Tuesday, April 8, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episodes 7 & 8: Rupersize Me

Back-to-back episodes, but only one elimination

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 1:17 AM

It’s a testament to this show that Monday night’s two-hour extravaganza flew by with a quickness. (It would have been three hours, but the bar where I was watching decided it was more important to blare Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” than it was to turn up the volume for “Untucked,” so I’ll have to catch those later.) Both the sixth and seventh episodes continued the high overall quality of this season, with the seventh episode in particular containing several memorable moments. And although we only lost one queen tonight instead of two, I think this is a truly excellent Top 7 -- and there are at least two queens in the mix who I never expected to get half this far.

I’m still not entirely sure why the show decided to air back-to-back episodes. I suspect the non-elimination in Episode 7 may have contributed (although the series has done that before, without doubling up on episodes). But I’ll give a brief description of the action from each episode before going on to an individual analysis of the queens.

Episode 7 started with an amusing, but pointless, fake-nail/produce modeling challenge that Laganja Estranja won after motorboating a sweet potato -- as you do. The main challenge saw RuPaul splitting up the remaining eight queens into four teams of two so that they could film commercials pitching Ru’s real-life make-up line. The pairs were Laganja and Adore Delano, repping for high-school mean girls; Trinity K. Bonet and Bianca Del Rio as “working girls”; Courtney Act and Joslyn Fox as housewives; and Ben DeLaCreme and Darienne Lake as cougars. If those pairs seem odd, it’s because the show was trying to create as much drama as possible by pairing up contestants who have previously had beef with one another -- or whom the show would like viewers to believe held some grudges (I am dubious on almost all counts).

While the results were entertaining, Episode 7 was easily the weaker of the two outings due to the heavy hand of the producers casting a shadow on nearly every moment. The team assignments were just the start. The editing made it seem like every team struggled, while clearly almost all the contestants did well. The judges’ critiques were all over the damned place, and thank goodness for guest judge Leah Remini bringing some sense to the proceedings, because everyone else on panel was almost totally off base (I was especially disappointed by guest judge Lainie Kazan, who I found myself booing by the end of the show).

But most egregious was the actual placement of the teams, which bore very little reflection to reality. None of the teams full-on bombed, but somehow Laganja and Adore got the win despite being thoroughly mediocre -- Adore did better than average, but she was dragged down by Laganja’s continually weird, offputting affect. And Ben and Darienne ended up in the bottom, after the judges were indifferent to their blatantly comic take on the material. I’d like to point out that this is a show that rewarded Stacy Layne Matthews for eating chicken wings on camera during the exercise infomerical in Season 3, but now apparently cougars can’t make jokes about plastic surgery because it’s confusing or diminishes the product. OK.

To me the clear losers of the challenge were Adore and Laganja (especially Laganja), while the obvious winners were Trinity and Bianca, both of whom were hilarious. Courtney and Joslyn and Darienne and Ben fell in the middle.

The lipsynch to “Point of No Return” by Expose was fun and both queens were on point. The edit suggested that Darienne won it, as she was called safe first (probably for the faux tip-taking bit), but I thought the camera actually seemed to be trained more on Ben’s performance. Regardless, both were spared for what I consider a fairly cheap ploy on the producers’ parts to shake up Ben, and to start Ben’s underdog edit after she was such a packleader for the first half of the competition.

Side note: everyone killed that black-and-white runway, with Trinity and Adore in particular really snatching attention, and Courtney wisely changing things up with a Klaus Nomi-inspired work. So much for “resting on pretty”!

The second episode that aired tonight was MUCH stronger. This one saw a minichallenge in which the queens had to paint their chins and lipsynch upside down == just go with it -- and somehow Joslyn won despite Adore being laugh-out-loud funny during it. (I am convinced at this point that the minichallenge winners are preordained and are chosen solely on who needs a story arc/who will present the most drama.) The main challenge was a stand-up comedy routine performed in front of a room full of senior citizens. Three queens really excelled here: Darienne, Biancea, and, shockingly, Trinity. That was the really lovely surprise of this episode. Trinity’s arc throughout the show has been a performer with oodles of potential who keeps wrestling with self confidence. She was terrific in this challenge, arguably bolstered by tough love from Ru and encouraging words from Bianca (Bianca is getting SUCH a good edit on this show). But the performance was 100 percent Trinity, and it was revelatory. I expected Darienne and Bianca to be good, and they were. I expected Trinity to suck, and she was awesome.

That’s why I was surprised that the win went to Bianca -- it seemed fairly obvious -- instead of Trinity, who really pushed herself out of her comfort zone. Less successful were Courtney, who covered for her lack of comedy chops by singing a frankly underwhelming song; Joslyn, who started strong but quickly flatlined; Adore, who panicked and filled her set with a string of expletives; Ben, who surprisingly bombed the challenge (and who should have been in the bottom for this episode); and Laganja, who just totally sucked. As Michelle Visage put it, she gave us 0 humor.

Both Laganja and Adore had minimeltdowns on the runway, with Laganja’s being far more irritating to me. Basically, it came down to the fact that Laganja has been trying really hard, you guys, and back home everyone loves her. It is so difficult for her to be in this competition when all she hears is criticism, even when she’s succeeding. I am still fascinated by exactly what Laganja thought was going to happen when she went on this show. Based on her reaction, she sincerely seemed to think that she would be praised episode after episode, because any little criticism leaves her a shell of a queen. She also rejected Michelle Visage’s dead-on critique that her overly animated kiki schtick was just that -- a schtick -- and if Laganja really thinks that act is who she really is, I am concerned for her mental well being. I’ve seen porn actors with more believable personas than Laganja Estranja. (“I swear, I’ve never been with a guy before! I am straight and married!” The lady doth protest too much.)

Laganj ended up in the Bottom 2 against Joslyn, and honestly, I’m not sure that was right, either. I adore Ben, but to me she was easily the second weakest in the challenge after Estranja -- at least Joslyn got in one good joke. Ben shot off a rapid-fire series of jokes, not one of which landed. But Joslyn faced off with Laganja to “Stupid Girls” by Pink, and I got the sense for the first half of the song that Ganja had already checked out. She removed her wig within a few seconds. To me, that’s almost an automatic DQ. Things picked up after the synchronized jump split from the two of them -- that was fun -- but Joslyn overall seemed more committed, and was giving us some fairly convincing stripper-esque moves. So she stayed, while Laganja was eliminated. I can’t imagine anyone will miss her terribly. For her sake I hope she takes a seat, take a breath (not from the bong), and comes to grips with the fact that not everything is about her, and that’s perfectly fine.

That leaves a Final 7 that is, I think, one of the strongest groups we’ve ever had. Sure, there are some weaknesses in the mix. But all of these queens have surprised us in one way or another these past few months. That said, I definitely have my favorites. Some notes on the specific queens:

-Adore Delano: I continue to like Adore more and more, and she stepped up her look this week, particularly in the black-and-white runway. Polish has been her major weakness thus far, but there is obviously talent there. And the charisma is shining through more and more. Her breakdown on the runway after flubbing the comedy challenge doesn’t bode well for her going forward.

-Ben DeLaCreme: Ben had a rough go of it these two episodes, and her edit is changing from frontrunner to underdog. Michelle’s stupid “you’re too much of a character/costume" critique is such infuriating bullshit. These are DRAG QUEENS. By definition they are CHARACTERS wearing COSTUMES. If you dislike her Rose-Nylund-on-speed thing, then say that. But if you dislike Rose Nylund on speed, I question your taste level and also whether you are maybe dead inside. Still, Ben’s recent missteps actually may work to her advantage, as she can “improve” in this final third, despite the fact that she’s already an amazingly strong queen.

-Bianca Del Rio: Perfection in every way. There is literally nothing to critique about Bianca. As Bruce Vilanch said, “She’s the real deal.” That is the power of Bianca. I’m agreeing with Bruce effing Vilanch.

-Courtney Act: After getting read for “resting on pretty” last week, I expected more from Courtney these two episodes. I have defended Courtney in the past, and will continue to do so. But what I realized these episodes is that Courtney is quite calculated. Not a bad thing, but it’s also not going to be enough at this point. She didn’t trust her comedy skills to just do stand up, so she threw in a song -- a fairly unimpressive song. I suspect the internet is about to turn on Courtney for being “mean” to human Bambi Joslyn, but I had a hard time disagreeing with any of her critiques of Ms. Fox. But all that said, Courtney needs a win, or at least a Top 3 placement, very soon, or she’s not going to make the cut for the finale.

-Darienne Lake: I still think it was bullshit that Darienne and Ben were in the Bottom 2 in Episode 7, and it was no surprise that she finished in the top during the comedy challenge. That’s where she excels. The black-and-white runway was arguably her best yet. Darienne continues to get the bitter edit, but please note -- Darienne is rarely saying anyone’s names in her dismissive talking-head reaction shots. She could have been referring to the cheap toilet paper in the hotel rooms for all we know. I can’t imagine she’s overly thrilled with her edit these past few weeks, nor the fact that she’s had to lipsynch twice already. It is rare that a queen survives a third LSFYL, especially when we still have three queens in the Top 7 -- Bianca, Courtney, Adore -- who have never had to lispynch ONCE.

-Joslyn Fox: Joslyn was decent in the infomercial, and I was really hoping she’d be stronger In the stand-up. But she wasn’t. Not Bottom 2 material, but she still has yet to really slay a challenge -- and time is running out. I don’t disagree with Courtney that Joslyn’s drag isn’t really up to the level of many of the remaining queens, and Joslyn doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to elevate her game. I think she’s a sweet queen, a pretty queen, and a funny queen. I think she’s a lock for Miss Congeniality. But she has yet to fully distinguish herself in this competition, especially when compared to the likes of Bianca and Ben. Joslyn’s fans are legion, and I suspect she’ll have a great post-show career. But as for the show itself, I feel like her black horse is starting to get lathered.

