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RuPaul's Drag Race puts the pedal to the metal for the season 15 premiere

A new network, a huge cast, and special guest judge Ariana Grande make for a tremendous return

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A still from RuPaul’s Drag Race
A still from RuPaul’s Drag Race
Screenshot: MTV

For the two-part premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15, RuPaul invited a record-setting 16 queens to compete for the crown. The franchise finally switched up its split premiere format with great results. With entrances, two photoshoot mini-challenges, a talent show, a separate runway, and a special guest judge in Ariana Grande. it was a l`ot to take in. The rundown of this double episode is divided into seven rings/sections to cover as much as possible.

The entrances

Seattle’s Irene Dubois entered first as a sunset crossed with the coronavirus. She remarks on a bad smell before proclaiming “it’s me” to the empty room. Luxx Noir London follows and informs the audience that she is “stunning.” Period. The two get off to an awkward start over the correct measurements of a wig. It shows Irene as a shady queen, and that Luxx may not be able to take a joke. Aura’s entrance breaks the tension. The Nashville queen has a tagline, but it’s her dancing she wants to show off to let everyone know she’s a “high energy” queen. Marcia Marcia Marcia also puts on a bit of a show when she enters looking like Cousin It. She instantly gives a reveal when she flips her hair showing off a bandaged nose before saying “Ow, my nose,” referencing her namesake Marcia Brady. The only New York City queen, Marcia lets us know upfront that she has weaponized her BFA and is a trained dancer and actor.

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Halfway through the first roster, Anetra enters and succinctly asks “What?” Hailing from Las Vegas, she turns out to be a fascinating and rare combination of a highly quick-witted stunt queen. Malaysia Babydoll Foxx is the first to bring polished pageantry to the workroom as inexplicably the first queen from Miami to compete. Her hair, styled as a fox, and a self-deprecating joke about not doing well at pageants suggest that with her glamour comes humor. The penultimate queen, Princess Poppy announces “I’m homo” before whispering “phobic,” referencing her viral Tik Tok video. She plays along with the queens commenting on her outfit, hinting at her own humor and attitude. The lineup ends with the legend herself, Sasha Colby. Before she even announces herself, the queens ponder if it is indeed her and eventually asks: “Should we just go home?” It’s a reasonable question considering Sasha’s reputation.

Halfway through the episode, the crew starts to scrub the werkroom, leaving no trace of the former queens. Salina EsTitties enters with abundant energy as the “hustling diva of West Hollywood.” She is joined by Amethyst, a self-proclaimed meme queen straight of out Y2K, and the second queen to tout going viral on Tik Tok. Jax follows, calling herself the MVP and the “Simone Biles of drag,” highlighting her history of competitive athletics. Once Loosey LaDuca passes through the doorway, it is clearly Connecticut’s season, with eventually four queens hailing from the small state.

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Mistress Isabelle Brooks comes in proclaiming, “Don’t be fooled. The camera adds ten pounds.” The tagline is a witty remark about her being the “big” girl for the competition. Perhaps her most genius moment is when she responds to the other girls calling her big. She simply states: “A big girl? Where?” After being teased about her kitten heels, Mistress reveals her claws as quite possibly the shadiest queen of the season.

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From Texas back to Connecticut, Robin Fierce enters using Snow White’s “mirror, mirror,” with a terrific comedy delivery of “It’s me.” As the Connecticut queens converge, there is a sense of shared history and a former tryst between Robin and Amethyst. The second group concludes with a Drag Race second double entrance, after Manila and Latrice in All Stars 4. Like most twins, Sugar and Spice share commonalities visually and in personality, but a close inspection also reveals their differences. Amidst a slew of doll and toy puns, they reveal they are also Tik Tok famous with limited performance experience. While some queens claim to know who they are, Mistress, who knows them, revels in denying them the satisfaction of acknowledgment. There is an interesting contrast between the reverence of Sasha Colby’s entrance and the skepticism at the introduction of Sugar and Spice.

