Was this a great season of Drag Race? Maybe not quite in terms of talent, especially when we’re talking runway, but I did find the season pretty damn entertaining. There were lots of big personalities, and while the fights were plentiful, the cast seemed to genuinely enjoy each other as well. The Reading is Fundamental challenge was a perfect case in point. The reads? Terrible (and oddly Seussian). The silliness and merriment that permeated the challenge? Positively infectious. What’s more, every queen brought something to the table, even the so-called filler queens. With that, I thought I’d grade the performances of the dolls, in a few different categories.
Performance: Soju was something we’re going to be seeing more and more in the coming seasons of the show: a Drag Race superfan turned contestant. So far, I’m afraid we’re 0 for 1. Her martial arts inspired entrance look promised something interesting—cultural references mixed with androgynous drag—that she never got a chance to deliver. Her first runway outfit was a hot mess (and her evoking the great Kim Chi as an influence was downright sacrilegious) and she was nunchukked before we even got to know her.
Entertainment value: When Soju confessed on stage that she had a leaking cyst (#$%!), did she know what she was doing? Was she an evil genius intentionally creating a meme, or was it just nervous rambling? Whatever the case, it worked, and the “cysters” joke oozed throughout the season.
Lowpoint: Confessing to an anal cyst
Highpoint: Oddly, confessing to an anal cyst
Performance: Sometimes a queen just needs a little more time in the oven, and that was clearly the case with Kahanna. I almost feel sorry for her; maybe the Kahanna of five years from now would absolutely slay (with Coco Montrese as a drag mother, I’d all but count on it). As it is, does anyone remember a single thing she did on the show?
Entertainment value: In a cast filled with out-of-drag hotties, Kahanna was arguably the hottest of them all. Hey, trade of the season is nothing to sneeze at.
Lowpoint: Attempting to start a fight with Mercedes at the reunion. Not cute, girl.
Highpoint: It actually came after the show: her spirited and funny music video, “Scores!,” with Manila Luzon, Sharon Needles, Trinity Tuck, and others. Kahanna must be doing something right to get all those A-listers to her shoot.
Performance: In a word, disappointing. Honey has a reputation for being a pro’s pro and a great queen in NY, but she never really showed what she was made of on drag’s biggest stage. She clearly got in her own head, put too much pressure on herself, and paid the price. (Indeed, if there’s one queen I’d like to see get a second chance from this season, it’s Honey.)
Entertainment value: By the time she came back for the makeover episode, she had acquired a (sexy) beard and more confidence. Even in the reunion, she seemed more playful and relaxed. Maybe the power is in her beard? Hey, get it, girl. Bearded queens are hot.
Lowpoint: Hers was the saddest elimination of the season, both because of the cruelty of it (she was the only girl to go home in that trainwreck of a group lip sync) and the way she broke down backstage. Drag Race can be a cruel, cruel mistress. (True confession: I actually loved Honey’s all-black “fringe” look.)
Highpoint: The power of the beard.
Mercedes Iman Diamond
Performance: The show’s first ever Muslim queen brought the lewks but seemed shy and out of her element throughout her brief run. Still, it was wonderful that by her last episode she felt comfortable enough with her sisters to open up about the struggles of being a Muslim queen (beyond the fears of coming out to her friends and family, she was on Do Not Fly list ffs!). Mercedes seems like an absolute sweetheart and she’s gorgeous, to boot. That being said, not quite sure Drag Race is the right venue for her.
Entertainment value: If you make it on Drag Race and don’t create a meme, did you ever even exist? “Op-a-lence! You earn everything!” is not just a cute and funny meme, it’s poignant. Yes, Mercedes, who no doubt had to work harder than anyone for her slot on the show (and drove herself so hard on the road she literally almost died), did EARN everything.
Lowpoint: Screwing up the Britney “spears” joke in the evangelical skit. You had ONE JOB.
Highpoint: “We didn’t have Rachel Maddow where I grew up. We had goats.”