-Trinity K. Bonet: Meanwhile, Trinity is surging unexpectedly in this competition. She has consistently confounded my expectations, even while often frustrating the living shit out of me. But I thought she was more or less flawless in the challenges these two episodes, and looked stunning on the runways. I don’t know how much further Trinity can go, but I’m so impressed by this queen after these back-to-back episodes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 1: “Two Swords”

The moral of the story is, if The Hound wants chicken, y'all better give him some chicken

Posted By on Mon, Apr 7, 2014 at 12:59 AM

As the show gets further into the source material, and as the books continue to be released at George R. R. Martin’s glacial pace, the producers’ approach to adaptation is going to get interesting. We saw more evidence of that with the fourth season premiere, in which I would guess at least one-third of the scenes were created entirely for the show -- meaning they never took place in the books at all -- or were significantly altered due to omitted book story arcs or a rearranging of characters/timelines. It’s not bad or good, necessarily. It’s just interesting to see how even some subtle changes can spin things in totally different directions (see: the Jaime/Cersei situation).

Before we get into the details of this season premiere -- which was a solid opening salvo that did its job of reestablishing (most of) our cast and their various situations -- I want to pause and note just how gorgeous this episode looked. The production values for this show keep getting better, and there were several scenes this episode that really impressed. Daenerys’s dragons are, of course, the CGI gift to and curse of this show, but that final shot of the episode, with The Hound and Arya riding into the smoldering Westeros countryside -- just stunning.

Anyway, onward. Spoilers below. You’re warned.

We’ll start in King’s Landing, which continues to be the nexus of the show. Preparations are underway for the impending wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell of Highgarden, much to literally everyone’s chagrin. The big development this episode was the arrival of the contingent from Dorne, which is essentially the Westerosi equivalent of Spain to our United States. (That comparison is particularly apt when you consider the exchange between the Dornish prince and the lesser Lannisters in the brothel; the subtext about American exceptionalism is barely sub, it’s really just text.) Tyrion is shocked to discover that the ruling prince of Dorne has stayed at home, and sent his brother, Oberyn, in his stead.

I don’t think the show ever mentioned it, but Oberyn is known as the Red Viper, and he is absolutely deadly in combat. We saw bits of that this episode, and we’ll see more, as Oberyn couldn’t give a shit about Joff’s wedding. He’s here for revenge. His sister, Elia, was the wife of Rhaegar Targaryen, and she and her children were brutally murdered during the rebellion that put Robert Baratheon on the throne. Oberyn specifically blames Gregor Clegane, a.k.a. The Mountain, who allegedly raped and then murdered Elia, but he reserves some of his venom for Tywin Lannister, The Mountain’s master, and Tywin’s family. (I will pause here to note that the situation with Elia, Rhaegar, Robert, and Lyanna Stark is way more complicated than what’s on the surface, and even in the books there’s a lot of conjecture about what actually happened there.)

Most of the scenes with Oberyn were wholly invented for the show, especially the brothel sequence designed to show us that Oberyn is a) a manwhore, b) a bisexual, c) kind of a badass, and d) totally hot. And it also served to give the viewers some prossie boob/vagine action. Oberyn’s “paramour,” Ellaria Sand, is one to watch. And I don’t mean in a perverted way. (But sure, that way, too.)

The bride-to-be, Margaery, had a brief scene with The Queen of Thorns that, again, we never saw in the books (neither character is a narrator), and another with Brienne of Tarth that gave us a belated wrap-up to her being falsely accused of murdering Poor Dead Gay Renly. Really it allowed Brienne to interact with the Highgarden crew without having everyone try to kill her every time she’s on screen. And the sequence with the Queen of Thorns underscored that everyone on Team Margaery is freaked out by Joffrey and his psychopathic ways.

Brienne also got some closure on her quest to find the late Catelyn Stark’s missing kids, as she saw -- but did not speak to -- Sansa at King’s Landing. Without going into detail, this somewhat complicates Brienne’s long-term story arc, because again -- never happened in the books. Neither Jaime nor Brienne should be in King’s Landing prior to the Joffrey/Margaery wedding. Although a few scenes -- particularly the exchange between Joffrey and Jaime in which Joff just shits all over his uncle/father -- made me glad that the producers moved that plot point up. Watching Jaime silently shoot death beams at his insufferable, inbred son is never not going to be great. And the inevitable smackdown that he will give Joffrey will be ever so juicy.

But this rejiggering of the Brienne/Jamie plotline significantly complicates the Jaime/Cersei dynamic. If the scene between the siblings/lovers this episode felt off to you, that’s because it doesn’t really make any sense. Cersei is furious at Jaime for leaving her and taking so long to get back to her, and…what? I mean, Cersei is a full-on crazy bitch, but that is nonsensical given how desperate she was when Jaime was captured by Robb and in danger. She has really no logical motivation to be angry at him, and every reason to throw herself at him. For his part, Jaime is seeing literally everything he believed in turn to ash around him, and he will continue to become one of the most weirdly sympathetic characters in the cast. Think about how awful he was in Season 1 and how much you love him now. That is one of Martin’s great tricks.

Viewers have always loved Tyrion, but I’ll be curious to see how the show handles what’s coming for him in the near future. Already we’re getting a kinder, gentler version of The Imp with his pushing away of Shay in an attempt to honor his complicated, and unwanted, marriage to Sansa. And Shay is clearly not having any of it, so that storyline is rolling along nicely. As for Sansa, she is deep in mourning for her brother and mother, and now has something else to worry about -- the creepy overtures by court fool Dontos, the drunken knight she saved from Joffrey’s wrath seasons ago. I wondered last season if they were writing the Dontos plotline out, but apparently they were just saving it. But book readers, help me out on this one -- I sincerely can’t remember -- did Dontos give Sansa the necklace (in the book it was a hairnet) with the purple jewels? I don’t recall that ever explicitly being mentioned, and in fact I think that another source for that accessory was indirectly suggested. (In case you couldn’t pick up, that necklace is actually a crucial plotpoint.)

Outside of King’s Landing, the Wildlings that made it south of The Wall continue to prepare for their assault on Castle Black. Ygritte and Jormund Giantsbane -- who are none too happy with one another over the whole Jon Snow things -- are joined by a pack of Thenns, who reveal that their hobbies include ritualistic scarification and eating people. Now is the time for the inevitable “Game of Thrones”/”Walking Dead” crossover! At actual Castle Black, Jon is put on trial for his crimes against the Night’s Watch while serving undercover as a Wilding. He is eventually let off the hook (kind of), but not before human pile of pig vomit Janos Slynt (former head of the King’s Landing Gold Cloaks before being banished by Tyrion) tried to have Jon beheaded. He’s a nice man. Jon was saved by not giving a fuck, and by MaesterAemon, who made a fairly cryptic remark about growing up in King’s Landing. I forget: has the show made his backstory explicit at this point? I feel like it has.

Over in Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys and her ever-growing company of Dothraki, Unsullied, and freed slaves continue toward Mereen, and they discover a surprise left by the slavers: at every mile marker a slave corpse has been strung up, pointing toward the city. Personally I just make snickerdoodles, but I guess every welcome wagon operates differently. The real interest in the Dany plotline came from the alarming growth in her dragons -- they are now eating goats more or less whole, and the black one, Drogon, is particularly big. And we have a new actor playing DaarioNaharis, and he actually looks like a man, so that is an improvement. He’s still a little charisma deficient, but in his brief scenes he was already a more believable suitor for Dany than Puny McGirlhair. So thank you, show. But I’ll need to see him shirtless before I can fully sign off on this casting. You understand.

Finally, in a sequence that was almost identical to how it went down in the books, The Hound and Arya came upon a pack of The Mountain’s goons robbing/murdering/raping a tavern, and Arya got some revenge -- and more importantly, was reunited with her sword, Needle. I have not been overly enthused about Rory McCann’s portrayal of The Hound up until this point, but I thought he was terrific in this episode. It’s not surprising, as I suspect that working with Arya kind of raises everyone’s game (Tywin is always great, but his S2 scenes with Arya remain his best). Hound and Arya make for a great pair and I’m excited to see how the show treats that storyline in particular.

We didn’t get to see Bran and his folks beyond the Wall; Stannis and Melisandre; Asha Greyjoy; Theon and his captor, Ramsay Snow (which is interesting, because Dreadfort was shown on the map in the beginning); or Littlefinger and his…shenanigans. Did I miss anyone? What parts of the premiere did you enjoy? What did you haaaaaate? Are we upset about the dearth of male nudity? Do we want more dragons?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 6: Rap Battle Extravaganza

Queens that blew your mind – ding! – it’s the sixth round

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Confession: I’d been somewhat dreading this episode all week, ever since the 10-minute preview was released after “Snatch Game.” In that clip, the editors focused on building up a rivalry between frontrunner Ben DeLaCreme and Rochester’s own Darienne Lake, and specifically included Darienne making some pointed remarks about DeLa. I watched last Tuesday as social media and discussion forums turned swiftly and brutally against Darienne. I cringed.


But here’s the thing: it was a tempest in a teapot, and truthfully, I don’t think Darienne said anything about Ben that was out of line. And for what it’s worth, Ben wasn’t exactly an innocent victim -- she was crowing a bit about her two challenge wins, and being arguably needy about Darienne not picking her for this challenge -- Darienne’s rational for her choices was perfectly sound. So on the whole I don’t think Darienne came off as badly as everyone was making her out to be, and I don’t think Ben escaped the episode with her sterling reputation unscathed. And I need to quickly interject: I effing love Ben DeLaCreme. She’s one of my very favorite queens to ever appear on this show. But the editors are hellbent on creating a rivalry between the two of them, and I don’t think either one of them is looking great because of it. Ben is accusing Darienne of being a Bitter Betty. Darienne is accusing Ben of being full of herself. I think there’s truth in both statements. And a whole lot of exaggeration of that truth courtesy of the folks in the editing bay.

