Any time a queen complains about this competition being skewed toward comedy challenges, it’s an indicator that she doesn’t have a strong enough personality to win the crown. Having a strong personality on RuPaul’s Drag Race doesn’t mean simply playing a character, it means appearing completely natural while playing a character with wit and compassion and strong opinions about herself and the queens in her surrounding environment, a cocktail that is difficult to serve flawlessly. This week in Untucked, both Laganja and Trinity throw down the comedy bias excuse to explain their lackluster performances, blaming the show because they aren’t prepared for the reality of the competition.
Laganja and Trinity are both glamour queens who believe their strengths lie in choreography and rapping, and this week’s ’90s rap music video challenge is a harsh reminder that doing well in a few selective areas isn’t going to cut it on this show, especially if you can't deliver when the time comes. Is there a dance element to this competition? Yes. Is there a fashion element? Yes. Those fall under the Talent section of Drag Race’s four basic criteria, which still leaves Charisma, Uniqueness, and Nerve unaccounted for in both contestants. It takes nerve for Trinity to reveal her positive HIV status on national television so she’s a notch above Laganja in that department, but ultimately, these queens don’t have the personality to compete with characters like Bianca, Adore, and Joslyn.
Queens should come into this competition knowing who they will perform in The Snatch Game, and they should start thinking of reads for the Library on the very first day—build up a “Rolodex of Hate,” as Bianca would say. “Oh No She Betta Don’t” begins with a visit to the Library for this season’s “Reading Is Fundamental” challenge, which is largely successful except for (surprise surprise) Laganja and Trinity. Instead of flooding Stray Observations with reads, here are the highlights of the mini-challenge:
- “Miss Ben Dela Creme. After seeing you in drag, I realize now why Seattle has such a high suicide rate.”
- “Joslyn Fox. She’s so gay, even her asshole has a lisp.”
- “I know what you got on your SATs: ketchup.”
- “Trinity. I believe your smile belongs on season 4. Every day is Shark Week with your grill.”
- “Miss Laganja Estranja. Next time you death drop, reverse that and drop dead.” (The best of the night.)
- “Miss Darienne Lake. You should be arrested for animal cruelty. The way you abuse those kitten heels on the runway is absolutely criminal.”
- “Adore. You know you’re from the West Coast because it’s a three-hour delay before you finally get a joke.”
- “Darienne Lake. This is a girl that probably sits reverse cowgirl on the toilet just so she has a flat surface to eat off of.”
- “(Slow) Adore Delano. I am going to say this very slowly so you can understand…you’re dumb.”
There were lots of jokes about Adore being stupid and Darienne being large, and those two queens laughed right along with everyone else because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Laganja’s facecrack after Adore’s brilliant “dead drop” read is a perfect visual representation of her overly sensitive, completely clueless attitude. She doesn’t get that a major part of visiting the Library is showing that you have the nerve to take shade and laugh at it before you throw it right back in the bitches’ faces, and her sourpuss face proves that she can’t handle the emotional pressure of being criticized.
If Laganja can’t deal with shade when it’s being thrown at her from eight of her competitors, how will she handle it when it’s coming from millions of fans watching the show? When it’s her chance to read, she calls Adore “Abhor DeLamo” and wears a pair of googly-eyed glasses so that she can do a really horrible Crypt Keeper joke aimed at Bianca. In short: it’s a big fail. Trinity shows more backbone than Laganja by laughing along with the reads directed her way, but she makes the big mistake of reading herself. After some half-assed shade thrown at Darienne, Trinity whips out a little bit about her clip-on fake hair, taking a shot at herself because she doesn’t have any substantial ammunition for the other girls. She gets some pity applause for the effort, and that’s all she deserves.
Judging by the quality of her wardrobe, it’s not too far of a stretch to say that Laganja comes from a bit of money. This may be completely wrong, but my theory is that Laganja was a well-off child who was showered with attention by her parents, attention that diminished when she came out of the closet and started performing as a drag queen. Her ghetto homegirl drag persona is a way to distance herself from a sheltered suburban upbringing, a shortcut to street cred that tries to mimic the qualities of someone who has gone through life without the same kind of privilege. Rap music is a big part of that drag identity, but when Laganja has to write and perform her own rhymes, she resorts to clichés and fails to bring a distinct character to her work. She’s safe because she turns it out on the runway, but it would be very interesting to see how far Laganja would get in this competition if she had to operate on an Adore budget.
