the rest is still unwritten

Sunday, June 12, 2011

TV Show and Tell - RuPaul's Drag Race

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I do have my guilty pleasures, and it should come as no surprise that this next show is one of my absolute pleasures (with absolutely NO guilt here)! It's...

RuPaul's Drag Race!!!

When friends ask: "RuPaul's Drag Race? What's that?!" I often describe it as a mix of Project Runway, America's Got Talent, America's Next Top Model and the Real Housewives - AND all the contestants are drag queens. Can it get any more fabulous than that?! The show is hosted by, as you can guess, RuPaul herself - supermodel of the world!

The series airs in the US on Logo TV. The premise of the show is to find the next drag superstar- someone worthy enough to become RuPaul's successor. Each week, the 'dolls' first have to compete in a mini-challenge, the winner of which usually receives some sort of advantage in the main challenge. In the case of two mini-challenge winners, they then become the team captains and choose their teams via a schoolyard pick. Before Ru releases her queens, she reminds them of what it takes to be a drag superstar: Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent. Say it again with me:
Charisma Uniqueness Nerve Talent!!!
She then releases the girls by saying, "Gentlemen, start your engines. And may the best woman win."

After the main challenge, the queens are then tasked with creating a runway look to present to the judges. This is where the Project Runway aspect comes in as the queens have had to sew/glue/duct tape outfits out of materials like thrift store finds, Christmas decorations, drapes, money and even hair! They then strut their stuff - better than any Top Model - on the runway for the judges to evaluate. After all the queens have presented and received their critiques, Ru, along with her panel of mainstay judges, a celebrity judge and an extra-special guest judge decide on that week's winner and bottom two.

The bottom two queens will then have to battle it out by a lip synch duel. At this point, Ru tells the girls: "The time has come for you to lip synch - for you life. Good luck. And don't f*ck it up." At the end end of each performance one girl is told: "Chanté, you stay", while the other is asked to "Sashay away".

Season One premiered in 2009 with only nine contestants.
The nine original racers of season 1.
Victoria "PorkChop" Parker became the first to go due to her drag being too local/regional. After her went Tammie Brown - whose look was charming, but too dated and was criticized for not stepping outside her comfort zone; then the stubborn Akashia, next the spicy Latina Jade whose performances fell flat. Next to go was my season one favorite, the 5'2" Filipina spitfire Ongina due to a poor performance in a makeover challenge. Shannel, the stunning and polished Las Vegas showgirl opted out of the competition. Fishy (drag lingo for feminine) fledgling Rebecca Glasscock was then eliminated - her performances not matching up to her potential. BeBe Zahara Benet, a statuesque ex-model from Cameroon with her dignity and grace was a finalist alongside Nina Flowers, the unforgettable Puerto Rican with her androgynous look, full tattoo sleeves and Punk-Glam fashion sense. In the end, RuPaul crowned BeBe as the winner of RPDR's First Season.

Season Two premiered a year later with 12 queens battling for the title of the next drag superstar. The competition between this batch of dolls was even stiffer, fiercer and funnier.
The second set of dolls
Season Two brought us the promising newbie Shangela Laquifa Wadley who was eliminated first due to her lack of sewing skills (more on her later); country queen Nicole Paige Brooks, plus-size queen Mystique, ballerina Sahara Davenport and the stunner Tatiana who served some serious fishy realness. Season two also saw one of the most unforgettable lip synch performances between ex-gymnast Sonique and Morgan McMichaels. Fan favorites who didn't nab the title include the truly wild Jessica Wild, funny fake lady Pandora Boxx (with two X's, mind you) and another Asian firecracker and personal fave JuJubee. During the finale, I was disappointed to see Raven, the dark morose beauty, lose to Tyra Sanchez-the other Tyra. I think Raven had the complete package, Courage, Uniquess, N and T. Tyra was lauded for her strong runway looks, but as Pandora Boxx said, "I can hire a stylist, some of these girls [most probably referring to Tyra] needed a personality lift".

