(Editor’s Note: VH1 and World of Wonder have disqualified Sherry Pie over serious catfishing allegations involving five men. A spokesperson for VH1 and World of Wonder said the season will air as planned “out of respect for the hard work of the other queens.”)
Which would you rather write and perform: A rap verse in front of Nicki Minaj or a Bob Fosse-style musical number in front of Thandie Newton and Robyn? I know, personally, that my utter lack of rhythm would make me choose the latter. Posing on beat and performing a musical monologue about myself? Bring it on! Try and keep my rhymes and flow going in front of a master of the craft? I’d rather die. I don’t know if I could take Nicki judging me for my failure.
Anyway, that’s the question I’m putting to all of you after the second part of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Season 12 premiere. After the seven queens in last week’s episode proved their mettle in front of Ms. Minaj, six more must channel the fictional spirits of Sally Bowles and Roxie Hart in a Cabaret and (especially) Chicago-inspired challenge. The song is called “You Don’t Know Me,” but it might as well be called “Cell Tuck Tango” with all it owes to the Chicago group number. Six singers, a sung chorus, and talk breaks for the queens to tell their stories? Yeah, that’s a “Tango” for you.
Not that that’s bad by any measure! “Cell Block Tango” is one of the all-time great musical theatre numbers for a reason. These queens take the format and absolutely run with it, giving us one of the more dynamic, fun and genuinely informative performances we’ve seen on Drag Race. It helps that this batch of girls, while perhaps not as polished as the other seven, is game and down to do something different than the usual kind of Drag Race musical challenge.
Speaking of those queens, let’s meet them! We’ve got the second San Franciscan queen ever on Drag Race, Rock M. Sakura, following in the footsteps of Season 5’s Honey Mahogany. (Considering Honey infamously went out on the show’s first-ever double elimination, let’s hope Rock doesn’t follow too closely.) Rock is the drag equivalent of 20 sirens going off at once—overstimulating would be an understatement—but she’s so kind and fun that you forgive her. Her very first line (“Am I really Japanese? Who knows! Is it cultural appropriation? Let’s find out!”) is a sign that she’s in on the joke, and I appreciate her sense of humour. I also very much appreciate Aja’s drag daughter Dahlia Sin for her aesthetics, although as we’ll see later in the episode, she may be all aesthetics.
Sherry Pie and Jan are our theatre queens of this group, and they could both give Jackie Cox a run for her money. The latter is particularly Theatre Kid in her energy, which I’m guessing she gets from drag mom Alexis Michelle (the Season 9 veteran who won “Snatch Game”
with her Liza Minelli). Jan is our second victim of copyright infringement this season, as we learn when Rock refers to her as “Jan Sport” and the latter word is fully bleeped out. It’s actually pretty funny, as it acknowledges the awkwardness of the situation. Similarly, I appreciate that Jan calls out the split premiere twist being reused from Season 6—I would’ve loved if someone last episode did the same.
Jaida Essence Hall is certainly not theatre: She is a beauty queen through and through, and she is one of the fishiest queens to ever step into the werk room. The other queens are actually awe-struck by her beauty, so she must only be more gorgeous in person. Meanwhile, when Aiden Zhane walks in, the girls are struck instead by her oddity. Aiden lives an hour away from Atlanta, and thus doesn’t perform a lot. (She sounds just a step above bedroom queen, to compare her to Drag Race UK’s Scaredy Kat.) But she’s certain her unique sensibility will help her stand out, to which I say: Let’s see! I’m certainly up for a spooky queen, even if Dragula has become a more welcoming home for that style of drag.
Everyone handles the spring and fall runway mini-challenge adeptly, with no major foibles à la Heidi N. Closet’s hat falling off. The clear winner for me is Jaida’s fall look, which is ultra-chic and looks right off a real Fashion Week runway. But the mini-challenge is treated much more like a mini-challenge this week, as there are fewer queens and, owing to seeing last week’s girls at the start and end of this episode, less time to spare.
Instead, we jump right to rehearsals for the group number, which this time do include some genuine drama. Jaida insists from the start that their varying experience levels mean staging a full Broadway number might prove difficult, but the queens charge on ahead anyway. Rock gets stuck spearheading the choreography because Sherry refuses to, though that doesn’t stop Sherry from interjecting repeatedly in rehearsal. She and Jaida really get into it at one point, and I have to admit, I’m Team Jaida on this one. Sherry has a condescending tone throughout the episode, from declaring her shock that Jaida would suggest the number doesn’t need to be a full Fosse moment to biting back at Jaida for her criticisms in rehearsal.
