Tue. Jul 14th, 2020

TV Rucap: RuPaul’s Drag Race S12 E7 – The Visage of Madonna

Following Aiden Zhane’s elimination, the queens return to the Werk Room, where Brita must wipe the lipstick message off of the mirror. “You may not know me now, but you sure will later,” Brita reads Aiden’s writing aloud, commenting, “I love Aiden: she stuck with it. I’m proud of that bitch!” And then she scans the room for the other queens’ reactions. Cute: she’s going to act as though she was not at Aiden’s throat every week. Anyone could see through this, as Widow Von’Du’s confessional points out, “Once again, you can just taste the fakeness in the air! Everyone wants to act like they actually gave a shit about Aiden: you all wanted her gone.” (Cut to Brita scrubbing the lipstick, bellowing, “WE LOVE YOU, AIDEN ZHANE!”) “I guess y’all had a lot to say, but now you don’t!” The central drama of the season’s first half has been extinguished: what are the queens going to bicker over now?

Ru comes in to announce that this week’s Maxi Challenge celebrating the “only one Queen of Pop” is going to be a Madonna Rusical! Jan’s real excited about this one: apparently, she has parties with her friends where they just watch all of the previous Rusical editions. Jan’s a singer and a dancer and a musical theatre geek, and she is determined to win this challenge. Not one queen is singled out to assign the roles: they must decide among themselves who will play each iteration of Madonna illustrating the various phases of her career. They’ll be recording their vocals with “The World’s Foremost Madonna Expert” Michelle Visage, and setting that music to dance with Drag Race frequent choreographer Jamal Sims. Jackie Cox wants “Boy Toy Madonna” (“Like a Virgin” era Madonna) Jaida Essence Hall wants “Sexy Madonna” (“Erotica” era Madonna); Widow Von’Du is adamant that she wants “Femmepire  Madonna” (“Music” era Madonna). No one wants “Early Madonna” (recalling the days of her self-titled debut album), so Jackie suggests that Jan is the only one of the girls who could make that part sound good. It seems like a good idea, until it starts to dawn on the others that she is going to be opening and setting the tone of the show: are the others going to be able to measure up to the standard that she is going to set?

Courtesy of VH1

Ranking “Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical”

1.       Jan

Yeah, this is the challenge that Jan was born to win. She sounds the best out of all the girls, has some of the most complex choreography, and she looks the part. Plus, the show has been spoon-feeding us the narrative that this is her challenge. Should be a done deal!

2.       Heidi N. Closet

She really does not look or sound or feel anything like Madonna, but Heidi is still turning out a performance that puts everyone else to shame. Hers is the most demanding choreography given to any of the girls, and it’s a hell of a way to close the show!

3.       Jaida Essence Hall

Weirdly counterintuitively, those cheekbones she has painted on look okay in close-up, but pop too much on her face from a distance, and actually kind of look scary? However, the rest of the look is perfect, and she’s so, so, so, so sexy! In fact, the number doesn’t ask her to do much dancing, and she’s chanting/whispering more than she is really singing, but she’s serving such a mood flawlessly. 

4.       Brita

Brita’s number is actually really fun! For once, she doesn’t seem to be in her own head for the challenge, and appears to be really enjoying it. She’s got great energy, and while the gag of dropping her voice a register isn’t exactly uncharted territory on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she’s doing what she’s been asked to do, and she’s making no fool of herself, for once.

5.       Widow Von’Du

Widow has been begging for a dance challenge, and once she gets it, she’s fine? The lyrics she is given already do a lot of heavy lifting, and the look is unmistakably Madonna in her music video for “Music.” It’s not super inspiring, but it is fun, and it does the job. It’s a safe performance.

6.       Gigi Goode

She’s serving a lewk, again, and it isn’t much more than that. Her vocals are above average among this group, but the choreography (other than the back handspring) she is given doesn’t look too challenging. Still, there are traces of charisma, visible efforts to be fierce in the face, and Miss Goode reliably proves that she’s mastered the art of looking pretty. Next.

7.       Sherry Pie

Sherry’s number is very brief, but packed full of very fun reference’s to Madonna’s legendary filmography (though strangely missing a nod to her iconic performance in Swept Away), but there’s a bizarre inherent dualism in Sherry’s performance where her look is too campy and distracting to be doing Eva Peron any kind of justice, but the performance itself is kind of dull?

8.       Jackie Cox

Her vocals aren’t awful, but they are so, so wrong for this challenge: those nasal, whiny vocals sound more at home in a touring production of Spring Awakening than in a Madonna Rusical! Also, why does she look cross-eyed for half the number?

9.       Crystal Methyd

What on earth is going on here? And why is she still painting her usual face for a Madonna challenge? It’s SO distracting: Madonna has never looked cracked out like this! That wig is diabolical. Her vocals are like nails on the chalkboard, and her performance itself feels like an out of control, hyperactive fever dream (in a bad way).

