“I wish you would be the six forever and ever,” RuPaul tells the final six on this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. “I really do.”
Thanks to last week’s double shantay, we’ve had this top six for two weeks now, and I gotta say, I mostly agree with Ru. We’ve had some extraordinary groups on past seasons of this show—Season 5’s top seven, Season 9’s top four, Season 10’s top ten—but Season 12’s final half-dozen is an impressive crop of queens. There’s obviously a glaring asterisk on that thanks to Sherry Pie, but her aside, I really do love everyone else left. Heidi N Closet, Jaida Essence Hall, and Crystal Methyd have all joined the ranks of my favourite queens ever on the show. Even Gigi Goode, who has been faltering a bit in recent weeks, and Jackie Cox, who has never quite caught fire like some expected she would, are still great queens.
So it’s heartbreaking to realize one of them will be going home. It’s even worse when you realize Sherry won’t be going home, no matter how much time she takes to do her routine—much more on that in a second—so it’ll be someone the fans like departing. And then you realize that Heidi and Jaida are the bottom two, which amounts to a worst-case scenario for those who have loved them both this season. I count myself very much in that number.
This week’s Drag Race ends fairly, with a queen who underperforms going home, but it still stings. We’re down to the end of the competition where every cut will hurt. Luckily, we only have one left to go next week. Though, I don’t know if I could take much more after this one.
After the grand return of the puppets mini-challenge—very high on my list of wants after Season 11 and Drag Race UK—the queens are presented with a new kind of Drag Race challenge: a one-woman show. In practice, this challenge looks a lot like the stand-up tasks of past seasons, but the actual content is quite a bit different. Whoopi Goldberg comes in to mentor the queens, doing a terrific job steering them into bits and storytelling versus simple comedy. The results are mixed, but the queens are ambitious across the board.
Whoopi successfully talks Jackie out of a misguided Drag Race 101 seminar that sounds like what I’d do if I went on this show. (As I’ve said before, there are plenty of very good reasons why I’d never do Drag Race, not the least of which is that I don’t do drag.) She instead pivots into a bit about her parents, which is heartwarming and very earnest, with some good jokes. It’s a smart set, if not quite the most entertaining. Crystal, on the other hand, goes fully stupid for her act as male stripper Phenonemal Phil. Ru is initially concerned about her doing a male character, but it all comes together the second she hits the stage and starts showing off increasingly insane dance moves. She’s the best of the crop this week and finally earns her long-sought-after maxi-challenge win.
The highest-concept bits come from Sherry, who does a psychic bit involving a goldfish, and Gigi, who plays a flight attendant on your trip to hell. Both are fun, but each reveals a fatal flaw. For Gigi, it’s a reliance on her notes and outline that does her in. There’s something really holding Gigi back mentally, as she nearly breaks down over her recent slips in the competition in her confessional. I’m not sure if she genuinely thought she would come on this show and dominate every week like what seemed to happen early on, but that’s incredibly hard to do. Even Bianca Del Rio screwed up here and there! Her perfectionist side is revealing her limitations as both a queen and a competitor.
Sherry’s flaw, on the other hand, is time management. She goes well over the five-minute time limit, clocking in at 17 (!) minutes. Why she was not cut off is beyond me; remember the stand-up challenge in All Stars 1 where the queens were literally cut off with a light? Where was the light, I ask you? The result is a very divisive set of critiques, in which Michelle Visage castigates Sherry for running over time, while Ross Mathews largely excuses it because she’s so funny. (Owing to some brilliantly shady editing that presents Sherry’s set with chyrons of just how far over she’s going, we don’t get to see much of her comedy.)
I’m firmly Team Michelle on this one, and it really does separate why as much as I do love Ross and his critiques, I’ll always identify more with Michelle as a critic of this show and its performances. Michelle is treating this as a competition, with rules in place to maintain its fairness. Ross is treating it like a drag brunch that, sure, might go over time, but who cares? It’s all in the spirit of fun! Had Sherry gone last, I’d have been fine with her going over time—it’d be annoying, but it wouldn’t affect anyone else.
However, what makes Sherry “selfish,” as Michelle calls her, is that her taking too much time utterly throws Jaida off her game. The queen who has been dominating in recent weeks seems set up to do well this week after her rehearsal, which includes a hug from Whoopi (!) that utterly delights her. But as Sherry goes on and on, Jaida gets increasingly annoyed, even commenting on the length from her seat in the queens’ side-audience. When she finally does get to her set, she’s forgotten the advice to take her time and slow down and loses the audience very early. (It doesn’t help that she’s telling a story about pissing on someone, which really requires full understanding and attention to garner laughs.)
