Finally! RuPaul has given us a reason to watch Logo! A must-see instant hit, RuPaul’s Drag Race is one part Project Runway, one part Top Model and a whole lot of gloss. Don’t get us wrong, Drag Race is basically every reality TV show you’ve ever seen recycled in the name of drag, but it’s the first bit of original programming the moribund network has produced that doesn’t make us embarrassed to be gay. It’s sleek, it’s weirdly sexy and it’s loaded with product placement, just like real tee-vee!
Since we’re going to be blogging this thing until it gets canceled (or Ru winds up in rehab), let’s talk about why this should be your new favorite reality show, because I know you’re thinking: “Eh, it’s on Logo, so it must be awful.” But really, it’s actually sort of not!
If I just introduce the contestants, you won’t believe me, so we’ll start with the only thing that lends reality television any legitimacy– the sponsors. With Project Runway on (let’s face it) “permanent hiatus,” there’s something comforting about seeing a commercially sponsored make-up table on television again– and drag race has MAC, which actually beats the Runway’s “L’Oreal Make-Up and Hair Room,” hands down. I mean seriously, who used L’Oreal? My mother, that’s who. Sorry, Mom, love you!
On top of that, Absolut, the official sponsor of homosexuality, has thrown in $20,000 of prize money to the winner. Plus some magazine called PAPER will give the winning queen a photo spread, assuming they don’t fold within the next three weeks along with every other print publication in the world. The point is, these are actual companies! Hell, Janice Dickinson makes do with less.
The judges also lend the show some credibility. Bob Mackie shows up as a guest judge in the first episode (for all you boys and girls too young to know or too lazy to Google, Bob Mackie is the very nice man whose designed all the costumes for America’s first drag queen, Cher). Santino, the loud-mouthed Rasputin from Project Runway is also a judge, as is some woman whose canned lines and frosted locks make us hate her too much to look up her name.
See? Doesn’t that sound like the description of an actual television show?
Onto the actual recap portion of the post:
We’re introduced to a bunch of drag queens in quick succession, all of them fully pressed (that’s drag for “in drag”– see, you’re learning things already). You don’t get a whole lot of time to get to know them in the first episode, but here’s how it breaks down. Meet Bebe, whose from Michigan by way of Cameroon and has a gorgeous accent! Tammie (“with an I-E!” she squeals) who thinks she’s channeling Bette Davis, but looks more like Bette Davis’ corpse! Shannel, from Vegas, where she’s called ‘the Barbara Streisand of drag,’ “because I’m a perfectionist”–but we think it’s the nose.
Then, there’s Jade and Akashia, both of whom come in wearing assless outfits. In the pre-recorded interviews, we learn that boy-Akashia is really kind of hot. Victoria is a plus-sized Southern drag queen who sort of represents the old school and who is “just happy to be here,” which is sweet. Ongina is sort of a pretty, nice, friendly version of Bobby Trendy, which, come to think of it, means that she is in no way like Bobby Trendy at all.
Finally, there’s Nina Flowers, who shows up in a blonde mohawk and a couture Mad Max inspired look. Nina’s the kind of drag queen that eats small children for breakfast and polishes her nails with the blood of her enemies. In short, we love her and want her to carry our babies.
After the initial meetings, RuPaul appears via flat panel display and tells the queens how fierce she is and introduces her catch phrase, “Don’t fuck it up.” Now, as catchphrases go, this one is a winner and if we’re going to have to listen to gays at bars quote reality TV catchphrases, at least RuPaul has given us something to really bite into.
Surprise! Then the real RuPaul shows up, out of drag, and tells the queens how beautiful they are, and we get a bunch of cutaways to the girls talking about what an icon RuPaul is, how she opened doors for the drag community, blah, blah, blah. Then Ru goes over the prize winnings and mentions that she flew them all out to L.A. by Southwest Airlines (downmarket, but again– actual company!) and that their first challenge will be a photo shoot. What Ru leaves out is that the photo shoot will involve being hosed down by a bunch of muscle boys.
You’d think a bunch of drag queens, in full make-up, costume and hair would freak out at the idea of being doused with water, but impressively, they all jump right into it. This is how you know these drag queens are serious- in fact, they don’t even complain as Ru shouts at them to “Grab that hose” and get doused. If this were Top Model, the entire episode would be about the girls complaining about the water– how cold it is, how it messes with their hair– but the queens dive right in. Score one for the man-ladies.
After cleaning themselves off, Ru announces that their first challenge will be to design a drag outfit that exemplifies their style using only thrift store clothes and items from the dollar store. Does this sound like every Project Runway opening challenge? You betcha, but this time it’s with drag queens! And some of them can’t sew. Victoria, the elder stateswoman of the group confesses she’s out of her league and her dress is truly something hideous (are those picnic flags?), but when Ru comes by to do his Tim Gunn impersonation, the two queens who worry him most are Akashia and Jade, who aren’t making enough use of the tacky knickknacks. All the queens are convinced Akashia’s had a lot of work done, but she denies it. Because there are no blind queens on the show, nobody believes her.
Sadly, we get no scenes of the queens living together and instead move right into the elimination challenge. In fact, the backstage cattiness is practically nonexistent, which is sort of nice in an “Oh, see, drag queens are people too” way, but we hope it doesn’t last. At elimination, Ongina does a cute little over-the-top tango dance in a ruffled dress made of loofahs; Nina serves up some Brigadoon punk look that has us floored; Tammie with an “i-e” does corpse Bette Davis again (this time the style is corpse Bette Davis at the beach); Bebe plays up the whole “I’m from Africa” theme, which is going to get old quick, but is cute as a “getting to know you” look; and Victoria, Lakashia and Jade are various shades of awful.
The judges deliberate, Blondilocks judge spews out some canned lines and Nina wins because she’s awesome. Here’s some video of her, showing just how awesome she is:
Lakashia and Victoria are on the bottom two, and to decide who will “sashay away,” the judges make them do an impromptu lip-sync routine. If there was any doubt that this show wasn’t going to be a hit, it was wiped away once the lip-sync took off. What other show makes their contestants run around the runway at the same time making total fools of themselves? Dance, monkeys, dance! Unfortunately, poor Victoria looks sad and lost and she’s sent away saying something about how proud she is that she was picked out of thousands of applicants and how big girls can follow their dreams, which is sweet. Goodbye forever, Victoria! At least we’ll never come to hate you, like we undoubtedly will with most of these girls.
So, did you catch Drag Race? Have we been sniffing too much nail polish or is the show as good as we think it is? Again, it’s a dumb, schlocky reality show– but it’s a dumb, schlocky reality show with drag queens — and that makes all the difference. You can watch the full episode online here.