Ranking the Runway: “Night of a Thousand Michelle Visages”

1.       Jan

The mic drop of the night: this is a SERVE. Every stylistic choice of this Glamazonian Airways look (where Michelle Visage was serving better drag than any of the Season 7 contestants were that evening) is so thought out and deliberate. Every lock of that wig is crimped and styled exactly like in the original that it may as well have been snatched from Michelle’s own head. It’s high camp eleganza at its finest!

2.       Jaida Essence Hall

She’s gone for the low hanging fruit with this lewk, which is exactly what one should be doing in a Michelle Visage Runway challenge. She’s maybe the most immediately recognizable as Michelle Visage (other than Jan), and it’s really smart that she picked an iconic Michelle Visage look that even memorably features a choker that reads “Icon.” It’s really refreshing to see this characteristically polished queen go balls-to-the-wall, let loose, and revel in such a tacky look! She’s given permission to be tacky and vulgar, and seizes the opportunity. 

3.       Jackie Cox

It would be tempting to say that the attention to detail in this look is astounding, because the recreation of the look is almost spot-on, but there’s something off about it. After a second glance over the composition of this ensemble, you realize that she’s too (relatively) flat-chested to be Michelle Visage at the time of this look, and that she could have painted more of a winged cat eye to match Michelle’s styling. It’s still a very good attempt when you know what the challenge is, but it reads too much as “generic banjee girl from Jersey” than specifically Michelle Visage. But you can’t help but feel grateful that she chose such a fun, tacky look to celebrate!

4.       Sherry Pie

Such a smart choice to pick a Michelle look that is also flattering to her own body proportions. It’s such a memorable Michelle look, and while sometimes she can bring too much of herself to a look (to the point that it can be distracting), it’s a perfect example of paying homage, while remaining yourself. While this look is very good, it’s pretty shady that her jaw-dropping look last week was denied coverage on the runway (really only hurting the talented designer), but this week it’s included for the indulgence of commentary on the original Michelle Visage look (and name drop her custom Marc Jacobs). The show has been so inconsistent with their treatment of how much and what to show of Sherry Pie on the show, which is unfortunate because all the other editorial choices this season have been spectacular. It’s a shame that they are bungling the most sensitive topic on the show this season. 

5.       Brita

Another example of picking a look that is perfectly tailored to her own proportions, and staying true to herself while also nailing the challenge. It’s also the best she’s looked on the runway this season.

6.       Gigi Goode

As usual, Gigi is very pretty, but really? That’s the first thing you think of when it comes to Michelle Visage? Why is it that they always ask Camp queens “but can she do glamour?” while they never ask the Fashion queens, “but can she do camp?” Gigi’s “I’m a model!” schitck is getting pretty repetitive and tired, and shows a lack of imagination (despite going for the most obscure Michelle Visage reference she can think of, it doesn’t as read Michelle Visage to the casual observer, like, at all) and an aversion to risk (Gigi should take notes from Jaida on how to approach a challenge like this). Gigi is starting to become really, really predictable and boring.

7.       Heidi N. Closet

It’s hard to say whether this is a look that should be commended for it attempt to convey the spirit of the look, or if it is just a bit too lazy (you could argue that she’s just thrown a cape over any old little black dress she could find: her neckline is much higher than Michelle’s was in the original look). Whatever the verdict, it’s ultimately one of the more forgettable looks of the night.

8.       Crystal Methyd

The garment itself is fine, but if you had no idea what the theme of this runway was, there’s NO way that you’d clock this as a Michelle Visage lewk: the hair and makeup is all Crystal and there’s no attempt to adapt to the aesthetic of Michelle Visage.

9.       Widow Von’Du

The unifying theme that the queens in the bottom half of this ranking share is that none of them read as Michelle Visage. Widow Von’Du’s look is in step with this trend, where she’s picked a look in which Michelle doesn’t even read as “Michelle Visage” in the adjacent supplementary photo of the original look. Widow comments that this pleather American flag jumpsuit reminds her of early attempts at drag, and that’s exactly the problem with this look: it looks so cheap and entry-level, and veers more towards what John Waters would call “bad bad taste” than “good bad taste,” which is basically what a Michelle Visage runway challenge should be about.

JUDGING

The results of judging are a hot mess. Guest judges New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Canadian Supermodel Winnie Harlow correctly identify Heidi N. Closet as one of the standout performers of the evening (since she basically out-performed everyone else on the stage this evening and showed an array of technical skill at a level that no one else replicates), but she’s thrown in the bottom because she’s not “Madonna” enough (true, but she also looks so much like Diana Ross that it’s hard to imagine her looking like anyone else), and apparently Michelle thought that the bun on her head was not textured enough. And while Jackie Cox (probably my favourite queen of this season, so far) served a very strong runway look, she absolutely missed the mark in the Maxi challenge and deserved to be in the bottom this week. The upside to this is that at least she gets a nice moment out of this where she personally thanks AOC for standing up for women like her mother, a Persian immigrant and now an American citizen. 

