always be about how the show is changing itself in response to fans. For example, production seemingly shows favour to certain types of queens (white, thin, Instagram-friendly) in an attempt to appeal to fans. Those types of changes are so dissatisfying because Drag Race was great long before its fanbase grew and changed. Its excellence is in its DNA, not in how it appeals to fan preferences, and it doesn’t need to pander. But again, that’s a criticism of the show and the show alone.
Criticizing female fans of Drag Race just for being fans is cultural gatekeeping, plain and simple. It’s no better than straight boys saying girls can’t really be into comic books, or men demanding women name five of a band’s albums to prove they’re fans. Women, including and especially those featured in this episode, become fans of Drag Race because they like drag. To blame or reject them for their fandom is misguided; they should instead be embraced and welcomed.
Luckily, that’s exactly what Drag Race and the remaining Season 12 queens do in this episode, which is an utterly delightful instalment packed to the gills with charming moments between the queens and fans. It’s one of the best makeover episodes of the series and proves how great the format can be when you have subjects who are game to throw themselves into the process. It’s a joyous celebration of the power of drag.
After a cute bit where Ru and the girls surprise the superfans (they think they’re there to be in the audience for a challenge), previous main challenge winner Jaida Essence Hall pairs up the superfans with the queens. Though there’s some concern from the other girls that Jaida could screw them, she goes full Drag Mom and assigns the pairs perfectly. It’s actually kind of remarkable—not only are the matches good physically but every pair also matches well on a personality level.
Crystal Methyd gets an adorably nerdy kindergarten teacher, while Heidi N. Closet—calling herself Heidi Aphrodite this week—gets the most exuberant personality of the bunch. Upon being assigned to Heidi, Nicole immediately says “Yes, we’re about to win, girl!”
Gigi Goode gets a modelesque girl named Shea, who immediately calls out Season 9 favourite Shea Coulée and thus wins my heart. Jackie Cox gets Tiffany, a fan who’s been watching since Season 1 when she was 11—an OG! For herself, Jaida takes the very pretty Bethany, although I’m a little surprised just because they’re so physically dissimilar. (I should know better than to doubt the Hall of Fame, though.) And then there’s Sherry Pie and Janet the Planet.
Janet the Planet is the tallest woman of the superfans, and she instantly earns my stan-dom when talking with Ru about her changing her name to own her size and stature. Ru pretty quickly falls in love, too. (This is all done in Sherry’s first workroom segment, which is disarming for obvious reasons, but worth it for Janet alone.) She later gets a great moment with Jaida, too, expressing her nerves after the fans find out they’ll be lip syncing on the main stage.
Jaida is the star of this episode, getting the best edit she’s received all season. She’s hilarious while playfully dragging Jackie in the workroom, vulnerable while talking about her boyfriend of 12 years with Bethany and so warm and welcoming to all the fans. She’s also absolutely stunning on the runway, putting herself and Bethany in striking red looks that clearly belong together, but aren’t just replications of the same look. The family resemblance is remarkable, and despite some stiff competition, Jaida takes the win for the week. It marks her third overall, matching Gigi’s and officially making this a race to the finish.
Gigi herself does all right this episode, but you can feel the underwhelming edit continue to affect her trajectory. While Ross Mathews does love her looks, both a returning Michelle Visage and guest judge Daisy Ridley note that her matching parkas are a bit of an easy way out. It’s Crystal who gets the credit for the most ambition this week, with her and her fan coming out in Bert and Ernie-inspired looks. They’re so unconventional, and yet so perfectly Crystal. I honestly thought this would be where Crystal finally picked up her first win, but I understand why Jaida’s dominance this week made that impossible.
Still, as Ross notes, Crystal is peaking at exactly the right time. Assuming she doesn’t get booted over the next two weeks, she’ll be walking into the finale with the most momentum save anyone but Jaida. And unlike the pageant queen with three wins, Crystal has the biggest underdog arc. If Ru decides he wants to crown someone who’s really shown growth this season, Crystal is the perfect pick for that. I do think she needs at least one win to pull that off, though.
