The funny thing about this challenge – *hairflip* – is that it aired just as we were doing the final research on the chapter about acting challenges for our upcoming book – *checks nails* – on Drag Race and LGBTQ history. *sips tea*
Look, we’ll make a deal with y’all: We promise not to talk about our book every fricking day in every fricking post if you just leave us the space once a week to remind you in our Drag Race recap. Fair?
ANYWAY, there’s a bit of a longstanding tradition on Drag Race to put the queens through their paces on an acting challenge, the results of which are often as easy and pleasant to sit through as the first table read of a high school production of Hamlet.
And we’ve been right there all along, for ten years, bitching about how painful these challenges are to sit through. But we don’t know, you guys. Shangela and Willam walked the SAG Awards red carpet last month. Ginger Minj is palling around with Dolly after her critically acclaimed role in Dumplin‘. Bianca keeps churning out low budget comedy films with cult followings. Peppermint was starring on Broadway this past year. Monet just did a Pepsi commercial with Cardi B.
We’re not quite ready to claim the show is Ru’s Vocational School for Queens, but that’s a pretty decent track record among the alums.
Which isn’t to say Drag Race is responsible for their success; just that we don’t think the “WHY DO THEY HAVE THESE STUPID, AWKWARD ACTING CHALLENGES EVERY SEASON?” complaint really flies anymore. Sure, these sketches are usually awful, but any argument that they don’t have anything to do with drag? That ship has sailed.
Besides, Drag Race has always been a show structured around the career of its titular host, hence the focus on modeling, hostessing, comedy, singing, and occasionally acting. That’s Ru’s career in a nutshell.
One of the things Ru values in her definition of drag is boldness and bravery; the idea of drag as a tool for self-actualization as well as self-expression. Sure, it all gets a little too Oprah at times, but it’s a particularly good way to coach a non-actor into giving some sort of performance that isn’t a disaster; by telling them to be bold, to put aside their fear, and to find something inside themselves or in the script that they can work with and develop into something.
It’s why the show tends to single out the queens who took the nothing roles or the difficult roles – which are deliberately written into every script – and made something out of them. It’s also why it tends to single out those queens for praise when they played well against their own type or the expectations people had of them. This is why Trinity and Monique’s performances landed them in the top.
And that’s always been the main goal of these challenges. Not to get RADA-level performances out of anyone, but to get fun and brave and well-realized ones out of them. No one ever criticized a queen for not giving us Judi Dench or Meryl Streep in the acting challenges. The critiques are almost always the same. “I wanted more.” “You weren’t bold enough.” “You didn’t take it far enough.” “You let other people overshadow you.”
And not for nothing, but the acting challenges on Drag Race are always, always, ALWAYS focused on the bare-bones technical skills that every single actor needs to learn early in their careers: memorization, blocking, emphasis, not stepping on lines, knowing where the camera is, where the audience is, how to remain in character. And because this is a drag competition, the ability to take and give a stage slap seems to come up with some frequency.
Our point: Maybe this really IS Ru’s Vocational School for Girls.
Anyway, yes: The challenge wasn’t particularly fun to sit through, but as usual with these things, it gave one or two queens a chance to really shine in the way the show wants its queens to shine.
It bears repeating: This bitch is next level. As it was noted in the judging session, there’s something to be said for keeping it simple, coming out in a ramped-up take on a Catwoman costume, and letting her body do the talking. The results made for the most arresting and interesting look. We’ve been rewatching her original season and her drag, which was already polished, has become world-class polished. If that was all she had to offer, she’d be another showgirl in a long line of them, but she was hilarious in the Snatch Game, hilarious in this fairly unhilarious sketch, and puts her all into every challenge, nailing it almost every time. It would be long past due for the show to crown an all-star who wasn’t a white queen and we want that to happen, but the way this season is shaking out as we head into the finals, it’s hard to see any fair outcome that doesn’t have Trinity with a crown on her head.
We were absolutely convinced she was going home this episode. We really like Monet, think she’s got a great look when she gets it right, and love her self-confidence and wit. But she constantly suffers from an over-confident “I got this one” attitude that fails to pay off just enough times that she really should be questioning it by now. Maybe her Kim Cattrall would’ve been better than Trinity’s but we have to say, by episode’s end, we weren’t curious enough to find out. Trinity nailed it and Monet’s Kristin Davis lacked any real comedy or reason to pay attention. And the costume’s cute, but everything happening north of her neck is just weird. There’s no way anyone would look at that head and go, “You’re a CAT, right?” And honestly, we think cat-face makeup should be a no-brainer for most drag queens at this level. What is this pig-mouse drag?
We both groaned loudly and “NO GIRL”d this the second it came out. She did a fairly admirable if not exactly hilarious job in the challenge – better than we expected, in fact – but we’re sorry, her drag is extremely limited. To face a Kitty Cat Couture category on the catwalk and come out in ANOTHER gown is just a poor effort. And it’s easily the ugliest gown we’ve seen all season. Not to mention it’s clearly animal themed and not cat themed.
This was cute, creative and very on-brand for Naomi, using fashion to create a character. Unforch, that skill did not extend to her acting in the challenge. She actually did a pretty good job of mimicking SJP’s look, but as Trinity bitchily noted, every line reading was pure “Club 96.”
She was an unskilled performer who got the worst, weirdest part and she wound up overshadowing almost everyone else in the sketch. That right there is exactly what the show looks for in its acting challenges. She was hilarious. And this is the best drag she’s ever pulled off on the show. She’s been a little rough throughout the competition but we were happy to see her get some recognition and respect for good work this week.
Having said that…
While they were both very good in the lip sync, Trinity is just next-level. Every move was more polished, every comic bit landed, and her drag looked amazing in motion. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.
It was extremely manipulative of them to put all three in the bottom, but those bitches behind the scenes know what they’re doing because it produced some pretty great drama as Trinity forced the queens to name who should go home. She’s crafty, that one. She knows the other queens are all playing a more strategic and cutthroat game than she originally planned, with her constant focus on report cards. Instead of being vindictive about it, she put the decision in the hands of her competitors and it skewed fairly heavily toward Latrice, taking a lot of the blame off Trinity.
But in the end, she stuck to her original idea of eliminations based on scores rather than based on who’s more of a threat to her – maybe. Any of the other remaining girls were likely to be more of a threat to her than Latrice – if this was a real competition, that is. We tend to think the show really wanted to give the crown to Latrice this season and kept pushing it in that direction, but Trinity wasn’t having it. She saw this for what it was. In a real competition, she might not have had to worry about Latrice, but in this highly manipulated, largely planned-out competition, Latrice had the highest likelihood of riding a storyline straight to the crown and Trinity knew it. Do not count this crafty bitch out.
For what it’s worth, it also happened to be the correct choice. Latrice is a fabulous queen, but her drag is, as we said, limited. To her enormous credit, after several episodes of declaring her absolute right to be recognized in this competition, she left graciously and with no hurt feelings.
That’s kind of the thing about All-Stars. Yes, it’s manipulated and the outcomes tend to not be as fair as they should be, but in the end, all of these bitches are going to hit the road and make a lot of money off their time here. It’s hard to get too upset about outcomes when the stakes seems so low, which is why we tend to treat it more like a variety show than an actual competition.
[Stills: VH1 via Tom and Lorenzo]