Through no fault of its own, this episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race is a bit of a downer. The Rusical performance is a ton of fun, the queens are as stellar a crew as ever, and the judging is effusive about the amazing journeys these queens have had. Add in some great runway looks and stellar final lip sync, and you’d think you’d have a recipe for a classic Drag Race installment.
Unfortunately, I’ve left out a key element of this episode in my description of it: It’s all themed around RuPaul’s Drag Race Live, the Las Vegas show that started a few months after this season filmed—and a few months before it was closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, this episode is an ad (a great ad! a fun ad!) for a show that you cannot see, just like the Frozen-themed runway in this season’s Snatch Game episode.
But unlike that episode wherein the theme was just worked into the runway, talk about the Vegas show permeates every part of Episode 12. Gigi Goode’s mini-challenge prize is two tickets to Vegas to see the show! It’s like a giant flashing sign throughout the episode reminding us what’s not happening in our world. It’s especially jarring since this show is usually such an escape, and has been for most of this season.
Combine this ghost of fun times past with the inevitability of Sherry Pie’s disqualification hanging over the proceedings, and the result is an episode that doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s all a reminder that Season 12 could’ve been one of the great seasons of Drag Race, but was just so negatively affected by issues beyond its control. This cast, who Ru once again rightfully sings the praises of in this episode, deserved a better season than this one—and, of course, a better 13th castmate than who they got.
The challenge is an adaptation of the Las Vegas Ruvue, with the queens performing three songs from the show: “I Made It,” decked out in their entrance looks, the emotional ballad “Mirror Song,” and a heavily modified version of the grand finale track “Losing Is the New Winning.” The modifications to that final song come courtesy of the queens’ rap verses—this takes the place of the typical Rumix that’s happened in every season since All Stars 2.
While I like the idea of fleshing out the finale a bit, and have enjoyed the one-take numbers in All Stars 3 and Season 11, this goes a bit too far afield for my taste. The performance itself is high-energy and dynamic—choreographer Jamal Sims returns once again to put it together, and he does a stunning job—but the choice to do three songs makes the challenge format a little too fluid. If this were a non-competitive episode, I’d live for this, because it really is impressive. Of all the Rusicals we’ve ever seen on this show, this one looks the most like it could actually be a musical.
But this is still a competition, and unlike last season’s top five challenge, it does have a winner. So the haphazard structure makes it tough to follow exactly what we should be paying attention to. Do the queens’ solos in the first two numbers really matter? What about their solo sung parts in “Losing Is the New Winning”? Why are some of the rap verses one after the other, while Sherry’s is substantially after everyone else’s? It took me two full watches of the performance to get what we’re supposed to pay attention to. The verses are fine, but not particularly remarkable, and they all get lost in the chaos of the performance. I’m not sure this will be a rewatch-favourite in the way group numbers like “Read U Wrote U” and “Category Is” have been.
Gigi Goode and Jaida Essence Hall shine brightest in the performance. Gigi finally regains her mojo after weeks of faltering, summoning up the same skills and charisma that she had in the Madonna Rusical. She’s a star, and performances like these are designed for someone with her skills. Gigi’s verse is probably the best of the lot, though again, it doesn’t stand up to those that have come before. She also pulls out a killer runway look that’s a riff on the nerdy ’80s prom girl trope. It’s still a reference, but unlike her past few runways, it’s not a costume. Gigi’s overall package is the strongest this week, earning her fourth win of the season.
Jaida is a step behind Gigi, but not a big one. She powers through the performance despite her shaky vocal skills and easily performs the best of the group when it comes to choreography. Her verse is also pretty forgettable, but decent enough, and she turns out my favourite look on the runway. Sherry is seemingly a distant third, but does well enough to get waved on to a finale she will not be participating in. Bye, Sherry!