Brita is the third queen to round out the week’s bottom three. While she deserved to be in the bottom in the previous consecutive three weeks, both her Madonna performance and Michelle Visage runway were emphatically safe. It feels like laziness and a deliberate will to see Brita as the worst of the week, regardless of whether or not this is true (especially now that the saga of Brita’s rivalry with Aiden is complete, and so her narrative as far as the show is concerned has concluded), and it looks as though she is held up to a level of scrutiny that they are not applying to the other queens, especially when her runway look is praised for its fit and structure, and yet apparently completely undone by the choice of using button earrings instead of drop earrings. 

Of the Top Three queens of the week, Jan is the first to ultimately be pronounced “Safe.” Her visible face crack is justified: she has every right to be pissed. Michelle has praised for sounding like a pop star, Carson says her choreography was “Borderline” perfect, and AOC gushes about the level of polish she brings to her Michelle Visage look. It felt like the stars had aligned for Jan not only to finally receive a critique, but also win a challenge, and even in post-production, the edit of the episode felt like it was forecasting a Jan win, playing up the “I’m a musical theatre geek, and this is my time!” narrative. Crystal Methyd, underrated in most previous weeks of the competition, is actually quite a bit overpraised this week. Ru’s love of that El DeBarge mullet (the new “Miss Vanjie!”), which presumably has saved Crystal from having to lip sync on a pair of occasions before (and that’s great!) knows no boundaries, to the point where it’s now starting to place Crystal in the Top Three! But, ultimately, she’s just safe, too.

Which means that Gigi Goode has claimed her third Maxi Challenge win in four episodes, breaking Bob the Drag Queen’s record (and, this was also in the shortest season of Drag Race) of getting to three wins in seven episodes: while this is the seventh episode of this season, this is only Gigi’s sixth competitive episode (since she was not competing in the second premiere), and she’s either won or been Top Three in five of the six episodes. It should have sent warning signals when Winnie Harlow wonders aloud if Gigi is her new competition in the modelling world and when AOC says that she embodies Madonna’s energy the most that the two guest judges were rubber-stamping the conclusion that Gigi is somehow deserving of a third challenge win so soon. This win was completely redundant and unnecessary, especially since she was neither undeniable (and, quite honestly, middle of the pack this week in all regards) nor was there a lack of an alternative (Jan was clearly robbed): the show’s unrepentant stanning of another skinny, twink, fashion queen has gotten out of control, and feels like it is really trying to make it look like Gigi has been undeniable once they decide to inevitably crown the personification of their recent favourite winner criteria. And, with three Maxi Challenge wins already, scarcely halfway through this season, it appears as though Gigi is going to be the first queen to either match or surpass Season 4 Winner Sharon Needles’s record of four solo Maxi Challenge wins. At this point, all Gigi needs to do is breathe for the sycophantic judges to gasp, “OMG, that was amazing!”

THE LIP SYNC

Jackie is ultimately the Bottom Three queen who narrowly avoids having to lip sync (they must have really loved that, admittedly, very good runway), which leaves Heidi N. Closet to lip sync for her second time, while Brita is about to fight for her life for a third time. Once Madonna’s “Burning Up” starts to play, both queens are high octane, doing whatever it takes to win this battle. Brita plucks the offending earrings off of her ears and tosses them off the stage. She’s spinning across the stage (and her dress is twirling beautifully), and she’s expressive, but her huge mouth is over-enunciating the words again. Heidi is also full of energy, and has a really cool vibe going on, but this isn’t as good as her “Heart to Break” lip sync (which has been the best of the season, thus far), but what Brita is doing isn’t so ground-breaking that she should be tying Season 2’s Jujubee, Season 3’s Alexis Mateo or Season 5’s Coco Montrese as the only queens to survive three lip syncs and send three other girls home. 

When it’s up to Ru to make the call, Heidi is told “Shantay, you stay,” while Brita is the one who must “Sashay away.” It seems like Brita knew it was her time, and she’s a good sport about it. On her way out the door, we get one last “You Brita werk!”

WEEKLY RANKINGS

  • 1.       Jan
  • 2.       Jaida Essence Hall
  • 3.       Heidi N. Closet
  • 4.       Brita
  • 5.       Widow Von’Du
  • 6.       Gigi Goode
  • 7.       Sherry Pie
  • 8.       Jackie Cox
  • 9.       Crystal Methyd
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