Sometimes a RuPaul's Drag Race challenge comes along that is such an utterly brilliant idea that must have been forged in the middle of a very divine gay fever dream, that it almost seems unfair to both contestants and viewers that the ensuing spectacle has to be muddied by the thought of competition and eliminations. That seems very, I don't know, sports. It's even more jarring when these challenges make for thoroughly entertaining television moments, but don't actually lend themselves to clear and fair rules of competition. Such was the case with tonight's Vh1 Divas Live tribute.
The idea of a bunch of drag queen dressing up as legendary pop divas and lip syncing to spoofy covers of RuPaul songs in a choreography extravaganza? Yes, please, sign me up! It's the kind of thing I want to see on TV if only just to know that it was once even allowed to be broadcast on TV.
Ask me to think about it in a way where I'm forced to evaluate the queens' individual performance against each other? Eh, not so much. Especially knowing how little input the contestants had in actually making their own decision. Let's look at the facts, shall we:
- Their assigned diva was predetermined.
- While queens are giving an idea of what kind of outfits that should bring to the show, they aren't informed of what context they'll wear them in, meaning they're mostly stuck with what they brought unless they're particularly quick and crafty.
- The lyrical performance was pre-recorded.
- The choreography was mostly decided for them. By Taylor Swift's new BFF Todrick Hall no less, but still decided for them.
So we're left to judge performances based on, what, lip movements? It's sort of like watching a tennis match where the ball is controlled by a drone and then declaring the winner based on who gripped the racket the best.
Though, if there's one thing we've learned watching Drag Race all these years it's not to get caught up too much in the judging criteria or outcomes of individual challenges. It's not like there's some secret ironclad rule book or Dog Show-liked breed-specific criteria anyway. It's best to focus on the overreaching season long challenge that basically boils down to the simple ingredients of 1) being a good drag queen 2) making for good television 3) leaving a good impression on both Mama Ru and the viewers at home.
Relax. It makes for a better viewing experiencing, and, perhaps, a better experience actually competing. Because the queens who got called out as worst of the night were the ones who ultimately got too much into their own head.
Now, on to our completely nonsensical rankings. Special attention giving to tonight's runway where the queens were challenged to update a rather sloppy look they wore on their original season into something memorable. Basically, to take it from the original version of Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Real" to the Ja Rule-assisted remix version of "I'm Real."
The Look: The gag here is that everyone with two eyes knows that the Jewel Ball outfit Ben constructed in Season 6 was actually pretty great despite what the judges thought. No shade, but she should have come out in a remix of that outfit Darianne Lake wore that episode. What she did wear was pretty, but wasn't exactly an overall evolution for Dela and just didn't have much of a payoff.
The Rest: At this point, the only thing holding Ben back from being a major frontrunner throughout this season may be her discomfort with the though of being a major frontrunner. Miss "boo hoo fish" starts the episode trying to commiserate over having to send Morgan home last episode, but most of the rest of the cast, lead by Shangela, is just like "Umm ...yes that's how this works, and you just won $10,000." It's a minor issue, and Ben sort of fades into the background during the rehearsal portion of the episode only to emerge with a truly inspired performance as a rapping Julie Andrews. You could point out that, yes, that the particularly genius absurdity of the idea was just handed to her by producers, yet it is very easy to imagine the execution of it going so very, very wrong in the hands of another queen. With her second top two win in two weeks, DeLa has assuredly rising to the top.
2. Bebe Zahara Benet
The Look: Hard to judge considering they couldn't even seem to find a full resolution picture of the original look Bebe was working from, but it was fine, just fine.
The Rest: Thanks to The Handmaid's Tale spoof in episode one, the internet is now full of conspiracy theories that Bebe is actually a (spoiler alert -- if you consider talking about completely unproven fan theories, spoilers?) mole that is somehow working for Ru on the inside. This, of course, makes little sense. If you wanted someone on the inside trying to instigate drama or shake up other competitors, why would you chose a sweetheart who seems to have s teflon-coating when it comes to drama? Also, why would you hand her the unenviable assignment of performing Diana Ross, the only diva that Ru herself truly, truly stans? What was not a conspiracy was that Bebe delivered by getting the small and specific details down pat. People unfamiliar with Diana's small, specific details may be confused by the outcome, but lets just say that she gripped that tennis racket real good, honey.