Performance: Despite her relatively short stay, the human Bratz Doll made quite an impression. Her Sandy in Trump: The Rusical was spot-on, and particularly impressive considering that she nearly had a psychic break during the rehearsal. Her duet with Silky in the “Diva Worship” was another high point, proving that the two rivals could come together when it counted. But her Monster Ball performance was downright disastrous, an indication that she couldn’t move away from her candy-coated Instagram persona. I mean, who the hell is scared of a mermaid?
Entertainment value: Wig Gate was the lamest controversy of this (or any?) season, but she’s only marginally responsible for it (after all, it mostly happened after she’d packed her bags). For the most part, I really enjoyed Ariel’s twink meets Jersey Housewife realness. She accused Silky of being annoying (fair!) but then had the integrity to own up to it. Plus, she was always good for a “Oh god whatever”-style eyeroll or a snarky one-liner. Our very own Mean Girl Greek chorus.
Lowpoint: She’d probably say falling in the lip sync (which the show milked like it was the Zapruder film). I’d still say that damn mermaid outfit. Seriously, what was she thinking? (Bonus lowpoint: Trying to make “n’yessss” happen. In a word, “n’nooo.”)
Highpoint: Trump the Rusical. She was a deer frozen in the headlights in rehearsal and really came through in the performance when it counted.
Performance: I’m still baffled by her entrance look. Like, seriously, somebody explain it me. That being said, after walking in like a hot guy who’d been put in drag against his will (complete with inartfully drawn on boob contour), this gorgeous queen ended up turning out some super glamorous, old-Hollywood looks and nailing the acting challenges (and not for nothing, she should’ve won the Monster Ball IMO).
Entertainment value: Yes, Scarlett was feeling her oats a little too hard at times (apparently turning off her fellow contestants in the process), but so what? It’s drag. Modesty is not one of the requirements. I for one enjoyed watching her swan around the workroom like a lower borough Gloria Swanson.
Lowpoint: Losing that lip sync to Ra’jah. I honestly thought she pulled out enough stunts to stick around.
Highpoint: Winning the “Good God Girl, Get Out!” acting challenge after being picked last. The power of that.
Performance: Ra’jah took some big swings this season—and frankly missed more often than she made contact. But still, I appreciate a girl who makes a pair of burlap SLACKS for a Farm to Runway challenge. In a season without a whole lot of good lip syncers in the bottom half, her (let’s face it) slightly above average lip syncing prowess scored her three unlikely wins.
Entertainment value: It’s hard to fathom how boring the first half of the season might’ve been without Ra’jah, who clashed with pretty much everyone (especially Yvie). And while she served lots of classic one liners “an ugly girl can never come for a pretty girl” and (my personal favorite) “bootyhole!” all while perched behind a series of ridiculously enormous pairs of glasses, my heart kind of broke for her, too. It was clear that Ra’jah was constantly succumbing to that inner saboteur, as Ru says. She was quick to escalate, lashed out when she got hurt, and blamed others for her own misfortune. But damned if she didn’t do it entertainingly.
Lowpoint: Telling choreographer Yanis Marshall that she was a trained dancer, falling flat on her face, and somehow blaming HIM for this turn of events. (See, also, blaming Scarlett for her own poor performance in the Drag Olympics.)
Highpoint: Staying just long enough to likely earn a slot in a future All Stars. I mean, how can Ru resist?
Performance: About to state my unpopular opinion: I’m not super keen on Plastique’s drag. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. She’s beautiful. The whole damn system is beautiful. But I’m just not inspired by it. It lacks a certain creativity. What’s more, is it really that much of a challenge to go from a porcelain-faced, insanely pretty 21 year old boy to a porcelain-faced, insanely pretty 21 year old woman? That being said, other drag queens seem to really admire her, so what the hell do I know?
Entertainment value: I have a feeling that Plastique is actually kind of quick and funny IRL, but on the show she was a bit of a wet noodle. Unlike Soju’s cyst, her personality didn’t pop (sorry), although she did always come across as a good kid. As for the whole “Did Plastique Repeatedly Lie??” drama, let’s take it one accusation at a time:
•Yes, she really DID think Ariel left those wigs for her.
•No, her boyfriend didn’t say that her parents accepted her drag (he merely said he HOPED they would be more accepting after the show).