This whole episode seemed to be about rivalries -- we also got more of Laganja v. Adore, Gia vs. everyone, and even some Joslyn vs. Trinity -- right down to the challenges. The mini-challenge was the annual opening of the Library, where all of the contestants were given a pair of reading glasses and encouraged to insult one another. I thought it was one of the better installments of the Library, as even some of the weaker contestants got in a couple of surprisingly good digs -- in the case of Trinity K. Bonet, she looked in the mirror and read herself. In the end, Darienne took the mini-challenge, which allowed her to pick the teams for the main challenge, a 90’s rap-inspired music video, with each of the contestants tasked with writing and rapping her own verse.

Of the nine remaining contestants, few had any natural affinity for rap. So the video shoot (guided by rap veterans Trina and Eve) was painful to watch, but in a mostly funny way. Almost all the queens stumbled, and every one of them looked ridiculous in a delightfully 90’s kind of way. (I cannot wait for the inevitable .gifs of MILK in this episode, especially her dance moves that I assumed were inspired by a newly born foal.) Darienne chose wisely when picking her team of mostly young performer types -- Courtney Act, LaganjaEstranja, Adore Delano, and Bianca Del Rio -- and that team seemed to fare better on the whole than the Ru-Tang Clan (bless), featuring Ben, Trinity, MILK, and Joslyn Fox.

The runway -- with the theme of “Crazy Sexy Cool” -- was largely a dud, with the queens either coming out in overly layered, unflattering looks (Joslyn, Laganja) or something resoundingly bland (Darienne, Bianca -- although her makeup was stunning tonight). The only real standouts were Trinity, giving us, per RuPaul, “black Cher,” Ben DeLaCreme in pastel “Doctor Zhivago” couture, and Courtney Act, who emerged from a sleeping bag wearing nothing but lingerie and major bedhead.

And then there was MILK, who last week was told explicitly by the judges that they needed to see straight-up glamour from her instead of the cooky offbeat looks she had been serving up so far. MILK listened, to a degree, by toning down the cracked-out make-up and giving us a kind of variation on a fishtail gown. But the polish was lacking (which is weird -- based on pre-show photos MILK really CAN do glamour), and that, coupled with an unassured rap-challenged performance, meant that MILK was in the Bottom 2.

She ended up lipsynching against Trinity K. Bonet to “Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa/En Vogue. Trinity looked astonishing on the runway, but her rap was unimpressive, and worse, she offered up a string of excuses. Ru even cut her off midway through one of her sentences (at least per the editing), which is a clear sign that Mother is over it. But Trinity slayed that lipsynching, looking like Naomi Campbell and giving FACE FACEFACE (you might even say Beauty Face) and some slinky floor action, so she lived another day.

That meant MILK was eliminated, and that gave several members of our viewing party The Sads. MILK has had such a fascinating trajectory on this show. I don’t think anybody knew who she even was prior to the Season 6 cast announcement, at which point she became and instant hit with fans of the show. People responded so positively to her avant-garde, playful shock aesthetic that I suspect MILK and the rest of the Dairy Queens were more than a little shocked themselves. MILK even said upon her exit that she appreciated RuPaul allowing her to be herself -- as if that surprised her. But MILK, dear, all of us only wanted you to be the best MILK you can be. Ice-cold, organic, grass-fed cow MILK.

Unfortunately, aside from wowing us with her Hermaphrodite Realness in the first episode, MILK never really distinguished herself in any of the other challenges. I don’t think it was a lack of ability, or a lack of competitiveness -- MILK was in figure skating prior to getting into drag, which is only slight less cutthroat than high-seas piracy. I wonder if it was a case of MILK not taking her chance at the tiara seriously enough, because she really had a huge groundswell of support everywhere I looked. She’s got the goods. And now that she’s seen how much America loves her and her unique brand of drag, I suspect she could be a serious force should she ever come back for an all-stars season. (Lee Press-On Nails crossed.)

A few notes on the other remaining queens:

-Bianca may be getting the best edit of any contestant I have ever seen on this show. I’m not kidding. She’s a challenge monster. She’s quick and hilarious. She’s bitchy, but in a fun way. She suffers absolutely no foolery. And almost every episode now has a Mama Bianca moment where she reaches out a hand to one of the younger queens. This week it was Trinity, after Trinity made her announcement about being HIV-positive. And Bianca was totally lovely with it. Her hair and make-up were also stunning this episode. There’s almost no way that Bianca doesn’t make it to F3 at this point, right? I mean, we haven’t even gotten to the comedy challenge or the major sewing challenges yet, and those are her strengths.

-RuPaul called out Courtney Act for “resting on pretty” and “being a cliché.” Ouch. I actually think that was a bit harsh for Courtney, who -- lest we forget -- won the musical challenge two episodes ago, did very well in the horror challenge, and seemed to do fine in Snatch Game. I also thought her rap verse was solid and ended with a great punchline. But I’ve had debates with people about how Courtney isn’t living up to expectations, and I wonder how much of this middle-of-the-pack stuff is deliberate strategy on Courtney’s part. She’s not dumb. She’s done reality TV before. And she knew she came in as a major, major threat. The smart thing for her to do was let off the gas for a bit to let everyone else catch up, so that she can really show off in the second half of the race. Of course, for that to be true, she really needs to kill it going forward. And I suspect she can do it. Because if what she’s been turning in thus far has been Courtney “resting on pretty,” imagine what she can do when she gets aggressive.

-Joslyn Fox finally placed in the top group for the first time. The internet loves Joslyn -- she is basically the human, drag-queen form of Princess Unikitty from “The Lego Movie.” Joslyn looked great in the video, but her runway is still a mess -- and she knows that, but seems hellbent on sticking to her reverse-Coco-Channel approach (look in the mirror and put on every fucking thing in your jewelry box, and then go steal all your neighbor’s accessories, too). I do think we’re due for a big Joslyn breakthrough in the next challenge or two. She is within breast-groping distance of F6 at this point, and if you’d told me that when the season started, I would have slapped your beautiful face.

-I started coming around on Adore last episode, but this episode I fully fell in love with her. Absolute riot, and surprisingly so -- I was not expecting that level of consistent comedy to come from Ms. Delano. She has had an arc very similar to Alaska last season: big pre-show expectations, very weak initial showings, confidence builds, emerges as a surprisingly strong contender. Adore is unlike Alaska in that her runway is still absolutely dreadful. Those raggedy wigs and that shin-length dress -- girl. NO. You are better than that! Her rap was great and she had a terrific look and attitude in the video. She deserved that challenge win. But someone please take this child by the hand and lead her to the nearest quality purveyor of wigs.

-Speaking of quality wigs, I have to compliment LaganjaEstranja on hers. She really has some serious hair. Unfortunately, that’s the only nice thing I’ll say about Laganja. I don’t know if the editors are deliberately only airing the most infuriating things that come out of her mouth, or if she really is that clueless and self-absorbed. I fear it is the latter, and I weep for a generation. But this episode was another strong collection in the Eyerolls by Laganja line, including her statement that, “In the real world, I’m used to winning, so it’s hard to hear my colleagues getting praised” (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much), and her DERP-grade double-talk about Adore in “Untucked.” But the worse sin is that this queen -- who really can rap (she spit a great verse on her pre-show RuPaul cover) -- was mediocre in a challenge basically tailor made for her. “This is the challenge I’ve been waiting for!” Laganja cried at the reveal. First, why have you been waiting? Show us something worth keeping you around. Second, even after all that, you STILL didn’t show up. What a disappointment she has turned out to be.

Finally, in “Untucked” the girls got a letter from last episode’s eliminee, Gia Gunn, and Gia was predictably awful in it. I get that the eliminated queens can be bitter (and seriously, for those accusing Darienne of being bitter, Gia’s letter was like stuffing your mouth with arugula), but Gia really came for the remaining queens. She was excessively nasty in that letter, particularly to MILK, Bianca, and Joslyn. What an unpleasant queen. I sincerely never want to hear from her again.

Next week: TWO episodes back to back, followed by TWO episodes of “Untucked.” That bizarre arrangement makes me suspect that we’ll get a non-elimination episode. I think we’re due.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 5: Snatch Game!

Or: Shut up, Laganja Estranja

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

This episode, and its companion “Untucked,” were so stuffed with great moments that there wasn’t even time for a mini-challenge. RuPaul skipped the foreplay and got straight to the kaikai -- Snatch Game, the challenge that separates the true queens from the pretenders to the throne.

While the Snatch Game itself proved one of the better editions in series history, the episode as a whole majorly changed my opinions on several of the contestants. Some rose in my estimation (Adore, Joslyn), some dropped (MILK), and some I am completely, totally over (LAGANJA).


The best way to handle this is to go queen by queen, starting from the top and going to the bottom.

BenDeLaCreme was the surprise winner of the challenge, although at this point, Ben winning really shouldn’t be a shock. He’s done so well so far, but Ben admitted to being nervous about Snatch Game, and RuPaul was openly dismissive of Ben’s plan to portray Maggie Smith. But Ben absolutely killed it. Funny, witty, great retorts, totally in character, and looked amazing on the RuPaul-themed runway. Ben is a huge threat, and VERY likable. But I continue to be so nervous for him. I realize it’s the same fear I had for Jinkx, Sharon, and Raja in their seasons -- these are all special queens who are so good at what they do. But what about that one week where they’re asked to do something at which they DON’T excel? Ben claimed that impersonations are not his thing, and that Snatch Game worried him. False modesty? Deliberately lowering expectations? I don’t know. I just know that I adore everything about Ben (the fact that he’s a fellow member of the Former Fatty Club only endears him to me more), and I want desperately for him to be there until the end. But y’all are making me SWEAT IT.

