Kittens, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover (most of it on terrain completely unfamiliar to us), so let’s get right to it. But make no mistake: we’re behind on covering Drag Race Italia not because it’s unworthy of coverage, but because there’s just too much Drag Race out there. This is Italia’s first season, and everyone – judges, guests, and queens – are so thrilled to be there that we’re completely won over by how charming it is.
Without being too broad in our assessments, Italia reminds us quite a bit of Drag Race España‘s first season; the way it’s loaded with rough but truly game queens, has judges passionate about the art of drag, and stays very true to its own culture without giving a thought as to whether it’s palatable or understandable to American fans. We’ll repeat something we said about España that remains true here: It feels like we’re watching a popular Italian variety show, which is exactly how Drag Race Italia should feel.
Why did they put the queens in quickdrag for a limbo contest? Because watching drag queens limbo is inherently entertaining, of course. Also:
We are truly thankful for these Italian blessings. Seriously, it’s nice to see a Drag Race franchise utilize the hell out of their Pit Crew. Covid stole much from us, but nothing more sacred than our right to see hot men in banana hammocks grace our screen on the regular.
The queens were asked to write and perform an informercial on a product of their devising and the results were frenetic and kind of hard for us to parse.
Some of the queens seemed more in control than others, but it would be difficult for us to assess or critique them in a specific way. So much of drag performing is universal, but when you ask them to get into wordplay and cultural references (both huge aspects of drag), we’re gonna just sit over here and nod along. Having said that, in the broadest terms, we sensed that Enorma came off the most prepared and we thought Le Riche was easily the worst. Luquisha was probably the most energetic, and Ivana seemed terribly unsure of herself. Ava is just a big messy queen and we keep having trouble telling Elektra and Divinity apart, largely because we don’t find their drag memorable enough.
The queens were all asked to pay tribute to various divas, which kind of makes us wonder if this version of Drag Race is going to skip the Snatch Game challenge. From what we can tell, Ava Hangar’s Moira Orfei tribute was somewhat on point, but his makeup, wig, and finishing touches are always rough. Elektra’s Lady Gaga was just okay and Divinity’s Beyoncé was honestly kind of terrible.
Luquisha’s Britney drag was kind of cute, but we agree once again with the judges that she obscures her face way too much. We got the reference with Le Riche’s entry, but it took us a minute and we tend to think if you’re going to drag Kim Kardashian, you better execute it flawlessly.
Ivana said she was giving us Maria Callas, but there was little of her to be found here. Her drag is very polished, but it’s always the same extremely aging matron drag, no matter the theme or style. Having said that, no one was serving mature drag more than Enorma, who’s made it something of her calling card in the competition so far. She called this a Sophia Loren tribute, but we don’t really think she looks like her here.
It’s very old school drag – so much so that it half makes us wonder if Enorma’s not being truthful when she says she’s only 46. Yes, that was a shady-ass thing for us to say, but this is pure 1960 drag revue drag and while we don’t consider that worthy of a critique if it’s done well – as it is here – it’s surprising to see such a retro version of drag get rewarded on Drag Race. She really seemed to impress the judges and she does come across far more polished than most of the other girls there, with a broader array of talents at her disposal. No matter the franchise or country, Drag Race almost always defaults to rewarding the more modern, more youthful queens, so this kind of frontrunner status is notable.
We can’t really argue with the idea of putting Le Riche and Ivana in the lip sync, but it seemed fairly obvious who was going to survive it.
While we think Ivana has some high polish to her drag, it doesn’t show much diversity and she comes across as a really timid performer. We can’t argue with the elimination, but we’re sorry to see the only big girl in the group go so soon.
Night of a Thousand Raffaella Carràs
The diva love continued into the next episode, which was entirely devoted to honoring Italian singer/icon Raffaella Carràs and once again, we find ourselves completely outside the reference circle, if you know what we mean.
The salute to Rafaella was maintained throughout the episode, from mini to main challenge and on to the runway category. While we’ve been very entertained by all our googling of her and enjoy watching queens from another culture bow down to a diva we don’t know (the universality of it is amusing), there’s just no way we could give critiques or assessments of how anyone did. So much of these sorts of drag tributes come down to capturing some hard-to-describe quality or spark of the original person. Our ignorance of her makes us the poorest choice to provide commentary on the work this week.
The queens had to put on their best Rafaella for a Rusical based on her life and career. And y’know? It’s actually not a bad way to get the broad strokes across. We knew way more about her after this number was over than we did when it started. We can’t rate the performances but we have to admit, we were confused by some of the judges’ decisions. We thought Ava was bad, but we also thought Le Riche was fairly good. We thought Divinity was just okay and we might have even given Enorma the nod for another relatively smooth performance.
We couldn’t possibly rate any of these looks either, so we’ll take this moment to single out just how good the Drag Race Italia judges are. Tommaso is the most biting and incisive and somehow manages to escape the Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman trap of his cuteness making his criticisms seem cruel. Priscilla gives extremely good practical and technical critiques (his advice to Enorma to go bigger and exaggerate more couldn’t have been more on point) and Chiara is exactly what we want to see in a straight ciswoman drag judge: exuberance, glamour, craziness and an understanding of the art. They’re all really fun to listen to and most of the guest judges have been at or above their level. It’s a refreshing change from Ru and Michelle’s increasingly stale and frustratingly vague critiques.
Similarly, Tiziano Ferro’s clear love of drag and over-the-top excitement that Drag Race Italia finally exists makes him one of the very best celebrity coaches any version of the show ever had. His glee was palpable and you could tell the queens were incredibly touched and awed by it.
Backstage, the girls all got into another huge fight, but since they all talk over each other and the subtitler simply isn’t up to the task of keeping up with them, we honestly never know what started it or what it’s about, except everyone winds up declaring themselves the greatest drag queen in the group. It’s honestly entertaining as hell to watch.
We don’t know if Divinity made for the clearest choice as the winner, but Priscilla’s point that it’s better to be memorable than be technically perfect, describes a huge part of drag and drag history.
We’d say both Le Riche and Ava ate that lip sync up, but we thought Le Riche did the better job. Still, they wanted a happy ending in honor of Rafaella and we’re not gonna be the queens to argue with that. Between this save and Luquisha’s in episode 1, we’re wondering if there’s going to be some sort of clearing-the-decks massacre in an episode to come.
Our book, Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR, is on sale wherever fine books are sold!
Drag Race Italia fans! The Italian Language edition of our book, RuPaul e le altre is on sale now wherever fine books are sold in Italy!
[Photo Credit: WOW Plus via Tom and Lorenzo]