This is the cover of the amazing new graphic novel I made with a team of ten incredibly talented writers. It chronicles the many adventures of numerous different kids in the same neighborhood. THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM will be out June 5th, 2018 from Knopf Books for Young Readers and you can already pre-order it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!
I've spent the past month working with my publisher Knopf Books for Young Readers on my graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom! It will be out in 2018, and you can follow the book's official Twitter account for all the latest updates! I'm excited to share a lot more about it.... soon.
It's just me this week. I spent most of the last two weeks traveling (to Portugal!) for my honeymoon, so I didn't make plans with anyone to chat about this finale. But that's okay, because I have all kinds of thoughts about it. Who would have guessed that one of these RPDR finales would actually be... memorable?
Okay, so this has been a weird season. I thought it started off really strong with the Gaga episode, but then the next few episodes suffered from too many familiar challenges and repeat runways. There was a ton of talent among these queens, but I heard a lot of complaints that something was missing. Maybe the queens were too friendly with each other, or at least playing nice on TV... with some obvious exceptions. Maybe in its 9th season, Drag Race was just losing momentum, or maybe they had run out of tricks?
But then there was last week's fiery Reunion episode, and then... then Friday happened. After a somewhat predictable season, who would have guessed that we would get such an unforgettable finale?
But was it fair?
I've been seeing a lot of criticisms that each queen's tally of wins throughout the season didn't count for anything in actually winning the crown. Which... seems legitimate. But maybe it doesn't make for good TV. For example, when Shea won SO MANY challenges, and fans expect that she deserves the crown entirely because of that, where's the drama or suspense when Ru announces the winner? I don't blame Ru for mixing things up, keeping us (and the queens) on our toes.
One might disagree with Ru's judgment about who won each lip sync, but the overall structure doesn't seem fundamentally unfair. For better or worse, the entire competitive nature of this show is based entirely on the whims of Ru -- she's the one who awarded each queen their wins week by week, so if she doesn't want to account for those in making her final decision, that's also her choice. She wanted to see her queens compete for the crown, and she wanted to see them earn it.
Trinity vs. Peppermint
Trinity is a pro. She gave a solid, sexy, tight lip sync. But... it was probably too predictable. Although Peppermint's performance was more subdued, that swirling costume and wig reveal stole the show, and it seems like that's the kind of gag-worthy moment Ru was looking for. Was it a stunt? Sure, but it's that kind of oh-my-god-did-you-just-see-that moment that makes live performance so magical and amazing. If Drag Race has another lip sync battle finale, should we expect to see increasingly elaborate costume changes and gimmicks? Yup, probably. Which will be fun and amazing, until it isn't.
Shea vs. Sasha
Again, Shea served up a totally tight, professional performance... and Sasha served up something else entirely. Who would have guessed that some rose petals and a wig reveal would give us one of the most searingly gorgeous, unexpected moments in Drag Race herstory? I'm sure it didn't work on everyone, but I can't stop thinking about it. And I've seen that same sentiment all over my social media feeds.
Yes, Sasha is a cerebral, arty queen. But she's also an incredibly emotional performer. And in her most effective performances, she uses that artistry to complement the emotional intensity of the moment. I think there's some kind of amazing emotional alchemy in the way she uses the element of surprise to amplify our own emotional responses to her performance -- as if the surprise of seeing something surreal and unexpected serves to magnify everything else we're feeling. I don't know -- I'm just trying to figure out why her performance seared itself into my soul.
Sasha vs. Peppermint
As fans of drag, how could we expect anything better than seeing these two queens perform with each other?
One of my favorite aspects of All Stars Season 2 was seeing the winning queens lip sync against each other every week -- it was so great to see them on the top of their game, exulting in their victory rather than desperately trying to keep their spot. That's what I saw with Peppermint and Sasha -- two incredible queens showing us what they can do.
Peppermint was stunning, and much more engaging than in her first lip sync. And frankly, I loved drawing those feathers.
Earlier, I was trying to fumble my way through an explanation of how Sasha uses surreal, surprising imagery to bring out the emotional intensity of her performances. And I think she does something similar with her aesthetics -- she uses sharp to accentuate the soft, with her intense brows, bald head, and alien facemask serving to enhance, not detract from, her beauty.
Although people seem to have responded most strongly to Sasha's wig reveal from her first lip sync, I thought this one was a stunner, too. I mean, the MASK, breaking off the pieces of it -- it all worked so perfectly, and I couldn't keep my eyes off her for the rest of the performance.
Yes, I'm excited that she won. Shea is an amazing queen, (here are three brand new music videos if you need any additional evidence) and I would have loved to see her take the crown. But after never quite stealing the spotlight throughout the season, it was amazing to finally see Sasha shine.
Honestly, after such a long, mixed season, I was amazed and excited by this finale. It shows that Ru isn't afraid to shake things up, to both challenge her queens and to showcase their strengths.
I would love another final challenge like this for Season 10, but... maybe broadcast live? It would be tough for the queens to change their costumes between performances, so maybe it would need to be a 2 hour show with some filler in between -- perhaps that's where we would get the reunion interviews with the other queens? Maybe the reigning queen from last season could come out and perform? My only complaint about this year's finale was that there were so many spoilers online (which I was admittedly excited to read), and I don't see any way of avoiding leaks except for broadcasting it live, or... not performing in front of a live audience.
Seriously, thanks for reading my random Drag Race thoughts throughout the season! I hope I've been able to offer some good interviews and observations about the show, alongside some pretty art.
If you'd like to support my work and help me make more in the future, you can buy prints, books, and postcards on my Etsy store or sign up to directly support me on Patreon! That's a site where you can give your favorite artists a few dollars a month to get cool exclusive stuff and peeks behind the scenes!
Hi! I'm not going to be able to draw the RPDR Reunion looks, but I did go back and draw some looks and queens I missed! (The Valentina image is based on one of her looks from DragCon)
Manuel Betancourt is a lapsed academic turned culture writer. He’s written for The Atlantic, Esquire, VICE, NPR, and is a regular contributor to Electric Literature, where he covers film adaptations, and Remezcla, where he writes about all things Latino. (He is also one of the collaborators involved in my upcoming graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom!)
CHAD: At the start of the season, would you have ever imagined these particular queens would make it to the final four?
MANUEL: You know, if you’d told me after the season 9 premiere that these were our Top 4 queens, I’d have a) called you a lunatic for somehow keeping Ms. Valentina off your list but b) come around to seeing how these varied queens could actually make for the handsome quartet we have on our hands. Which is why I loved seeing Michelle Visage going full fairy godmother on them and gifting them Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent, acknowledging how they each bring something different to the table. I was always rooting for Sasha and Shea, who seemed like such no-brainer Top 3 queens from the get-go that their respective journeys here have felt almost inevitable. Then again, clearly the season was given a curveball they surely could not have anticipated.
CHAD: I don’t mean to dismiss any of the other queens, but I have this idea that, at the start of the season, Ru thought it might come down to Shea vs. Valentina. As Michelle said, Shea is the “postman of drag” who delivers so consistently that you almost take her for granted, whereas Valentina was the promising young talent with charisma and the “it” factor and a ravenous fanbase. Do you think that theory holds any water? And how do you think things have gone post “Maskgate”?
MANUEL: That seems like such an astute theory of how the season could have played out! Ru does love herself a young upstart (see: Tyra, Adore) and Valentina filled that role to a tee. Sadly, she shot herself in the foot with that lipsync, proving that being a seasoned queen (in Chad Michaels’ words, a “professional”) can often push you over the edge, especially in the eyes of Ru. That felt like such a softball lipsync, too! The “Valentina stumbles and comes back even stronger” storyline was there for the taking—in fact, they pretty much recycled it a few weeks later when Shea got her first taste of being in the bottom two! I think if Valentina had made it this far we’d be looking at a very different playing field going into the finale, where it really does feel like anything can happen. I do think there’s a way the show never really recovered from “Maskgate,” which became an infamous moment for the show’s fans that wasn’t much addressed on the show itself. Valentina left a sort of vacuum in the work room that was never quite filled. Of course, that this season has been light on the DRAMA with challenges that felt like a Greatest Hits of past seasons didn’t help. Instead, we ended up getting an extra week of Nina’s self-sabotaging narrative and the same of Alexis’ not-quite-villain-but-also-not-flattering-either-edit. The queens, it seems, ended up shaping the overall arc of the final half of the season: this is what RuPaul’s Best Friend Race looks like, a story that’s commendable in terms of LGBTQ representation, but perhaps not quite as riveting when it comes to must-watch TV.
CHAD: For many, many seasons, we typically saw a final challenge that required the queens to star in one of Ru’s music videos with various gimmicky and cheap special effects. But this week’s challenge is lifted entirely from All Stars 2-- how do you think it served as a showcase for the queens’ talents?
MANUEL: For all my criticisms of this season leaning heavily on what worked in the past and failing to really deliver any new or exciting riffs on past challenges, I have to admit that I like this finale challenge more than the usual music video one. It’s a perfect balance between the pre-packaged, “here’s what you need to do” challenges (see: cheerleading, 9021-HO) which I always feel needlessly limit what a queen can do and the free-for-all, “show me what you’ve got” challenges (see: TV pilot). There’s enough structure, especially with Todrick Hall’s coaching, that there’s an even playing field. But there’s also enough room to put your mark on what you’re doing and, more importantly, actually showcase talents and skills that real-life drag queens use when they’re out in the world. I think this is why the lipsyncs remain such an integral part of the show and why they help weed out weaker, or less-experienced, competitors. It brings the world of late-night bars and club performances onto the show—and that’s what “Category is…” felt like. In between Shea’s killer dance moves, Sasha’s Cabaret-like choreo, Trinity’s showgirl outfit, and Peppermint’s jaw-dropping vogueing, they all got a chance to shine. Nevertheless, I did miss the cruel “one of you will be cut from the video if you don’t make it to Top 3” threat that hovered over that final challenge in seasons past. Which is just another way of saying, I wish we’d gotten a “Read U Wrote U” with only 3 verses last year, if you know what I mean.
CHAD: On one level, the live performance aspect of the challenge seems a little less impressive of a final product than the music videos, but in fact, I think it was a much better showcase for the queens. Todrick Hall did a great job of catering the segments to each queen’s personality, but also put the pressure on. If there had been a bottom two this week, who would have been lip syncing?
MANUEL: I think you could flip a coin to choose who, between Sasha and Trinity, would have joined Peppermint in the bottom 2 this week. Peppermint is a star, and she definitely has great charisma (and can clearly wipe the floor with you when it comes to vogueing), but I cannot for the life of me believe that the judges let that final outfit go. Time and time again Michelle has read queens for filth for not bringing their A-game this late in the competition, and the first thing that I thought while seeing her dress was, “Really?” That hair was divine, and her sparkly makeup truly made her gorgeous face shine, but girl, come on. And much like her earlier runway looks, this was a stunning idea that got lost in execution, especially when you compare it with the attention to detail and overall polish of the other three girls. Were she not such a magnetic performer, I could’ve easily seen her sashaying away this week (and maybe giving Valentina a run for her money when it came to the Miss Congeniality title which will surely, even if a bit unfairly, work as a consolation prize of sorts this time around).
CHAD: They really piled on the intensely emotional stuff this week! To what extent do you think the podcast interviews and “speaking to your younger self” segments served to illuminate the queens’ pasts, and is there any aspect that felt like exploitative emotional porn?
MANUEL: This move towards making the show quite explicitly about self-love and personal growth, which was always in RPDR’s DNA, fascinates me. I even wrote an entire piece about it (shameless self-promotion alert: check out RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Art of Self-Love at The Atlantic). What was often a byproduct of bringing so many different queens together where they’d share past grievances and hardships has become an all too obvious, I think, dramatic crutch the producers have been leaning on a bit too much as of late. There is a fine line here, and I worry that we’re getting to a point where pushing the girls to cry (which was so long relegated to the Interior Illusions lounge and its infamous “videos from home”) in the service of sharing their story begins to feel exploitative. Or, in the case of Nina earlier in the season or Adore in All Stars 2, almost counter-productive. I also think the reason this all feels a bit more heavy-handed this time around is because so little else dominated conversations in the workroom throughout the season. Is it me, or did we used to have a lot more random moments where we’d see the queens getting ready and/or working on their outfits/challenges, where we’d see the mundanity of what it means to be on the show? This time around, it felt like every conversation was an EVENT. That said, the “speaking to your younger self,” which is in keeping with Ru’s conception of drag as self-care, makes for some good TV and gives the judges a chance to see a more vulnerable side of the queens. I sometimes wonder how different Ross, Michelle, and Carson’s views of the queens are given that they have such limited exposure to them.
CHAD: It was mentioned repeatedly that Trinity has shown the most growth this season -- do you think that’s true? She’s certainly proven to be one of the most surprising queens of Season 9, right?
MANUEL: Hm. I’d agree with you that she’s been very surprising, not so much showing growth as showing range. It’s clear she came into the show knowing that being a pageant girl alone wasn’t going to get her far (she even admitted she hadn’t given them a pageant gown until her final runway!) so I think the “growth” narrative is a bit disingenuous. I mean, she gave us a hilarious starfish sidekick by episode 3!
CHAD: Peppermint has been charismatic, professional, and kind throughout the season. She delivers a killer lip sync, but I just don’t feel like she has a shot at the crown. Is that unfair of me?
MANUEL: I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but I think it comes down to her sense of fashion. Where the other 3 girls have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Top Looks on the runway, Peppermint has stumbled on the style-front, something which was perhaps more obvious in that little recap they did in Untucked of every queen where most of her outfits (and wigs!) started to blend together a bit. So, no, I don’t think it’s unfair. Just the way the cookie crumbles when you have such a solid top tier of girls.
CHAD: I’ve been really, really impressed with Sasha this season -- she’s been totally true to her weird, thoughtful, intellectual style of drag while also excelling in nearly all the challenges. My one worry was that this wacky reality show would cheapen or caricature what makes her so unique, and I don’t think that’s happened at all. However, I’m just not sure that Ru gets her. What do you think?
MANUEL: You may have noticed this already, but I am IN LOVE with Sasha. It’s probable the inner academic in me. I love me a good deconstructed drag look and, like Raja before her, Sasha brings a keen intellectual angle to her drag that feels both knowing and new. But I agree, Ru seems lukewarm about her. Or, just not as smitten as you’d hope. Even the fact that she passed her over two times this season where her wins seemed all but inevitable (the Makeover and the Gayest Ball Ever challenge) suggests she wasn’t as eager to crown her as Trinity or Shea, both of whom seem so much more in keeping with the vision of what a Drag Race Superstar in Ru’s image looks like.
CHAD: With her impressive number of wins, (not to mention her stunning performance this week) it seems like Shea is the obvious frontrunner of the season. And Chicago would certainly love to see her win that crown. But would that be too predictable? Would you be excited if she wins?
