Tuesday, February 25, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 1: Meet Your Queens (Well, Half of Them)

Seven contestants enter, one sashays away

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Whew, Mother Ru was really putting us THROUGH it! The wait for Season 6 was excruciatingly long, and the show had done such a masterful job building the anticipation with the cast reveal, social-media content, and killer trailers. I was honestly a little worried. Could the premiere live up to my insanely high expectations? But after Monday night’s episode, I absolutely think we’re in for a fantastic season. The queens are fierce, the show has made some clever tweaks, and perhaps most importantly, we have double the Pit Crew. We are already winning!

click to enlarge DragRace.jpg

The big twist in Episode 1 was the fact that it was actually TWO episodes. The new queens entered the Werk Room, as usual, but the number stopped at seven. That’s when RuPaul explained that they were starting the show off with two groups of queens, and that of the 14, only half would be participating in Week 1, with the other half squaring off in Week 2.

This is a brilliant switch, and part of why I love this show. Historically it has been virtually impossible to really get a sense of all the new queens when a season first starts. When you have a dozen-plus contestants it’s difficult to keep track of them, and it’s even more complicated when you’re talking about drag queens -- viewers have to identify/bond with both the male and female versions of each competitor. By focusing on just seven queens this episode we got to actually spend a little time with each one of them, and to form some early opinions. In the past you’d be able to do that for the queens who were in the bottom and top of those early episodes, but the majority just got lost in the middle.

And frankly I think some of the contestants were counting on that vast, safe middle ground to keep them safe for at least a few weeks. Not with this new format. You could see the look of terror on several queens’ faces when they realized that they just went from a 1 in 14 chance of being eliminated to a 1 in 7, with practically a third in danger of going home. I bet that more than one tuck popped when that lightning bolt hit.

So, great twist, even if it meant having to wait a whole ‘nother week to see several of the queens in which I’m most interested (including Courtney Act, Bianca del Rio, Milk, and Rochester’s Darienne Lake). In the meantime, here are my impressions of the queens in Group 1:

Adore Delano is going to be divisive -- she already is in my little viewing party. Adore is the drag persona of Danny Noriega, who was a semifinalist years ago on “American Idol.” I find Adore’s giggly brat shtick charming, and I think much of the attitude is just playing for the cameras -- it seems to be delivered with a knowing wink. What concerns me about Adore is that she seems unprepared for this competition (she even said she only brought like four or five gowns), and that she may be expecting her previous reality-show experience/notoriety to carry her. In any other season she might be right. But the competition is VERY stiff this time, and she already seemed a little rattled by the end of the episode.

Ben Delacreme is an absolute delight and one of my top picks of the season. Ben has a very specific, dizzy housewife character she works with -- think Lucy and Ethel combined -- but she does it SO well. She’s razor sharp, gives amazing face, and has killer personal style. Judge Michelle Visage worried that Ben’s character could become tiring very quickly, but even Ben gets the danger inherent in it -- she refers to herself as “terminally perky.”

Gia Gunn was more or less the bitch of this group, and frankly, I was left cold by her. Gia is relying on her fishy looks and her outrageous fashion (that hula-hoop-sized handbag was a hoot), and was awfully quick to make disparaging remarks in the talking-head interviews. But, hey, it’s a drag competition; I am fine with some shade. I’m just not convinced that Gia’s got the wit to pull it off terribly well. Plus, she delivers it with an irritating, nasal voice that I found grating. Not a fan, although there were moments in “Untucked” where I saw some likable qualities shining through.

LaganjaEstranja is similar to Gia, in the fact that there is a loud, self-satisfied façade going on, but I think underneath there’s more to Laganja. She made a hell of an entrance with her death drops, and I love her colorful, playful style. She’s also quite funny. But she is very “on,” almost to the point of exhaustion. Even RuPaul said that she’s trying way too hard, and needs to just trust in herself. With Laganja it’s not difficult to see a kid with a lot of talent and a lot of smarts, but someone in desperate need of approval/attention. I think the show is setting her up for a redemption edit, and I welcome it. She’s got some rough edges that need sanding down, but I think she’s talented and has a real “it” factor.

