Toronto Diary
5 min

The Drag Race Rutrospective: Veni, Vidi, Viva

As we mentioned when we first started looking back on Drag Race’s pilot run ("Lost Season,” my ass — I bought this on iTunes over a year ago) this is a season that required some time to fully cook. Thankfully, this is the point in the show’s run where it finally finds its voice, and this week, the shit that werked vastly outweighs the shit that shat.
The queens are down a girl upon entering the werk room, but no one so much as makes a passing mention of Akashia. Why? Because all the mirrors are gone! (And also because no one liked Akashia.) THE HORROR! Although it is funny to think the girls value reflective surfaces more than a fellow competitor. Go figs. Anyway, Ru sends them a cryptic-as-shit video message wherein she intones, “Who do you think you are?” in various inflections before dropping the mini-challenge on them: constructive criticism! Come back next week when the girls have to do trust falls.
The girls are given some emotional time to offer each other constructive criticism, and while some take it and run with it, others barely hear it over their own perceived awesomeness. Rebecca is told she isn’t speaking up enough, but she decides to interpret it as “People think I’m a bitch for being quiet!” Well, no. People think you’re a bitch because you’re a bitch. Shannel, on the other hand, is offered constructive criticism to not ignore constructive criticism, which she surprisingly ignores.
The toothless-reading challenge aside, the queens are now given the opportunity to do each other’s makeup. They might as well have told the queens, “This girl is standing between you and $20,000. Here’s 30 minutes and some blush. Show no mercy.” Nina Flowers and Jade are probably the most competent pair, painting each other beautifully, if a bit pale. Shannel gives Ongina a stunning face, and Ongina returns the favour by painting her with two eyebrows. But the worst of the bunch are Bebe Zahara Benet and Rebecca Glasscock, whose utter disdain for one another is reflected in the sloppy mugs they bequeath on each other.
Jade is given the win, which causes Shannel to break out her catchphrase: “I should have won.” Get used to it, because she’s going to be saying this a lot. She should consider putting it on a shirt or something . . . Anyway, with Shannel high on self-righteous indignation and the rest of the queens covered in hastily applied spite makeup, the contestants are tasked with the challenge of doing a screen test for Viva Glam, a line of makeup from MAC that donates all proceeds to HIV/AIDS research.
The challenge is less about competent acting (and thank god for that, because they’re about as wooden as a coffee table) and more about the ability to show they care. The queens that do the best are the ones who connect to people with HIV/AIDS. Since Bebe is from Cameroon, she uses the opportunity to talk about how hard AIDS has hit Africa, while Ongina goes for the more playful route, tying HIV awareness and research to celebrating life.
Like many of the Puerto Rican queens who came after her, Nina has a tendency to struggle with her shaky tie to the English language. Unlike her predecessors, however, she’s the best at letting her inner goodness shine through, even when her grasp on the language betrays her. If Nina’s problem is that she stumbles over her words, Shannel’s is that she’s a little too in love with everything she says. Shannel ends up turning her 10-minute screen test into a 10-minute speech about herself. It’s one thing to form a personal connection with your subject, but it’s another matter entirely to supplant someone else’s story with your own. Even the Pit Crew, stoic though they may be, are visibly over her.
But the two most obvious missteps here come from Jade and Rebecca. Jade attempts to put together a more acted piece, but her delivery is stilted and she never really connects to the purpose of MAC Viva Glam. Rebecca connects her message to a friend of hers living with HIV, and she ends up walking out in a crying fit. This seems pretty sad, although *SPOILERS* in the reunion special, she reveals her friend is still very much alive and not talking to her. Soooooo . . . yeah. *END SPOILERS* It also doesn’t help that Rebecca’s makeup is awful, and her outfit consists of nothing but jeans and a T-shirt. Not that I’m a harbinger of all things drag, but JEANS AND A T-SHIRT IS BARELY DRAG.
The judges have a lot to discuss this week, as most of the queens end up repeating the same notes they’ve been getting all season. Nina’s personality shines through, but her runway look — a pantsuit with feathered gauntlets — comes off too mannish. Shannel comes out wearing next to nothing and juggles, but it’s hard to be impressed when it’s so clearly a ploy to distract from her performance that it’s hard to embrace it. It also doesn’t help that Shannel seems committed to the belief that anything you can say with five words, you can say with 5,000words! Shannel’s word salad aside, both parties are safe.
It’s no surprise that the two queens at the top were the ones who were most able to connect to MAC Viva Glam’s mission statement. Bebe’s runway look is Grace Jones chic, and the judges adore her message of HIV awareness in Africa. But it’s Ongina’s screen test that scores her the win, and that’s when she breaks down and reveals her secret: she’s been living with HIV for two years. Her confession puts a button on a stellar performance and only reinforces the idea that life has to be celebrated.
And so, Rebecca and Jade are in the bottom. The judges feel Jade’s personal style isn’t evolving, as exemplified by her so-so Domme/Matrix look and her mediocre camera presence. Rebecca barely has a screen test to present, so naturally, she’s in the pit alongside her. To her credit, Mz Glassock at least tries to take a risk with her runway look, but considering it’s just another subpar cocktail dress with shitty Kiss makeup . . . yeah, good for her. You wore the same thing you always do, only this time you sharpied a star over your eye. DREAM BIG!
If there’s a silver lining to the lip-sync this week, it’s that it’s the first one this season where a contestant actually tries. Let’s be honest here: the stage is smaller, sure, but the lip-syncs thus far have been pretty underwhelming. Thankfully, Jade steps it up, pulling out choreography and splits while Rebecca can barely remember the words. Things get ugly real fast, however, when Rebecca starts clawing at Jade’s face and neck. Clearly, the person going home is —
Jade. Yes, Jade is going home. She’s by far the better queen and comparative to Rebecca she killed the lip-sync, but Rebecca is this season’s bitch, so she’s going straight to the top three. Total bullshit aside, it’s nice to see Drag Race finally finding its voice. This is ultimately a show about the gay community, and thanks to Ongina, we finally get a glimpse at what the show can be when it’s firing on all cylinders.