MANUEL: Shea losing the crown would be the biggest upset I can think of. She wasn’t lying when she told us in that first episode that she came here to slay. And I would be so excited for her if she won. She’s clearly very much at the forefront of drag today. Shea’s look is very current, and she’d make for a great addition to Ru’s winning and winsome girls. She’s definitely earned it. Would it be predictable? Perhaps. But that hasn’t stopped past frontrunners from nabbing the crown.
CHAD: With her call to pick your “team” on social media, it seems like Ru wants to know which of the final four will have the most vocal fanbase. And…. I have no idea how that’ll go! I’m guessing that Shea will edge out her competition, but I think Sasha and Trinity could also be contenders. We both know that the crown and its $100,000 prize only mean so much, that the “real” winners of each season are the ones who make the most of their visibility and opportunities. Who do you think is poised to do that?
MANUEL: I actually checked the RPDR Twitter account before answering this because I was curious to see how the #Team tweets were going, and color me shocked, but the #TeamSasha tweet had almost twice as many Retweets as that of her fellow queens?! That might already have changed by the time you read this, but it suggested to me that even if she misses, she’ll have emerged as the breakout queen of the season this side of Miss Linda Evangelista herself. Maskgate already cemented Valentina’s name in Drag Race legend, and she’s clearly a fan favorite whose fanbase reminds me of Katya’s following her season, though I’ve yet to see this wide-eyed Virgen de Guadalupe-praying queen capitalizing on her post-show limelight. Is it too much of me to want her to wear a mask to the reunion/crowning and really own her misstep in ways less earnest than what she’s done and said to date?
CHAD: Thanks so much for joining me, Manuel! Where can readers find you and your work?
MANUEL: The easiest way of following my writing is on Twitter (@bmanuel), where you can find me gabbing about all things gay, Latino, and film. But perhaps you want to start by reading my most recent piece on Drag Race, “The Rise of RuPaul's Drag Industrial Complex.” Elsewhere, you can look for my writing at VICE, Esquire, Paste Magazine, Remezcla, and Electric Literature, among others. Easier: check out my site, www.mbetancourt.com
Nate and Miguel
Manuel's story THE PRINCE will also be in my upcoming graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom from Knopf next year!
Work Dish is the drag persona of Jose-Luis Olivares, a Boston artist who self-publishes mini-comics and doodles like crazy.
CHAD: Everybody loves puppets, right? Knowing what a crafty queen you are, I feel like you have probably made puppets at some point in your life. What did you think of this week’s mini-challenge?
WORK: I’m so glad we finally had another mini-challenge! The mini-challenges are some of my favorite parts of the show because the girls can just get silly and showcase their personality. This season, we didn’t really get any new minis at all, and I think the show suffered because of it. I think Sasha slayed the other girls in this puppet challenge, shading Trinity AND Nina expertly. Trinity is so comfortable at making fun of herself, and Sasha’s botox/silicone jokes were hilarious. I wish we were able to see more of the other girls’ performances. We barely saw Peppermint’s jokes about Alexis, but I loved the green spray paint! I was wondering what Peppermint would do since we know Alexis is sensitive about her body. Honestly, the other girls barely brought the jokes!
CHAD: I’ve heard some complaints about this season along the lines of: the queens are too self-conscious of the cameras, playing things too safe, and not stirring up enough drama. And that might be true of most of the queens this season, but it is certainly not the case with Alexis. I personally like Alexis and have known her for a VERY long time, but I’m shocked by her lack of self-awareness on this show-- she’s unwittingly transformed herself into the Roxxxy Andrews of Season 9! Even Roxxxy worked hard to avoid that fate in All Stars 2. What did you make of Alexis and her time on the show?
WORK: Sigh, Alexis! I think she’s super talented, but you’re so right about her lack of self-awareness. I hope we look back on this season and appreciate that she spoke her mind and brought some pettiness to this season. Like, the same folks who want drama are mad at Alexis for being dramatic?? She came off as a know-it-all, but her looks just didn’t have the uniqueness and point-of-view of, say, Valentina and Nina. She never gave up, though, and she gave a cute lip sync after some of the most lop-sided lip syncs we’ve ever seen on the show. She’s a strong competitor, but I can’t believe she blamed the other girls, yet again, for how she looked! “See something, say something?” Girl, your outfit bombed!
CHAD: Were you charmed by the totally ridiculous runway themes of the Gayest Ball Ever, or no? I mean, UNICORNS? Really??
WORK: It was brilliant! I love it when the themes are just bizarre and kind of dumb, like that weird princess/buddy challenge earlier in the season. Gotta say, though, the unicorn outfits overall didn’t excite me. Maybe it was because we didn’t see them constructing these costumes? I would’ve liked to hear what type of pony they were going for, at least, with voice-overs. Shea looked so sinful, though, and I’m sure bronies are lusting after her glamour-hooves.
CHAD: What did you think about the Village People theme? Can you even believe that they included the Native American theme?? Really? In 2017?
WORK: Honestly, when I saw the previews, I got sweaty because, like, how can you do a respectful Native American look? RuPaul, don’t you read Tumblr?! Seriously though, America screwed the Native Americans, and we continue to do so, for example, at Standing Rock. Most iconography we think of as “Native American” is pop-culture referencing Native Americans, too. So I was imagining a scene where one of the girls is talking to the producers, pleading to dress up as the 6th Village Person, whatever that is. And then, speaking of no self-awareness, Alexis wanted this theme?! I felt so bad that she spent her time decorating a sad corset, and then defending it like Derrick Barry. Season 10 girls: don’t spend your time vagazziling a corset!
CHAD: The whole rhythmic gymnastics aspect of the challenge was totally filler, right? Except that it offered some drama with Sasha taking her leadership role?
WORK: Um….yeah, the performance was underwhelming. Thank god it gave us some bickering in the workroom, though! Sasha stood up for herself, and we got to see trouble in paradise for “Sashea!” (That’s what the horny Redditors call Sasha and Shea.)
CHAD: Peppermint seems completely lovable, she lip syncs like a god, and she’s gorgeous. Is she only struggling because of her unpolished looks, or is it something else?
WORK: Peppermint! I love Peppermint so much. Because she’s been doing drag since before the show started, I think some of her looks are great for the club, but maybe not for TV. She started off the season with fairly conservative looks and pink skirts. This episode, her rainbow pride and unicorn look weren’t cohesive. That being said, she brought one of the most iconic looks this season — her club kid Peppermint.
CHAD: You are a cartoonist turned drag queen, and Sasha is a cartoonist turned drag queen. How do you think your visual arts background influences your drag, and do you see that at play with Sasha, too?
WORK: Wow, great question! Like you know, drawing is such a fun and easy way to explore ideas. It’s so awesome to just brainstorm and doodle whatever comes to mind. Drawing is cheap, too! Before I started drag, I was drawing drag faces over and over again, just seeing what kind of fierce femme creatures I could conjure. Sasha and I went to the same cartooning school (the Center for Cartoon Studies) and, for me, it really helped flesh out the narratives in my art. I think cartooning, like drag, lets you play with color and shape and storytelling. I guess that’s why other queens like Raja, Manila, Dax, and Pearl like to draw, too. But Sasha has combined her comic storytelling with drag performance into something so amazing. Her lip syncs combine illustration, graphic design, video...she’s next level.
Personally, I was a little nervous about switching mediums and learning a totally new art form. But my comics began to get really queer, and drag was the necessary extension for that. It’s literally drawing on your face! So I spent $100 on some makeup and began the process of learning drag! I’ve spent...quite a bit more on drag supplies since then. Chad, do you think you’ll ever try drag? I’d love to see what you’d become!
CHAD: Um, I’m totally fascinated by the process of transforming one’s face into a work of art. I think that would be really fun (but expensive) to experiment with. I’ve never walked in heels, and I don’t think my lip sync skills would slay. But next time I’m in Boston, we can totally play dress up!
WORK: Perfect! I'd love to do your makeup! Drag queens are SO talented, and my drag education has only just begun!
CHAD: Is Sasha the Manila of her season? I feel like Manila was known for serving up incredibly sleek and clever runway looks, but they were often overshadowed by Raja’s larger-than-life transformations. Sasha has a similar approach (to a certain extent), but Ru complained that she didn’t really serve up the drama and pageantry you’d expect from a drag ball. I LIVED for Sasha’s runways this week, and I was kind of rooting for her to win. Were you at all surprised by the outcome?
WORK: You’re right, Sasha has been so smart and unique this season. My second favorite outfit of the night was her rainbow look. It was just so clean and surprising, so specifically Sasha. I love her tiny house reveal. I know she’s done it in her live shows before, and I’m glad she found a way to incorporate it on stage. However, it seemed like the judges focused on the final Village People look more than the previous 2 looks. Shea’s was my favorite look overall this episode. It had more technical skill and overall flashiness. The silhouette of Sasha’s cowboy dress was a bit too plain for me, but she obviously looked stellar. I think she stole that red hat from Season 8 RuPaul?
CHAD: Is Trinity the breakout star of the season? What do you make of her runway looks and presentation?
WORK: Yes! Trinity is hilarious and horny and such good TV. She always looks polished and sickening, and she isn’t afraid to act a fool. I actually really loved her rainbow look even if the judges didn’t. Honestly, with her body, she could probably look good in anything. But she takes the time to make sure everything is tucked and fitted perfectly. Hair’s right, butt’s out. I can’t wait to see her live!
CHAD: So… I don’t know anything about sewing. But it certainly seemed like, besides her fashionable interpretation of “construction worker” drag, Shea also demonstrated some amazing craftsmanship in the construction of her final runway look, right? Do you think that cemented her win this week?
WORK: Shea’s look was stunning! I loved her yellow lips, glittery hard hat, and boots. For a drag ball, I think you need to be big and bold, and her awesome flannel cape brought the drama. She used her time wisely. Trinity and Peppermint both looked hot, though they kind of looked like leather police doms.
CHAD: What do you make of this final four? Who would you crown?
WORK: We have a really strong final 4, and I’d be happy for any of them to win. Peppermint has the smallest chance of winning, if only because she’s lip synced twice. The cartooning community is rooting for Sasha, but what if she has to lip sync? Sasha is known for her artier lip syncs, so if she’s in the bottom and has a generic pop song, she might be overshadowed. Trinity and Shea have the strongest chance of winning because they’ve both won lots of challenges. I expected Shea to win the season early on because her drag is so perfect for the show. But...I love Trinity so much. She’s really versatile, from her pageant glam to her club kid look to her southern starfish! Chad, who are you rooting for?
CHAD: Before the season even started, Shea and Sasha were already two of my favorite queens in the entire world. Seeing them both excel on the show and bring out the best in each other has been kind of an amazing, magical gift that seems like the fulfillment of everything I could ever want from this season. I think Shea is the embodiment of a perfect Drag Race queen: fashionable, fierce, and funny. Sasha has the potential to expand what it means to be a Drag Race queen, and I very much hope she does.
WORK: Thanks for interviewing me, Chad! You can find me on instagram at @WorkDish where I share all my drag looks. I’m also the moderator for r/drag on Reddit, where we share lots of drag tips for aspiring artists. For the past year, I’ve been a part of the Boston Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as Novice Penelope Crude, too! The Sisters are a great way for anyone to help out their local queer community, and becoming a clown nun has brought so much joy to my life. See if there’s a house near you! You can also check out my comics on my website. Actually, I’ll have 5 pages about the Boston Sisters in the next issue of Sasha Velour’s drag magazine! (The first photo in the sequence above is by Emilia Lloret, and the rest are by Work!)
Chicago queen Eva Styles joins me this week to discus Season 9's makeover episode! (Photo by Adam Ouahmane)
CHAD: Hi Eva! You’ve joined the Chicago drag scene a few years ago, is that right? What brought you to the Windy City?
EVA: I actually moved here February of last year, but I’ve been visiting on and off for years. I slowly fell in love with Chicago with each visit I made and there are a TON of reasons I wanted to move, including just getting the entire hell out of what I’ll refer to as the Hellmouth, lol. It’s weird cuz although I still feel very new here, I at the same time feel right at home, thanks to everyone here being so welcoming and kind. I honestly can’t wait to see what Chicago will transform me into cuz this scene is so out of this world and full of the most amazing aliens I’ve ever met in my life.
CHAD: Who are your celebrity fashion icons, and is Natalie Portman among them?
EVA: Oh God No lol! When he said Natalie Portman, I said it back out loud with confusion at the same time Shea did, and everyone around me busted out laughing. Clearly, he said that cuz he is straight and he thinks she’s hot. My personal icons in fashion are more of the people in the fashion industry itself cuz I’m a huge fan of that world, thus my last name, but if I had to pick from “celebrities”, I would probably say Bjork, Grace Jones, Róisín Murphy, Daphne Guinness, Erkyah Badu, Paloma Faith, Solange, Tilda Swinton & Janelle Monae. I gravitate more towards people who have a more uniquely organic sense of fashion, and although I enjoy the likes of Rihanna or Gaga, I feel that they are more at the hands of a stylist who manufactures their looks... sorry ladies. No T No Shade.
CHAD: This episode started with the other girls “moving on” from any obligations they felt about supporting Nina through the competition -- Were you rooting for Nina? Or were you surprised that she made it this far into the season?
EVA: Well, speaking of Bjork, ever listen to the lyrics of her song “Army of Me”? That song perfectly describes that entire situation. Nina’s self defeating personality can be a heavy weight to those who want to uplift her because it seems like a never ending battle. It’s almost like talking to a wall at a certain point, and honestly, you just have to let go and stop walking her by the hand. I honestly sympathize with her cuz I used to very much be like her for most of my life, and at times that darkness can come creeping back to ruin an otherwise perfectly good moment or day. I was and still am very much rooting for Nina cuz she is amazingly talented and unique. She is bringing something entirely new to drag and despite her being eaten by her cloud of darkness, she is loveable and charming, so I wasn’t surprised at all that she made it this far. I hope she can one day get over that emotional hill cuz once she does she’ll be damn near unstoppable.
CHAD: I thought that it was interesting that Shea and Sasha were put in the position of pairing off the queens with their crew members -- were there any shady choices?
EVA: I call no shade, lol. I thought overall they were very fair. They mentioned that they paired people based on their personalities matching, but it almost seemed like they were also pairing people up based on likeness of frame and features, which is very important. I very much doubt any of the queens had a spare outfit for someone who was way out of their own build. Picture if Rizzo was paired with Alexis? Now that would have been shady.
CHAD: Do you think it was smart of Shea to pick the crew member with the closest “family resemblance”?