As Ross points out, Jaida does get the audience back when she jokes about none of her jokes landing, but she’s already checked out mentally by that point. But still, this isn’t really her fault. Surely Jaida being thrown off her game by another contestant breaking the rules will earn her a pass from the judges, right? Surely that contestant who broke the rules will be placed in the bottom as a warning for her mistake, right?
Sorry, I had to take a quick break to scream into a pillow. Anyway, because of bullshit, Jaida winds up in the bottom two next to Heidi, who stretches her charisma to its absolute limit in her set. She does an act about her family at a barbecue but doesn’t do enough to differentiate her characters and doesn’t land enough jokes. It’s just kind of Heidi being Heidi in different tones for five minutes, and none of it is very structured. I love Heidi to the moon and back, but for the second week in a row, she deserves her bottom placement.
Heidi and Jaida lip-sync to Prince’s “1999,” and it’s over basically the second Jaida reveals she has a Prince wig underneath her runway wig. She moves and looks like Prince throughout the song, interpreting it flawlessly and dominating the stage. Heidi just can’t catch up, particularly as her gown inhibits her mobility. It’s a clear victory for Jaida, as Heidi finally sashays away.
I can’t be that mad at the unfair judging (re: Sherry and Jaida), considering we get a stunning Jaida lip sync out of it, and Sherry wouldn’t have gone home next to Heidi anyway. But I do think the last several weeks of this season have demonstrated just why Drag Race needs to let up on the reins when it comes to their favourites in future seasons. One of either Gigi and Sherry has consistently been mediocre-to-bad every week since the Rusical, and in a couple of weeks, both have been bad! Yet neither has come close to lip-syncing. Sherry getting a pass for blatant rule-breaking this week is just salt on the wound.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has made several drastic improvements this season after last year. I do think this is the best season filmed for VH1 yet (though Season 9 and All Stars 2, which both aired on VH1 despite being designed for Logo, were better). But it still sits below the echelon of classic seasons, because there are still significant issues to address. Production favouritism is top of the list for me, and unlike a puppet mini-challenge, it can’t just be fixed on a whim. Drag Race really needs to dig deep and evaluate how evenly and fairly it treats its contestants. Because as we’ve seen this season, you never know when one of your favourites might suddenly become persona non grata, leaving you with a Pie-shaped hole in your season.
✨So I won’t mince words: The puppet mini-challenge is kind of a mess. This is a tough task to do with six queens left since we don’t get much time with any of them (remember, this started as a top four mini-challenge). It’s even worse that the winner, Jackie, does a Sherry impression, when her jokes about Sherry are things that we’ve never seen. Still very glad to have it back, but would maybe move this challenge to top five next season.
✨Speaking of minis, it seems we can officially declare there will be neither a proper Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge or slapping mini-challenge this season. I kinda get why the reading challenge got converted into that FabFitFun shade task, since last season’s reading challenge was nothing short of awful, but I’m very surprised to see the slapping one go. That was one of the highlights of last season!
✨Note for note, Whoopi is my favourite guest judge of the season. Apologies to Leslie Jones and Rachel Bloom, but Whoopi gets to not only kill it in critiques but in her coaching as well. She really takes the queens seriously as artists and performers and gives them advice that will benefit them long after this episode is over. She only gets better in Untucked, too. She’s easily one of the biggest stars to appear on Drag Race, and the fact that she takes the gig so seriously is a massive testament to both her and the show.
✨The purple runway, inspired by Whoopi’s part in The Color Purple film, is another strong one, with Heidi, Jaida and Crystal all turning out phenomenal looks, serving pageant fabulousness, fashion glam and an ultra-creative bull look, respectively. Gigi does yet another reference on the runway with a Daphne from Scooby-Doo look—which is cute, but again, it’s another reference—and Jackie gives something very un-Jackie as a Purple People Eater. It’s a fun aberration for Jackie, but as Ross notes, it’s a little crafty.
✨Ross says Michelle is too harsh calling Sherry “selfish,” which Michelle doubles down on by ranting about Sherry being self-centred. Good for you, Michelle!
✨I may be “When we asked for your number-one story, we didn’t mean your Number One story. I guess that’s better than your Number Two story!”
✨Jaida doesn’t know Rose from The Golden Girls, but her justification as to why is hilarious: “I’m thinkin’ that’s some bitch from New York City that they know!” Followed up by a good ol’ “Look over there!” God, I adore her.
✨Listen, call me basic, but Dahlia Sin still showing up as the broccoli kills me every time.
✨“The hardest part of this challenge is knowing that I’m going to be disowned by my family after this.” Heidi may have been joking, but I hope she knows that everybody—family, friend, and fan alike—could have nothing but love for her after her run this season.