Friday night's premiere episode of RuPaul's Drag Race's ninth season felt more like an extra-special sneak peek than a proper start to the competition, but you can't blame the show's producers. They got a chance to get Lady Gaga for a day (and, apparently, just for a day) and they went all in.
Sure we didn't get much in the way of character development, a proper challenge that involved more than the queens wearing things they brought from home, a real elimination or even RuPaul herself in drag (a criminal matter under other circumstances). Not even a lip sync for their lives, or any lives at all. We did, however, get to bear witness to the ultimate stunt of Gaga, the draggiest pop star of her generation, walking into the workroom like a contestant and the resulting disbelief of the contestants as they figured out who she really was.
We're still not sure who got a bigger thrill out of the moment: the queens or Gaga herself. She's a noted fan of the show (the lyric video for "Applause" featured previous contestants), and made for a exemplary judge. She cared enough to offer exact critiques, but still conveyed a respect for the art form and each queen as a contestant, though, she might have broke Willam's record for most high fashion name drops in a single episode. Everyone from Steven Klein and Philip Treacy to Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Pat McGrath got a shout out between Gaga and the queens (speaking of, when's McGrath's cameo?).
The challenge, however, was one of the flimsiest in the show's history, perhaps unsurprising given the tight time constraints. The hometown drag aspect was clever, but might have been a bit more exciting if six of the queens didn't come from just two cities. The Statue of Liberty is apparently this season's Madonna kimono. The Gaga portion, however, wasn't only a given, but a long overdue runway theme even if Gaga hadn't been present. Almost every drag queen in the country has a few head-to-toe Gaga looks in their repertoire if only for the fact they're guaranteed money makers. Most of the queen didn't disappoint in either selection or execution.
Each week we'll be offering a power rankings of the queens, based not on personal preference but rather where the seem to stand in the competition. This week however we're admittedly cheating by offering up a lot of ties. With so much going on in just an hour, we barely got to know some of the queens, and, as Ru herself said, the real competition begins next week anyway.
1. The 14th Queen
With all apologies to the other queens, the exact identity of the 14th queen will surely dominate conversation over the next week. What a true diva move: owning an episode while barely even appearing in it. Truly iconic. Let's just hope that the reveal lives up to ****it. The show sort of overplayed the return of Naysha Lopez last season, so this queen really has to live up to it. We're not even sure who would fit the bill though. Cynthia Lee Fontaine? Chi Chi? Laila?...Akashia? .
2. Nina Bo'nina Brown
113 queens haven now walked through that pink door frame, and at this point it takes a whole lot to bring something that truly feels new and exciting in terms of straight up drag to the show. Brown's makeup, less an expertly carved contour and more trompe l'oeil applied directly to the face, is definitely a first for the series, and she showed it off savvily with both her entrance look and her Georgia peach fantasy. Choosing Gaga's face covering McQueen look from the 2010 VMAs seemed like a strategic strike of genius (after applying that intricate peach face, putting on an entirely new intense makeup look seemed impossible under the time allotted). She brings something different and she seems to have the smarts. That can be a potent combination in this competition.
3. Sasha Velour
Sasha does what we assumed all hipstery Brooklyn drag queens did before we actually moved to Brooklyn, and, well, she does it quite well. It's not hard to imagine her becoming the queen that quickly becomes a fashion insider's favorite. She's certainly a girl you could easily imagine in Balenciaga or Céline, and, frankly, we fully expect to find her at one NYFW party or another come next September. Though this wasn't the most in-depth challenge, she still managed to communicate exactly what she's about while still meeting all the requirements. Plus, props to her for being the only New York queen who didn't reference the Statue of Liberty in her hometown look.
4. Eureka O'Hara
It's always a good sign for a queen when she seems to become the producers' go-to for reaction shots, cutting quotes and talking head interstitials. Between her quips and her emotional reaction to Gaga, Eureka almost single-handedly dominated the opening sequence. Her drag is the classic variety—pageant-y, yet polished. We don't expect her to shock us with something fashion forward down the road, but we don't expect her to come out looking messy either (unless, like her hometown drag—a drag in more than one sense—she intends too). If she delivers with her performance skills she'll likely stick around for quite a while (and the fact she already has a built-in storyline with her pre-existing pageant rivalry with Trinity certainly doesn't hurt her chance for longevity).