EVA: Yes, and plus, she lucked out a little bit, as well. There are ALL SHADES of Brown and Black people, and sadly, the makeup industry still caters very little to us in that aspect, so as a Black/Brown person it’s already a huge struggle to find even something as simple as a good foundation that comes close to matching to what your shade is, let alone contours and highlights (Not every black girl needs to do banana as a highlight *insert eyeroll*). Josh was very close to the same shade as Shea, and Shea has thankfully figured out her own colors, so it was a smart choice cuz she only had to focus on shapes and dimensions.
CHAD: Nina struggled a lot this episode because of her sewing skills. My favorite part was when she was tracing her partner’s body onto the fabric -- is that how sewing works??
EVA: Well... I’m not gonna out right say no. Let’s just say it’s not a “traditional” technique lol. When I saw him on the floor being sketched out like a damn crime scene, I about screamed out loud of laughter. Drag Race is not the best time to try out something you’ve never done before. Jeez, I really wish she would have implemented her paper/makeup technique into costumes. Now that would have been amazing! I was really hoping for that all season really, but it would have especially worked well during this episode.
CHAD: I think the makeover episodes are often a lot of fun to WATCH, but they’re generally not very fun for me to DRAW -- so much of the queens’ effort is put into making two fairly basic looks that work well together rather than a single memorable one. Which runways looks stood out to you?
EVA: Ugh, I personally hate these episodes. It’s so forced and out of place cuz you have all of these one-of-a-kind monsters who now have to water themselves down in order to match with someone else. I can definitely understand your feelings about drawing them cuz as you said, nothing memorable look-wise ever comes from these episodes. Also there is a bit of a sabotage element cuz they can really mess up your presentation in a split second, and you’re the only one that’ll get blamed. It’s so unfair... but so dramatic to watch, so I guess it makes good TV because ANYONE can get thrown in the dumpster no matter how well they do. Sasha was the only one to me that stood out cuz it was still very her without much sacrifice to her overall persona.
CHAD: I have to say that my favorite runway presentation was Sasha and Dunatella’s -- it was sleek and arty, but also very playful. But I’m getting worried that Sasha won’t win a single challenge on her own this season, which is weird for a queen who’s made it so far. What do you make of Sasha and her standing in the competition?
EVA: Ummm I don’t know cuz she is not doing anything wrong. I think based on first impressions I was worried that she’d be an artsy type that would get stuck in her head over-analyzing things, but she hasn’t done that. She has def stuck out and tried different things and also is listening to the judges. I just think she has that Season 2 Pandora Boxx curse of doing well, but there is always one person who does slightly better and ends up winning over her. Wait, maybe that was a bad comparison cuz Pandora fell cuz of her terrible runways, and Sasha doesn’t have that problem, lol ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
CHAD: Did Trinity deserve the win this week? I’ve lost track of how many challenges she’s won, and she’s definitely proving to be one of the most memorable characters of the season -- do you think she’s a contender for the crown?
EVA: Oh, most def. I was really pulling for Sasha, but Trinity came through with both the runway AND the team lip sync, which she didn’t treat as an afterthought, which was very smart on her part. I’m a big Trinity fan and supporter. I’m lucky enough to have known of Trinity damn near when she first was getting her feet off the ground and have been following her for years. People automatically wrote her off cuz of the “pageant” label which I get cuz maaaaannn pageant queens can be stuck in their 1980 drag ways, but Trinity has always been different, which is why I’ve always been a fan. I’ve worked with her a couple of times, and she’s just as lovely in person as she appears on TV, which is great cuz most aren’t.
CHAD: Did Shea deserve to be in the bottom two? And how much of that was entirely due to Bae’s epic wig malfunction?
EVA: Deserve? That’s questionable. Sorry, but I call complete bullshit on what happened. No one is gonna sit here and tell me Shea didn’t have that gurl’s hair together, I don’t believe it for a second. The production crew as the paired sisters?!?! I.SMELL.A.STUNT.!! Shea is all about details and making sure everything is right and polished, so she would have never made such an amateur mistake as that. Call me a reddit conspiracy theorist, but I have a feeling she was set up. From that bowlegged polio ass walk to him probably shifting and f*cking up that wig RIGHT before they hit the runway so Shea wouldn’t have time to fix it. Stunts, Shows & Shenanigans. I was born tomorrow night, not last night. Boo, I’m not the fool.
CHAD: What did you think of this week’s lip sync? I was excited to see Shea lip sync, despite the inherent drama of it, but it just wasn’t a particularly exciting song, right?
EVA: I wasn’t mad at the song per se, but yea, a lot of people at the viewing party I was performing at weren’t feeling the song at all and loudly expressed that when it started to play. Did Kesha truly lose the rights to her music? Could they have still not paid the fee to have any of them be played? Shea has always been a solid performer, so I wasn’t surprised at the turnout, and I’m glad all of the world got to see her perform, although they technically already did during her epic Blac Chyna portrayal, but as you can tell, I’m not happy about how it all went down. I really feel that it was completely out of her hands, and she was sabotaged.
CHAD: And my final question: Is it too early to call it? Winter Green wins Season 10?
EVA: Well, I already like her better than Eureka, so she’s got my vote.
Photo credits, in order: Dillon Gitano, Colectivo Multipolar, Erik M. Kommer, Joshua Foo, TJ Deaver (2 photos), and Adam Ouahmane
CHAD: Thanks for joining me, Eva! Where can people find you?
EVA: Well, through social media you can find me either on Facebook or Instagram. I’ve been blessed to be at many places in Chicago, but some upcoming shows and hosting gigs I’ll be a part of soon are Honeys on Halsted on June 7th at Hydrate, Sidetrack Drag Race viewing parties on Fridays during and after each episode, and June 22nd will be the 4th Chicago addition to “Black Girl Magic” at Berlin Nightclub, which is great cuz we are basically opening up Pride weekend!!
Dan Polyak joins me this week to discuss the Drag Race! Dan plays all kinds of different roles in the Chicago drag scene – I'll let him explain more!
CHAD: So first of all, Dan, you’ve been involved for a long time in the Chicago drag scene in a lot of different ways -- can you sum all of that up?
DAN: I first was introduced to the Chicago drag scene through Trannika Rex. At that point in time, I was going through a big transition phase in my life, I was feeling very complacent in my personal life and my creative life… I was looking for a community that understood me as a queer person and allowed me to showcase my background in art and design. From that point, I slowly started working with local queens on branding and apparel, Trannika pushed me to get involved with Queen! at SmartBar, I started working with Shea Coulee regularly, working with Neverland and assisting Adam Ouahmane on photoshoots, too. It was cool because it allowed me to creatively push myself in ways I hadn’t before while working in fields I wasn’t entirely familiar with. Then Shea came up with the idea for Lipstick City, which I co-produced and edited… from that point on, I’ve been working steadily and was able to push my clientele to include contestants on Drag Race like Detox, Naomi Smalls, Aja and Sasha Velour.
CHAD: What has it been like to watch the show week by week when you’ve probably heard all kinds of tea and have such a close relationship with some of the contestants?
DAN: It’s been really interesting! I’m such a fan of so many of the girls this season and seeing their point-of-views for each runway has been my favorite part. It’s very surreal seeing people you know showcase their talents on TV and pursue their dream. The girls I know from the show have been very tight-lipped, other than the “oh, just wait” or “biiiiitch, you’ll never believe what happens…” in response to certain previews, a lot of the season has been a surprise to me.
CHAD: Did you have any idea/inkling/warning that this episode would be SO EXTRA?
DAN: Well, being the club kid runway mixed with reaching the half-way mark of the season, I was expecting it to be over-the-top and, frankly, we needed some non-Untucked drama.
CHAD: I have to say that, whatever complaints other viewers might have about this season, this was an amazing week to be a Drag Race fan. Pretty much everything was perfection, at least, unless you’re a Valentina stan. The early workroom dynamic was hilarious, despite the “drag conspiracy” drama with Nina. The challenge was fun, creative, and wild. The runway pushed the queens in new directions, and then the lip sync, was… well, we can get to that later.
DAN: The Nina drama is frustrating because she is so talented but definitely in her own head. At this point of the season, every decision is going to be important and impactful. We’re in the midst of a competition and still seeing dynamics of sisterhood and insecurity… some queens are really pushing themselves and some are crumbling under the pressure.
CHAD: One of the most lovely surprises of this season has been seeing what amazing things happen when Sasha and Shea come together. So to speak. Do you have any insight about what makes them such an unstoppable team?
DAN: It’s been adorable watching the two of them bond, they have really succeeded working together and they complement each other so well. They’re perfectionists, they both have a strong eye for aesthetics, they know the importance of editing and know how to compromise while staying humble. And, no, I’m totally not biased at all...
Also, personally, I’m such a fan of Sasha -- as a creative, seeing a queen who has a more designed style has really... excited my palate. (Hi Sasha! *wink*)
CHAD: I thought this week’s challenge was really fun, and I lovvvved seeing the queens get some room for creativity, improv, and shenanigans. Who were some of your faves?
DAN: Well, I really enjoyed seeing Sasha and Shea working together again... obviously they succeeded the most. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Trinity all season, and her makeup for the challenge really changed from the person we’ve seen every week. I was surprised Nina and Valentina decided to wing it, though -- you’re half-way through the season and there should’ve been more consideration to that decision. And Alexis, girl… stop trying to micro-manage!
CHAD: Now, I know you're especially excited to talk about the Cub Kid runway -- what’s your personal connection to Club Kid fashion?
DAN: I am! I went on a Twitter rant yesterday because the Club Kid era is important, it changed both the drag and fashion worlds, and I think it’s important to know your herstory and credit the right people… also, ya know, it was more than Michael Alig killing someone. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by club kids every Sunday night at Queen! -- it’s a weekly underground party that celebrates queer sub-cultures that have shaped where we are at today culturally. Jojo Baby, one of the original club kids, is a weekly host along with Lucy Stoole… other club kid queens like Nico, Valentine Addams, Imp Queen and up-and-comer Hinkypunk host monthly.
CHAD: I definitely don’t claim to be an expert about that era of queer culture -- who do you think hit the mark this week with the runway theme, and who didn’t quite get it? I associate Club Kid with basically anything avant garde, eccentric, edgy, and over the top -- is that on the mark, or are there more specific reference points I’m missing?
DAN: I think Peppermint, Trinity, Shea and Sasha all understood the assignment. Club Kid looks are usually avant garde and forward thinking, they push some sort of boundary -- it’s definitely not about being traditionally pretty or looking approachable. Club Kid fashion takes a concept or an idea and pushes it to an extreme, it challenges gender and identity, and sometimes there is satire or social-commentary involved.
CHAD: I really enjoyed Trinity’s look, and her bizarre runway walk was EVERYTHING. I was particularly entranced with the way she painted her face, her lashes, and her, um, blue balls.
DAN: I LOVED Trinity’s runway… I enjoyed them showing the work room conversation about her being afraid to do a club kid look because it’s out of her comfort zone. I thought she did an amazing job, she executed the idea of club kid very well and her walk was ev-er-y-thing, it was so quirky and different. I wish they would’ve showed closeups of her face with and without the mask, seeing it in Untucked was exciting... there was so much detail, and her lashes were insane. Her look definitely gave me anything but blue balls...
CHAD: I thought we had a ton of strong looks, obviously, but the real standout to me was Peppermint -- hers was very conceptual and focused. She looked otherworldly, sleek, sexy, and very much… on brand.
DAN: Peppermint’s look was amazing! Her look was easily the best on the runway… it was a Leigh Bowery reference with the kitschy peppermint candy spin on it. She really commanded the runway, and I feel like if her team had done better, this win could’ve been hers.
CHAD: So, let’s get to #maskgate. Wow. There’s so much there. I had heard the Reddit rumors about what would go down, but even so, I still gagged on all of that. First, what did you think of Valentina’s Club Kid runway?
DAN: Well, I think Valentina really missed the mark… her look reminded me of Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s Madonna runway, and there wasn’t much that made me think she understood the concept of Club Kid. The nail-gloves were really cool, and I enjoyed her makeup, but there was definitely more to be desired.
CHAD: Why do you think she kept on the mask for her lip sync?
DAN: Ya know, I thought there was going to do some sort of dramatic reveal at first… but then it became apparent that she wasn’t familiar with the song.
CHAD: When Ru stopped the song and confronted Valentina, do you think Ru went over the line? Was she *mean* about it?
DAN: I think she was pretty candid with Valentina, which was shocking, because we’ve never really seen a contestant get under her skin this much… even Pearl. Even her sashay message to Valentina wasn’t encouraging.
CHAD: I feel like everyone, including Ru, was caught off guard by how things went down. I really think the producers were counting on Valentina making it to the final three, but after such a catastrophic lip sync, things have been thrown off course. Which is kind of exciting, but also devastating for Valentina and her fans, right?
DAN: Yeah, Valentina has a very loyal fan base… she is, like, drag-Selena... she is endearing, adorable, and has a great personality, so I’m sure her being ripped from the show is devastating for them.
CHAD: Thanks, Dan!!! What else should readers know about you?
DAN: You can check out my work at DanPolyak.com and see more of what I’m up to on Instagram. This Sunday is the Queen! 5 Year Anniversary in Chicago at SmartBar! For more about Queen!, check out Facebook.com/QueenSundays and check out a Velour spread featuring Shea Coulee and Sasha Velour art directed by me at TheDragMagazine.com
CHAD: Oliver, you’ve been pretty lukewarm on this season so far, and I think you gave this episode a “C”. In your opinion, what’s wrong with Season 9?
OLIVER: Everyone is too damn nice. There’s a sisterhood of Drag Race queens, but the season 9 contestants are putting that sisterhood above the competition when they should be doing everything in their power to win. I’m not saying I want them all to be stone-cold bitches, but I want contestants that are ruthless, unapologetic, and selfish because that creates drama, and drama makes for good TV. There’s a risk in being a villain, but if you play the role well and aren’t unbearably obnoxious, you’ll be remembered and respected. I think a lot about Bianca Del Rio and how she managed to embody those villainous qualities while also being a mother figure to the other queens, and she helped them out because she wanted the competition to be fiercer.
Of the remaining queens, I think Trinity has the best chance of fitting this role, but we’re getting close to the end, and she hasn’t been as vicious as I thought she would be at the top of the season. I was at the Drag Queens Of Comedy show on Friday night, and Bob the Drag Queen pointed out that someone is apologizing to someone else in pretty much every episode. It happens after the trip to the library this week, with both Alexis and Farrah apologizing to each other for comments they made, and I’d much rather see a queen tell the offended party to deal with it and move on rather than undermine what they said in the challenge.
CHAD: I’m guessing that repeating so many challenges and runway themes hasn’t helped this season stand out, right? I remember the performances of Jinkx, Alaska, Detox, and Coco from the Season 5 Roast so vividly, and I worry that this week’s Roast won’t be remembered so fondly.