Each entrance sequence is punctuated by the appearance of Drag Race legend Ornacia. Her first appearance is the reveal of second-time guest judge Ariana Grande, and the latter has Ornacia’s drag mother, season six’s Vivacious. This is not meant as a slight to Vivacious, who is stellar, but it must feel like a letdown for the second group of queens not to meet Ariana Grande.

Watch The First 5 Minutes Of Season 15 😱✨ RuPaul’s Drag Race

The mini-challenges

Each group is given a photoshoot mini-challenge inspired by seasons one and two, respectively. The first group must pose at a car wash featuring the pit crew. After 15 years, it is still great television watching drag get wet. More important than the final product is how the queens handle each challenge. The photo shoot concerns attitude and how they interact with RuPaul and the camera.

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Irene feels at home whereas Luxx finds only discomfort. Similar to the introductions, it seems like Luxx may take things too seriously. Aura tries to amp up the sex appeal of the situation. Marcia struggles but her sense of humor helps. Likewise, Anetra loses an eyelash in the melee. Malaysia demonstrates how drag is not water-soluble. Princess Poppy is great at volleying with RuPaul. Sasha seems not to enjoy the lack of control, but she manages to get an epic shot. Irene is declared the winner.

There is a fundamental shift when the second group of queens has to contend with the wind while posing on a motorcycle. The key to the photoshoot is connecting with the camera. Salina, Amethyst, and Loosey attempt to infuse the situation with comedy, while Jax, Mistress, and Robin take it more seriously. There were fewer interactions with RuPaul, although he enjoyed the show when the fans were turned on. When Sugar gets on the bike, she seems particularly out of her element despite claiming looking pretty is her forte. Spice attempts to take more control of the situation by removing her wig in favor of a shower cap. RuPaul is rightfully puzzled by the joke as it doesn’t have the punchline Spice probably imagined. Mistress is declared the winner of the second photoshoot.

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The “Werkroom”

The queens were forced together to rehearse a group number. As usual, it was more orchestrated to put pressure on the queens, forcing them to work as a team to see what tensions may arise. During the workroom and rehearsal time, tensions were brewing between Marcia and Aura as choreographers, and Mistress and the twins. As a veteran with nothing to prove, Sasha was fascinating to watch, saving her best material for later in the season. The main standout was a sense of seasoned queens versus “baby queens.” There was a discussion about how long each contestant has been doing drag. Connected to that was a divide between the performers who emphasize the stage and those who emphasize social media.

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Despite the skepticism of younger, socially inclined queens, Luxx and Sugar’s chat shed light on what is happening. It is a curious period because the show has inspired young people to try out drag, in turn finding that social media is their only outlet before being allowed into drag bars, and that in the age of the pandemic, new and seasoned queens have been shut out from the live performance. This may be an ongoing narrative thread of the season, recalling the main arch of season seven, but transitioning from an Instagram to Tik Tok generation.

MEET THE QUEENS OF SEASON 15! 🚘 | RuPaul’s Drag Race 👠✨

The main challenge

The main challenge opened with a group number. Considering the amount of rehearsal and time preparing, it seemed like a lot of work for a minute of footage. Despite that, it was an enjoyable number. But the real show was the largest talent show in Drag Race history. Considering the sheer mass of the show, there was a hope that more performers would think outside the box, but overall it was well done.

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Most queens opted for the safe route, performing to an original pre-recorded track, which may have been a lack of imagination or strategic decision. The premise does allow queens to introduce themselves lyrically and sonically. Of the queens that chose that path—Malaysia, Mistress, Spice, Sugar, Silina, and Luxx—some succeeded while some faded to the background. Each differed based on the queen’s addition of comedy, stunts, dance, or some combination of the three.

Mistress and Malaysia’s numbers highlighted their role as the “big” girls of the competition, but Mistress was more impactful using boxing imagery and incorporating more comedy into the number. Both queens incorporated pit crew member Bryce with a prop, but Mistress’ candy bar had greater power than Malaysia’s crown. Likewise, Spice and Sugar’s performances had a lot of overlap. While they performed better than expected, it was palpable how their movements have been calibrated for the limited range of a phone camera than an actual stage. Given their numbers’ similarity, it certainly didn’t help Sugar go second. It might have worked better if they had gone back-to-back or shared the stage.

