Another week, another fantastic episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. If the whole season keeps up this level of quality, we might have the best season of this series yet. This week, RuPaul forces the queens to make infomercials for her albums Glamazon and Champion, a brilliant example of unabashed product placement that delights in how explicit it all is. I genuinely hope RuPaul sees a boost in sales on iTunes tomorrow, because, my God, does she deserve it.
The episode’s mini-challenge has RuPaul paying tribute to one of her biggest fans, YouTube drag starlet Piyah Martell, who brings the realness despite being born with Caudal regression syndrome, a condition that prevented the growth of her legs. The queens have to create a fashion-forward headpiece using butterflies (the term of affection Piyah uses for her fans) that she can wear in her next video, and it’s a beautiful gesture on RuPaul’s part. Many of the queens are brought to tears when Piyah is carried out by the pit crew, and Piyah is the personification of the “love yourself” sentiment that RuPaul preaches every episode. Team Phi Phi, Kenya, and Jiggly win the challenge with a stunningly over-the-top pink butterfly headdress, and Piyah earns her spot in Drag Race history.
Because they won the mini-challenge, Kenya and Phi Phi are the group leaders for the infomercials, and each group has to create choreography, costumes, and identities while each member memorizes her respective song and creates a script for the camera. It’s an acting challenge, which means it’s non-stop awkwardness, and the queens don’t disappoint. This challenge reveals that this year’s contestants need to ramp up their improvisation skills, because none of these girls are as quick as Jujubee or Manila when forced to think on their feet.
In what couldn’t be more (less?) perfect timing, this is the episode where Milan decides to drop a Whitney Houston quote during her infomercial scene, a move that leaves all in stunned silence. This prompts Willam’s best catty quote of the episode, “Any bitch with common sense knows you don’t channel Whitney Houston in a RuPaul infomercial.” None of the infomercial performances are exceptional, although Chad and Kenya Michaels come close by really committing to their characters. Jiggly takes the plus-sized Jujubee angle to another level for her character, a kimono-wearing prostitute who gets off on listening to RuPaul, and Phi Phi gets bizarrely hood as she humps a piñata while lip-syncing “Jealous Of My Boogie.” It’s one of those challenges where no one really excels, making the audience the real winners.
Phi Phi is gearing up to be this season’s big bitch, pigeonholing Sharon into the scary girl role because she believes that's the only thing Sharon can do. “Just put some white powder on your face and look gothic; that’s all we need you to do,” Phi Phi tells her, a tactic that ends up biting her in the ass when Sharon outshines her on the runway. The girls are asked to take to the stage in their finest platinum and gold fashions, and it’s the strongest runway show of the season yet, with great showings from Latrice Royale, Dida Ritz, and the two Michaels, Kenya and Chad. Natalie Cole and Glee’s Amber Riley are the guest judges this week, and Cole is continuing to keep herself relevant by making the reality TV rounds (see Real Housewives Of New York). I haven’t watched Glee since early season two; has Riley gotten any real plots on that show yet, or is she still just the team’s go-to belter?
Chad Michaels had my favorite runway look of the night, looking gorgeous in a sleek golden floor-length gown with a made-up forehead emulating the Medusa head of the Versace medallion. It’s that kind of attention to detail that sets Chad apart, and I think it’s going to take her very far in the competition. Dida is all legs when she takes the stage, with a sassy brown bob fixing the wig problems that have been plaguing her before now. While Madame goes for a spandex body-suit and nearly ends up in the bottom, Latrice shows off her tree-trunk legs with a flirty gold minidress that shows this is one plus-sized queen without any body-image issues.
Milan continues to be insane on the runway, charging down the strip like a coked-out belly dancer, and I completely agree with last week’s comment that Milan is a walking oxymoron, devoid of personality yet still somehow trying too hard. She’s like Shangela, but at least Shangela could blame her absurdity on a lack of experience. Willam isn’t painting for high-def television this week, and there’s some weirdness going on with his makeup that creates the appearance of a 5 o’clock shadow around his chin. His revealing outfit is a risky choice, especially with his toned chest, but it ends up working out in the end.