OLIVER: If it’s remembered at all. It’s hard not to compare the current queens to past contestants when they’re doing repeat challenges, and each repeat challenge this season has been inferior to what came before. I wasn’t impressed by this episode’s Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge, and while there were some solid reads, I wanted to see the queens dig a little deeper rather than going for the obvious insults. A lot of my disappointment with this season stems from it following season 8 and All-Stars 2, which I thought were two of the show’s best seasons, and because these queens aren’t meeting the very high bar that’s been set, season 9 feels more tame and less exciting. The same goes for the roast, and of eight queens, I feel like only three of them (Shea, Sasha, and Peppermint) delivered in a substantial way. That’s not a good ratio.
CHAD: I do get a little defensive when I hear people complaining about this season because I DO think it has a lot of amazing queens. But maybe it’s the wrong mix for good TV? Certainly, there aren’t any comedy queens to steal the show like Bob and Bianca did during their respective seasons. Which Season 9 queens are the standout personalities?
OLIVER: Shea, Valentina, and Trinity have the most distinct personalities for me. Shea is the frontrunner of this season, and she’s performed well in every single challenge, dominated the talking heads, and shown really strong comic instincts throughout. She’s unflappable and clever, with a sharp fashion sense and a deep understanding of the different elements of drag performance. She also recognizes the high stakes of being on this show and is playing to win. This is an incredible opportunity for a drag queen, and Shea isn’t going to waste it.
Valentina doesn’t have the range of Shea, but she’s also been doing this for a shorter period of time and is using the Drag Race experience to grow and expand her horizons. She’s the talented little sister of this group, and even if her character is mostly being peppy, pretty and smiley, she has the exaggeration I’m looking for from a queen. Trinity is also delivering in that respect, and I like how cartoony she lets herself be. She’s not precious about her drag and realizes that sometimes you have to risk looking stupid to get a laugh. Trinity has also been really fun in Untucked, and she’s probably the shadiest queen we have this season.
CHAD: I was interested in the vulnerability Alexis showed this week, but is it fair for a queen to declare something about herself “off limits” to everyone else’s jokes?
OLIVER: I’ve been firmly anti-Alexis since the Untucked episode where she had a meltdown because the other queens didn’t tell her that her runway look was basic. Alexis is pushing the sisterhood thing harder than anyone else this season, and I’m glad she got a wake up call this week to remember that this is a competition. In regards to her complaining about the queens reading her body, I don’t think it’s an issue of fairness. If a queen is hurt by something, she’s allowed to complain about it, but it does come across as very thin-skinned when it's in the context of a challenge that is intended to point out flaws so that people can laugh about them together.
Of course the queens are going to go after Alexis’ body if they know that’s the thing she’s most sensitive about. When you’re given the opportunity to attack, why not go for the easy target? It’s not very creative, but if it can potentially throw a competitor off her game, it’s good strategy to go for what hurts. The reading challenge is actually pretty therapeutic if the queen is able to let herself laugh about her flaws, but Alexis internalizes those comments about her body in a negative way and lets them feed her insecurity rather than cut away at it. I’m really happy RuPaul and Ross Matthews call her out, because I think Alexis probably thought they were going to sympathize with her, but they know that being overly sensitive isn’t going to help in this competition. Alexis was swept up in her emotions after the library, and I think that got in the way of her preparing her roast.
CHAD: For the record, I think it was pretty clever of Alexis to come out in all green for Michelle’s Roast. And it was fun to draw!
OLIVER: But I totally agree with Ross Matthews that it was a long way to go for a single joke. I wish she had done more with the visual concept, maybe made some Wicked Witch jokes or something like that. I also think her breasts looked awful. I didn’t like this look, and I don’t know why, but the little witch hat she pulled out during the lip sync made me really angry.
CHAD: We saw a lot of queens (Valentina, Trinity, Alexis, and Nina) relying on cartoonish characters for their Roast performances-- how did that go?
OLIVER: Not well. These were all performances that I considered either underwhelming or total failures, and I think these queens put on these big characters because they weren’t all that confident with their joke writing skills. I found Valentina’s voice to be extremely grating and inconsistent, and it made it hard for me to connect with her jokes. Trinity had more trouble with creating jokes and delivering them in a way that connects with the audience. I think Nina’s character was a smart choice that shows her doing something very different from her usual look and drag persona, but she also didn’t really have strong jokes or a firm handle on the audience. (I’m also not a fan of the painted-on glasses, which look really damn sloppy.)
So much of performing for a crowd involves reading the energy of a room and finding ways to make it work for you, and I felt like the worst queens this week were so in their own heads that they weren’t able to gain that deeper awareness of the crowd. Alexis should have made her character the Wicked Witch of Jersey or the Jersey Hulk if she was going to do Jersey + green, and having a more defined character would have given that performance more focus. That said, a character is only going to take you so far, and without solid jokes, the roast is going to fall apart.
CHAD: I don’t know if it was particularly shady editing, but from what we saw, Farrah’s roast could charitably be described as a trainwreck. She seems like a perfectly lovely person, and she’s a gorgeous queen, but she just didn’t make for compelling television. Are you surprised she lasted as long as she did?
OLIVER: Definitely. The Vegas queens were both really underwhelming from the start, and I expected Farrah to go home shortly after Kimora. The judges hit the nail on the head this week when they said Farrah doesn’t have a clear drag personality. She’s a cute girl in pretty clothes, but her performance consistently leaves a lot to be desired. Out of drag, Farrah’s personality was mostly whiny, but I still liked her more than Alexis. We saw glimpses of a scrappier Farrah in Untucked, and I wish she had embraced that side of herself in the competition. She’s really young, though, and I think Drag Race could be the thing that inspires her to be more aggressive with her drag persona.
CHAD: I was SO VERY RELIEVED that Sasha did so well. Even if every single joke didn’t land, she felt exceedingly confident and self-aware, able to laugh at herself. Anyone reading this probably knows that Sasha and Shea are my Season 9 favorites-- what do you make of Sasha’s depiction on the show? Is she too often caricatured as a snooty intellectual?
OLIVER: I don’t think she’s been portrayed as particularly snooty. I don’t get the impression that she thinks her drag is somehow superior because she likes to be intellectual/philosophical/political. She recognizes that her type of drag is different from the norm for this show, and that she needs to make some adjustments in order to satisfy the demands of the challenge. Being smart is good for this competition, and you need to be able to think on your feet and make well informed choices under pressure. Sasha does that, and even though she doesn’t have the most effervescent personality, I find her really engaging and interesting.
CHAD: I wanted to take this week as an opportunity to finally draw Michelle again-- I haven’t drawn her since my first season drawing the show (Season 3, for the record), and she has made it very clear to me she that she’s noticed. (I love you, Michelle!) How do you think Michelle served as a subject for the roast?
OLIVER: There are a lot of things to make fun of Michelle about, and she hasn’t been deified like RuPaul, so it’s probably easier for the queens to roast her without feeling like they’re overstepping boundaries. I think that’s why some of the queen’s insults came off as harsh and mean-spirited, because there’s some low-hanging fruit that is easy to pluck. It’s also easier for the queens to project this plastic surgery-obsessed, venereal disease-ridden whore caricature onto Michelle that gives them more material to roast, even if it’s not really all that true to who Michelle actually is.
If I was roasting Michelle, I would have had some sort of joke about Michelle burying Merle Ginsberg in her backyard. I also would make fun of her being a health nut, which is something she talks about constantly on the What’s The T? Podcast.
CHAD: I was thrilled to see Peppermint getting more attention this week -- I don’t want to be reductive, but I feel like she’s the Jujubee of this season: she’s completely likeable, she’s gorgeous, she serves up colorful commentary, but she has a hard time standing out on the runway. Do you think that’s a fair comparison, despite their obvious differences?
OLIVER: I can see that, but for me, Peppermint screams Miss Congeniality. There are all the aforementioned qualities, but she also has a personal story that has gotten a lot of attention and sets her apart because she’s the only contestant that’s a trans woman. I’m not sure if Peppermint will make it to the finale, but finally getting a win does give her a major boost in the competition. If she’s not in the final three, I can easily see her being named Miss Congeniality because she is so charming and such a strong, confident queen. I really loved her in the roast, and after seeing three people before her fumble at the podium, she struts in there ready to blow the judges away. She knows that she’s doing her best drag, and she knows that she has material that she can sell, and I was so pleased by how relaxed she was up there.
Peppermint is so smart about her jokes. She’s never done a roast before, but she understands that a roast is about irreverent reverence and using insults as a way of paying tribute. She builds jokes around Michelle’s book and her VH1 show with RuPaul, which draws attention to the fact that Michelle wrote a book and was on a VH1 show. You can also sense the love in Peppermint’s roast, which I didn’t get from a lot of queens.
CHAD: I LOL’d when I heard the prize for winning the Roast was a 5 year membership on Squarespace! But I figured that Peppermint has been a pro for a long enough time that she probably has had a website for years -- and I think I’m right. If you scroll down to the bottom of any Squarespace site (including this one), you’ll see “Powered by Squarespace,” but not on Peppermint’s website.
OLIVER: That’s actually a really helpful prize, but if you’ve already invested in a site, then it’s kind of a waste.
CHAD: Given our gripes about repeat runways and challenges, how do you hope Ru shakes things up for Season 10?
OLIVER: It’s hard coming up with new challenges for the queens, but that’s the job of the writers and producers. And this is Drag Race, so you have freedom to come up with really ridiculous challenges. But given that this season is underwhelming, there’s a better chance that next season will feel like an improvement.
CHAD: Oliver, where can readers find more of your writing??
Welcome, dear readers!
Unfortunately, my interview about this week's Drag Race episode didn't work out, so I'm going to be sharing some of my own thoughts alongside a Behind the Queens discussion of actually making the latest artwork – usually I post these exclusively for my Patreon supporters, so sign up if you'd like to hear more about my artistic insecurities and wrestling with expectations.
One of my favorite aspects of this show is being surprised by a queen – I often have early favorites, but it's nice to see other queens strut their stuff. This week, Trinity really emerged as a serious contender -- she's funny, she's competitive, and she's not afraid to read a queen. The real question, though: is she the new Cucu?
When she's bringing out her more pageant-y looks, I don't often feel compelled to draw her, but it was fun to capture her 90210-HO performance. I had initially thought about making this an animated GIF where she's gobbling the pills and flinging them from her mouth, but I worried that would dominate my entire day's work. For better or worse.
I mentioned my “early favorites,” and one of those for Season 9 has certainly been Shea. She was one of the first queens I met when I moved to Chicago several years ago, and I was entranced from the very first performance. Another delight of this show is seeing new sides of the queens you're already rooting for, particularly when they're showing off their comedy chops in unexpected roles.
These goofy little character illustrations are fun for me to do, and I was really feeling a chunky, cartoony style early in my day's work on this batch of art. I think it's probably because I'm putting the finishing touches on a kids' comic project, and it's fun to work in that colorful, exaggerated, adorable world.
I was worried that this week's runway theme “Big Hair” would be kind of boring, but I think it was actually loose enough to offer the queens lots of room to play. There were a ton of imaginative looks that I was excited to draw, but I struggled a lot with my first few pieces. Even if I love a look, I need to think it over until an image snaps into my mind, guiding me in how to actually depict it. But that process felt like a long, slow climb for my first few runway illustrations.
Nina's cartoonish sensibilities are really fun to capture, but they also present certain challenges for... a cartoonist. She looked great coming down the runway, but in drawing her, I was worried it would look like some knock-off ThunderCats character. I thought maybe going back to a very graphic, jagged color style (hearkening back to early RPDR stuff) could balance out the cartoonish elements of the makeup, and I think it mostly worked okay?
I also took the hard-edged, angular approach to Sasha's runway look... with mixed results. During the runway sections, I'm always snapping tons of screenshots of the queens, and I loved the slightly sinister smile Sasha was sporting. I thought the angle of her head would also show off her spikes of hair well, but it was also really, really hard to draw. I often avoid drawing this particular tilt of the head, and I suspect a lot of other cartoonists do, too-- there's something about how the eye rests on the very side of the face, and how the cheek comes in to meet the lips and teeth, which then form the contour of the face... it's like you're looking at a photograph, but thinking, “wait, that's not how the face works, is it?”
In any case, it was fun to see this side of Sasha, and I thought it was absurd that she was apparently in the bottom this week.
I was initially a little underwhelmed by the silhouette of Shea's runway – Michelle described the look as "a swimsuit and a jacket,” but I agreed with Michelle's conflicted feelings, because during the judging, as we were given a closer up view of Shea, she looked goooooooood. The gorgeously styled wig, its cotton candy colors, and the pop of her black lipstick – all of it was just stunning. After agonizing over the art of Sasha and Nina this week, this one worked itself out really easily. (But I hope her floating hand doesn't look too weird. I shouldn't have pointed it out. Now it totally looks weird.)
Like I said, there were a lot of fun runway looks this week, but also a lot of artistic struggles on my part. I spent a fair amount of time illustrating Valentina's runway, but it was not looking good.
Late in the day, I finally got around to summoning forth Alexis Michelle's sickening sea witch, and I was really happy with it from the earliest sketches. In fact, I really liked the rough, gestural look of it, and the final piece probably took me less than an hour. You win some, you lose some, right?
I wasn't sure whether I would draw Aja this week, and so I saved this one for last. She had a rough week in the challenge, but she served up a really good lip sync, and I did think she looked amazing on the runway. Although some of her runway looks have been half-baked and underwhelming (thinking of last week's Madonna look....), I legitimately loved this avant garde gown, the big hair, and the pop of purple in her lips. I found myself agreeing with Michelle again that Aja's makeup was the best it's ever looked!
I was worried this piece would end up looking too much like my art of Katya's final runway from All Stars 2. But despite the stylistic similarities, I knew it would be a different color palette and a very different queen. Ultimately, I feel like the two drawings are companion pieces, and I could see them as two cards in a tarot deck.
I feel like we're getting into the “sweet spot” of the season, where we've gotten to know a lot of the queens, love some, and hate some. Every elimination will have impact, and every rivalry will have sparks. I'm excited.
Chad: What do you think was behind Farrah accusing Nina of not even wanting to be in the competition?
Toyota: I totally understand where Nina was coming from. Self-doubt is a rude motherf--ker and she can mess up everything for you, even if you want it more than everything. I’m glad the girls, especially Shea, got Nina right together and told her that she’s supposed to be there, and that the whole pity party has been canceled!
Chad: How excited were you to see Nina play Jasmine Masters???
Toyota: I agree with the judges in saying that it’s a cop out to do previous contestants/judges for Snatch Game. They’re low-hanging fruit, but that said, I love Nina and Jasmine, so I was excited to see how she’d do. I feel like her impression was good, but like almost every Snatch Game contestant ever, she coulda gone farther. I wanted to see earrings as big as her head and that damn loaf of bread! I’m a sucker for props. And just a sucker in general (wink emoji)
Chad: I was VERY worried about Sasha after her chat with Ru in the workroom-- it seemed like they were setting her up to fail. Do you know who Judith Butler is, and did you think her impression was funny?