Bianca Del Rio was largely assumed to be the winner of this challenge based on her character choice of Judge Judy -- brilliant, and brilliantly executed -- and because Bianca is just generally awesome. And Bianca lived up to the hype in the Snatch Game, more or less running the proceedings with her gavel (and her putdowns). Where Bianca likely lost the win was the runway, where her RuPaul ensemble looked an awful lot like just another Bianca gown. Now, let’s be real: any Bianca look is still better than the majority of the looks that come down that runway. But she’s not giving us a ton of variation on that front, and this is the part where the judges are going to start asking to see more aspects of her drag. And I believe that’s something Bianca can give us, if she chooses to do so.

Adore Delano stunned me this week. Here is a case of a queen picking the absolute perfect Snatch Game character -- Anna Nicole Smith -- and nailing it to the wall. Adore’s take on Anna Nicole was totally over the top, but deliberately so, and blisteringly funny. I never thought of Adore as a great comedian before, but she has comic chops, and that charisma we keep hearing about was in full effect tonight. She also stepped it up on the runway, thanks in part to Bianca helping her with a cincher. (She still has a long way to go on her presentation skills, however.) I also was very pleased to see Adore separate herself from the Kiddie Pool (Laganja and Gia) on “Untucked,” specifically calling out Laganja’s almost pathological victim shtick (more on that in a second). Very pleased with her this week.

Darienne Lake probably just missed out on being in the top, which is an indication of the strength of this Snatch Game. Darienne was great as Paula Deen, getting in some sharp one-liners delivered with a melted-butter Southern accent. She also looked great on the runway, evoking RuPaul’s Eartha Kitt homage.

Courtney Act was safe, and from what we saw of her Fran Drescher impersonation, she did well in Snatch Game. She looked incredible on the runway. I wondered -- did she borrow the “wings” from Darienne? We saw Darienne use something that looked just like them in Episode 3…

Joslyn Fox portrayed “Real Houswife” Teresa Giudice, and this was the episode where I finally made up my mind on Joslyn. The ditzy thing is an act. She is playing this game very shrewdly, mostly flying under the radar but still doing well enough in the challenges to get positive notices, while simultaneously endearing herself to the other queens and the viewers at home. At this point she has to be the lead candidate for Miss Congeniality. But she’s more than just pretty and sweet. Joslyn had some very funny lines as Teresa, who is not a character I think of as naturally funny. That took work, yet Joslyn made it seem easy. I had totally dismissed her early on, but she’s definitely got potential. She needs to up her wardrobe, but I want to see more of her, for sure.

Trinity K. Bonet is another one that inspires conflicting thoughts -- and that’s just based on this episode alone. Her Nicki Minaj focused way too much on the wigs and seemed like an endless line of missed opportunities (based on what we saw, at least). Her runway gown -- which she apparently made herself -- was stunning, and I suspect helped save her from Bottom 3. Her defeatist attitude in “Untucked” was exhausting, but when she explained her frustration over feeling mocked for her speech impediment by Santino (something RuPaul denies), I felt for her. And then when she disclosed her HIV-positive status, and got the video from her mother, you couldn’t help but root for her. The problem is, Trinity is not rooting for Trinity. Not fully. I don’t get the feeling that Trinity believes she can really do this. She said this very episode that she’s not the best. There is obvious talent there, and there are moments when I really relate to this young queen. And then there are moments when I find her frustrating. But the bottom line is, like Joslyn, Trinity is so much more interesting than I expected. I am hopeful that her “moments” in “Untucked” this episode light a fire in her. Preferably one fed by those tragic Nicki Minaj wigs.

MILK is tragic for entirely different reasons. I had no idea who MILK was until the Season 6 cast announcement. Then I instantly loved him. I’ve loved all of the clips I’ve seen online of MILK (the “He went to Jared!” one cracks me up). My expectations were super high, and they were met in that first episode. Since then it has been a slow slide to -- I’m going to say it -- mediocrity. MILK is obviously a smart, interesting queen. I just wish that the performance level matched up with the sharp visual aesthetic. MILK’s Julia Child was a whiff. The same could be said of his performance in the horror challenge, and the Grizabella character last week wasn’t great, either. The Work Room Ru look -- essentially MILK in boy drag, or as one member of my viewing party remarked, “Hey, why is that creepy guy from the old Six Flags commercials on ‘Drag Race’?” -- was intended to shock. And it did, I’ll admit. (I was somewhat surprised that MILK didn’t just come out in blackface.) But it can’t just be shock. There’s got to be something there for us to latch on to, to root for, and MILK isn’t providing that. And for what it’s worth, I agree with Santino Rice (*ducks in fear of lightning bolts*). If MILK really wants to surprise us at this point, she’d give us serious glamour, just to show us she can. When MILK complained that doing that wouldn’t be true to her, RuPaul brought up the dreaded vulnerability criticism. The clock is ticking, MILK. I will avoid a terrible spoiled-dairy pun out of respect for you.

Gia Gunn was initially planning to portray Latina pop star Selena, which is a truly baffling choice. (Adore had it exactly right: “What are you going to do with that? ‘I eat pizza and I got shot by Yolanda?’”) After RuPaul basically told Gia to change it, Gia switched to Kim Kardashian. Kim has the potential to be parodied successfully, and Gia has the ability to do it (see her whining, soul-dead intoning of “ABSOLUTELY!” as proof). But, she flopped in the Snatch Game, and came out on the runway looking a mess. Santino was right again (more lightning bolts!) when he called it a castoff from a cheap Halloween store, with a busted wig and a wonky eyelash. It was a 1-2 punch that sent Gia to the Bottom 2, and had her lipsynching for her life to “Head to Toe” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (YES!). After an awkward, clumsy on-stage costume change, Gia was put out of our miseries. But not before she threw a few last insults at the remaining contestants for being dudes in lipstick. Bold words from Our Lady of the Cockeyed Eyelash. Bye, girl. Bye.

Laganja Estranja, however, is now officially the worst. She won the lipsynch, but she is still the worst. What an exhausting, infuriating character she has become. I will concede that what we are seeing of Laganja is a highly edited version, a version of her curated by the editors. But unless there’s footage on the cutting-room floor of her, like, rescuing orphaned puppies from burning buildings or curing cancer while simultaneously transforming water into vodka, I can’t imagine much that would change my opinion of her based on what we’ve been shown.

Here begins the rant that is going to piss off most readers under 30, and offend several of my friends: Laganja embodies everything that drives me nuts about Millennials. And, yes, this is a generalization -- but one I’ve found to be more true than not. She is obnoxious, hyper, sullen, entitled, needy, and incapable of dealing with any criticism whatsoever. Bianca referred to Langaja as an attention whore, but I think that’s wrong. All drag queens are attention whores, almost by definition. But people like Laganja are attention vampires. They need to be focused on constantly, and when the spotlight isn’t on them, they’ll seek it out and take it. They must be the center of attention -- but only positive attention. Because they cannot be told that they are wrong, or that they need to improve. Because they are already awesome. Did you know that they are awesome? Listen: they are awesome. And if you can’t see that, well, that’s really offensive and hurtful to them. And if they can’t get their way, they pack up their toys and go home.

Which is precisely what Laganja tried to do in her first Bottom 2 appearance for her bizarre robot take on Rachel Zoe. I actually felt bad for Gia -- I FELT BAD FOR GIA, that’s how infuriating this situation was -- when Gia spent her moments pre-LSFYL having to reassure Laganja and talk her into performing, because Laganja was threatening to give up. What exactly did Laganja expect to happen when she went on this show? That she would sail to the win without ever having to be criticized? Without ever appearing in the Bottom 2? Ridiculous. Delusional. Laganja has been quite quick with an insult on this show, but even quicker with the water works if anyone makes her feel like anything other than the special snowflake she perceives herself to be. Typical. And typically exhausting.

“I want the world to hold my hand, and I’m sorry for that,” Laganja said on “Untucked.” First, no you’re not sorry. You are clearly not sorry for feeling that way at all. Second, some people have real problems in this world, and watching your little dramas is OFFENSIVE to them. Grow. Up. This is not cute, and it’s not excusable.

My assumption was that once Gia was eliminated -- because Gia was obviously getting the Early Bitch edit, and there was no way she would ever get close to the final -- Bianca would emerge as the true terror of the season. But Bianca is firmly being shown as our Mother Hen. A brusque, blunt Mother Hen, but still, behind her barbs is a lot of heart. And I assumed we’d be getting a Laganja redemption edit in the second half of the season. Now, I think we need to saddle up for Laganja as L’Enfant Terrible. We’ll get a mix of meltdowns, breakdowns, and tantrums as she rejects any and all criticism thrown her way, by the judges or the other queens. And it’s a shame, because Laganja DOES have talent -- she’s an amazing dancer (we saw that in the lipsynch), has a great visual style, and I suspect she’s going to murder next week’s rap challenge. But who can root for her with this juvenile bullshit? To quote stand-up comic John Mulaney, “You could have stayed a guy if you wanted to be an asshole.”

Next: Rapping! Ru-Tang Clan! If there’s not a lipsynch to “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” by Khia I will be SORELY disappointed.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 4: “SHADE! The Rusical”

Mama's gettin' hot; mama's got the stuff...

