Fifteen queens walked into the workroom for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11, but only one could walk out of Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre with the crown. (Well, technically two did, since the show films multiple crownings. But you get the point.) For the third year in a row, the winner would be decided through a Lip Sync for the Crown tournament. Who would reign supreme: A’keria Chanel Davenport? Brooke Lynn Hytes? Silky Nutmeg Ganache? Or Yvie Oddly?
If I worked in production, I’d have said there was a clear ideal result for the night. Silky and Yvie should get to have their face-off that’s been building all season, while Yvie and Brooke Lynn would make it to the finale to battle once again and finally resolve the detente created by the “Sorry Not Sorry” double shantay. Well, half of that wish comes true: Brooke Lynn and Yvie do indeed make up our final two, and lip sync against each other once again to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” The first part, not so much.
This is pure armchair psychology on my part, but Silky looks rather defeated from the word go this finale. She knows at this point that the audience is not on her side, and even Ru’s affection for her will only take her so far in this format. So when the wheel lands on her, I imagine she’s faced with a difficult choice: should she pick her best friend left, A’keria, and threaten her dream? Should she go with Yvie and give the story editors what they’ve been angling for all season? Or should she pick the best lip-syncer of the bunch, Brooke Lynn, in order to make what must feel like an inevitable defeat look more graceful?
She chooses Brooke Lynn, and it feels like a falling-on-the-sword moment. This gives A’keria a shot at advancing against Yvie, while no one will blame Silky for losing to Brooke Lynn. And I’ll give her this: Silky turns out a pretty strong lip sync to Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” It’s reveal-heavy, but she manages to make it work with her movement in the song. Unfortunately, Brooke Lynn does well too, with a toe shoe reveal that’s fun and unexpected. Silky really needed a home run, and sadly for her, Brooke Lynn matches (or even outguns) her.
Whereas that lip sync is high-energy and fun, A’keria and Yvie’s “SOS” lip sync is a bit more “meh,” to quote Ru’s “No Scrubs” lip-sync reaction. A’keria has a wig reveal, while Yvie’s distorted doll dress needs no reveal to be shocking. Their lip syncs are fine, and it feels like a default choice when Yvie advances. Going into the finale, Brooke Lynn feels like the favourite.
And now, a brief recess to crown Miss Congeniality. It doesn’t make the broadcast, but Ru banters with presiding Miss C and joint All Stars 4 champion Monét X Change about why the prize is no longer voted on by fans (short answer: there was so much hacking of the system last season that internet voting is never coming back) before Monét reveals the other queens’ pick for the win. Act surprised: it’s Nina West! She offers up a joking “meh” (good callback, Nina) before gushing with real joy about being chosen. She’s probably the first true mixture of fan favourite and genuine Miss Congeniality since Latrice Royale way back in Season 4. Way to go, Nina!
A few other fun things happen during the finale: Vanessa Vanjie Mateo gets a pre-recorded segment where she tries to petition to add her face to the Lip Sync for the Crown wheel. Also, we find out Michelle Visage got her breast implants taken out, and Ru unveils an In Memoriam segment for them. It’s all cute and fun! Production is getting better at keeping the balance in these finales between performances, interviews and cute bits.
But we can only put off the final battle for so long: Brooke Lynn vs Yvie. Much as it has been the past couple of weeks, in the final five episode and the reunion, the edit does not seem to be on Brooke Lynn’s side. Her interview comes off professional, if impersonal, although a sweet moment with her mom helps soften her a bit. But despite her first lip-sync performance being far better than Yvie’s, the momentum does not seem to be with her.
In strong contrast, Yvie just seems like the story of the endgame. Her family segment is peculiar, as her parents come together for the first time in five years for the finale. (I was at the taping, and this moment was wild to watch in real time.) But Yvie plays it off endearingly, and it only seems to bolster her odd duck vibe. She’s a weirdo, and an underdog at this point. Isn’t it easier to root for the underdog?
Sure enough, Yvie takes home the crown, becoming our first winner who triumphs in the final segment over someone with a better track record. (Sasha Velour and Trixie Mattel also didn’t have the best track records of their season, but beat Shea Coulée and Shangela in the first lip sync and jury vote, respectively, not the final lip sync.) This win will undoubtedly make massive waves in the fandom, especially on the record-obsessed subreddits.