The Look: If Shangela's Season 2 Christmas look was sort of reminiscent of a rat who wandered through the ornament box in the attic, then tonight she was more of a nobel rodent you'd actually keep in your house: a proud show hamster complete with its own ball. That's a compliment if you're not following. One of the best upgrades, for sure.
The Rest: Now, instigating drama by actually staying in character as Mariah Carey during rehearsals is exactly the kind of campy drama we both need and expect from this show. Shangela knows better than most that simply making for entertaining television is one of the big unwritten rules of the show, and she's absolutely killing it on that level. She dubs herself the "Daenerys Targaryen of drag" tonight, but it's not because she's the mother of dragons, but simply because she is giving us HBO-level entertainment. Pleasure continue to give us Meryl Streep in this or any moment.
4. Trixie Mattell
The Look: It felt like a slight copout choosing the ugly dress challenge and making it even uglier, but, then, she didn't have that many looks to choice from during her original season.
The Rest: Trixie gets something of a weird edit tonight where she's mostly confined to either talking heads or commenting on other's character arcs. Her quick wit makes her a producer's dream in that respect, but we're anxious for her to breakout on other levels. Though, it wasn't her fault that doing Dolly Parton a week after she basically did June Carter Cash for the talent show didn't give her that much room to prove any versatility.
The Look: From burn victim to literal ???.
The Rest: The biggest thing we remember about Aja this episode is that she got a Tumblr meme of her "Linda Evangelista" moment turned into a t-shirt. Her Amy Winehouse was fine, but she's coming off a major highpoint in the first episode. Considering she came into the show with the most questionable "All Star" status, she's doing exactly where she needs to be right now.
The Look: The original look Milk was working with was so memorable, and this one just wasn't.... Which was, paradoxically, maybe her point?
The Rest: Buckle in kids, because Milk gave us so much to work with.
We're predisposed to love Milk, if only because she gives us so damn much to work with her at WMagazine.com She's so fashion. Seriously, did you see her early today in the latest Vivienne Westwood campaign? Trixie doesn't think anyone knows what Celine Dion wore to the Met Girl, but, girl, we do. We got your complete roundup of Met Gala looks here. We got your interview with the architect of Celine's new look, stylist Law Roach, right here. We've got you Celine Dion style evolution here. We've got her complete roundup of fashion show front row ensembles here. What we're trying to say here is we are on her level.
That being said, Milk's attitude tonight gave us uncomfortable flashbacks to Max's exit on Season 7, one of the cringiest moments the show has ever produced. Be honest, when she said the song she performed last night would be bigger than Ru's "Super Model," you sat there trying to remember what it even was. Not to belabor the point, but Milk came off tonight like what Baby Boomer's imagine a stereotypical Millennial is.
7. Chi Chi Devayne
The Look: The original was "something an extra might wear on some '80s version of The Deuce." This was at least something they'd consider letting Maggie Gyllenhaal wear on an '80s version of The Deuce.
The Rest: Her bottom three placement felt "Well, we need a three bottom three, don't we?" Her bonkers performance of Patti LaBelle was spot on, and all the judges could really read her on was some minor quibbles with her look.
Though, if there's anything we can come together and agree on is that we all just loved Vanessa Williams in Eraser. Eraser, baby, Eraser.
8. Kennedy Davenport
The Look: This was so genius that I gutted myself and rose from the ashes. High fashion? Of course not. Pageant precision meets drag camp of the highest order? Yes, queen!
Kennedy's moves were fierce as always, but there's no doubt she was thrown off by having to perform them as anyone else but Kennedy.
9. Thorgy Thor
The Look: This felt less like an upgraded remix and more like a Pokemon upgrade ...from one of the later generation of the game to boot.
The Rest: First of all, I'm getting "She's not a witch, she's actually an eccentric Gemini" printed up on a shirt right now.
Last week, we laid out the biggest challenge Thorgy had to overcome to prove she was worthy of a crown: getting out of her own head and keeping her attention on the crown. Her Stevie Nicks was actually pretty fierce, but by the standards of improving on the weaknesses she showed during her original season, well, there's no question she was amongst the worst performing tonight. How many times did we hear the word "Bob?" We would have loved to have seen Thorgy stick around for a few more episodes, for sure, but, baby, this is All Stars, and even when the challenge isn't even a real competition, someone has to go. Plus, who knows, Alaska and Chad may drag her back for another shot at the crown yet. We wouldn't complain.