Ultimately, the group does figure it out, just as last week’s group did. But this tension feels more honest: I can tell Jaida’s frustrations are real as she points out simple “walking and blocking” isn’t so simple for those who have never done it. She ultimately has nothing to worry about, though: Jaida is one of the stand-outs of the challenge, next to Jan and Sherry. Aiden and Rock both acquit themselves well, though the judges seem to prefer Aiden’s more straight-up take on the material than Rock’s scatalogical humor approach to it. Dahlia is the only one who fails at the challenge, as she both comes across as nervous in her performance and out-and-out lies about herself in her verse. (“A city full of sin” that’s not Vegas? Snatching “titles” without actually being a pageant girl? Yikes.)
Jan is the girl left out of the top performers, as the judges decide she’s a little too much, and Jaida and Sherry are declared the top two. Owing to Robyn being on the panel, they lip sync to “Call Your Girlfriend.” Sherry goes campy with it, but Jaida still manages to be funny while getting the sexy elegance of the song. She wins the lip sync, and takes home a $5,000 tip for her efforts.
And so our two groups are united at the end of the episode, with the queens from last week’s premiere sizing up the six newbies with a defiantly over-it “meh.” Back in Season 6, the divide did in fact wind up coming into play, as teams selected for the next challenge were done so that queens selected contestants who appeared in the same premiere. So we could see a bit of a battle develop, at least in the short-run.
If that’s the case, consider me firmly Team First Premiere. There are queens I like a lot on this side of the divide, including Jaida, Rock and Jan, but I also am least interested in seeing where Dahlia goes from here, and I could really take or leave Sherry. Meanwhile, I’m very much stanning Widow Von’Du, Heidi N. Closet and Gigi Goode, and even my least-liked of that crop (Nicky Doll) still intrigues me. But of course, the queens could integrate quickly, and give us a dynamic, diverse baker’s dozen of queens.
Whatever happens, consider me fully invested. The split premiere may have slowed the momentum of this season at the start, but I now feel fully introduced to the whole crop. Season 12’s future is looking bright, and now it’s time to strap in for the ride.
✨ More on the very serious allegations brought against Sherry Pie online this week. BuzzFeed News has a full report, but to summarize: At least five men have come forward claiming that Sherry catfished them by posing as a casting director. Through their correspondence with Sherry, these men reportedly submitted tapes of themselves, one of whom even said he masturbated on camera. This is obviously incredibly disturbing, and I’m glad VH1 and World of Wonder ultimately decided to disqualify her. For my part in these recaps, I’ll write around her when I can, and focus on the other outstanding queens this season.
✨ I get why the show had to repeat the “Surprise, you’re actually the top two!” gag, since these queens don’t know no one’s going home, but it doesn’t work quite as well when we know what’s coming.
✨ Nothing in this episode makes me laugh harder than Jaida’s reaction upon hearing Rock talk about the steam that escapes when she takes off her tights. It’s full The Office-esque mugging to camera, and it’s perfect.
✨ I need, like, three less sports metaphors from Jan next week.
✨ More legs from Ru! I guess this is the new normal. I hate to sound so shocked about it every week, but when you’ve watched every season of this show multiple times, and seen him choose full-length gowns over leg-baring looks 99 times out of 100, the change is a lot to absorb.
✨ Kim Chi as Not Anna Sui is the standout of the guest panel for the mini-challenge. Her delighted laughter upon Ross saying Dahlia’s fur look is “Inspired by Michelle before electrolysis” kills me.
✨ It’s interesting to hear Jaida call herself more of a female impersonator than a drag queen. That’s actually a bit of a reversal of the trend we’ve seen on Drag Race in recent years, where pure femininity hasn’t been as rewarded in comparison to weirder, more genderfuck-inspired drag. (See: Sasha Velour, Yvie Oddly.)
✨ I really like “Shantay you slay!” as a catchphrase for a Lip Sync for Your Legacy winner! I hope it carries over to All Stars, though it likely won’t for this June’s upcoming season (as I believe it was shot before Season 12 was).
✨ Guest judge check: Thandie Newton is a lot of fun, and totally game, but my heart belongs to Robyn this week. She’s utterly adorable, telling Ru not to fuck it up in Swedish in her introduction and gushing over the queens in her critiques. I love how she compliments Jan at length, then gently says that Jan is also “a lot.” Love her.
✨ “I said I felt!” Rock referencing one of my low-key favorite All Stars 2 memes? Welcome into my heart, Rock M. Sakura.