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Silina’s number had the most outstanding production value and incorporated a big reveal. The intensity of her performance was equal parts entertaining and off-putting, which may be her struggle this season. Luxx gave an excellent performance, with a polished look and impressive dancing. She might have said it best for the entire group when she revealed she did enough to stay another week. Coincidently this entire group of queens was deemed safe.

The next group of queens—Robin, Aura, Sasha, and Amethyst—did more of the same, except they performed to a non-original track, which is a risky move considering what happened to Daya Betty last season. Robin and Arura gave dance-forward performances, but the stunts performed by Robin outshined the oddly stationary and aggressive movements of Aura. Sasha and Amethyst used non-original tracks in opposite ways. Sasha’s number was intense and emotional, bordering on interpretive. On the other end of the spectrum, Amethyst chose comedy, which may have worked had it been better structured. Except for Amethyst, this group of queens was also declared safe.

MEET THE QUEENS OF SEASON 15! 🚘 | RuPaul’s Drag Race 👠✨

The remaining queens—Jax, Anetra, Marcia, Poppy, Loosey, and Irene—thought outside the box and were rewarded or punished for their decision. Adjacent to dance, Jax separated herself through her unique athletic prowess and an ingenious braided jump rope. Anetra combined stunts, humor, and the unexpected element of TaeKwonDo for an unforgettable performance. She likely also coined the season’s first catchphrase, and the franchise’s second involving a duck, with “Walk that fucking duck!” Marcia gave a memorable show focusing on her dance skills with impressive character work in a hilarious, unhinged number. Princess Poppy gave an equally subversive performance, juxtaposing pretty with perverse in a puppet show duet. There is a sense that had there been a top-four at the end of the episode, it would have been Poppy.

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Finally, the queens who took a risk failed. Loosey sang live, but her vocals didn’t meet expectations, and the limitation of her movement made the performance dull in comparison. Irene’s premise was destined to be spectacular or a disaster. What seemed like a cross between the educational tucking tutorial by Trinity the Tuck and the blissful stupidity of Scarlet Evny’s bubble burlesque, Irene decided to make a glass of ice water for her talent. The water must have been flat because that is how the performance felt.

The runway

The runway category is “Who is she?” translating to signature drag and a look that personifies their persona. The difficulty is that each queen’s entrance look is supposed to do the same. In a way, this runway’s real challenge is continuing the established narrative while elevating it.

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Irene underlines her role as the alien queen in both looks. The outfits were opposed in color and mood, but both personified her intergalactic brand. The entrance outfit gives a cross between a sunset and the coronavirus and her runway references the alien from Alien designed by artist H.R. Giger. Ironically, Luxx’s runway look was actually in need of a reference. For a signature drag challenge, Luxx’s ensemble resembled one by Aquaria during season 10 in color, shape, and historical inspiration. It’s always okay to cite other queens, but it should be mentioned, or perhaps it wasn’t intentional, but it didn’t feel fresh, new, or original.

In the case of Aura and Robin, their looks were cohesive but unremarkable. Each queen had well-constructed garments, but they lacked personality. It is clear that Aura loves sleek black ensembles with sculptural elements, but it was repetitive after three in a row. Robin, who accurately described her runway as glamorous yet functional, also failed to thrill. The problem with their looks was that they could be on any queen, they didn’t feel unique to their personalities.

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Marcia and Silina were consistent. Both their looks felt like they came from the same idea or closet, but Marcia succeeded where Silina failed at when to wear what. All of Marcia’s looks met her reference points perfectly. Her entrance was perfectly fine, but her runway showed how she could elevate her aesthetic while staying true to her persona. Silina gave two looks connected to the “Chola” concept, but her flaw was wearing the stronger look during her entrance instead of the runway. The judges don’t judge the entrances after all.