The fully edited infomercials are just as much as of a mess as expected, with particularly lazy showings from Princess, Madame LaQueer, and Dida Ritz. Amber Riley stresses how important it is for the contestants to break out of their comfort zones and be fully committed to their characters, sage advice from a young star. Natalie Cole doesn’t give much criticism (she loves Sharon), but she does make a fantastic point when discussing Princess. This show wants people that are going to win because they’re already so close to being a drag superstar, and Princess just isn’t there. You need to enter this competition thinking you’re the shit even if you’re not, because how the hell you gonna get someone else to think you’re the shit if you don’t?
Sharon has that quality in spades, and while her distinct drag personality sets her apart from the other queens, it’s her spirit that really endears her to me. When Sharon is asked about Phi Phi’s leadership, she tells the truth, saying that Phi Phi wasn’t a very good leader, didn’t listen to her, and forced her to do the goth shtick. Sharon seems like a genuinely sincere person, which is odd considering how aggressive her style of drag is. Her honesty wins her the challenge, making Sharon Needles the first contestant this season to win more than once, a decision that will guarantee a lot of shade-throwing in future episodes. She also gets a bunch of jewelry from fiercedragjewels.com, which is actually a pretty snazzy website.
Mimicking RuPaul’s look on the Runway can’t make up for Princess’ lackluster infomercial performance, and she has to face the equally lacking Dida Ritz in a lip sync to Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).” I initially had low hopes for the lip sync, as I thought the song didn’t seem energetic enough, but Dida turns it out hard in one incredibly fierce performance. Talk about commitment! That girl dominates the stage, and she clearly has an emotional connection to both the song and Natalie Cole that translates into drag magic. “That is what a lip sync for your life looks like,” Latrice says while watching Dida throw it down. “That is high drag at its finest.”
After a stunning lip sync, Dida gets to shante into next week, while Princess returns to her tragic kingdom empty-handed. RuPaul tells Dida that her performance is what is expected of her “from now on. From now on, queen. From now on.” She says it three times to make sure it gets through, and I hope it does. Dida has shown that she has the performing skills; now, she needs to rock it in all the other areas of the competition. The top 10 shows a lot of promise, and as more queens get put on the chopping block, we’re going to start seeing a lot of last-minute fierceness. The lip sync is a wake-up call, and next week will be the real test for Dida, revealing if she can run with her newly gained momentum or if it was just a one-off instance of lip sync realness. I’m excited to find out.
- I really love the tradition of the runner-up loser from the previous week wiping off the eliminated contestant’s lipstick message. After wiping it off at the beginning of the episode, Princess has to leave his own message at the end of the episode. It’s so wonderfully cyclical.
- This episode has ridiculously gratuitous pit crew material, including a completely random shot of the two men oiling each other up.
- Natalie Cole is so skinny right now it’s worrying me.
- RuPaul looks fabulous this episode, whether wearing a tie-dye suit or a silver headscarf with a pompadour/spitcurl thing on her head.
- RuPaul jokes that if she was watching at home, she would order the albums now. Then she looks directly at the camera and says, “I mean really. Do it. Now.” This show has the best product placement ever.
- “If you’re not on top of your Ps and Qs, you’ll be Xed.”
- “That is not soy sauce in your panties. That is happy endings. Semen.”
- What the hell did Madame LaQueer say during the infomercial. “Doojah remema yoo ferss time?”
- “In space no one can hear you queen.”
- Last night I was at Hamburger Mary’s in Chicago, and a movie featuring Willam was playing in the background while a group of transsexuals broke into an all-out brawl. The police were called; it was awesome and a little scary. Willam, if you’re in the comments this week, what movie were you in featuring a man in an eyepatch?