Kudos to Valentina for predicting the resurgence of the beret months before they showed up at Dior and all over Paris Fashion Week. Double props for being so polished despite just 10 months of experience in drag. She certainly stomps the runway like a queen who has been doing it ten times as long.
5. Shea Couleé
How do you know a RuPaul's Drag Race queen is from Chicago? Don't worry, she'll tell you five seconds after walking into the door. Much has been made about the city's queens going far in the competition but never taking the crown, and Shea has been positioned by the fan base as Illinois's secret weapon. In other words, she comes into the competition with perhaps unfairly high expectation and she didn't quite meet them last night. Still, anyone who can somehow make a hot dog headdress fantasy work is someone to keep an eye on.
Peppermint comes into Drag Race as the first trans queen to be open about her identity the second she walked into the workroom—a fact that episode didn't even find time to convey last night. It's indicative of the fact she kind of got lost in the shuffle, but we fully expect her to find her spotlight in later episodes.
6. Farrah Moan
Farrah walked in in a naked dress that would make even a Victoria's Secret Angel jealous, and is definitely the "fishiest" queen, as they say. She's polished and cute, but how her time on the race will play out is anyone's guess at this point—other than the fact that the producers seem to be planting the seeds for a recurring "Farrah gets on other queens' nerves, but in an endearing way" gag.
6. Charlie Hides
Hides' chosen Gaga look was honestly a pleasant surprise. She positioned herself as a comedy queen from the start, and we had expected her to play to pure Gaga camp on the runway. Instead she went for unapologetically high fashion Gaga and nailed it precisely, though it sort of made her Pilgrim drag look even more lacking in comparison. In her defense, Boston isn't exactly known for an iconic look other than baggy college sweaters and Red Sox jerseys worn with dad jeans.
6. Alexis Michelle
Another queen who correctly predicted a trend from the just concluded fashion month: adorning clothing with political sloganeering. Unfortunately, as Michelle Visage pointed out, you just couldn't read those slogans particularly well. Alexis, however, seems poised and polished, and if her supposed Broadway-ready performance skills are put to good use, we could imagine her going far.
It's nice to see a Comme Des Garçons reference on the runway, but why not just stick with the original colors in her homage? Aja might not have stolen the runway, but she is already being set up for her share of plot-lines: 1) That she's just "so New York" to the point it annoys other queens (which was kind of hilarious considering how "so New York" Gaga herself was during her stint at the judges table). 2) Her makeup is going to get criticized.
7. Trinity Taylor
Trinity Taylor was just unfortunately one-upped all night. The cards just seemed stacked against her and it wasn't even her fault. She came in bragging about her big ol' booty and being the body queen only to be upstaged by the next queen who walked in the door with an even bigger booty. Her Orlando, Florida theme park look barely made a dent after someone else walked in the door in full on Minnie Mouse paint. The fact that it included some sort of pop-up-billboard-cum-wing accoutrement after Alexis Michelle pulled the same wardrobe stunt didn't help. Then there's the fact that her purported pageant nemesis Eureka got a ticket to the top three. It might have been a case of bad luck, but it certainly wasn't her night. The good news for her is that, at the very least, her past with Eureka established a storyline for her, so we don't expect her to go home right away.
7. Kimora Black
Tied with Trinity for seventh is her sister in silicone Kimora, who is right to brag that's she's simply stunning. She didn't really stand out, and her Gaga look was one of the least exact on the runway. It wasn't just an iconic Gaga look she chose, but an iconic Versace look in and itself. Yet, it didn't look very Versace, nor even Ver-sayce for that matter. It was more the Forever 21 knockoff.
8. Jaymes Mansfield
What can we say? She was out of her element last night, but we all love a cooky underdog and she has no where to go but up.
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