She’s back, people!
And, more to the point, so are they!
While production is wrapping up on Season 6, Logo has decided to re-broadcast the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race (or as they’re billing it, “The Lost Season”). Because so much of what makes the show happened in that first season, I figured we should all watch together (as a drag loving family) and enjoy. So let’s start at the very beginning, or say to ourselves “What A Difference Five Seasons Make…”
While I am very much in favor of Logo finally re-broadcasting the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I am not so in favor of how it’s being broadcast; namely it’s being re-shown with interruptions by Ru and random factoids ala Pop-Up Videos. Frankly the extra noise is rather distracting from what was, and still is, a fascinating first season of a reality TV show.
Re-watching the first season is illuminating of any show but especially reality television shows for several reasons. You get to see where most of the core concepts and key challenges come from (with the exceptions of Snatch Game and the Reading challenge in this case). You also get to see what the show was like when it was a little rawer and not as polished or formulamatic (as in the example of comparing the current season of Project Runway with its first). In the case of RPDR, you get to see the original nine cast members that broke new ground for television and the art of drag. Also, and this is one of the big reasons that people love Season 1, this is probably the single most diverse cast in the show’s history. You have a glamazon (Bebe Zahara Bennet), a showgirl (Shanel), a fishy girl (Rebecca Glasscock), a big pageant queen (Victoria “Porkchop” Parker), a comedy queen (Tammie Brown), a talent queen (Jade), a ghetto queen (Akashia), a genderfuck queen (Nina Flowers), and a ladyboy (Ongina). While the later seasons would have more than one in each category and many that would cross boundaries, this season drew clearer lines about the various styles of drag.
Anyway, enough theory, let’s get to the actual recap…
After the girls arrive in the original work room, they face their first mini-challenge; the now de rigeur photo shoot with celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz and The Pit Crew. Could you imagine the shock that they must have had when they realized they were going to be literally hosed down while still in drag? Some of the queens were able to roll with it, and some not so much. Then Ru introduces the main challenge; using contents from the thrift store, the queens have to recreate their drag personas. It quickly arises who is playing to the camera (Akashia), who knows what they are doing, and who has no clue.
Runway time, and Ru sashays in wearing a lovely shear number. And we meet the regular judges for the first time; and while Santino has never changed, it was refreshing to see journalist & author Merle Ginsberg’s quite refreshing and no-nonsense take on judging. (Side Note: At the RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle Of The Seasons event at that place I occasionally work at, current head judge Michelle Visage told the audience that the reason she wasn’t on Seasons 1 & 2 was that she was under contract with a radio program she was on at the time.) With Merle on the panel, the deliberations have the feel of an actual critique to them. (Now in my dream scenario Merle would come back and Santino would go, but that’s a story for another time). Plus it was delightful to see the always wonderful Bob Mackie as the very first extra special guest judge.
And now, let’s run down the line with the critiques. Starting from the left…
NINA FLOWERS earned the win. From the second she entered the workroom, you could tell that a star had arrived. She looked great in the photo and the runway was a perfect encapsulation of what genderfuck does best. Bob Mackie was rapturous in his praise of her look. If the goal of these looks was to recreate each queen’s essence and personality, then the mission was accomplished. A much deserved win.
JADE looked great in both the photo and the runway, but there was a slight sense of dourness that kept her out of the top slot. And the look really didn’t show anything about her personality. But she does command the stage in a way that some of her colleagues do not and she sold the garment.
AKASHIA is very much of the video ho school of drag. As much of a brat as she was in this episode, the photo shoot was fantastic. Where she lost it was the dress; you could tell it was something she just threw together without any real thought to it. And while I don’t agree with Santino’s comment that looking like a ho was a bad thing in this case (since that is her character), but I do agree that the outfit needed more.
And then we come to ONGINA, who is the very definition of the term “ladyboy” (so much so that she was the inspiration for Ru’s song of the same name). The photo shoot is fun (if not as commanding as Nina’s) and the outfit was quite good (though I wish the skirt would go down to start at the waist or go up to cover the decollate – where it hits now is slightly off and ruins the illusion). A very close second to Nina.
Miss TAMMIE BROWN was a slight mess in the photo shoot (which, to be fair, was a stretch for her), but still managed to show a ton of personality (which, sadly, could not be said about some of the others). That said, if the goal for the runway was to recreate each queen’s personality, then she did that and more. She said her goal was to look like a 1930’s fit model, and she nailed it to a tee. In my mind, her runway look was second only to Nina in nailing the prerequisites of the challenge.
Meanwhile, REBECCA GLASSCOCK was slightly off, and became the first queen to be rattled by Ru’s critique in the workroom. While the photo shoot was sexy and feminine (and a great look overall), this dress was a mess. The biggest problem I had with it wasn’t that it looked half-assed (it did), but it ran counter to her personality: Rebecca was this season’s queen that most looked like a real woman in drag, and this look exposed her in a way that made her body look more mannish. She’s lucky that the judges had more problems with other queens, as this would have been my vote for the bottom two.
SHANEL has no problems with showing off her assets. This is a good, if tacky, look that is executed quite well. Not a win by any stretch but well done. My only complaint would have been in the photo; she wasn’t able to find her light and there’s a shadow across her face.
And now, Madame CameROOOOOON herself, Miss BEBE ZAHARA BENNET, formerly of Minneapolis. The photo shoot was strong (which is no surprise given her background as a model. As for the runway look I was underwhelmed. On the one hand, I give her credit for using the materials to recreate her Afro-centric style of drag. On the other hand, it felt a little tame by Bebe’s standards. She is a queen who needs a gown.
Finally, we have VICTORIA PARKER. When people talk about RPDR being against bigger queens, they use the elimination of Pork Chop as Exhibit A. That being said, and this pains me to say it, she did not crown herself in glory in this challenge. The photo wasn’t bad, it just lacked focus and intensity. For me, the bigger problem was her runway look. It would be fine if she was a campier queen but she isn’t; her pageant background and her penchant for looking well put together (think back to her entrance look at the top of the show) is counter to this campier look, which was poorly put together. So it was no surprise she was on the bottom, and after going up against Akashia in the first Lip Sync For Your Life (to Ru’s song “Supermodel”) it was a sad sashay away to La Pork Chop.
And now, because you demanded it (well I demanded it for you, gentle reader), here is the Drag Race Scoreboard. Since there was no winner for the photo shoot and it was all together, here’s how I will assign the points: 4 for winner, 3 for second place, 1 for the safe girls, 0 for bottom three, -1 for surviving the Lip Sync For Your Life, and -2 for the Sashay Away. And here it is…
NEXT WEEK: Photobombing, Girl Groups, and one of Destiny’s Legendary Children.