Toyota: There’s always one girl in the competition that Ru helps sway from one decision to the stronger one. I’m a trans feminist, so I’m familiar with Butler, but Sasha’s impression was too respectful. Not that you have to mock the person you’re impersonating, but you have to maximize their eccentricities and make their essence humorous. She was much better as Marlene Dietrich because she could play up the lesbian-ness, the German-ness, and the sultriness.
Chad: Why do you think queens have had so much success in Snatch Game playing eccentric, anachronistic women? -- Joan Crawford, Mae West, Little Edie, and now Marlene Dietrich?
Toyota: First of all, I had to look up "anachronistic". Secondly, I feel like Ru and the judges *love* when the girls pull out these gigs because they hearken back to times when queens emulated these throwback screen divas. There’s a real payoff in the juxtaposition of quickly-famous modern celebrities next to celebrities with real cultural staying power. And you forgot to mention BenDeLaCreme’s wonderful performance as Dame Maggie Smith! These kinda ladies are sometimes easier to get right because of their heightened accents and reality. Rather than having to impersonate a peer or currently-famous person. I have one of have one of these types up my sleeve when I get cast on Season 17. Just wait ;)
Chad: Liza Minnelli might not quite fit that category, but Alexis was legitimately pretty great, right?
Toyota: Alexis was fantastic, and you could tell Liza was someone who she deeply admired and who has greatly inspired her drag. She coulda gone crass with the slurring and the shakes, but she kept it classy and was really on it in terms of hitting the right references and nailing the look and voice.
Chad: Is it bad that I think Alexis had a sunnier personality as Liza than as herself?
Toyota:Lol this question is going to get you in trouble. I feel like when she became Liza, she was able to filter out her own insecurities and learned toughness that one has to develop as an artist/drag queen, especially somewhere as cutthroat as NYC. She hasn't been edited as the nicest girl on the season and probably isn’t in the running for Miss Congeniality. Her rant in the faux fur Untucked was not a good look, so I’m glad she redeemed herself with a well-deserved win.
Chad: How good did Shea look? She really held her own, right?
Toyota: Shea looked amazing, but Shea looked like Shea. Which is the highest compliment, because the bitch already looks like Naomi Campbell. She was able to pull off *an* accent, the right bitchiness, and her wit was quick. She didn’t get enough screen time, in my opinion. (Shea, can I get a free shirt or a pin or something??)
Chad: I thought Trinity as Amanda Lepore was a smart pick, and she looked great, but I can't really remember any of her jokes.
Toyota: She did look great but didn’t stand out. I like her, but I don’t need her to win this competition. And like I said earlier, I wanted more in terms of exaggeration, posing, name-dropping references, snorting diamonds, etc.
Chad: As always, we didn’t get enough Snatch Game-- it all goes by so fast! Did you have any other thoughts? What was your favorite joke?
Toyota: Snatch Game goes way too fast! Some girls only answered one question (not that I needed to see more of some of these impressions). I wish they released an extended version online, but I also understand that this whole show is so heavily edited that showing more of the impressions than we saw might sway us in one direction or the other. My favorite joke of the night was Cynthia Lee Fontaine. Girl.
Chad: So Peppermint finally came out as trans to the other girls. All along, I had been wondering why no one brought it up-- was it the producers or something? But apparently she just wanted to take her time and wait until the right moment! How did you process all of that?
Toyota: This would totally happen the week you interviewed me, Chadster! I am super skeptical about how this all went down (from the producers' angle), and I also don't know Peppermint's T like that, so I don't want to make assumptions. It’s ridiculous to think that no one knew, because the NYC girls at least would have known. When we first saw the looks for the confessional, my roommate Abhijeet (that’s @bon_abhijeet) questioned why Peppermint’s look was very subdued. But then again, maybe that is her daytime realness, so it’s possible the rest of the cast didn’t know. I feel like the producers waited for storyline purposes to match up with her being in the bottom. I feel like as the show goes on and I know more of the girls, I get more and more suspicious of the editing, especially when it comes to these emotional moments. I totally related with Peppermint’s story of finding transness through drag, and I am glad she brought light to the sometimes tumultuous relationship between the trans and drag communities. There are prominent queens right here in Chicago who don’t think trans women, or cis women, can be drag queens, and that some people are only trans for the attention, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to adjust the public’s attitude. I’m glad Peppermint is visible and using this platform.
Chad: For the runway theme, why disparage Season 8 for repeated costumes and then have TWO DIFFERENT SETS of outfits that were even more similar?? Aren't there interns and charts for this kind of thing??
Toyota: *In my Trinity voice* “I call shade!” This was some shady boots nonsense. Shea even said that they brought backup outfits, so this was just lazy and eyeroll-inducing because they just pulled this stunt a year ago. Another Madonna runway, closely following a Gaga runway, was not necessary. I hope they’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of challenges and runways because I’m still trying to get on the damn race so my booking fee is more than 2 drink tickets and cab fare! If it wasn’t producer-fed, I have no idea why Peppermint would have repeated Shea’s look knowing she was already at risk in being in the bottom because of her lackluster Snatch Game. And Nina is so creative, I’m sure she could have whipped up an even better and more unique Madonna look had they not asked her to wear what she did.
Chad: Is it bad that the only runway look I HAD to draw was Sasha's?
Toyota: I can totally understand why Sasha is an illustrator’s dream. Her looks are so striking and graphic that you can easily see how the drawings will turn out and translate. It’s an iconic Madonna look, she nailed it, and as we saw with Valentina, simpler is better. Are you as gagged over Valentina as the rest of the world? Every time I wanna not like something about her, she brings me right back in. She was one of my favorite parts about this week’s Untucked. And her runway slayed me.
Chad: I thought Valentina’s runway look was smart and sexy, and definitely one of the few real standout looks this week! But I didn't end up drawing it for two reasons: 1) Although the censor bars looked great on TV, I don't know that they would translate to an illustration with the same effect-- it would just look like I'm censoring my own drawing! And 2) I have a kids book coming out next year, and I've already gotten in (a tiny bit of) trouble for my sexy depictions of Valentina, so… yeah.
Toyota: Give the people what they want, Chadwick! I was hoping her butt would have a li'l censor bar on it, too, but I was also with seeing what she had to offer in the cucu department. I’m also writing a book! It’s an illustrated journal of all of the dudes I’ve...hung out with...since moving to Chicago, and it’ll be out later this year. #ToyotasTradeDiaries
Chad: With Snatch Game episodes, I really enjoy conveying the queens more cartoonishly than usual, emphasizing the celebrity likenesses and spirit of the performances rather than getting caught up in the glamour or fashion. Which I guess is the whole point of Snatch Game!
Toyota: What’s the question here, Chadley? But I totally understand! I love seeing how you bring their interpretations to life and sometimes your drawings are more enjoyable than the performances.
Toyota: Is this the part where I plug stuff? Follow me on Instagram (@toyota_corona), add me on Facebook and my backup Facebook when I get blocked for posting d-pics, send me money for hormones and makeup on Venmo (@toyota_corona), and my snapchat is @agcorona. I host Burgers, Beers, and Bingo every Wednesday night at Crew Bar & Grill in Uptown. I’m hosting the Kentucky Derby there with Alexis Bevels this Saturday afternoon. This week, I’m the special guest for Trannika’s Most Wanted at Berlin, and I host a monthly party every 3rd Wednesday at Berlin called Love Machine. The next one is May 17th and there’s no cover! I’m having a few birthday parties in Milwaukee and Chicago at the end of this month because I’m turning ** years old, and next month I’ll be back in Milwaukee to host during Pridefest at my favorite bar and late-night snack, D.I.X! Crap, I have a lot to plug. Lastly, buy my merch featuring a design with art by you! I’ll give you royalties if I sell more than 5. Which I probably won’t! Xoxo thanks for having me, cutie, and thanks for the art! (Photos by Shawn Rowe and Erik Michael Kommer)
Thanks to everyone who came out to DragCon this weekend! It was amazing to meet all of you, and it was shocking to hear that anyone actually reads this stuff. With DragCon and C2E2 finally behind me, I'm going to be adding a ton of new prints, posters, and postcards to my Etsy store! And yes, I'll be featuring some of those shiny new gold foil prints, too!
The sketches included in this post will be going out this month to my supporters on Patreon! That's a service that allows you to support artists with a monthly contribution and get some cool stuff for it!
This week's RPDR update was delayed a bit because I spent all weekend at C2E2, a big comics convention in Chicago! (Thanks everyone who came out!) I prepared these questions ahead of time, and Chicago's own Imp Queen offered her thoughtful responses:
Chad: It's been fun to see two of my favorite queens develop such a bond on the show! What do you make of Shea and Sasha, and how do you think the other queens are reacting to their friendship?
Imp Queen: They are so QT together! I think befriending another frontrunner can be a good move in the competition. And like previous successful duos from the show (Trixie and Katya, Kim and Naomi), they have very different drag aesthetics united by very similar drag values. I’m excited to see more from them both on the show and off-- like their naughty nightie editorial coming out in the next edition of Velour, Sasha’s drag magazine.
Chad: This week, we had the return of the mini-challenge! But honestly, the fact that they chose Alexis felt like an arbitrary decision that was founded more on the idea of: let's give the Broadway queen a chance to lead the group and either rise to the occasion or fail spectacularly. How do you think Alexis did this week?
Imp Queen: I agree her mini challenge win seemed like storyline (I would have given it to Valentina for looking literally *perfect* in quick drag). But I think Alexis was a good leader, and her Kris was on point. Just like in the Talk Show challenge, you can tell that performing as a character is her giggity. When she’s not inhabiting a role, I find her less appealing... Her drag is not my favorite visually (it’s usually well-executed, but pretty uninspired and with an inconsistent taste level, especially when she’s styling separates), and her little moment in Untucked blaming the other girls was not cute to me… (I lived for Nina rolling over on the sofa and fully looking in the other direction while Alexis carried on.)
Chad: Haaaaa! It seemed like a lot of the humor of this challenge relied on the viewer’s knowledge of the various family members and their complicated relationships. So… I was amused, but also lost. Which characters, queens, and performances do you think worked best?
Imp Queen: For a long time I was aware of the Kardashians because of their cultural ubiquity, but not actually actively Keeping Up. Then like a year ago I started Katching Up and binge watched it all in like a week. As far as which roles are juiciest-- Blac Chyna is definitely a standout, Kris because she’s easy to mock, all of the 2006 socialites... TBH the biggest challenge would be any of the main 5 sisters, in part because what they’re best known for is how blasé and dull and over it they all are. It’s a difficult trait to exaggerate successfully for performance without just looking dull and over it. I was also like annoyed, then relieved, then annoyed, then relieved that they didn’t include Caitlyn. Ultimately, it was probably for the best, especially given the show’s sometimes rocky history with the trans community.
(btw, when are we gonna hear Peppermint share her T??? So far she has only been shown talking about it once, in her Meet the Queens video. it’s difficult to believe it hasn’t come up in passing among the other queens... maybe the producers are saving it for a later moment in her storyline? In a way, it’s good that they are showing a transwoman doing drag without needing to call attention to her transness constantly, but given the show’s history of closeting trans queens, I can’t help but hope it will get mentioned soon.)
Chad: You've done quite a bit of musical theater, right? How does that inform how you received this week’s challenge?
Imp Queen: Oh ya I grew up doing musicals, so I’m an old show queen at heart. I’m always excited for the big musical extravaganza, cuz it shows a different kind of performance skill than a lipsync for your life-- can you emerge as the star of the group from within the structure of somebody else’s script and choreography?
Chad: Were you surprised to hear that so many queens in the cast have struggled with eating disorders?
Imp Queen: Not at all. Disordered eating is so common in queer communities. I’m anorexic, and it’s a constant challenge to balance my desire to be thin with my need to be healthy. I think drag queens--because drag is an embodied art form, and because we are public figures-- face the added pressure of intense public scrutiny of our physical appearance. I wake up every single day and delete negative comments about my body from my instagram. I think a lot of people don’t understand that visibility as a drag queen, visibility as a transfeminine person, usually comes at an intense price. So I was very glad (and moved) to hear Sasha and Valentina and Shea share so openly about their experiences. (btw, I think Season 9 is handling its “serious moments” very well! whoever is editing these sections has a very deft touch, and all the season 9 girls seem to be playing the more heavy-handed material with a lot of grace. In previous seasons, it has sometimes felt like, “oh here, let me tell you about my trauma apropos of nothing,” but I’ve legit cried during the last three episodes in a row.)
Chad: Do you think that the drag or queer community has a particular problem with its extreme standards of beauty?
Imp Queen: I think the problems the queer community has with body image and beauty are reflective of larger social problems. But I also try to think intersectionally-- so, the marginalization we experience as queer people intensifies our experience of those social forces that tell us we must look and present a certain way. I think it’s complicated when you are working with beauty as an artist, and it takes constant recalibrating-- is what I’m doing deconstructing standards of beauty or reifying them? I want my drag to create a world with greater freedom and more possibility for more people, and it’s a challenge to maintain that intention.
Chad: What can the community do to combat the problem?
Imp Queen: I’m not entirely sure... I try to be a voice for body positivity and body acceptance, but I also have to be aware that, as a thin white person, my body is already centered in everything, including conversations about body positivity. I think it’s important to look to those with the most marginalized bodies for leadership in the fight for bodily acceptance-- transwomen (especially transwomen of color), gender non-conforming people, people of color, disabled people, fat people, children, the elderly-- and then to follow their lead. I’d recommend starting by reading body positive activists online (thebodyisnotanapology.com is a great resource) and practicing active, vocal self-love (I say “I am beautiful” out loud probably 100 times a day)--- the first step is unlearning the toxic cultural messages we have internalized about our bodies and the bodies of others.
Chad: On a lighter note, what do you think about furry queens?
Imp Queen: I think body hair is a natural human trait that shouldn’t be gendered or vilified. It’s complicated cuz if I could blink my eyes and be a hairless creature of god, I would ABSOLUTELY do it. Or if someone gave me the $5,000-20,000 it would cost to clear my face and body with electrolysis and/or laser. Not necessarily because I don’t like my body hair-- after a long journey, I’ve come to appreciate it. But it would make my life as a transfeminine person so much easier if it were not there (and if it could be gone without painful, expensive, and never-ending medical/cosmetic intervention). Here’s a link to a longer thing I wrote about my body hair.
Chad: Did you have any favorites from the runway?
Imp Queen: I love that Valentina wore a snake skin dress for a faux fur runway; that’s the kind of subtle genius I love to see in a queen. I loved Peppermint in an iconic Hana Quist Pom Pom coat-- I have one in baby blue. Nina continues to slay every runway. And it goes without saying that Shea was perfection.