That leaves Crystal Methyd and Jackie Cox as our bottom two, and while the deliberations would seem to indicate it’s their track records that land them there, I think that’s a bit of a fudge on the show’s part to hype up the group performance as much as possible. Both make some odd choices in the performance, with Crystal inserting a comedic beat into the emotional ballad, Jackie wearing a rough wig that doesn’t lend itself to tossing for a wig-twirling move, and so on. Their limitations as competitors come across clearly this week—while both are extremely charismatic and likable, neither has the same polish to their drag as Gigi and Jaida have.
So Crystal and Jackie fall into the bottom two, and reader, I genuinely had no idea what to expect next.
There was a great deal of speculation leading into this episode about what exactly would happen, owing to Sherry Pie’s disqualification finally taking effect. Were it not for COVID-19, the answer would be simple: The Lip Sync for the Crown finale format that’s been in place since Season 9 requires four queens, and thus both Crystal and Jackie would stay. But the idea of a socially distant Lip Sync for the Crown seems unlikely, and thus a more classic top 3 is entirely viable.
Despite an episode full of the queens and Ru himself insistently referring to the finale as a “top 4,” Drag Race ultimately proceeds with its traditional elimination. Crystal and Jackie’s strong lip sync to “On the Floor” makes the decision a tough one, but ultimately track record guides Ru to his decision. Jackie goes home in 5th, while Sherry’s removal gives us our top three: Crystal Methyd, Gigi Goode and Jaida Essence Hall.
Your guess is as good as mine on what this finale is going to look like—rumour has it that the queens shot something recently, but the sky’s the limit on the format. Perhaps it’s for the best, though, that this episode brought us back to reality with all its talk of the cancelled Vegas show. After all, whatever the finale looks like, it’s not going to be what was originally planned for this season. RuPaul’s Drag Race, like so many other TV shows, finally has to reckon with what production during quarantine looks like. All we can hope for is a fun, hopeful ending, with a winner who truly deserves the crown.
✨The mini-challenge, as mentioned, is won by Gigi and is also Vegas-themed: The queens have to design headdresses and model them for Ru. It is deeply arbitrary and goofy, and the prize is so absurdly outsized in comparison to the results of the challenge. Though I do hope the show sticks around post-COVID so Gigi can use her prize!
✨With her fourth maxi-challenge win, Gigi ties Sharon Needles and Shea Coulée for the most wins in a single season. (Before any Alaska, BenDeLaCreme, or Trinity The Tuck partisans come for me: All Stars is a different format with two wins per episode. Their track records, while impressive, are not comparable.) What gives Gigi a slight edge over Sharon and Shea is that she was also in a top two position in her premiere, though she lost the lip sync. Sharon won her season, Shea lost—what fate lies ahead for Gigi?
✨You can feel Heidi N. Closet’s absence in this episode. The confessionals are not nearly as fun. I’m glad she made it as far into the season as she did because we’d have been worse off without her commentary.
✨Spooky blackout at the start of the episode, huh? Aiden Zhane’s ghost finally takes her revenge!
✨With this episode, we have officially made it through an entire season of Drag Race without one appearance from Todrick Hall. It seems that Jamal Sims has officially taken the reins once again. I could not be more thrilled.
✨Last night’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race was the last of this batch, and while we obviously won’t be getting any more soon thanks to the filming stoppage in California, I won’t be surprised in the slightest if we get a lot more episodes when filming resumes. It was a fun distraction, and got significantly better after its rough premiere. Hopefully the calibre of celebrity rises a bit in a potential Season 2 as well.
✨For any who didn’t see, Xtra has all the Meet the Queens videos for Canada’s Drag Race! Very excited to discuss that show with you all when it premieres July 2.
✨I’d love to hear from anyone who made it to the Las Vegas show before COVID closed it down—how was it? Feel free to share any thoughts with me on Twitter (@kevinpokeeffe), or drop by next Friday’s Kiki with Kevin at 4 PM EST/1 PM PST on Xtra’s Facebook page to share your thoughts!