Posted By on Tue, Mar 18, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Curtain up: the spotlight focuses on a gaggle of geeks at a gay bar in Rochester, NY. A lonely blogger among them downs not one, not two, but three Maker’s Marks on the rocks while worrying about if he will be able to sufficiently retain the goings-on of the episode playing on the multiple flat-screen TVs. After a rousing rendition of “In the Navy” by the Village People and some random, much-appreciated shirtlessness, he no longer cares. All he knows is that the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing parties at the Bachelor Forum are a hoot, host Darienne Lake is a delight and surprisingly candid about the goings-on during the show, and he highly recommends heading out to the parties to anyone in the Western New York area. (He also wonders what kind of depraved acts he must endure in order to get a drink in 15 minutes or less, because he will totally take that hit.)


So, it was a good time at the Bachelor Forum on University Avenue in Rochester, NY. But it was a mixed bag for the contestants of Season 6 on “Drag Race.” After a “female or she-male” mini-challenge that I’m fairly sure will infuriate the trans* community, we got to the main challenge: “Shade! The Rusical,” a live musical-theater extravaGANza. The challenge was very much in the spirit of the ballet challenge from last season. But while Alyssa Edwards was the clear winner of that round, a handful of queens really shined this time around. Unfortunately the rest of them receded mostly to the background.

After the mini-challenge, in which Adore Delano and Ben DeLaCreme came out on top, the teams shook out like this. Team DeLa (Act 1) featured Ben, Courtney Act, Bianca Del Rio, Darienne Lake, Gia Gunn, and Trinity K. Bonet. Team Adore (Act 2) featured Adore, MILK, Joslyn Fox, April Carrion, and LaganjaEstranja. As we saw in the previous episode, there was a huge difference in ability between the two groups. Act 1 was interesting and gamely played by the group members, while Act 2 was mostly a mess, save for decent performances by Adore and MILK.

Let’s get this conspiracy theory right out of the way: after last episode, many people wondered why Adore -- the clear loser of the horror challenge -- was spared the Final 2 in lieu of April Carrion. It made absolutely no sense at the time, considering that Adore failed as an actress, as a leader, and on the runway. (I’m sorry to Adore fans, but that’s just the blunt reality of what went down.) The reason she was kept around was almost certainly this episode, in which the show itself (via Ben DeLaCreme) referred to the proceedings as “The Battle of the ‘Idols.’” That would be “Australian Idol” contestant Courtney Act and “American Idol” contestant Adore Delano (Danny Noriega). The show was going to give us this “showdown” no matter what, not unlike the painfully manufactured drama between Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese last season.

So Adore, despite biffing the first two challenges almost completely, was almost certainly a lock for this episode, no matter what she did. Thankfully she made it worth the audience’s while by putting in a solid performance this go around. Her lead actress role in Act 2 was well sung and well executed, even if her final “red carpet” runway was, again, sloppy and underwhelming. My fear is that this episode was Adore’s high point, and that doesn’t speak terribly highly of this queen at all. She actually told the judges at one point that she’s a much better drag queen than what she’s showing. Girl: it’s Episode 4. What the fuck are you waiting for? A party/event invitation via Adam4Adam? (My bad; Scruff is a sponsor of this show now.)

Courtney Act, however, killed it as the ingénue of Act 1. Courtney looked terrific and sounded like an actual woman when she sang. One of the judges -- Michelle Visage? -- mentioned some bum notes, but I don’t what the hell she was talking about. My feeling watching the two groups was that the first group sounded pre-recorded (in a good way), while Group 2 sounded like they were singing live. I don’t know if that was due to the gulf in talent, to the production values, or due to the three bourbons, but Act 1 sounded a hell of a lot better than Act 2. Even with Gia’s nasal grind.

The other queen to really command the stage was Ben DeLaCreme as Shady Lady. The judges (including the delightful Sheryl Lee Ralph, who was too cute for words, and RuPaul’s musical partner, the twinkilicious Lucian Piane) referenced Ben’s Bettie Page realness. But Ben was great throughout the challenge, and I desperately hope that the judges see the versatility Ben has given us so far in this competition. Because I have this awful fear that they’re setting him/her up for a shock boot in a few weeks.

Ben, Courtney, and Adore ended up in the top for the challenge, with Courtney taking the win (deservedly so, in my opinion). The Bottom 3 came down to Darienne Lake, who the judges felt failed to make an impact in the challenge; Trinity K. Bonet, who was dinged by the judges for her terrible diction but really should have been called out for her atrocious attitude in rehearsals; and April Carrion, who they felt wasn’t convincing in the “big girl” role.

Darienne was blessedly spared -- it was dubious that she was in the Bottom 3 to begin with -- and April and Trinity lipsynched to “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan. April was again dynamic and aggressive, but Trinity had that lipsynch in the bag as soon as she started busting out some of those old-school drag-ball moves that RuPaul loves so much. As soon as she started working that hand fan I knew it was over.

So, unfortunately, it was “Sashay away” to April Carrion -- and that is a travesty. Over the past two weeks April was railroaded harder than perhaps any other “Drag Race” contestant in recent memory. (At least on the show. I hope some of them are getting railroaded hard in real life. Get it, girls.) April had no business being the bottom last week; a decent if unspectacular challenge performance, and an eye-popping runway look do not a LSFYL make. This week she definitely wasn’t great as one of the three back-up queens to Adore’s lead actress, but if you’re going to single out April, why let Joslyn or Laganja escape without notice? NONE of them were good, and yet April was again made an example of for no discernible reason. OF COURSE she wasn’t believable as the “big girl.” Have you SEEN April?! She is never going to read “plus sized” no matter how much padding you stuff in her dress.

While I have enjoyed this season -- and I continue to enjoy it -- April’s ouster really speaks to producer shenanigans more than anything else. There were certain queens this time out who had absolutely no shot of making it even halfway through, no matter what they did. April was one of them. For whatever reason she was dismissed fairly bluntly, and that is a shame, because I think she conducted herself well in her three weeks on air. Certainly I think she made more of an impact than Gia (who is firmly ensconced in the protective bubble of the Early Bitch Edit), Joslyn (who I enjoy, but who is being given a VERY easy time by the editors), Laganja (virtually invisible this episode), and even MILK. And I love MILK, but the most noteworthy part of her “Rusical” performance was her Grizabella Realness.

Speaking of the others, Gia really showed herself to be a piece of work on “Untucked,” coming at MILK’s pregnancy red-carpet outfit (I died) and critiquing her lack of “versatility.” Oh, that is a LAUGH. Gia Gunn criticizing any drag queen on their lack of versatility. Call me when you serve up something that doesn’t involve gills, sweetheart. Better yet, call me when you give us fishy that actually passes the Gorton Fisherman’s muster. Because for all your talk, you are still vulnerable to the clock. Her viciousness really reached new heights this episode, and I suspect many of the people who viewed her as a harmless, dim creature (*ahem*Tom and Lorenzo*ahem*) might be changing their tunes. She’s nasty, and I don’t have time for it. Don’t be so offended by someone calling you ignorant if your definition of drag is limited to the sale rack at DEB. *Mic drop*

As for the nearly eliminated Trinity, she did herself absolutely no favors this episode vis-à-vis the “baby Tyra Sanchez” comparisons that have dogged her since this season’s queens were revealed. Trinity displayed massive attitude in rehearsals, looking to put in the absolute minimum required effort to skate through to the next round. (Let me quote the always-reliable Jujubee here: “America’s Next Drag Superstar is not going to be a lazy bitch.”) While she did end up pulling off a decent performance on the mainstage, she was obviously a source of stress for her group, and was argumentative from pretty much the get-go. Her stank faces at the criticism just underlined how ill-prepared she is for this competition. The judges brought up her terrible diction as the main flaw in her performance this episode, but the larger issue is the fact that Trinity -- despite being able to deliver when the chips are down -- is someone that, frankly, I assume would be infuriating to work with.

Anyway, I am irritated that April was eliminated, mostly because she really never had a shot in this competition. I think in any other season she would have been Top 6, given her beauty, her creativity, and her passion. This time, the producers/editors obviously eyeballed her as “dispensable” and set about engineering her exit with fairly weak justification. But it IS a stiff field this time around. And that’s why I’m hoping the editors take a goddamned seat and let the queens rise and fall on their own merits. If they continue to prop up some of them (*cough*Gia, Adore, the increasingly forgettable Laganja*cough*) and work to minimize the abilities of others (Darienne, Ben), I’m going to get increasingly frustrated increasingly quickly.

Matt DeTurck, Darienne Lake, Eric Rezsnyak, and Adam Lubitow at the "Drag Race" viewing party at the Bachelor Forum. - PHOTO BY SOME PREVIOUSLY SHIRTLESS DUDE
  • Matt DeTurck, Darienne Lake, Eric Rezsnyak, and Adam Lubitow at the "Drag Race" viewing party at the Bachelor Forum.

A final note: the viewing party at the Forum really was a lot of fun. Miss Darienne Lake spills the T about what was going on behind the scenes, and she’s funny and charming and very cool about taking pictures with nerdy newspaper types like myself. The crowd was enthusiastic (and quite good looking), there was some kind of diversion involving men in wigs, etc. It’s definitely worth coming out if you’re in the area. But note: they cut off that 3-for-2 deal at 9:15 p.m., regardless of how long you were waiting at the bar to be served (*ahem*). So plan accordingly. A friend of mine did get a killer deal on Tequila Sunrises, though…


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

“Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 3: The horror, the horror…

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 12:31 AM

After the (I think smart and successful) two-part premiere, the 12 remaining queens were thrown together for the first big challenge. The mixing of the two groups provided some interesting moments. Some queens, like Ben DeLaCreme, welcomed the others with open, fabulous arms. Others, notably Gia Gunn, were extra crispy bitchy. I like my drag queens with a healthy amount of shade, but Gia falls squarely into the category of Bitchy Bitch, not Fun Bitch. And she’s especially in trouble this season, because Bianca del Rio, Queen of the Fun Bitches, is in the house, and she is going to destroy Gia. And it will be amazing to watch. And I suspect RuPaul will approve, because -- spoiler -- she obviously is not a fan of Gia, especially after this episode.