In the cold open, Jackie notes that Crystal and Heidi are rising as she’s flatlining, which leads to a truly incredible bit of editing later: As Ross tells Crystal she’s peaking, the camera cuts to a devastated Jackie, and then immediately to commercial. It’s a hilarious bit on the show’s part, but it does underline just how rough things have gotten for Jackie. Not too long ago, Jackie seemed like a viable member of the final four, after turning some solid looks and nailing her Lisa Rinna impersonation in Snatch Game. And any hope that her terrific “Firework” lip sync would light her up is quickly diminished this week, as she just doesn’t turn in the calibre of work in the makeover as the other queens do.
But the clear loser of the week is Heidi, which is a shame since she’s been on such a roll lately. The judges are too kind, if anything, to avoid any hurt feelings toward her fan. But Heidi’s issues are in no way Nicole’s fault—they’re a rather blatant display of Heidi’s limitations. She puts herself and Nicole in entirely different looks and puts on her worst face of makeup all season. Nicki Minaj will have a fit if she ever sees this, to say the least. In a competition without a bottom two mechanic like Lip Sync for Your Life, Heidi would be screwed this week.
Jackie joins Heidi in said bottom two, and they perform a lip sync to Alex Newell’s “Kill the Lights”—an absolute bop, and a chance for Jackie to really camp it up. She goes with a crazed lover character and makes the performance a comedy routine. It’s in the same style as her performance last week, but with a whole new approach. Jackie has quickly become one of my favourite lip sync-ers this season. Heidi doesn’t back down, though, dancing it out and using her costuming (particularly some elongated sleeves) for exaggerated effect.
Now, I don’t want to be cynical, and I would love to believe Ru is genuinely so impressed by this lip sync that he decides both queens should stay. However, I also know about television production and know it’s Episode 10 when the top five challenge needs to happen in episode 12. (Drag Race orders 14-episode seasons, and reunion and finale are typically the last two.) So, unless Shangela’s about to pop out of some box and join Season 12, it’s inevitable that both queens will stay. And, of course, they do.
While I don’t love the predictability of the result, I do love both Heidi and Jackie, and it feels right that such a celebratory episode would end on a delightful, inclusive note. It would’ve felt off if either had gone home. Sadly, one of the remaining six will now have to leave the competition next week, as Ru makes his final cut before the halcyon final five.
✨I’m not recapping Secret Celebrity Drag Race week-to-week, but I did share some thoughts on the premiere in a piece earlier this week, if you care to read!
✨Nicole is just as quotable as Heidi: “These legs haven’t seen the sun since ’98!” What a terrific pairing, although I wish their results on the runway had been better.
✨Adding a Lip Sync for Your Life element for fun for the fans (to Ru’s “U Wear It Well”) is a terrific idea, and still gives us a performance from them that’s not the sad makeover songs of seasons past. It’s also a call-back to the very first makeover challenge, when the makeover subjects had to lip sync to Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress.” (That remains the only solo Beyoncé song ever lip-synced to on Drag Race!)
✨“The biggest challenge obviously is that I’m a Caucasian woman and she’s a Black woman.” Jaida doesn’t get enough credit for being the most quotable queen this season after Heidi, even in these recaps. Allow me to rectify that!
✨Very cute to learn Jackie started doing drag when she played Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. A theatre queen through and through.
✨Truly a relief to have Michelle Visage back after last week’s judging mess. I know a lot of folks liked Jeff Goldblum, but I found him to be (intentionally or unintentionally) spotlight-hogging, and the critiques to not be at their usual standard. Helping with the critical rigour is the return of Ross in the rotating-judge spot. It really is noticeable how much more constructive the critiques are when he’s there. Also, props to all the judges for still being critical while praising and lifting up the superfans.
✨Daisy Ridley is a great guest judge, engaged and fun but never making herself the focus of the episode. I especially appreciated that she could come in and dismiss Gigi’s look as simple—that’s easier to do when you’re not head-over-heels for someone based on their previous work. Sometimes you need a fresh eye on the panel.
✨I need a GIF of Michelle saying “Hi, Dad!” to Ru immediately.