April Carrion is my dark horse for the season. I initially dismissed her as just another pretty but uninspiring Latin queen, but she’s got oodles of potential. Yes, she is gorgeous. But she’s also got an adventurous sense of style and lots of ambition. This is a queen who is doing some interesting things with gender and takes chances. She was given arguably the hardest assignment in the main challenge and she nailed it, coming up with something unexpected. She also seems like a sweetheart. Very interested to see more of this queen.

Vivacious had me roaring with laughter, both intentionally and otherwise. Her entrance was a perfect “Drag Race” moment, with her fake alien head Ornacia giving us WTF and the inability to open the costume following that up with a LOL. Her photo shoot also provided some “bless her heart” responses, but I thought she did fine on the main challenge. One thing’s for certain: Mother knows how to work a goddamned runway. And I could listen to the endearing string of nonsense coming out of her mouth all night long.

Kelly Mantle came into the competition with huge expectations -- she is already a fairly big deal in the national/international drag scene, and has an extensive list of showbiz credentials. Unfortunately, this show might not have been a great showcase of her talents. I think the change in format threw her for a loop. I think she expected to be able to coast for at least a little while, but the sudden pressure and an admitted lack of sewing skills led to a fairly uninspiring look for the runway (and a fairly bad photo shoot as well). Still, I liked what we saw of Kelly, and felt bad for her.

The past tense in the preceding paragraph was intentional, because Kelly was the first queen cut after falling into the Bottom 2 opposite Vivacious. (That second spot was somewhat controversial -- while Kelly’s “Downton Abbey”-inspired look was pretty obviously doomed, I thought Vivacious’s Mary J. Blige goes “Game of Thrones” look kind of worked, and the dress had specific callbacks to Daenarys. Adore’s was a straight-up mess and she knew it.) The lipsynch to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” sealed the deal, as it was clearly more in Vivacious’ wheelhouse (Kelly also seemed to struggle a bit with the words). On the good side, Ben won the challenge for his elaborate glued dress in homage to “The Golden Girls” (complete with cheesecake), and April was praised for taking chances.

Kelly going home first basically proves that this season, nobody is safe. For one, she’s already got a legit career and serious name recognition. She’s a pro at this, not some club queen just giving it a shot. Secondly, several of the spoilers I read had her going far, even all the way to F3. That suggests that there’s no reliable leak out right now, and I’m delighted about that. (Predictions: of this group, Vivacious will be next to go, followed by either Adore or Gia. I expect Ben, April, and Laganja to make it fairly far, and I will be sad if/when any of them get eliminated.)

Guest judge Adam Lambert did a fine job, and I loved him flirting with April. I will confess that I’m confused as to why Santino continues to be a judge on this show, especially given his bafflingly high praise of Gia’s runway outfit. He’s supposed to be a bringing a fashion eye, right?

Finally, a few notes on “Untucked.” 1) I can’t believe it’s no longer the Interior Illusions Lounge! My worldview is crumbling. (My viewing party also noted that Absolut no longer seems to be a sponsor; hmmm…) 2) I think the producers expected more drama out of this group, particularly Gia, because the discussion was a bit of a snooze fest. 3) The most worrisome part of the episode was Gia’s blatant attempt for camera time by bringing up her family struggles, which was then immediately coopted by a teary Laganja. We have hit a point on this show where the queens know what the cameras want, and they’re giving it to them in the most calculated way possible, like the kids on latter-season "Real World." I’m not saying that any of that was insincere -- it definitely seemed like Laganja has issues with his mother -- but it was difficult to not see the whole scene as a bid for attention. Perhaps it’s time for the producers to shake up the “Untucked” format as well. The main episode showed that it can be a real boon when they try something new.

Next week: we meet the second seven, including hometown girl Darienne Lake! And Courtney Act continues to freak out a nation of straight men who refuse to believe that she is not a biological woman. (Seriously, folks, THAT is a fishy queen.)

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