Trinity earns a lot of screen time this week after she reveals her HIV status to the rest of the queens at the start of the episode, but there’s still a major attitude problem that keeps her from reaching her true potential. When DeLa tells her that this week’s rap challenge is the perfect time to work on the enunciation that the judges are hounding her about, Trinity gets offended instead of listening to the advice and fixing her shit. She says there’s no need for syllables in rap music, but she ends up in the bottom two because the judges can’t decipher her verse. Ignorance is a big issue with these younger queens, and it’s refreshing to see someone like Adore who is actually open to criticism and willing to learn instead of constantly being on the defensive.
Adore and Bianca have quickly become this season’s dynamic duo, dominating both the challenges and the cutaway interviews, and this week sees them rising to the top again when they show off their rap skills. They both also do exceptionally well in the Library, and while Darienne is named the winner of this year’s “Reading Is Fundamental” mini-challenge, Adore and Bianca take her down once they start spitting rhymes. Adore has some trouble at first but nails her verse on the last take, and she’s the queen who sounds the most like a biological female rapper. She looks incredible with era-appropriate overalls and a short wig that is way nicer than what she normally walks down the runway with, and Adore’s video performance is strong enough that the judges overlook any problems with her runway ensemble to give her the win this week.
I’m happy to see Adore win this week, but Bianca probably deserves it more thanks to an outstanding runway look and hilarious performance in the music video. Her verse is smooth and clever, her look is on point for a ’90s b-girl, and she improvises a number of great little visual gags that make it into the final product. Santino calls out Bianca for reminding him of Urkel in the music video, but Michelle thankfully butts in to tell Santino that Bianca nailed early ’90s b-girl fashion. And even if that video ensemble reads more masculine, Bianca’s runway outfit accentuates the feminine to show just how diverse her style is, fully embracing glamour without any clownish undertones to deliver “’60s Valley Of The Dolls caftan realness.”
Diversity is Bianca’s greatest strength, and in just a few episodes, she’s exhibited a rare gift for cutting bitches to shreds while proving that she can act, sing, write lyrics, dance, model, and sew. She’s a complete package that gets more well rounded every week, and her brilliant move this episode is showing compassion and admiration for Trinity after she reveals her HIV status. It’s a genius strategy, giving Trinity the chance to provide more insight into her big reveal while bringing attention to Bianca as she shares her own story about a friend who committed suicide after he learned of his HIV diagnosis.
It’s getting harder and harder to classify Bianca as a bitch when she goes out of her way to make her competitors feel comfortable and appreciated, and after a catty first few weeks, Bianca has asserted herself as the most maternal figure in this competition. (One thing I missed last week was Bianca helping the other queens with their makeup before The Snatch Game, which is downright saintly behavior on this series.) Bianca has this extremely sharp wit that is always ready to attack someone who deserves it, but her recent behavior gives the impression that Bianca’s top priority is actually making friends and building a bigger drag family. When a queen does something that is deserving of respect, Bianca extends an olive branch and offers her support, but that doesn’t mean anyone is safe when the time comes for her to throw shade.
Joslyn rounds out the top three, making some bad decisions on the runway but surprising the judges with her music video performance. She exudes a raw joy that is difficult not to love; my first impression of Joslyn was completely wrong, but the premiere showed the worst of Joslyn while each new week reveals more of the best. She’s so excited to be participating in all these challenges that she’s watched in previous seasons, and her combination of enthusiasm, preparation, and confidence makes her one of the season’s most delightful contestants. Her style could still use refinement, but as a performer she’s consistently on the higher end of the group, and the judges start to take note of her talent after this week’s rap challenge. It’s a lot of fun to watch Joslyn blossom while Courtney fades, especially after her self-serving Library read calling Joslyn a low-rent Courtney Act. (Bitch, get over yourself.)
There’s a lot of work that goes into Darienne and DeLa’s drag personas, and showing that extra effort is what prevents them from being as charismatic as Bianca, Adore, and Joslyn. This is where “natural” plays a big part, and while DeLa is able to turn off the artifice once she’s out of drag, Darienne keeps it up at all times, making all her lines sound like they’ve been rehearsed to Valerie Cherish levels of exhaustion.
DeLa and Darienne have a rivalry developing, and it reveals some of the negative qualities of DeLa that have been kept hidden up to this point. DeLa brags about being the first queen to have two wins, but when Darienne doesn’t pick her for her rap team made up of previous challenge winners, DeLa resents her for getting stuck with the losers. Seeing DeLa up on her high horse and desperate to be a part of the “winners” group diminishes her charm a bit, but she kicks Darienne’s ass when it comes to rapping so she still has the upper hand in this rivalry. Here’s DeLa’s verse in its entirety because it’s pretty damn good:
This is Dela to the Creme,
I’m the fatal femme,
But I got the candy coatin’
So they call me Creminem.