•And yes, I can believe that there wasn’t much talk of Mariah Carey in a strict Vietnamese household.
My verdict: Plastique Tiara, you are NOT a liar. (But also not the most entertaining thing going.)
Lowpoint: Probably licking the pavement during her cat fight with Vanjie. Ick.
Highpoint: Literally all of episode 7, which was practically a Plastique Tiara bottle episode. Her drag mama Alyssa Edwards showed up. Her boyfriend left her a message in Untucked. And she won the mother-tucking maxi challenge. No wonder Raj’ah was so jealous of her that week. (Also, mad points to Plastique for handling Raj’ah’s attack so well, which she inherently understood was not really about her. The kid is mature beyond her years.)
Performance: Shuga brought polish, professionalism, and smarts to literally every runway and challenge
Entertainment value: So it turns out that polish, professionalism, and smarts are a little…dull? Look, it’s hard to not like the terminally sunny Shuga, who had an actual heart contoured on the tip of her nose and who always just seemed so damn happy to BE THERE—but she didn’t exactly bring the thunder. Probably the most controversial thing about Shuga was how Drag 101 her vocabulary was. With all her “Yes mawmas” and “I lives!” it seemed as if she had studied drag culture from another planet and landed on earth to show off her homework. One bummer for Shuga: On any other season—namely one that didn’t feature one Nina West—she’d be a veritable lock for Miss Congeniality.
Lowpoint: Getting kicked off basically for not bringing the entertainment.
Highpoint: Getting kicked off for not bringing the entertainment. Work with me here: The fans went freaking nuts when Shuga got kicked off. And with good reason. The riggery was in full effect. She delivered the third best performance in the Dragracadabra challenge (after Nina and Brooke) and clearly didn’t deserve to be anywhere near the bottom. (Weirdly, the show even allowed her to flatly state that fact.) But if you must get kicked off a show (in a highly respectable 7th place), all you can hope for is that the fans cry foul and rally behind you. Might the Shuga Was Robbed Train rumble all the way to the All Star Station?
Performance: Nina had a great arc. She came to the show with tons of pressure—she auditioned something like 9 times (!) and is a well-respected queen, philanthropist, and drag impresario in Ohio—and it took a little time for her to find her footing. At first it seemed like she might have something akin to the Miz Cracker arc—that is, a queen we’ve heard is VERY funny off the show but doesn’t fully deliver on it—but she broke through with a wonderful Snatch Game, and then truly triumphed in the Dragracadabra! episode, where she was able to showcase the full range of her skills. Drag wise, she was a mixed bag, serving camp but not much glamour. But her Leigh Bowery-inspired facekini was a real show-stopper. Also, mad credit to her for taking Michelle Visage’s critiques and actually improving her silhouette. We stan a self-improving queen.,
Entertainment value: Friendly, smart, kind, and wise, Nina West seems like someone you’d definitely want as your best friend. Did that translate to her being the most compelling TV contestant? Well, as a queen once said, “This is not Ru Paul’s Best Friend Race.” She had a few standout moments of drama—including her multiple doubletakes after discovering that “Brooke and Vanjie are kissing in Untucked!” (somehow, the fact that she referred to the show by its proper will never not slay me) and her (mild) spat with Brooke after the Canadian ballerina bulldozed her way into a juicier part in the LADP! Episode. Mostly though, she was someone it was easy to root for and like. Hey, a little wholesome entertainment never hurt anyone.
Lowpoint: That final lip sync. Oof.
Highpoint: Rihanna has slid into her DMs. Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez is a stan. Nina’s whole run was a highpoint.
Vanessa Vanjie Mateo
Performance: Okay, author bias alert: Miss Vanjie is my absolute fave of the season, and I could write actual sonnets about her, so excuse my favoritism. But my girl really slayed, didn’t she? Arguably, Vanjie had more pressure on her than anyone else: Imagine losing on the first episode, creating an international phenomenon with your “sashay away,” being invited back, and then…sucking? Instead, Vanjie rose to the occasion again and again, proving that she was MUCH more than a backwards-walking meme. Drag-wise, Vanjie serves sexy R&B diva realness, which is perfect for her body and her persona. (Not everything needs to be haute couture, folks.) Yes, there was a bit too much red—and okay, way too many swimsuits—but you can’t deny that the doll looked fierce. Her Libra costume was one of the best looks of the season. And her lip sync to “No More Drama” was powerful and unforgettable because of the raw, real emotion behind it. In skits, she was best when she was just able to improv and be herself (“I thanked myself!”), although she stumbled a bit when her projects required, well, structure. It still really gets my goat that she didn’t win for her flawless makeover of Ariel Versace. Hello, 911? I’d like to report a robbery.