After a hilariously cute, but utterly pointless, mini-challenge, the main crux of the episode was a team acting challenge. Team leaders MILK and Adore Delano ended up dividing the contestants along the exact same lines as the groups from the initial episodes (Team Milk consisted of Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, Bianca del Rio, Trinity K. Bonet, and Joslyn Fox; Team Adore had Laganja Estranja, April Carrion, Gia Gunn, Ben DeLaCreme, and Vivacious). The teams had to shoot a horror-film trailer. MILK’s was set in the 1960’s, while Adore’s was set in the 1980’s.

For a horror challenge there was precious little suspense. These two groups are completely mismatched -- something many viewers commented on after the two-part premieres -- and Team MILK was obviously getting the win. Trinity needed quite a bit of direction but turned in a solid performance, while MILK oddly failed to impress in the crazy old lady role. Adore’s team crashed and burned almost entirely, with the exception of Ben DeLaCreme, who killed it. The rest of the group was miscast or unprepared, none worse than team captain Adore.

And so, it was frankly bullshit when Adore ended up toward the bottom of the heap, but not lipsynching for her life this episode. Nothing about that scenario added up, except for the act that the producers clearly love Adore -- or at least they think that the viewers love her -- and so they want her to stick around for a while. But based on her lack of preparation for the challenge, her lousy job as team leader, and the fact that her runway look was the least polished of the Bottom 3, there’s no reason she shouldn’t have been lipsynching.

Instead it came down to April Carrion, who was woefully miscast as a butch lesbian in the horror flick, and Vivacious, who totally struggled with both her lines and delivery. They both turned in decent lipsynch performances, but April had just a little more attitude/hunger, and Vivacious had to sashay away. It’s a pity. Vi had great talking heads, some eye-popping outfits (for this episode she came “dressed like Godzilla,” TM Bianca del Rio), and a great attitude. Although she was weak in the challenges, you could see her struggling with the de facto ageism on display with the younger queens in her group. (I wonder if she would have fared better with the more mature queens in Group B?) But I will miss her. She was fun. Vivacious: please say hello to Ornacia, and also that queen who apparently dresses like a furnace. She sounds fascinating.

Of course, had it been Vivacious vs. Adore -- which it SHOULD have been -- I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Adore would have been sent packing. Please understand, I like Adore. I like Danny. I find them both oddly charming. But RuPaul was dead right when she said that Danny/Adore has skated by on her charisma thus far in life, and doesn’t really know how to put in serious effort. That was painfully evident in both Adore’s challenge performance and in the way she reacted to the criticism leveled at her. Sour, sour faces, sulking, and awful energy. And the truth is, Adore has been struggling almost this entire competition. She may have come in as a huge fan favorite due to Danny’s time on “Idol,” but this is a very different game, and she’s not prepared for it. What’s worse is, she knows it. And RuPaul has her number, hussies.

RuPaul also sees right through Gia’s bullshit, and she called her out for it on the runway this episode. (Ru does not seem to be holding anything back this season, and I for one am glad for it -- this crop is strong enough that they can take it, or should be able to, at least.) Ru specifically lambasted Gia for her lack of craft and polish during the acting challenge, and more or less put her on notice that she knows Gia is all talk and very little ability. Gia is also -- I’m just going to say it -- not the brightest queen in the bunch. She can hurl an insult, but for all the burns she’s dishing out, the editors are dousing her in flames with their hilarious framing of her many Duh Moments. This episode: Delorean, black-and-white films. Both classic “Drag Race” edits.

Other things worth noting from this episode:

*The runway was “your best drag,” and the results were all over the place. Courtney impressed with an Australian flag-inspired gown, April gave us “Singin’ in the Rain” Realness, etc. And then we had Gia looking like a Burton version of an OompaLoompa and Joslyn in one of Honey Mahagoney's discount muumuus. I don’t know. And then effing MILK shows up dressed like a slutty Pinocchio, and I just died. Slayed.

*Darienne Lake won the main challenge for playing a bewitched head in a box. Yay, Darienne! She was also funny and charming, although I suspect she’s going to get some shit thrown at her online for her kaikai remarks.

*Bianca and Courtney seemed to have formed a weird bond, and if I was any other queen in this competition, I would be terrified. Those two are alpha dogs, and if they’re a team, the rest of you are screwed.

*Ben desperately needs to get saved from the kiddie pool, because Laganja, Gia, and Adore are doing her absolutely no favors. Even Santino said that had Ben been in the winning group she probably would have won the challenge.

*Speaking of Laganja Estranja, I cringed again at her self-absorption and what I perceive as faux emotionalism in “Untucked.” The entire losing group told the judges that Vivacious should be the one to go home. OK. I get that. But then on “Untucked,” the younger queens -- especially Laganja -- were basically harassing Vivacious into telling them it was OK for them to throw her under the bus en masse. And that is bullshit. You said what you said. Own it. She felt ganged up on and did not have to tell you that was fine. You’re playing a game, sure, but if you feel guilty for railroading her -- which Laganja and probably Adore certainly did -- that is on you. Leave the poor woman alone.

*I cannot for the life of me figure out Joslyn. She seems like such a ditz, but she did well in the challenge and then had me roaring with her reactions on “Untucked.” She is an enigma. A derpy enigma.

NEXT: “Shade: The Rusical”! It’s an “Idol”-Off between Adore and Courtney!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 6, Episode 2: Meet the REST of the Queens

Darienne Lake debuts, and RuPaul asks, "Where's the beef?"

Posted By on Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Monday night we got the second part of the Season 6 premiere, and it was worth the wait. While I absolutely enjoyed the seven queens in Group 1, the 10-minute preview of Group 2 that aired last week made it clear that most of the exciting queens (with the exception of Ben Delacreme and Laganja Estranja) were in the second batch. The challenge results were stronger from Group 1, but the action was more entertaining in Group 2, and I found myself LOL-ing throughout the entire episode. (And “Untucked” was mercifully free of forced, staged emotion.)


The final seven queens in Season 6 are:

Bianca Del Rio: I found her abrasive in her “Meet the Queens” video, but of course, that’s the point. Bianca is an insult comic, and she’s very good at what she does. My fear from the pre-show clips was that Bianca was going to have an attitude of “I’m better than everyone, and better than this show” -- but that was totally not the case. Yes, Bianca is a bitch. Or at least she plays one on stage and TV. But already she showed some very human reactions in between some quick, cutting jabs. Bianca can also sew (she won the first challenge), has musical-theater experience, and has no shortage of charisma. I expect Bianca to be running these queens ragged by episode 4 or 5. She is a major contender. Her only note from the judges: tone down the eye make-up. (Although personally, I like it -- it perfectly suits her character.)

Trinity K. Bonet: I go back and forth on Trinity. She’s a stunning queen, but the illusion is ruined the second she opens her mouth and that Quaalude man voice pours out. She seems…not the sharpest, and yet her Queen Amidala reference for the main challenge was both fun and unexpected. She’s clearly a pageant gal, but she’s got some edge to her. I don’t think she’s in the top tier this season -- not by a longshot -- but there are more facets to Trinity than I previously imagined. I still can’t with that voice, though.

Joslyn Fox: Speaking of “not the sharpest,” we have Joslyn. Jos is very pretty, very sweet, and VERY perky. She reminds me of a 5-year-old, which I’m not sure is really a compliment. What I can’t decide is if the airhead thing is an act, a la Goldie Hawn on "Laugh-In," or if Joslyn really is just that dim. She said she misunderstood the point of the main challenge (they were each assigned a party-themed box and told to make an outfit -- she thought she had to use as much in the box as possible, so it looked like a Michael's store ejaculated all over her), she seemed stumped when a producer questioned her malapropism (“black horse” instead of “dark horse”), etc. And her fangirling over Courtney is embarrassing.

MILK: So, MILK is amazing. I am not going to be able to separate my own personal delight over MILK from my analysis, so you’re going to need to accept that right now. MILK is an avant-garde shock queen from NYC, but who is originally from Syracuse. (MILK is also brutally hot as a guy, though that’s kind of irrelevant.) (Wait, no it isn’t.) MILK intentionally makes herself uglier as a woman, painting a giant fake gap on his teeth, wearing bizarre, unflattering clothes, and constantly pushing the envelope -- and it is only Episode 1. MILK had me with the toilet paper stuck to her shoe, won my love by wearing acid-wash hot pants in the work room, and then took me higher by creating a runway look that included a bare-breasted “Xanadu” jumpsuit, a lilypad on her head, and a GODDAMNED FAKE BEARD. I am in love with this queen. I hope she stays forever.

Courtney Act: Is unquestionably a frontrunner. Courtney is already a celebrity in her home country Australia, where she was a contestant -- in drag -- in the first season of “Australian Idol.” I assume Courtney’s passage to America was underwritten by Chicken of the Sea, because this queen is the fishiest contestant EVER on this show. Courtney can totally pass as female -- and, in “Untucked,” said that she has in fact seduced more than one supposedly straight man whilst in drag, referring to herself as, “a glamorous stepping stone across the pond to homosexuality.” If Courtney was just all look and body, she’d still be a threat. But she’s more than that. She’s a singer, a performer, and she has oodles of personality. Her reaction to the pillow-fight photo shoot was adorable, and she’s likable even when throwing a little shade or patting herself on the back a little much. She biffed the first challenge, but accepted criticism well. If she remains this cool throughout the competition these others hos are screwed.