That’s Creme au Français
Voulez want to couchez?
I back four fly ladies
Who be comin’ your way.
The high point of Darienne’s rap is when she trips over the garbage cans before she even begins. She’s out of her element and visibly shaking with nerves during her recording session, and that anxiety reads on the camera. She’s saved by a polished but unexceptional runway look, leaving Trinity to lip sync for her life against Milk, who finally aims for a more feminine, glamorous look on the runway but falls short with her cheap-looking mermaid get-up. Milk’s rap verse is nonsense but she is a lot of fun to watch, especially once she starts dancing and really lets the Muppet influence take over her entire body, an influence that returns in her manic lip sync to “What A Man.”
Milk delivers a high-energy performance, but Trinity sashays to safety because she connects with the music, capturing the emotion behind the words while Milk hops around her. When it comes to lip syncing for your life, understanding the tone and energy of the song and incorporating that into your face and body will always beat out frenzied movement, which ends up distracting from the lyrics. Like Trinity and Laganja, Milk also suffers from a lack of personality so it’s doesn’t feel like much of a loss to see her go, but after last week’s Gia Gunn bitchfest, it’s very nice to watch Milk leave the series with dignity and appreciation for the time she’s been given to show the world her unique self.
As Gillian Jacobs predicted, Milk said she had to stay true to her style and went home shortly after, but it’s also the right time for her to go. It’s unlikely that Milk brought the kind of feminine wardrobe that the judges wanted to see from her, and she wasn’t doing much to garner screen time in the work room or Untucked. Milk had some bold ideas about her drag appearance but not much else, and that’s just not enough on a season packed with this much talent.
- This week in Untucked: Laganja, Courtney, and DeLa do not make for a very entertaining first half. The editors make up for a lack of comedy and drama by heavily relying on music cues. A lackluster shade session unfolds in the Gold Room. The queens address Trinity’s pouty attitude. “Let me ask you a very fair question: What do you do successfully? Quickly.” Gia continues to be a nasty cunt from beyond the grave. “Look where you’re at, bitch. Home. Writing letters to us.”
- Mark your calendars because April 7 is a new holiday, the day the drag gods give us two back-to-back episodes of Drag Race. That’s three muthafishin’ hours! (Although the return of the stand-up comedy challenge adds a certain amount of dread to the anticipation.)
- Courtney Act is in this episode. She doesn’t do much.
- Do guest judges Trina and Eve provide any sort of coaching for the queens during that music video or are they just there to make them nervous? Despite Eve’s bored look at the start of the runway show, they participate much more on the judges’ panel and offer up some solid critiques.
- Joslyn laughing with a dial-up modem coming out of her mouth is perfect. Ben’s delivery of the read is not.
- RuPaul is serving up emerald goddess with ’90s Bernadette Peters hair on the runway.
- This week’s runway theme of “Crazy Sexy Cool” apparently means “dress however the hell you want.”
- Trinity’s hippie runway outfit works a lot better once she ditches the headband and picket sign, proving the value of editing and simplifying to attract focus where it counts.
- I love it when RuPaul’s “Silence!” cuts off one of the judges mid-sentence.
- Missed hashtag opportunities: #wideandsassy #muthafishin #milkintime
- Milk just wants her cell phone.
- “At least Beyoncé’s dresses hit the floor.”
- “Thank you, Dr. Seuss.”
- “I don’t really wanna look like ’N Sync, bitch. I wanna look like Salt-n-Pepa.”
- “This is actually a really fun challenge for me, because I spit ill shit on the fuckin’ daily.”
- “Wide and sassy. That was my name in prison.”
- “She’s everything I want to be when I’m 57.”
- “You just have to keep it Foxy. Wonk wonk.”
- “‘Um’ is not an answer, sir!”
“Now wait a minute. Has anyone seen my dog?”
- RuPaul: “It’s black Cher!” Michelle: “Why it gotta be black?”
- “Whenever I put fake leather on my body I turn into Catwoman.”
- “I’ma call yo’ ass chimney ’cuz you look like a brick.”
- “Lookin’ like this ain’t a goddamn stunt. All you other bitches better lick my… foot.”
- “I didn’t put it, but I did snort it.”
- RuPaul: “She had a song on The Bodyguard soundtrack.” Michelle: “Track 9. Go on!”
- “In my heart, it will always be milkin’ time.”