Anetra and Poppy presented looks that defined their personas to differing effects. The former personified what Michelle called “Street Fighter meets Ballroom,” emphasizing metallic warrior looks with sharp details in all three of her main looks this week. Poppy kept a narrative going as a polished, minimalist camp queen, which is a difficult needle to thread. The only drawback of Poppy’s looks was that the thoughts felt somewhat minor while conceptual.

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Malaysia, Mistress, and Sasha all brought pageant drag to the runway. Like Salina, Malaysia simply wore the wrong outfit at the wrong time. While her white gown was stunning, the orange fox look she entered in had more personality, illustrating a sense of humor coupled with her pristine look. Mistress found the correct order as her look embodies “Big Texas Drag,” but her runway had more personal branding than her entrance. Finally, Sasha represented pageant drag by wearing a dress she wore the year she won the Miss Continental Pageant. She also exuded calm confidence by wearing a dress she’s had for ten years, proving she can still fit in it. The look sent a message to the other queens that Sasha is a legend. She can wear a decade-old dress and stun on the runway without missing a beat.

Speaking of the past, Amethyst and Jax decided to channel historical (to them) periods. Amethyst’s looks were equally matched with pastels, but let down by disappointing hair. Jax, who spotlighted her athleticism in a varsity-inspired entrance look, showed a different side with a ‘90s Fly Girl ensemble that RuPaul and Michelle loved. While they showed different sides of Jax, each had great attention to detail and authenticity.

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The final trio that quizzically decided to reference others in a signature drag runway were Loosey, Sugar, and Spice. Loosey channeled Britney Spears in her “Toxic” music video but still managed to give it her campy spin. Sugar and Spice paid homage to Disney princesses, continuing their fascination with ephemera from childhood. As Belle and Ariel, respectively, it seemed like a missed opportunity for Sugar to be a princess and Spice to be a villain. It would have been better for Sugar to be a sexy Ariel and Spice to be a sexy Ursula.

The judging

The judging was surprisingly fair and insightful. Their praise of the top queens was generous and valid. Their criticism of the bottom queens was constructive and accurate. RuPaul seemed to be having a great time throughout. Michelle gave precise feedback and challenges to the queens. Ross was funny and endearing with each contestant. Grande remained a terrific and present judge, who obviously loves the show and the performers.

Season 15 Trailer ft. Guest Judge Ariana Grande! 🏁✨ RuPaul’s Drag Race

The lip sync:

It seems as if Loosey’s emotional moment followed by an excellent joke about refusing to pad, saved her from the bottom two. Irene and Amethyst learned the danger of comedy, as Ariana put it, “it has to land.” Amethyst simply misplaced her punchline and Irene failed to find one.

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They perform to Grande’s “7 Rings,” which makes it the ninth song featured by the singer on the show, only behind Britney Spears and RuPaul herself. It remains a unique experience when an artist gets to judge the show while their track is featured. Grande could barely contain her excitement watching the performance and even sang along.

It was an evenly matched lip sync, with Irene and Amethyst doing well. The one drawback to Irene’s performance was her commitment. Amethyst gave a comedic interpretation, while Irene played it straight. While she could have won, she later shifted the tone and added comedic elements, undercutting what came before. Additionally, Amethyst was able to add a jump split. Sometimes a lip sync is so close that it can be decided by the split of the legs.

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It’s a shame to see Irene go, as she seemed like a delightfully shady queen who could create drama. In retrospect, her elimination seemed preordained as the edit heavily featured her and she won a mini-challenge. It turned out to be a graceful exit; hopefully, she will be a well-remembered and regarded first-eliminated queen.

Stray observations

  • I want to see Marcia and Willow Pill co-headline a tour in which they do their talent show performances back to back.
  • How does Aura not know who Bruno is?
  • The Pit Crew in shows. Willam will be so happy. (Listen to Race Chaser Pod if you don’t know why).
  • The film nerd in me is thrilled to see references to Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! followed by one to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
  • I wonder how fresh that Will Smith joke Salina had in her number was at the time of filming.
  • Favorite moments: RuPaul saying “fuzzy slits,” Mistress pretending not to know Sugar and Spice, and Anetra coining “fucking walk that duck!”
  • My current top four: Mistress, Anetra, Loosey, and Sasha