Entertainment value: Jinkx Monsoon called her the DMX of drag. I call her the world’s sexiest muppet. Whatever you call her, literally everything that comes out of her mouth is comedy gold. It’s no wonder she was the season’s unofficial narrator. I’ve already entered two “Vanjie-isms” into my regular lexicon: “Pressed like a panini” and “You’ve got to pick a struggle. You can’t struggle at everything.” I’m also pretty sure her line from the reunion, re: Brooke—“I wanted The Notebook experience. He gave me a Post-It”—is being stitched onto a pillow as we speak. During the course of the season, Vanjie forged a special bond with her Dream Girls A’Keria and Silky, but she seemed to get along with everyone. (When she had a fight with Yvie in Untucked, she sincerely and maturely apologized to her the next day. Don’t sleep on the fact that Vanjie’s real power is in her sweetness.)
Bonus category: Let’s Talk About Branjie: My theory as to why people became obsessed? Not just because this was the first ever Drag Race romance, or even because both “Brock” and “Jose” are total dishes in real life, but because it played out like an actual rom-com. You’ve got Vanjie, the scrappy, loud, highly emotional girl from the streets dating Brooke, the classy, reserved, elegant lady of the manor. I could write that rom-com. (Hell, I’ve seen that rom-com.) It’s a shame it didn’t work out between those crazy kids—and bless Vanjie for wearing her heart on her sleeve, it only makes her fans feel closer to her—but it was amazing to have a front row seat to their brief (but very real!) love affair.
Lowpoint: Her LADP alley-cat was a veritable litter box of all her worst tendencies: chaotic, messy, and nearly nonsensical.
Highpoint: Her second sashay! All eyes were on Vanjie when she was eliminated in the next to last episode and she didn’t disappoint. I guarantee she hadn’t planned that routine, a master class in escalating comic stakes, it just kind of happened. Have you ever seen Ru laugh so hard?
Silky Nutmeg Ganache
Performance: Silky takes up a lot of space—in every sense of the word. She’s loud, she’s brash, and a lot her humor comes from her physicality—jiggling her titties, brazenly taking off her clothing, and flopping around on the ground. (Hey, if it worked for Chris Farley.) Yeah, okay, she can be annoying too, but I’d argue she’s more funny than annoying. Her drag is, well, nothing special. She can beat that beautiful mug and, uh, she wears a lot of gowns. I was never inspired. In challenges, she’s a natural improviser, a bit better at honing her personality into controlled performance than her pal Vanjie, but I think she got a pass way too many times in the competition because simply because she cracks Ru’s shit up.
Entertainment value: Silky is entertaining! I repeat, Silky is entertaining! She particularly slayed the mini challenges, where she was able to channel her manic silliness into bite-sized performances. That being said, she’s not the most self-aware queen out there. After clashing with Yvie all season, she finally “forgave” Yvie for committing the sin of…occasionally criticizing her? Girl, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Lowpoint: When it came time to lip sync for her mother fucking life, she definitely WASN’T ready.|
Highpoint: Her Oprah impression can pay her mortgage—and probably yours and mine, too.
A’Keria Chanel Davenport
Performance: While only 30, A’Keria kind of felt like the matriarch of the season, presiding over her children with a mixture of protective concern and head-shaking disappointment. With a wit as dry as a good sauvignon blanc, and a finely honed deadpan to the camera, she was sneakily one of the season’s best narrators. Drag wise, she serves unclockable pageant excellence—that mug! that (popular) wig! those gowns!—all the more impressive when you realize that she made most of her own garments. The twerking queen also proved she could deliver comedy, scoring an upset win in the LADP! challenge. Her ass alone deserves monuments.