Chad: Nina was clearly really disappointed that she didn't get to play Blac Chyna-- can you explain to me why?
Imp Queen: Like she said in the workroom, she wanted the Banjee moment. And like Peppermint said, there was only one Black role for three Black actresses. Also, not to diminish Shea’s performance at all (because she KILLED! IT!), but Blac Chyna is kind of scripted as the standout feature-- she gets a tight little solo full of attitude instead of a duet or a trio where you are worrying about slash backup dancing for two other queens.
Chad: Do you agree with the judges that Nina is “wearing her victimhood as a badge of honor”?
Imp Queen: I think Ru is looking for a particular narrative in a winner, and a big part of that is about how you respond to victimization. Ru wants a queen who can overcome obstacles without becoming bitter or cynical-- a survivor, not a victim. And that’s ultimately a matter of self-perception more than anything. Ru is just trying to show Nina a new way of looking at herself. (also, that single tear was so beautiful <3)
Chad: I don’t really have a question about Shea’s amazing performance and runway look this week. Just…. SHEA! YES!!!! RIGHT???
Imp Queen: Shea walked in the winner, and is she is letting everyone know week by week by week! I’m so happy the world is falling in love with her like Chicago has, and excited about the impact she can make as an artist with a bigger platform. Her speech to Nina in Untucked was everything!
Chad: What do you make of Eureka’s unexpected departure? Will you be excited to see her return in Season 10?
Imp Queen: RuPaul is such a stunt queen! I’m 100% convinced she already knew she was gonna send Eureka home, but did the lipsync, and the whole leaving the set shenanigan, just for the drawma mawma. But that’s why I love her and I totally lived! Also, it’ll be much better for Eureka in the long run to heal her injury (a torn ACL) rather than keep pushing herself to perform on it. Plus, she gets to tour at a higher booking fee, see how she comes across on television, then come back with a bigger budget and more experience next season.
This weekend, I'm going to be at a little thing called DRAGCON in LA! You should be there and say hi. If you can't make it, you can find my merch on Etsy, and you can directly support me on Patreon! (It might be a little bit before I post this week's art on Etsy, because I'm trying to work through some problems with my local printing source!)
Chad: Besides Ru, I don’t think a whole lot of drag queens have their own talk shows... but you do! Can you tell me about creating Shot with Soju?
Soju: The reason why I created Shot with Soju was because I wanted to see it myself. I’m probably my show’s biggest fan. I was tired of seeing Hey Qween over and over again and just wanted to see more drag online, so I stopped waiting and created my own show.
Chad: Did you get a sense of how much of this week’s challenge was scripted? I’m guessing a lot of the “news” segments were pre-written, and then the DIY portions seemed looser and more made up by the queens. What’s your approach to preparing versus improvising on your show?
Soju: I used to write all my questions down and read off of my phone. It was good, but I felt like the conversations and the flow of the interview weren’t authentic.I think once you study the topics and the subject of the general conversation, you can then just go off script and just bouncing back and forth with your guest. That’s how I did the episode with Detox and Alaska and you could see that everyone there was comfortable.
Chad: In rehearsal, Charlie seemed irritated with Cynthia’s grasp of English. Who do you think had the right approach, Cynthia or Charlie? How do you think an ESL person should approach tricky wording in scripted material?
Soju: I think it was so much BULL! Charlie is the type of person NO ONE wants to work with. Besides the whole ESL moment, she’s just aggressive and not a team player. I have an accent, and my ESL shows during my show. I own it and move on. Of course people give me a hard time sometimes, but I say, “Hey, I got a degree and I’m a working drag queen with a talk show.” ESL is not a weakness.
Chad: A lot of the tension on this episode came from the “live” aspect of the filming, where the queens didn’t get any “do-overs”. How do you think they did with that? And how do you host a TV show without the magic of editing??
Soju: Thankfully, I have an amazing editor and producer DS. However, during live filming and filming in general you have to feel confident. I think lot of the queens overthought it and focused on playing a character instead of actually hosting a show. I loved the mess that came with it tho. Something about watching people fail is fun to watch when it’s not you!
Chad: You use a LOT of fun editing in your show, right? And you even include goofy animations and visual effects -- who adds all that in, and what inspired that approach?
Soju: Well, I grew up watching Korean TV and the editing on the show with effects and animations are all copied off of these Korean Variety shows. They always make things more upbeat and fun. It guides the viewer into how they should react to certain moments that might be missed if we didn’t highlight it with effects. Also, while editing, my producer DS might catch something that was funny and wasn’t mentioned, so he will go back and add a word or effect to bring focus to it. There’s a method to the madness, I say. LOL
Chad: During the “Not On Today” interview with Naya Rivera, the queens seemed clueless about how to end that interview. What’s your favorite way to end an interview?
Soju: Ending is always the most awkward part of an interview! I hate it! You have to just sum up the whole interview by saying “well I just want to thank you …” and give them a side hug and give them a chance to say bye and close it with AHN YOUNG!
Chad: I have a theory, and I wanted to hear your thoughts on it: Valentina is the Tatianna of her season. (Season 2 Tatianna, not AS2 Tati) She’s often dismissed for her youth and inexperience, but she will make it far by proving herself surprisingly smart and resourceful. What do you think?
Soju: I think Valentina is a lot more beautiful than Tatianna on her season. I think we are gonna see more and more sass from her. She was quiet and nice at first to see where she fits in the group, and now that she got her confidence and footing, she will voice her opinion more. Which I would love to see. So when that happens, I think she’ll be more Tatianna.
Chad: I was REALLY impressed with how Valentina reconciled with Aja in the workroom. Valentina does NOT get drawn into catfights on this show. What do you think of her approach to drag drama?
Soju: Really? I thought that moment was more like Valentina telling Aja you can’t just go off on me like that. It was kind of who can intimidate who.
Chad: I expect that viewers will have strongly differing reactions to the Sasha/Eureka discussion of jokes and eating disorders -- what did you make of it? And do you think there’s anything that’s “off limits” for drag comedy?
Soju: I think Sasha took it kind of too seriously, and I think she realized that and wanted to put it to rest, but Eureka also took it and ran with it because she knew it was gonna give her more air time. Eating disorder is a VERY serious subject, but if we can’t bring a little humor into it as drag queens, what’s the point. Nothing is off limits in drag, I think. The intentions, however, should be from love and fun, not hate and anger.
Chad: Given that the runway was a blink-and-you-miss-it montage this week, which looks did you actually remember? A lot of queens looked good, but I would say that only Nina sticks in my mind.
Soju: Right? This theme was very easy to look good in. So some of the queens (Pepper, Eureka) who came out looking like that was tragic. Nina is seriously growing on me, and yes, she’s the only one that stuck out to me too.
Chad: I was SO thrilled that both Sasha and Shea were given the win this week -- they both looked great, and their chemistry was completely over-the-top. It would have seemed unfair to credit one over the other. You’ve had both queens as guests on your show, right?
Soju: YES, they really do have great chemistry. I hosted Neverland with them on New Years and just seeing how they interact with one another is so adorable. I def agree with the judges that they both deserved the win this episode. They both have so many similarities, but their drag looks very different. Like their visions and humor are the same. It’s really fun to see how their current friendship started out.
I'm adding LOTS of new stuff to my Etsy store today, so be sure to check it out! In addition to Sasha and Shea, I'm now able to sell prints of Aja, Nina Bo'nina Brown, AND ALYSSA EDWARDS ZOMGGGG!!!! Also, I'll be at C2E2 in Chicago this weekend, and then at DragCon at the end of the month! This month is going to be wiiiiild!
Chad: Tiger Lily! I was really excited to talk to you again, because you're a beloved Chicago designer, and I couldn't imagine someone better to discuss a fashion-centered challenge with! You've worked with Shea quite a bit, is that right?
Tiger Lily: Oh yeah, that's my ride or die home girl! We met in college during our baby costume designer days in the Columbia College costume shop.
Chad: Wowwww! And unless I'm mistaken, you designed Shea's already legendary hot dog headpiece, right???
Tiger Lily: I sure did! Shea couldn't have picked a better girl to do a hometown pride look!
Chad: Ha! I got such a thrill seeing her come down the runway in that look! Can you tell me if any more of your designs will be appearing on the show, or is that top secret?
Tiger Lily: Thank youuuu!! I'm still gagged by that moment, too! And I hope we get to see more Coulee/TL collabs on the show, but only time will tell!!
Chad: Haha, indeed! I liked that this week's challenge allowed for plenty of creativity, and it allowed the queens to strike a balance between glamour and total camp craziness. What did you think of it?
Tiger Lily: Oh you know I live for a sewing challenge. It really creates SUCH a divide talent-wise. The girls get to bring so much stuff with them that is created by designers they worked with in the past, it's completely different to build something in a time crunch with no planning. And the little sidekick part cracked me uppp. I think it was a missed opportunity for a lot of the girls, but all in all, it wasn't my FAVE design challenge.
Chad: Ha! The sidekick characters were so, so bizarre. Somehow I missed the part where they explained that they'd be animated, so once the runway started, I was totally floored.
Tiger Lily: LOL me too!! Like when Trinity was making her starfish, I was like wtf is she gonna wear on the bottom?
Chad: Why didn't this week's challenge rank among your faves?
Tiger Lily: I kind of wish they didn't have to do the sidekick thing just so the costumes they made could be so much more of a WOW factor. But then again, I think the producers know this season isn't a big sewing season...(Minus Shea and Charlie, CLEARLY)
Chad: Right, the inclusion of more comedy detracted from the impact of some of the fashion.
Tiger Lily: Exactly! So I wasn't completely gagged by the look outcomes as a whole, but it was cute! Like, it's still a design challenge, which I always enjoy.
Chad: Here's a very tough question for you:
Tiger Lily: uh ohhhhh >__<
Chad: Despite that Shea is a goddess, and we both love her, she was considered "safe" this week. What could she have done differently with that look and presentation to have gotten one of the top spots?
Tiger Lily: Perhaps the actual storyline of the character could have been stronger. It was clear Shea poured all of her time in the look. And of course, allotting time for a fitting would have been helpful, but I didn't mind the walk -- it was very hobble skirt chic!
Chad: Hahaha! In Untucked, she mentioned that the tulle was tripping her up, or coming out or something -- did you catch that?
Tiger Lily: Oh yeah, you know when she was talking about that, my designer head was already figuring out what went wrong in there. I mean, that's what happens when you don't have a chance to get a fitting in, so completely understandable. Dressforms don't walk!
Chad: Yeah, I really can't imagine the stress and time limitations these queens are under! I loved the overall shape of Shea's gown, and her use of colors in the garment and wig were really striking (and unusual for her!)
Tiger Lily: Yes, she served it!!! Always proud of her, she's really representing herself well as a Chicago Queen and Designer, as well. I just love the shit out of her.
Chad: You mentioned that this didn't seem to be a big sewing season -- who just totally fell flat this week?
Tiger Lily: Well, clearly Farrah and Kimora suffered through it. Which for me, those two should have been lip syncing
Chad: Yes, agreed. That was baffling.
Tiger Lily: BUT, I think they put Aja in the bottom because they needed to get Kimora out of there, and they know that Brooklyn Queens can BUCK.
Tiger Lily: And we haven't seen a good lip sync yet. I feel like if Farrah were to lip sync against Kimora, it would have been a snooze fest and that song is soooo high energy. They needed a girl like Aja to fuck it upppp.
Chad: And I do think that Aja has been struggling so far in the season -- they wanted to light a fire under her ass and highlight her strengths.
Tiger Lily: I already knew Aja was a strong performer before watching this episode, and homegirl DID turn out a complete look. Granted, maybe it wasn't a princess look, and the concept was a little all over the place. But she had like 3 pieces she made!! That alone should have saved her.
Chad: I liked how graphic it was, that it basically made her look like a 90's mutant superhero. But I think the judges have been baffled by her makeup, and they didn't like the concept.
Tiger Lily: Yeah, the makeup can definitely be better, but this season is in HD so those lenses see into your soul lol
Chad: And admittedly, I wasn't sure where she was going with that wig.
Tiger Lily: THE WIG... oh that wig. That poor wig.... hahaa RIP
Chad: Was it like... an explosion of lava coming out of her scalp? It definitely didn't survive that lip sync intact.
Tiger Lily: I get what she was trying to do.... but at that point, I would have styled my wig into a swirly up do, and then attached something exploding out of there. It's all about getting the foundation of the structure down. But again, maybe she was focused on all those pieces she created and thought the wig would be easy peezy.
Chad: Yeah, the weird flat wedge just wasn't an attractive shape to work with.
Tiger Lily: Yeah, it was rough. But at least she tried something!!!
Chad: Who else came through with some interesting looks?
Tiger Lily: I actually loooved Trinity's look, especially the headpiece. She rightfully deserved that win and her sidekick was definitely the best.
Chad: I thought Trinity definitely pulled through with a colorful, fun approach, and the Stanky Starfish was great, but I wasn't blown away by her actual look. You know that I love big, bold, graphic design elements, and that was NOT what her headpiece was. I found it kind of a confusing jumble.
Tiger Lily: And Eureka! Gave me a little bootleg Violet Chachki at the finale last year... but loved the concept. Eureka knows how to hold her own in a group. She knew everyone would be going pretty, so she went the other direction, and I really appreciated her Sewer Princess look.
Chad: I wanted a more complicated gown from Eureka -- I just felt like it came off too simple, despite her avalanche of accessories.
Tiger Lily: True, true. See, this is where I think not having to do the sidekick thing would have helped them turn out grander/more realized looks.
Chad: Yeah, definitely. What about Nina? We didn't see a ton of her this week, but her look was a silvery spectacle!
Tiger Lily: I am actually LIVING for Nina. I can't wait to see what she'll come up with next. She's so damn creative and resourceful and represents what SO MUCH drag is like out there. For all the weirdos and the broke kids and the weird broke kids. I am so happy Nina is on there to show her artistry. And she can stand amongst the 'pretty' girls and still deliver.
Tiger Lily: I loved Sasha's story and her headpiece.
Chad: YES! I mean, everyone who knows anything about me knows that I love Sasha.
Tiger Lily: I wasn't crazy about the dress, but it definitely worked for her. I adore Sasha!! She is a true artist.
Chad: Her look and story reminded me a lot of Kim's "blossoming flower" story from Season 8.
Tiger Lily: YAS! Bitch, I thought the same thing. Fully realized storyline.
Chad: I agree that her time definitely went into the headpiece and floral arrangement rather than the actual gown. But damn, it was so bold and beautiful. I feel like her story was actually TOO earnest and heartfelt for the judges. They wanted more cartoony schtick than artfulness, right?