But narratively, it feels like the right choice. While Drag Race is a competition, it is also a television show. The producers have a duty to tell the story that will resonate most with the audience. Brooke Lynn, technically proficient as she is, never made for a particularly compelling character. When the most memorable thing you did all season outside of a challenge was hide under some couch cushions during Untucked, that doesn’t bode well.
Moreover — and I know this is a sensitive subject, but it’s also an important one — Brooke Lynn would’ve been the third white winner of a regular Drag Race season in a row. Combined with All Stars, and she’d be the sixth white-presenting winner in six seasons. Drag Race has a problem with giving non-white queens chances to succeed, and in the last couple of weeks of this competition, Yvie succeeded. Rewarding her efforts, even in the face of Brooke Lynn’s superior track record, is a sign that the show is attempting to make changes.
Regardless of the ending, Season 11 was destined to be remembered as a mid-to-low-tier season. While the story editing and challenge design continue to improve every year, the casting really hampered this season from the get-go. The winner will be remembered as the best of a weaker crop — a highlight in a mix of the unremarkable. I do think we’ll see several of these queens succeed in the future, especially off the show and even in All Stars. I don’t mean to judge them as drag performers, but as Drag Race contestants, they just weren’t up to par.
Producing a successful season of Drag Race is really tough, especially in modern day. There are so many balls to juggle at once that it may be impossible to keep them all in the air. All Stars 2 remains the best modern season, and considering that aired in the Obama administration, calling it “modern” feels generous at this point. VH1 is clearly invested in Drag Race as a brand, to which I tip my cap to them. But they have yet to produce a truly great season of their newest flagship franchise.
What will I remember from Season 11? The “Sorry Not Sorry” lip sync, most definitely. Nina and Vanjie in the diva worship challenge. Nina in the magic challenge, too. A’keria in the LADP improv challenge. The Yvie and Vanjie fight from Untucked. The six-way lip sync, for all its terrible absurdity. And Yvie’s verse in “Queens Everywhere.”
Those are the major highlights of the season. And they’re bright highlights! But highlights only mean so much if you don’t apply a good foundation — else you’re the girl with a bright face and nothing to back it up.
💋 Christine and the Queens’ performance of “Sissy That Walk,” joined by scores of alumni on the runway, was as delightful as it was random. I’d genuinely adore a full album of different artists covering RuPaul songs. Where is Courtney Love’s “Born Naked,” I ask you?
💋 Though “Bootylicious” was the first Destiny’s Child song chosen for a Lip Sync for Your Life/Legacy/Crown, it was not the first time DC’s music has been on the show! Both “Say My Name” and “Independent Women” scored the second challenge ever, a girl group task way back in Season 1. (There has never been a solo Beyoncé song on Drag Race.)
💋 Meanwhile, “SOS” is Rihanna’s third song in a lip sync, while “Edge of Glory” is Gaga’s fourth. Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin continue to hold the joint record for most, with five songs each (all having one featured this season).
💋 This is the first time one artist didn’t have two songs featured in the Lip Sync for the Crown. Whitney had two in Season 9 (“So Emotional” and “It’s Not Right But It’s OK”), while Janet Jackson had the first two in Season 10 (“Nasty” and “If”).
💋 Brooke Lynn’s “REVEAL” jacket is my favourite joke fashion moment of the finale. My favourite real fashion moment is either Scarlet Envy or Honey Davenport’s dress — both are killer looks, and each queen’s best fashion moment of the season.
💋 Aquaria looks stunning in her phoenix getup, although the unsteady heels she was wearing had her hobbling around a lot during filming. Props to her, though, that she stayed still every moment the show was taping! Her reign was somewhat disappointing to me, to be frank — more online clapbacks than actual work — but I have faith our investment in Aquaria will pay off over time.
💋 If there ever were a year for a second Miss Congeniality prize, Shuga Cain honestly deserved it. She seems genuinely wonderful, and I want nothing but the best for her. And I can think of no better way to end this final recap than in tribute to her: girl, Season 11 is over, and we are living!
This concludes our recap coverage of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11! Thanks so much for reading all season. We’ve got two more pieces on the finale coming this weekend, including singling out real winners and losers of the season, and will be back to cover Drag Race’s first-ever UK spin-off season when it premieres later this year.