Now what do you call something that is fiercer than fierce?
As in the queens of RPDR Season Three are Sick'ning! Season Three premiered this past January and had just ended this May. This season was full of surprises!
Season three's sickening queens.
Season 3 started much like the previous two seasons. The queens entered the workroom one by one, allowing them to make an entrance and assess the competition. As the twelve racers are just about settled, Ru presents them with a giant gift-wrapped box. Out of which pops Shangela, exclaiming her now infamous tagline: "Halleloo!" Ru then informs the girls that Shangela will compete as the season's 13th queen.

This season also saw the series' first non-elimination lip synch, and the first time an eliminated queen from the same season was brought back into the race - Carmen Carrera thus had to sashay away twice. This season was filled with some fierce competition. Three plus-sized queens in the forms of Mimi Imfurst, Stacy Lane Matthews and Delta Work, two Puerto Rican queens Cha Cha princess Alexis Mateo and the energetic and lovable Yara Sofia joined the ranks of Phoenix from "Hot-lanta", Madonna impersonator Venus D-Lite, youngest contestant India Ferrah and the unspookable fishy queen we like to call Mariah.

Despite landing in the bottom two of the first episode for the second time, Shangela performed much better than her season two run and lasted until the final five - much to my annoyance. Despite a year of training and experience since being eliminated from season two, the judges felt that her exuberance can no longer compensate for the fact that her execution was not coming up to par with her potential. As a clear underdog one begins to root for Shangela, but her drama-mongering and underhanded tactics really turned me off. Plus, she always played the victim once the other queens finally called her bluff and "kept it real". The tactics of this shady queen spawned the rivalry between the "Heathers" (Manila, Raja, Carmen, Delta) and the "Boogers" (Shangela, Alexis, Stacy Lane and Yara).

During the first episode's runway presentation I had already pegged my two finalists: Manila Luzon and Raja. My prediction came true as the finale saw half-Filipino Gay-sian glamasorous Manila Luzon lip synching against the high fashion supermodel Raja. Both of these queens were my favorites this season along with Yara Sofia.

Manila Luzon is touted to have given the most epic lip synch performance in Drag Race herstory when she ousted fellow Heather Delta Work to a performance of Donna Summers' song "MacArthur Park". Manila is also known for her ability to 'theme couture' often producing some of the show's most memorable runway looks. Manila is arguably the most consistent performer in RPDR herstory as she consistently landed in the top 3 each week.

Raja's unforgettable edgy high-fashion editorial runway looks made her an instant favorite. Her presence and ownership on the runway just sealed the deal. Her lip synch performance against another fellow Heather Carmen Carrera  to Paula Abdul's song "Straight Up" is often compared to lesbian softcore pornography and is one of the steamiest in Drag Race herstory.

Ulitmately, Raja was crowned as the most recent drag superstar. The decision was tough, and I must admit I still have mixed feelings towards this outcome.

Drag Race is truly an entertaining franchise. It not only provides an assemblage of extraordinarily creative and passionate individuals, but as with most competitive reality shows, the drama and conflict is heightened as is expected with a cast of quick-witted and catty queens. Along with the glitz, glamour and one-liners, the show also provides a glimpse into drag subculture. Not only are we given a tutorial in gay/drag lingo - "Hauntey, you are serving some fishy realness! Sickening the house down!"; we are also able to take a peek into the amazing trnasformations (because they truly are amazing) of the tucking, padding and painting of men into drag queens. Most importantly, the show brings the stories of these amazing underground personalities into the mainstream.

Many of my friends (and even my little sister), gay and straight alike have been roped in by me into watching and following Drag Race. And I am quivering with anticipation as it has been announced that the show has been renewed and is currently casting for its fourth season.

The show resonates with me because it is a celebration of beauty, of performance, of life and of individuality.
I end this entry by quoting Miss Ru as she ends each episode:

"If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anybody else? Can I get an Amen?!
Now, let the music play!"

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