Entertainment value: Anyone else as low-key annoyed as I am that they only bothered to mention that A’Keria was raising her nephew on the next-to-last episode? I felt like that added a lot of dimension to her personality. Still, it wasn’t really a surprise. A’Keria strikes me as a natural-born leader, one of these sensible, competent people whose friends and family lean on a lot. Her personality isn’t huge, but her sly sense of humor and ironic take on the competition were welcome company throughout.
Lowlight: Stirring the pot between Ra’jah and Plastique and then not owning up to it.
Highlight: Her first runway, with wig upon wig upon wig had Ru gagging and the other queens shaking in their stilettos.
Performance: I had a clarifying moment listening to the “What the Tuck” podcast this week, courtesy of guest host Drew Droege: Yvie isn’t really all that odd. I’m sorry, it’s true. At best, she’s Yvie Mildly Oddly. What was the craziest thing she did this season? Drag a car into the workroom? Pretend to be a triceratops? Sport three boobs? She’s kind of the made-for-television version of odd, which I suppose works, what with this being a TV show and all. Competition wise, Yvie came out really strong out of the gate, winning and placing high on multiple challenges. However, after her Snatch Game stumble, she never quite regained her footing…until the Queens Everywhere episode, where she slayed so hard, she reestablished herself as a frontrunner. Always leave them gagging.
Entertainment value: Yvie brought multiple storylines throughout the season. The first was her ongoing clashes with, well, everyone. Yvie was often right in her assessment of the other queens, but her timing was rarely good, and sometimes downright awful. (In particular, she kicked Ra’jah multiple times when she was down.) She managed to insert herself into every argument, even ones that she was tangentially (at best) involved in. At the same time, one thing you have to remember is that Yvie was just 24 when they filmed! It explains a lot. She gives me big “I have a question, but first a comment” grad student energy.
Of course, Yvie’s other storyline centered around her illness, which gave her debilitating bone pain and also, the flexibility of a car dealership blowup doll. It also gave Yvie that touch of vulnerability that made us root for her. As of this writing, she’s the most popular queen among the final four.
Lowlight: Everytime Yvie started a sentence with “Girl, here’s the real tea…,” America crouched in fear.
Highlight: Slaying that final challenge. Greatest comeback since the 2016 Cavaliers.
Also I’ve made a meme:
Brooke Lynn Hytes
Performance: A clear frontrunner out of the gate, Brooke’s biggest problem might’ve been her complete lack of relatability. I mean, if any of you can relate to this gorgeous, graceful, statuesque, sexy, and polished queen from the North, well…congratulations? That being said, the Snatch Game episode was a turning point for several reasons: It gave her a humanizing Achilles heel (improv) and then a chance to shine on the runway and in that epic lip sync. Suddenly, we were invested in her “comeback,” which she delivered brilliantly in the next episode (and I oop…at Nina West’s expense). On the runway, she turned toot after toot, and got even better once Alyssa Edwards told her to lean into the her ballet technique in her presentation. Her “Queens are Everywhere” verse was (allegedly) a setback. I’m so white I thought it was great?
Entertainment value: If one was being uncharitable, one could interpret Brooke’s behavior through a completely calculated lens:
•Not quite relatable queen hooks up with the most beloved queen of the season.
•Improv neophyte befriends the best improviser of the cast, soaking up all her knowledge and, at one point, even stealing her thunder.
•Given her choice to pair up queens for a makeover, sneaky queen saddles her rival with the worst partner of the bunch.
I prefer to think that Brooke just has good taste in romantic partners (and BFFs) and played her cards in a smart, but hardly Machiavellian way. Look, somebody had to get Soju!
Anyway, add it all up and Brooke managed to make herself a compelling and central figure in the S11 storyline.
Lowlight: That Celine Dion impression could get her deported.
Highlight: So many to choose from! That sickening wig reveal! That monumental lip sync for her life! Every single time she kissed Vanjie! But I’m going to go with her pillow fort in Untucked. “Why can’t we just bottle up our feelings like normal people?” she moaned, slinking into the couch and sipping on her drink. And all of Canada replied, “Relatable.”