Darienne Lake: I also can’t pretend to be objective about Darienne. She is, of course, our hometown queen, and I’ve both interviewed Darienne and seen her perform numerous times. Her fans have waited years for her to appear on “Drag Race,” and it’s so exciting to finally see it happen. Darienne was terrific in her entrance, her talking heads, and her interactions with the queens -- sharp, funny, bubbly, quick. It’s everything Darienne fans expected. But Darienne totally whiffed the main challenge, turning out a St. Patrick’s-inspired outfit that was both plain and unflattering. And I suspect she knew it. Darienne did not object to the judges’ criticisms -- in fact, if anything, she took her low placement as an inspiration to do better. That’s what you want in a contestant. Thing is, Darienne knows how to sew. So I’m not sure what happened there. (Time constraints?) Thankfully, Darienne also knows how to deliver a motherfucking lipsynch, and she did a great job to Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around,” giving great energy, humor, and some serious booty shaking. (Our viewing party was disappointed that, with the party theme, they didn’t do “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore; missed opportunity, show.)

Magnolia Crawford: Magnolia joined Darienne in the Bottom 2, and she was eliminated. Let’s unpack Magnolia for a second. When the cast was first announced, and I watched all of the “Meet the Queens” videos, Magnolia was hands down my least favorite of the cast. In her clips, she seemed almost bored to be there, and out of shits to give. It was just so ODD. Then I watched her audition video, and I realized that the “over it” vibe is largely an affect; it’s part of Magnolia’s “trash queen” act. I found that weirdly endearing. But after watching this episode, I’m back to my first impression. Magnolia had a terrible attitude throughout this entire affair. It was almost like she was trying to pick a fight. She hated her “country hoedown” assignment, hated her materials, glued a Holstein-print piece of fabric into a tube dress and slapped a ribbon on the back, and then talked back to the judges when they did their job by, you know, judging her. RuPaul did NOT look amused. In “Untucked,” Magnolia literally told the girls that she did not care if she got eliminated -- she was simply there for exposure. She got on the show, people knew her name, she got what she wanted. She also said that any of the queens who adapted their style to suit the judges were “boring and have no spine.” That is pretty damned bold. In fact, it was so bold, that again I wondered if it all wasn’t an act. But as one of the other queens (Trinity, I think) argued, there are hundreds of queens dying to get on this show, and Magnolia threw away a spot just to boost her ego. It’s a fair point. Ultimately Magnolia struggled with the words of the lipsynch, moved around awkwardly, and more or less couldn’t wait to get back to her hotel room for a few weeks in Sequesterville. I don’t know. What a bizarre situation.

At the end of the episode, the remaining queens from the two groups merged in the Work Room, and the tension was palpable. I’ve heard people complain that the split-premiere format robbed the first two episodes of some of the frenetic energy that typically define “Drag Race” premieres. I guess that’s true, but what was gained was a level of exposure for each competing queen that most past early eliminees surely wish they had (seriously, I feel like I have a sense of all 12 remaining contestants at this point). And Episode 3, when things typically start to level off, is now primed to be particularly explosive as we have, essentially, rival drag-queen girl gangs rumbling for the first time. I love it. I am loving this season. RuPaul, don’t fail me now!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"American Idol" 2014: Top 13 Perform

The theme was "This Is Me." Apparently most of them are terrible.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 10:56 PM

Ohhhhhhhhh, dear…

I went into Wednesday night’s performance episode debating whether or not to bother with this season of “Idol.” On the “pro” side, I like the judging panel. I liked most of the talent I was seeing before I took a few weeks off to watch the Olympics. And the line-up for the Top 13 that emerged last week was surprisingly different from what I was expecting.

On the “con” side, I am burned out on this show, and I was already seeing some really disheartening producer-driven hijinks going down during Hollywood Week. And I would LOVE to have three-plus hours of my life back every week.

So I had decided that I was going to check out the talent and let that be the deciding vote. After all, this is what host Ryan Seacrest himself referred to as an “epic talent show.” Without the talent, what do we have?

Apparently what we have is a lot of flashy production values and quick cuts, a largely mediocre group of singers, and a completely useless panel of judges. Oh, and Randy Jackson. We still have Randy Jackson. And like four or five legitimately good singers. Basically it felt less like “Idol” and more like the American version of “X Factor.” And absolutely NOBODY wants that.

The theme for the week was “This is Me,” which was broad enough to give the singers flexibility in song choice, but didn’t provide much of an actual framework. Some of the contestants picked songs that said something about themselves, or their styles, or their journeys. Others just picked songs they liked.

There are a bunch of “improvements” this year. Fancy new stage.New ways to vote (I suspect they’re desperate to make the voting as easy as possible, because those numbers have to be WAY down). The contestants now sit in an area on stage watching the others perform, which seems awkward and probably hurts their own preparation. There’s lots of split-screen work during performances, largely to poor effect. This was especially true during “mentor” Randy Jackson’s introductions, in which he was virtually impossible to hear over the mindless shrieking of the audience. But I am still confident in my assertion that he said absolutely nothing of value. (Come back, Jimmy Iovine. All is forgiven.)

Anyway, here is how the Top 13 stacked up in my book:

Dexter Roberts did an upbeat country song I did not recognize. He seemed nervous at first and a little uncomfortable on the stage -- there was a LOT going on around him, so I suspect some of that might have been sensory overload. It got better as it went along, but it was far from his best performance. The pitch was very problematic. Keith Urban said it was a solid cover, but Dexter’s challenge is going to be finding a way to make a song his own. Harry Connick Jr. encouraged Dexter to get rid of his ear monitor, because he wasn’t singing completely in tune. Jennifer Lopez also encouraged Dexter to pick songs with a higher range, so that he can hit his “sweet spot.” The judges were kind to Dexter.

Malaya Watson picked “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars, which was disastrous. I like Malaya -- I really like her. This was awkward karaoke. It was shouty and out of breath, and did not showcase any of her wonderful vocal qualities. She had terrific energy, but nothing else was good. Nothing. Lopez said, “It wasn’t your best vocal performance.” That was WAY too generous. Connick fumbled around for a while before getting to her bad intonation and her nervousness. Urban basically told her that she needs to do better. JUDGES. Come ON. That was in no way a Top 13 performance. That girl should have been read to filth, 17 years old or not. It was nowhere NEAR what she should have been delivering at this point in the competition.

Kristen O’Connor did “Beautiful Disaster” by Kelly Clarkson. I know this is sacrilege, but I actually liked Kristen’s version better than Kelly’s. It had an 80’s power ballad edge to it. She had some pitch issues, and she needs to work on her presence. But she was easily the best vocal of the first three. Connick questioned the delivery of the song, and the meaning, which Kristen said she changed to be about herself instead of a guy. Eh. Urban liked that the song showed off her range. Lopez thought Kristen was thinking too much and not going for the moment. Kristen kept interrupting the judges during their comments. Kristen: do not do that. It is offputting.

Ben Briley did Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and it was fine. He got really into the performance, and even though he was shouting for a good half of it, he still did so musically. Urban made the controversial statement that he loves Johnny Cash -- no shit, Keith. Thanks for that sterling insight. He thought the tempo was too fast, and that Ben came awfully close to kitsch in that performance. I agree. Connick thought it was the best performance of the night at that point, and liked that Ben picked an older song. I’m going to respond to that with a giant eyeroll, because it is hardly like “Folsom Prison Blues” is some dusty gem that Ben unearthed from the vault. It is not obscure. It is frankly pretty damned obvious.

C.J. Harris did Darius Rucker’s “Radio.” He struggled through the verse but sounded much better on the chorus, and he seemed to be having a good time on stage. I’m not sure why he had his guitar with him, as he didn’t play it for the vast majority of the song. C.J.’s voice sounds better when he doesn’t push too hard; unfortunately, he pushes it pretty consistently. Lopez enjoyed the upbeat tone most of the contestants were bringing to the show. I’ll agree with that, I just wish the singing was better. Connick wanted C.J. to sing something that showcased the more interesting parts of his voice. C.J. needs to learn how to speak succinctly, because Ryan had to cut him off not once, but twice.

M.K. Nobillette did “Satisfaction” by…someone. Not the Rolling Stones. This was almost painfully awkward. M.K. can clearly sing, but she does not have anywhere close to the charisma or the commitment to pull off that song. Urban, bless him, brought up the “deer in the headlights” thing, which was the nicest way possible to say that M.K. looked petrified to be singing that song, on that stage, on national television. Lopez called her awesome and said she loved it. The judges were just full of fail tonight.

Majesty Rose picked “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. A great song, but a tricky one for this show. She had a rough start, some pitch problems, and she got weirdly quiet in parts. But she was fully alive during the chorus and overall it was mostly good. (Mostly.) Urban praised the song choice and wants Majesty to become more confident in herself. Lopez loves Majesty’s individual style and approach, and called her “blessed.” I like Majesty, but I expected more from her.

Jena Irene did “The Scientist” by Coldplay. It was, for me, the first performance of the night that felt worthy of an “Idol” finalist. Jena blew away every other contestant who performed before her with a beautiful, powerful vocal, and I enjoyed that very much. Connick asked her why Coldplay called the song “The Scientist,” and Harry, that is why Wikipedia exists. Both Lopez and Urban mentioned some pitch issues in the beginning, but said that once Jena committed to it, it all worked out. I just want to point out that, based on the judges’ reactions to all the other contestants, you would think that Jena’s performance was simply just as good as everyone else’s, instead of a quantum leap ahead of all the others.

