Settle in and buckle up, because this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race is taking us on a wild ride, whether we want it or not. After last week’s acting challenge the queens could have probably done without another one this week, and while technically it isn’t an acting but a lip-syncing challenge, this season has been a bit lacking when it comes to styling and design challenges that are executed over the whole episode. So, it’s time for everyone’s favorite type of challenge: the Rusical. Now, while I’m a fan of recurring challenges (like Snatch Game or the makeover challenge), more often than not the lip-sync musicals are mostly on the “cringe” side of the fine line between cringe and funny.
Before we descend into the off-off-off-Broadway world of The Rusical (trademark, probably), the mini-challenge this week was actually one of my favorite ones in a while (since the butch perfume ad in season 10, that makes me cry-laugh to this day). The queens had to get into quick-drag and do their best Rachel Maddow impersonation while reading from a teleprompter and while that doesn’t sound like the biggest challenge in “herstory”, it definitely threw off some of the queens in more than one way. For me it was typical because I work with people trying to read daily, but it was so much more amusing to watch. Some queens not only were able to read perfectly, but to also copy some of Rachel Maddow’s mannerisms and quirks, like Brooke and Scarlet, the latter rightfully won the challenge.
Moving on, the queens were then faced with their maxi-challenge: the infamous Rusical. In the past, the themes of these lip-syncs challenges have been Divas (All Stars 3), Women of Herstory” (All Stars 2) and the famous Kardshian Musical (where we all know who really should have been Blac Chyna). This time the theme was Trump. Yes, I had to pause the episode too even though I had read the title beforehand. Of course, satire is incredibly important in this political climate, a subtle punchline or one-liner could have gone farther than creating an elaborate stage-play basically mocking an entire family and other protagonists in their lives. However, the writer and producers decided that this was the way to go and we have no other choice but to watch – well we do, but we are also aware of the inability to turn off an awkward TV show.
The queens star in a musical based on Grease and set in the “Trump School For Girls”, everyone playing a different role of a woman in Trump’s life – from Ivanka to Hilary Clinton, they were all there. This is where the problem with this challenge becomes visible; as there are quite a few queens with very little or without any acting experience, this performance looked like it would not be funny for the right reasons. We saw the queens struggle with choreography and their roles in general, but even from the rehearsals it was evident that the final result would not be the light satire and a tongue-in-cheek approach to the political situation, but a mediocre performance with a few outstanding performers in between. While the overall aesthetic was fun to watch, the musical itself was lacking in humor and performance. It should be noted, however, that some of the queens did a great job, like Nina, Yvie and Brooke.
The guest judges this week were Tiffany “New York” Pollard and Joel McHale, who judged the runway category “Orange Alert” as well as the performance in the musical. As mentioned before, the runway challenges always suffer when there’s an acting or performance challenge, but the looks were breathtaking nonetheless. For me, the most convincing outfits were for example done by Yvie, who not only stuck to the color scheme, but also created a creative outfit inspired by circus themes. Plastique also had a beautiful outfit, showing a Las Vegas showgirl inspired outfit. I wasn’t impressed with Akeria’s outfit, it was rather basic. Silky’s dress was beautiful, but her presentation was lacking pace. Another favorite was definitely Miss Vanjie, who was lucky the category fit with her usual aesthetic, but also presented a beautifully crafted outfit and perfect makeup.
The judging this week was a bit off, Yvie was clearly superior in the acting challenge and also presented an unique outfit for the runway. She is clearly talented and steals the show, exactly what is asked of the queens in these episodes. The judges seem to be obsessed with Silky, which is not always understandable, however, she won the challenge this week, which may have been deserved but a double-win with Yvie would have made it more believable. The bottom-two on the other hand is definitely understandable, as Mercedes just doesn’t seem comfortable when she performs in comparison to when she presents her outfits on the runway.
It is obvious that this is a reality-show and producers try to milk the candidates’ personal stories and tragedies for views, but when Nina West came forward with her own history of abuse from a conservative group during her time in college, it showed one important lesson in 2019: that society hasn’t moved on from some of its homophobic and sexist ways. Nina’s story shows the younger audience that it hasn’t been long since LGBT people had to fear for their lives, and that it’s becoming more and more accepted again to be hateful towards minorities. In addition to sharing her personal story, she also gave advice to the younger generation and this is what makes this show a bit more than “men in make-up and dresses”. Mercedes also shared the conflict between her Muslim faith and her sexuality, as well as her issues in the U.S.
Having RuPaul’s Drag Race as a big part of mainstream media and widely recognized is an opportunity to normalize different sexualities and gender expressions. If we take anything from this Trump-themed episode, it should be that today it is becoming more and more important to have positive representation in the media and to be supportive of people who don’t share the same privilege.