Tiger Lily: Omg totally agree. Because you know with that sidekick thing they wanted the cheese.
Chad: I'm also concerned that Sasha barely gets ANY screen time on the show. Either they're just not interested in developing her as a character, or they'll bring her out more later in the season? I don't know -- I'm a bit worried.
Tiger Lily: I agree! I want to see more Sasha, I love her solo interviews. You can see she's such a kind, thoughtful, and intelligent person. Maybe she doesn't give the best sound bytes, though.
Chad: Yeah, I don't think she tends toward the shady side of things.
Tiger Lily: Exactly, and that's what the children want. I feel like Sasha will get her moment.
Chad: Okay, I think I'm ready. Let's talk VALENTINA. It seems like about 2/3rds of the the RPDR fanbase are going CRAZY for Valentina. Are you?
Tiger Lily: I mean, what's not to love!? I met her at the NYC premiere, and she is absolutely as delightful in person, as well. She's endearing, she's stylish, beautiful, young, enchanting. Such a wonderful representation for a young queen.
Chad: How do you feel about her runway looks?
Tiger Lily: I wasn't crazy about her ice queen look, but she still gave it to me! I think she should have been safe for that one.
Chad: Yeah, the queens in Untucked claimed it looked like a figure skating leotard, and I see that. But I think her combination of gorgeous makeup, the striking wig, and the ice queen concept really added up to something memorable.
Tiger Lily: Agreed. I think she does have that star power to make everything she does memorable.
Chad: Right. She's undoubtedly a breakout star of the season so far, and it feels like she has the most momentum of anyone!
Tiger Lily: I feel like sometime soon the judges will call her out for “resting on pretty.”
A quick programming note: I'm going to be traveling over the next three weekends, so I'm not going to be able to whip out my new RPDR artwork as quickly as I'd like to. That sucks. But hopefully I'll be able to share stuff by the Monday night or Tuesday following each episode! The good news is that you'll be able to find me at C2E2 in Chicago and at DragCon in LA later this month!
Chad: So you founded the subreddit for RuPaul's Drag Race, right? How long ago was that?
Broosh: I founded the sub right after Season 3. It's been about 6 years! I still can't believe how much we've grown since then.
Chad: Wow! I started drawing the show at the start of Season 3. There was something about that season, eh? You've continued to serve as one of the main moderators, right? What goes into that? How much time do you spend as a moderator every week?
Broosh: It's evolved from a hobby into (basically) a second job, and I'm loving every moment of it. For those unfamiliar with Reddit, it's a fan forum for people to express, share and create their ideas online 24/7. It's an amazing community, but it requires a lot of work. Thankfully, I am blessed to have a very dedicated and helpful team to help me manage this community to what it is today. But really, it's a nonstop gig. The queens never stop working, so the content never stops.
Chad: It's fair to say that the RPDR subreddit has become one of the most visible and vocal communities for Drag Race fans online, isn't it?
Broosh: YES! I don't think there's anything else like it out there. It truly is the place to go to for fans (and queens alike) worldwide to watch and talk about the show.
Chad: Yeah, I mean, I check in every day to see what's up! In fact, I specifically wanted to talk to you this week, because the whole RPDR reddit has essentially known for months that Cynthia Lee Fontaine was going to have a surprising return to Season 9. Can you tell me how you guys figured that out?
Broosh: I give all the credit to all the "Nancy Drews" out there on the sub. They're committed in finding out ALL of it. Cynthia was rumored to be on Season 9 ever since this podcast came out. [An NPR story from August of last year!] I can't recall the specific Reddit thread at the moment, but people clocked Cynthia's voice, and since then... the rumors began haha.
Chad: Like there was some background audio of the queens in the workroom, and there was some CSI audio forensic stuff going on, like, "AH HA! I've isolated the CUCU!"
Broosh: CSI has nothing on our fans! Haha. They go to great lengths in finding out info for future seasons. It's part of the fun! Now that Season 10 has been officially confirmed, I'm pretty sure they'll be on the lookout soon.
Chad: Yeah, I LIVE for all the speculation and and stuff on the subreddit. The Nancy Drews have a really amazing record of sussing out the queens of each cast long before they're officially announced, right?
Broosh: Yep! They get better each year. I think this is the first season they got all the queens down before they were even announced. There are SO MANY queens out there that could be on the show, to narrow it down to the 14 queens is quite the feat.
Chad: Yes, absolutely! As a fan of the show, how do spoilers and speculation play a role in how you actually view and respond to the Drag Race?
Broosh: We (the mods and I) get spoiled big time before the show even airs. Despite the leaks, spoilers, and speculations, the show is so entertaining and fun to watch... part of the fun is seeing how it actually plays out when the episode premieres. Even though I knew Cynthia would be back, it was amazing to see the episode play out. I'm still gagging.
Chad: Right, and the rumors don't always turn out to be true, right? I remember lots of us thought Bianca was going home in the first episode of Season 6!
Broosh: RIGHT! Girl, did Bianca prove us wrong. Even though we may not be always right, it's still so fun to speculate and analyze. It's like our Monday night football. The fandom is unlike any other.
Chad: Haha, so what do you think of Cynthia's return to the show? How does it change the competition?
Broosh: I was so touched to hear Cynthia's story last night. I'm glad she came back. She's a talented queen, and I can't wait to see more of her. She might have an advantage with experience, but all these queens this season are SO talented. So you never know.
Chad: Yeah, I think we've got an extremely strong group of contenders. I really like Cynthia, but I didn't feel like she shook things up too much this episode. With 14 queens on the screen, there's just so much going on! How relieved were you that no one broke their leg in that damn cheerleading challenge?
Broosh: Girl, I was praying to my candle for Charlie specifically. It was a fun challenge to watch, but I'm so glad no one got hurt. I was so surprised by some queens though, Eureka's high kicks were EVERYTHING.
Chad: Right?? I was very, very skeptical of the challenge, but it turned out... alright. I expected a big, live lip sync performance in front of the judges, but instead we got a more edited, condensed package shot on a different set, which seemed to work better. Plus, they seemed to have pros doing a lot of the scarier lifting!
Broosh: The previews made it seem like another Bitch Perfect lip sync challenge. I agree, the different format was a bit better for the challenge this episode. It's so hard to pick any favorites so early in the competition. I think this is the first season where anyone can easily snatch the crown.
Chad: I disagree, Broosh: I don't think it will be easy for ANY of them.
Broosh: Haha! Touché. From a fan's perspective, though, it seems like anyone can rise to the top. This isn't like Season 6 where you could already tell the top 3. It'll be interesting how it turns out.
Chad: Yes, agreed -- I could maybe pick out a top ten? Or 8? But there's really no frontrunner, and so many of them are so easy to love! Who are some of your favorites so far?
Broosh: Valentina, Farrah, and Nina are some of my favorites so far.
Chad: Valentina is certainly shaping up to be one of the stars of this season, right? What do you think sets her apart?
Broosh: I definitely think so! Apart from her strong looks so far, she is oozing with confidence and her personality is one of the best I've seen on the show. She was made for this show. And to have only been doing it for 10 months (at the time of filming)? Definitely a strong contender in my books.
Chad: Yeah, I think she and Cynthia both approach challenges with relentless optimism and energy, which is super endearing. But Valentina has that underdog quality to her, despite being so ridiculously polished already.
Broosh: Definitely. I have to admit I may be a bit biased though, as I'm also Mexican and finally seeing some representation on screen is definitely one of my favorite things about her so far. That candle and prayer moment...so many of us can relate! Sidenote: her mother's wedding dress story in Untucked has been one of the sweetest things I've seen on the show to date.
Chad: Where do you think the judges will tell her she has room for improvement?
Broosh: That's a tough question... she's so polished, but I'm sure the judges will find something to clock her on (the nude shoes, for example). They always do. I'm curious to see how she'll do in the acting challenges (or even the Snatch Game), it's kind of like a deal breaker for some queens. We'll have to see!
Chad: Yeah, I do wonder about her level of improvisation and comedy. But I think she could go very, very far!
Chad: Why do you think Jaymes looked so thoroughly uncomfortable pretty much any time she appeared on screen?
Broosh: My best guess is that Jaymes got in his own way this competition. Was she overwhelmed? Absolutely. And you can see that on screen.
Chad: Yeah, my theory is that she is a HUGE introvert. Really talented and funny, but just really anxious and awkward when it comes to navigating the surreal social environment on set! I think there's a reason that she's best by herself, filming YouTube videos!
Broosh: They don't call it a Race for nothing. And I agree wholeheartedly. Jaymes is such a sweetheart though, I wish we could have seen more of him. I'm hoping this experience will allow him to improve and become an even better queen.
Chad: I do have to say that she had one of my all-time favorite exits from the show: first, her "I came in first!" line, and then that playful (I think) sobbing right as she disappeared backstage. I think even the producers felt kind of bad -- her exit scenes in Untucked seemed especially poignant and lengthy, right?? We don't usually spend SO much time with the departing queen.
Broosh: Half of Untucked was dedicated to Jaymes' departure. It was so surreal. I'm sure they felt for her. Especially when she was departing, you could see that they were all rooting for her.
Broosh: It was so sweet of Aja to leave her that note, too! I'm hoping the sisterhood is strong this season. It looks like it's shaping out to be.
Chad: This week's runway went by in a flash, partly because of the snappy editing, partially because they were ALL WHITE! Were there any notable looks for you, apart from Valentina's gown?
Broosh: Yes! Charlie and Shea's looks were among my top 3. I loved it.
Chad: I was looking forward to the runway theme, but I felt like a few too many queens' gowns blurred together for me. But I agree that Charlie and Shea looked especially good! Shea is one of my absolute favorites, and her body suit was extraordinary! Hard to draw, though! I was so glad that she got so much praise from the judges this week, despite not quite coming out on top.
Broosh: I'm just glad it wasn't another Kimono-gate. They were varied, but the color choice made it blend all together.
Chad: I thought Sasha looked quite good, despite getting zero screen time this episode. Looking forward to the season, what rumors have you heard that probably AREN'T true, but you really hope they are?
Broosh: That's a tough question! I mean, these queens have everything down to a T. I mean... They made this. [A compendium of ALL the Season 9 rumors with real-time fact-checking] It's a very dedicated fandom.
Chad: I haven't heard any big, juicy secrets about this season, apart from Cynthia's role in it. I kind of like HEARING the fun speculation without knowing for sure it's legit.
Broosh: Right. I think that was the "biggest surprise" I've heard so far. They made it hard this year though. (the producers I mean) They're catching on.
Chad: Right! Have you had much interaction with World of Wonder on Reddit?
Broosh: Surprisingly, not yet! (Hi WoW, call me!) Our subreddit has gotten a lot of our readers to interact with certain queens these past couple of years though. Trixie, Katya, Ginger, Darienne, Willam, Bianca, among others have dropped by and interacted with our users.
Chad: Yeah, I get the sense that a LOT of queens check in with the Reddit, but a lot of them also like to complain about it, too. Do you get sick of that?
Broosh: I think part of the reason why we get a lot of complaints from the queens is because they're unfamiliar with the site. The subreddit encourages discussion and criticism of queens. No one is immune, and I think they're wary of that as well.
Chad: Yeah, I see the RPDR subreddit as the hub for all the most passionate, but also opinionated, fans of the show.
Broosh: That's part of the charm of our sub, it's definitely evolved into a community where people can feel 'right home' when it comes to the show. Some people don't have the luxury of doing that in real life.
Chad: Exactly! And so much of the show is about shade, so it's only fair that we like to dish and argue about the various queens. You don't always expect the queens themselves to "overhear" those conversations.
Broosh: No one is immune! Haha, I'd like to think we walk the fine line of being 'shady' yet still being constructive. The mods and I do our best at filtering out unneeded negativity on there.
Chad: I have to say that I LOVE the absurd memes that evolve within the Reddit community. The tower of heads from Season 7 remains an all-time classic to me.
Chad: The weird, recurring jokes and one-liners of the Drag Race Reddit are, like, my favorite thing on the internet.
Broosh: YES! Every year we get some new classics. All-Stars 2 definitely brought out some worthy ones. But I have to say the Laganja Estranja 'emoji-pasta' is still my favorite to date. I can't wait to see what we come up with this season.
Chad: Haaaaa! Is this what you're talking about?
Broosh: Yes Gawd!
Chad: So, I think we've talked about most of what I wanted to get to. I know that you're currently trying to raise funds for the subreddit to have a presence at DragCon, right? What can you tell me about that?
Broosh: Last year, we had the amazing opportunity to have Reddit sponsor DragCon. This year, the mods and I are trying to keep that momentum going by hosting a unique meet-up for people attending the convention (and for our online readers as well).
Chad: The video that Reddit made from last year is so epic and amazing!
Broosh: We currently have a GoFundMe set up, and I'm absolutely floored by the contributions so far. Kim Chi was our first donor!
Chad: That's because 1) she is the best and 2) she rich.
Broosh: LOL I think she's also a big fan of Reddit. As far as DragCon goes: It was an amazing experience, to say the least. And we want to share that with people. The users have given us so much and we want to give back to people.
If you managed to make it all the way to the end of this interview, clearly you're a huge Drag Race fan, and you should be on the RPDR Reddit. I seriously love the community so much, even though they're all shady apes. Thanks again to Broosh for joining me! (and for creating my favorite place to dish about queens!) Once again, here's the link to help the subreddit make it back to DragCon this year!
Chad: Discord! Is Chicago drag really “the bomb dot com”?
Discord: It's EVERYTHING. It's the reason I moved here. I HATE snow. So it had to be my love for drag to override the awful weather.
Chad: HA! So your name came up when I was asking about queens who've done good Gaga -- how do you feel about her presence on the show? Is it a big deal?
Discord: It's a HUGE deal!! I feel like she represents everything that drag stands for. Her constant message of love, acceptance, and over the top costumes. It's everything we as queens push for everyday. Plus, the way she got her start in underground NY clubs... to me, she's the perfect candidate to be a judge on this show.
Chad: Did you see Untucked? She literally came backstage and gave all the queens notes. It was pretty amazing.
Discord: I haven't yet! But that's so incredible. I would have literally shit myself when she walked in: first day of Drag Race. First day in the work room. Emotions are already so tense! And then GAGA walks in. I'd be Eureka.
Chad: I thought the show basically shaped this entire first episode entirely around her, but it was the better for it. Her introduction into the workroom was hilarious, and her interactions with the queens seemed totally genuine. And then I lived for her commentary throughout all the runway!
Discord: Oh yeah, I agree! I don't think it's a bad thing to have a Gaga-centric episode. Think of how many queens grab inspiration from her everyday! As a human, she feels genuine to me. I imagine even off camera she was interacting with them.
Chad: I think she clearly sat down with the producers and was like, "How can I get as much time as possible with the queens?"
Chad: So aside from "Ronnie," whose workroom entrances left you with the strongest impressions?