Alex Preston did Jason Mraz’s “Beautiful Mess.” Alex has a beautiful voice, and this quiet, simple presentation was exponentially more riveting than 90 percent of the relentless stagings that preceded it. He had a few bum notes in there, but the vast majority of it sounded spectacular. Connick thought it was “brave” to come out and do something so stripped down, but he did not respond to the piece emotionally. Connick was really showing his ass tonight, folks. I like him a lot, but he was WAY off. Urban had an opposite reaction. But to me, it was again a question of consistency. You’re going to give a tepid response to Alex’s performance, but tell the earlier contestants how great they did? Give me a break.

Jessica Meuse did “The Crow and the Butterfly,” and she came out like an actual bonafied rock star. THANK YOU, JESSICA. The vocal was VERY strong, and it had some great moments where she inflected some cool grit and gravel on to it. Urban thought it was a bold song choice, and appreciated the edge and the rasp to her voice. Lopez said that the power of Jessica’s voice gave her “goosies.” Actually, that was true for me as well. She encouraged Jessica to relax her body a bit, but called it “dope.” Pearls of wisdom. Pearls.

Emily Piriz sang Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.” The song was way too low for her. The verse was strictly amateur hour, but the chorus sounded good. Emily has a really corny delivery style -- it’s very pageant. The judges talked about how brave Emily was to sing that song, which is nice. But NOBODY bothered to mention that she was barely getting through the first quarter of the song, which scraped the bottom her range. But hey, let’s be proud of her for picking a song, singing it exactly as recorded, and performing roughly half of it well. Hugs for everybody!

Sam Woolf performed “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty. This was fine, I guess. I couldn’t help shake the feeling that Sam was trying to make some grand philosophical statement…via a Matchbox Twenty song. And that’s just bad comedy. Connick thought the vocal was too “nice” to fit the song, while Urban thought it was too slow. Lopez called Sam “a quiet storm” -- whatever that means -- and wants Sam to come alive a little more on stage. Let’s start with having him wake up, and then NOT PICKING SONGS BY MATCHBOX TWENTY.

Caleb Johnson did a song I didn’t know by Rival Sons, but he did it well. Really great rock vocal on a cool song. Caleb reminds me of a less-annoying, more vocally talented Jack Black. I think he’s probably still super annoying, though. But guy can sing. Urban loved the song and the band, and thought Caleb performed well. But he warned Caleb that he has to find a way to not be such a throwback. Yep, I suspect his shtick is going to get old in about three weeks. The other judges raved about him.

Honestly, I cannot even predict who will be in trouble, much less going home. The judges really failed not only these contestants, but America as well, with the universal, “Everything is awesome” take. Connick was critical, but it was almost insanely applied -- he came for Alex but not for anyone in the first third of the evening? Are you kidding me?

I am undecided on whether I’ll even bother to watch Thursday night’s episode, or anything beyond that. I haven’t been this disinterested in a crop of talent since Season 7. Based on tonight’s performances, Alex, Jessica, Caleb, Jena, and Majesty are the only ones I care to hear from again. That is a terrible ratio. And I’m not at all convinced that those contestants even have legs in this competition. Sam will be there a long while, and I suspect Dexter and C.J. as well. And given the shrieking from the audience, so will M.K. and Malaya. (And I really have enjoyed many of Malaya’s previous performances, but man, she was awful tonight.)

What did YOU think of the Top 13?

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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!


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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Friday, February 7, 2014

"American Idol" 2014: Group Round BS

A useless hour of decent people getting cut and people who screwed up getting pushed through

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2014 at 10:53 AM


Hollywood Week continued with Group Round. Historically I have loved Group Round. We've gotten some major break-out moments in past seasons, with performers really stepping to the front of the pack. And we have also got some spectacular freak-outs. Thursday night we got some decent group numbers, we got some awful group numbers, but we saw very few "star" moments from any particular performer.

What we did see was a lot of bullshit judging decisions. I've been saying that there's a ton of amazing talent this season - and I stand by that -- but it could all get screwed up during Hollywood and semi-finals. And some of my fears were realized last night. Group after group came up and delivered uneven performances. That is to be expected at this point, given the pressure-cooker scenario and crazy time restraints. But people who screwed up were sent through to the next round while others who performed competently were cut. The judges' justifications basically came down to, "Well, they did enough before this to justify keeping them, and you didn't." I know we're talking about a glorified TV game show, but that is totally unfair.

If you are going to ignore the group-round performances when making cuts, why bother with it at all? The answer, of course, is for drama. Group round almost always produces tears, yelling, and tantrums - and it did this season. I'm OK with drama if it's for a reason, but this is simply running the hamsters through a maze. And when they get to the end, the judges all laugh and say, "It doesn't matter if you got the cheese. We're sticking with the derpy one who is still stuck at the first corner, because we like him/her better than you." Bullshit.

It all started well enough with Three Mo' Days, featuring "Idol" vets David Oliver Willis, Tony Foster, Jr., and SarinaJoi Crowe, who all were in Hollywood Week last year. They did a very solid job with "Too Close." The number got better as it went along, and the harmonies were fantastic. Kind of shockingly, Tony was cut, because he lacked personality and he spent most of the number looking at the floor.

The Backstreet Cowboys -- Casey Thrasher, Dexter Roberts, and Ben Briley -- did "I Want it That Way" by Backstreet Boys. Casey looked like a full-on creeper in his part. His opening passage felt almost like a threat. But it got better when Dexter came in. He's really great. The harmonies were OK, but nowhere near as good as the first group. The arrangement and pacing made it seem almost like a dirge. Ben did not make much of an impression one way or the other. They all went through, which was our first bullshit moment of the evening: they were nowhere near as good as the first group. And Ben wasn't displaying any more charisma than Tony.

Golden boy Spencer Lloyd created some drama in his group. Apparently he felt he knew the song, which I didn't recognize, and refused to practice thoroughly with his group members Megan Miller and Alyssa Siebken. Megan totally flopped, forgetting her part almost completely. Alyssa struggled through it, but still sounded decent. And Spencer just kind of bobbed along. He certainly didn't kill it for someone who supposedly mastered the song. Even Jennifer Lopez said, "If it was based solely on this performance, it would be a wash." That's how bad they were. And yet, somehow it was only Alyssa who got cut. Megan did not even remember her lyrics at all. Total BS.

Caleb Johnson, Tyler Ahlgren, Matthew Hamel, and C.J. Harris also did "Too Close." Tyler totally forgot the words and thought he was cute making stuff up. Unacceptable. Matthew was quite good, C.J. was very rough, and Caleb can sing, but he's more than a little over the top. The group as a whole was a mess. Caleb and C.J. got pushed through, but Matthew and Tyler got cut. C.J. had no business making it over Matthew, and Matthew knew it. He was right - he sounded quite good on that song. I came around on C.J. last episode but he fell again in my estimation after that weak showing.

Clarity Can Do had Jen Asciutto, Sikenya Thompson, Allie Odom, and a gentleman they didn't ID with a chyron. They also did "Too Close." Sikenya had skipped hours of rehearsal because she was sick. She totally blew her verse, was given a second chance, and then struggled through it. The others seemed to have acquitted themselves well, especially since it appeared that much of their practice time was rendered useless because they didn't know if they were performing as a trio or a quartet due to Sikenya's waffling. Allie, who sounded really great, got cut. The judges gave Sikenya a whole lot of ass kissing about pulling through, but the footage we saw hardly painted her as a survivor. I get that she was legitimately sick, but she had a lousy attitude and did not give one shit about her group. So let's reward her and cut the girl who performed quite well. Again: so much bullshit.

NicaNashae, Stephanie Hanway, Cara Watson, and Jessica Meuse did Beyonce's "Single Ladies." It was dreadful karaoke. Really embarrassing, though not as embarrassing as the one girl's mom dancing in the audience. Jessica really struggled with the lyrics, and gave the judges her whole group-round sob story. That almost certainly helped Jessica get through. Stephanie was the only one cut, and her embarrassing mom interrupted the whole proceedings by yelling and being obnoxious. Her mom then threw Jessica under the bus in the lobby, and was swearing on the Bible and God while being vindictive and mean spirited. Jessica wasn't good and didn't deserve to advance, but Stage Mom was awful. (I like Jessica, but I found it telling that she said, "Drama seems to follow me around." That does not bode well for her, in this show or in life.)

Speaking of drama engines, Love's Angels, featuring Terrica Curry, Carmen Delgina, and Emmanuel Zidor, did Destiny's Child's "Say My Name." Carmen was much better than she has been in the past. Terrica seemed angry the whole time and her vocals were unimpressive, and Emmanuel was totally over the top, as usual. The judges said that the song didn't allow them to showcase their voices. It's true; there was a lot of monotone and then shouting. But the show offered them that song, so... Harry Connick Jr. called it full out "terrible." Carmen and Terrica were both cut, while Emmanual advanced. He sets my teeth on edge.

Loud and Fierce, a drama-plagued group featuring Christina Collins, bossy Olivia Diamond, Queen Bulls, and Malaya Watson, did "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5. The styling featured a lot animal prints, tight black leather and spandex, and a fair amount of skin. There was a desperation to the whole affair, but the singing was generally good. Christina was totally off the tempo. Olivia and Queen came on like houses on fire. Malaya is clearly the one to watch from that group. She's terrific. They all got through. Olivia seems like a pill.

At the end of Group Round 77 contestants were left. So not so much with the cutting the field in half, like JLo said. I hope you all enjoyed the hour of your life this show just wasted by jerking us off.

Next week: I very well may skip the remainder of Hollywood Week in lieu of the Olympics, because at least they bother to explain the bullshit judging in figure skating, and it's way more fun watching people fall on ice.

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