Discord: Sasha coming in with that banshee scream!! She looks incredible to me. I've always been drawn to that androgynous style of drag. High art. She's the real deal.
Chad: Oh good, I'm glad I'm not the only one in love with Sasha's style! I actually met her first as a cartoonist years back. And I actually interviewed her for an All Stars 2 episode!
Discord: I'm strongly rooting for her. She has the kind of look I'm always looking for on the first day. And I thought Farrah looked absolutely stunning as well.
Chad: Farrah is definitely stunning, but I worry about the size of her personality -- there was so much going on this episode that I didn't get a strong feel for her. What did you think of Nina's mouse look?
Discord: Hahah omg she cracks me up!! It was so different than anything you typically see on this show. I think some people are gonna find what she does bizarre. And I'm sure she's ready for the hurricane of shit 12 year old fans are gonna rain on her. But I'm always rooting for someone who's willing to change the perspective of what people typically view as drag.
Chad: Yeah, I expect BIG things from Nina, honestly.
Discord: Oh she's gonna be great tv. I'm ready for all her solo commentary.
Chad: I didn't LOVE Eureka's outfit, but she definitely made a strong impression. She essentially dominated the whole workroom discussion in those opening scenes.
Discord: Yeah, Eureka's personality really sat strong with me. That's what really drew me in. I didn't remember her initial outfit, but I remembered her personality. And I think that can still go a long way. And can we just talk about how Beautiful that bitch Valentina is?
Chad: Yes, gawd!
Discord: What's she been doing drag for? Like 10 months?!
Chad: Valentina oozes style and personality.
Discord: How?? My 10 months into drag was NOT cute.
Chad: Well, so, the discussion on reddit seems to be that she had only really been PERFORMING for about 10 months, but as far as I understand, she had been experimenting with makeup and fashion for longer than that
Discord: That makes sense. Reddit has all the answers.
Chad: I think these first episodes are so tricky: Too many queens, not enough time. But this one worked really well -- I think the dual runway themes worked beautifully: the hometown aspect allowed a lot of creativity and whimsy, whereas the Gaga looks showed off polish, execution and taste. So, speaking of taste, can we discuss... hot dogs?
Discord: Oh bitchh. Shea Coulee in her hometown Chicago-style hot dog was everything.
Chad: We were all dyiiiing. I was so glad she brought such a crazy, delightful, demented look to the runway in the FIRST DAMN EPISODE.
Discord: She just exudes everything it takes to be on this show.
Discord: The hot dog shows she can be campy--outside of how everyone else knows she's clearly a style icon. As much as I love her, I admittedly didn't LOVE her Gaga look. But as a whole, I think she killed the first episode.
Chad: yeah, something about the Gaga look felt a little off. Was it the color of her hair? I don't know. But the hot dog look gave me LIFE! Filled me up with it.
Discord: You can't tackle the mechanical dress look... without a mechanical dress.
Chad: Also, can I point out that her entrance look was an outfit from her short film LIPSTICK CITY? Brilliant branding, right?
Discord: Omg right. Which right there shows she knows how to play the game.
Chad: What were some of your favorite runway looks?
Discord: Was it Eureka who had the white trash hometown look?
Chad: Yup! I thought that was pretty hilarious, too.
Discord: I LOVED THAT. It felt like something I would have done for sure.
Chad: Especially given that her Gaga look seemed really polished, such a contrast!
Discord: Oh yeah. That telephone look brought me to life.
Chad: With my artwork, I live for anything that's an interesting shape and super graphic. Her outfit was ALL OF THAT.
Discord: I really loved Farrah's hometown runway look. As a look. I get what they were saying with it not necessarily being representative of Las Vegas, though. But as a look, it was just beautiful.
Chad: I agree -- It was ornate and over the top. Maybe a showgirl needs to show more skin?
Discord: It seemed more Asian inspired to me. But her Alejandro look was spot. On.
Chad: In Untucked, Farrah admitted to Gaga herself that she DID have a reveal under that Alejandro look, but she decided at the last minute not to show it! Which makes me think that Farrah definitely has a wicked inner saboteur.
Discord: I can't imagine the feeling of knowing you're presenting a Gaga look. In front of Gaga.
Discord: I was confused by Jaymes's look. Because I thought it looked more like giraffe print than cow print. And if you're going for cow, then like, GO FOR COW. Now just an animal print dress. Especially when she seems to have that camp element.
Chad: I think we have a cast of extremely polished and talented queens, but I think Jaymes is the odd one out. I really like Jaymes -- I think she's funny and smart, and I absolutely like what she's *going* for. But I just don't think this is her show.
Discord: I feel like I wanted to jive with her. But I didn't like her Gaga interpretation, either. It just didn't make sense to me. Like when what's-her-name did the drunk Beyoncé for Snatch Game. Like, Gaga just isn't going to come staggering on stage. Classic case of "I misunderstood the assignment."
Chad: HA! Yes, I agree -- making fun of Gaga wasn't wise.
Discord: Or at least be clever like Alaska.
Chad: Can we agree that Nina deserved the win?
Discord: Oh yeah. Her Gaga look KILLED. She looked damn good. And it was a good way of showing she has style, too. Her Georgia peach was so unsettling. But in a good way.
Chad: Haha, yes, I think Nina is monstrously creative and unpredictable, for better or worse. Her Georgia peach look was definitely kind of freakish and off-kilter, but it worked.
Discord: I just know the queens are gonna come for her because of her unconventional looks. But it's gonna keep her on for a while, I have a feeling.
Chad: In Untucked, she talked about how much she's struggled, how she's still living at home with her parents. I feel like she's going to get a "Chi Chi" story arc about making the most of limited resources and surpassing expectations. Plus, she's really funny and presents some of the least conventional (and most memorable) looks this show has ever seen.
Discord: And her coming in with a suitcase of paper... genius.
Chad: I love it when I see queens who are nerds like me: she's basically shaping herself into a comic book superheroine with those wild, wild proportions.
Discord: I'm definitely curious what Michelle is going to have to say about her makeup style.
Chad: Yeah, as a visual artist, it's interesting to see someone who literally draws cartoon characters onto herself. I don't always agree with every choice she makes, but it's so compelling! Do you have any early predictions about how this season will go?
Discord: I think we are gonna see a lot more drama this season as opposed to last.
Chad: And who will be the prime instigators?
Discord: I can definitely see personality types that won't mesh together: Nina. Aja. Kimora.
Chad: And Eureka, right? And Trinity! Man, there's going to be A LOT of drama.
Discord: Yeah. It'll make for great tv, for sure. And while everyone's fighting, Sasha and Shea are gonna sneak right to the top.
Brooklyn's heavy metal drag queen HELLVETIKA joins me this week to discuss the All Stars reunion!
Chad: Hellvetika! For the last several seasons of Drag Race, I've been pining for the old fashioned reunion format rather than the big, live finales of Seasons 4-8. And I finally got an old school reunion with All Stars, but... it felt a little anticlimactic. What did you think of it?
Hellvetika: So, I haven't talked to anyone about it or read anything online about the reaction to the reunion, and I also watched alone at home... But my reaction was I was VERY underwhelmed haha. It felt quiet..empty... very little editing, no? How am I supposed to know when someone says something shady without the sound effects? Overall, it felt rushed to me. Ru wasn't in drag... No Michelle...
Chad: Ha! I'm sure that they sliced and diced the footage a fair bit, but yes, it does feel like a quiet afternoon sitting around with RuPaul, who's desperately digging around for drama.
Hellvetika: If they were digging for drama, I don't feel like they found any.
(Chad's note: We didn't end up discussing Adore in this interview -- oops! -- but I liked seeing her again. So... here's some art.)
Chad: I feel like the girls have all been around the block and know how the game is played, so they didn't let things get heated. Roxxxy has been a shining example of restraint all throughout the season -- she seems to watch every word, never letting an ounce of negativity or ego slip out of her.
Hellvetika: I think this is something that's very apparent in all the latest seasons of Drag Race, actually. People are very aware that how they act on the show can be blown out of proportion, so everyone's clamoring to be likable and not stir anything up... Except one person.
Chad: Do you think it was fair for Ru to just totally shit all over Phi Phi for avoiding the reunion?
Hellvetika: Sort of. I have mixed feelings about it all, and I think people are thinking of it in absolutes. I think Phi Phi's portrayal on the show was somewhere in between acting like a douchebag and a bad edit. Phi phi wants to claim it's entirely the edit. Ru wants to claim that edits don't exist.
Chad: Ha! Right, yes, for Ru to maintain the suspense and drama of the show, she has to insist that what happens on the screen is exactly how it all played out.
Hellvetika: I think the editors picked up on Phi Phi's general tone of voice and tendency to say a few controversial things and focused in on it.
Chad: Sure, that's fair. I also think it's totally fair to say, "The producers of this show really screwed me, and I don't want to have anything to do with them."
Hellvetika: I think Ru pressures other queens to talk about the edit as if it doesn’t exist, too...
Chad: Right, Roxxxy is all, "Wait, what edit?"
Hellvetika: Yeah, Roxxxy is terrified! Phi Phi acted so dramatically about the whole thing though, which I guess is characteristic.
Chad: I know things with Phi Phi really blew up on social media and probably made everyone look kind of bad. I was actually pretty surprised and happy that a few of the queens pointed out how sickening that blue alien runway was!
Hellvetika: That is probably my favorite look this season. I don't think Phi Phi is aware of the tone of her own voice. Sometimes she says stuff that isn't even controversial, but the WAY she says it makes me think, “damn, what a bitch.” It just feels like there's a weird immaturity there.
Chad: I think she really IS talented at her weirdo sci-fi nerd aesthetic, she just does NOT have the right temperament to be on a reality show and be judged by thousands of fans.
Hellvetika: It's barely drag, but I'm not very hung up on what drag is. RuPaul's Costume Race would be fine with me.
Chad: Ha! Drag Race Face Off Top Model.
Hellvetika: Katya gave us some Face Off realness last night!
Chad: What do you make of that choice? I'm... conflicted.
Hellvetika: So, I kind of love it. But mostly because it was SO well done. I mean, clearly she hired someone to do that for her... but it really was a great prosthetic application. The dress she was wearing was absolutely hideous, btw. I don't know if anyone saw it... I also love how not a single person mentioned her face in the entire reunion???
Chad: Ha! It really IS funny that it was not mentioned at all. I felt like it was a better choice for a runway look – come out, shock us, leave. But in this context, it felt awkward to me -- it hid her expressions and made it kind of hard for her to talk!
Hellvetika: The bizareness of it, the awkwardness of it actually straining her speech a little bit... Hilarious. That's like Katya's sense of humor to me.
Chad: I also worry that it's mocking disfigurement? Like, if I draw this look, am I glamorizing serious burn victims? I don't know.
Hellvetika: I thought that too! MAYBE... Thorgy did an obese prosthetic look last year during the premieres and I wondered the same thing...
Chad: Oh, I love Thorgy, but.... choices.
Hellvetika: Maybe it's fine since no one was outright mocking it? Maybe it could be viewed as normalizing deformity? Haha... that's a stretch. I've also had people tell me my drag is offensive because I'm making fun of trans people or something... so there are limits and spectrums to everything, I suppose.
Chad: I know, absolutely. One should try to be sensitive and listen to people's reactions, but it's difficult to know where to draw the line.
Chad: I was interested in a lot of the discussion with Alyssa, especially when they brought up the different standards of how she's judged!
Hellvetika: I don't get a lot of the "judging Alyssa on a different scale" critique. I never really noticed that, maybe I'm not paying enough attention. I agree with Alaska that the camera dress was stupid.
Chad: Like, I think it was entirely reasonable for her to point out that each queen does their own style of drag. But yes, the camera dress was a hilarious punching bag throughout the reunion.
Hellvetika: Although after Alaska said that... my favorite moment of the Reunion was Katya calling her out, when she mentioned that her Lil' Poundcake reveal was not a reveal haha
Chad: I KNOW!!! Katya was clearly having fun with the format. Katya comes with her quirky, weird, hideous outfits, and they work, because Katya. Alaska wins a bunch of lip syncs in stubby little heels, but... she deserved it! Arguably, I guess.
Hellvetika: Yeah... I don't know how much the runway should even count, to be honest. I always pick my favorite queen based on how much they make me laugh and how interested I am to see more from them.
Chad: I do have to ask, though: what the hell do you think of what Alyssa wore to the reunion?
Hellvetika: Alyssa's outfit was probably my favorite? Hahaha
Chad: Ha! I kind of loved her knock-off Lion King realness.
Hellvetika: As far as finales go, the looks were kind of slim pickings to me... But Alyssa went dramatic, so I love that.
Chad: It was so theatrical, so ridiculous, so ALYSSA.
Hellvetika: She actually looked a lot like a character from Final Fantasy 12...
Chad: Yes, bring it, nerd!
Hellvetika: I think her name was Fran? She was some kind of humanoid rabbit? White hair and a black and gold headpiece just like Alyssa's.
Chad: Eagerly googling that shit – ha! I can totally see that.
Hellvetika: I swear Alyssa wore a Legend of Zelda shirt on the show at one point, haha. Maybe she's aware of it!
Chad: I think a few of the queens are legit nerds, but... I have a hard time imagining Alyssa doing any serious gaming. If she does, she NEEDS TO LIVESTREAM THAT!!!
Hellvetika: I love that as time goes on, we get nerdier and nerdier queens. I think it's just this 90s generation.
Chad: Yes, absolutely. What did you think of Detox's look?
Hellvetika: I thought her outfit was classic and simple, no problems with it. Didn't "wow" me. I have aesthetic problems with lipstick that does not contrast with skin, though! Made her look washed out to me.
Chad: Yeah, I LOVE a good use of a bold accent color. But I hear you-- I tried several times to draw the look, but I had problems getting anything to look good -- I think I was confronting that exact issue of it looking washed out.
Hellvetika: Like, that lip needed a border/ombre of a darker color. I'm always very conscious about contrast in my looks, and I just do not do light lips for the most part. Or light brows, lord. The worst.
Chad: I liked hearing the queens' praise of both Roxxxy and Detox's runway looks throughout the season -- it was gratifying to see that their talents were recognized, even if they didn't dominate the season.
Hellvetika: They both did really well on the runway. I think in retrospect, I liked Roxxxy's looks overall a little more, actually. Detox killed it with that latex look, though.
Chad: I also thought Tatianna came across SO WELL in the reunion. Sassy, smart, and sooo gorgeous. Her look was a little simple, but that wild ponytail was everything.
Hellvetika: Yeah, the hair made it work for me, too. I personally hate the color of her outfit, but it's very Tatianna and not me. So. Fine. Haha! Tatiana usually comes across as very even-tempered to me, smart, somewhat reserved, even.
Chad: Everyone was parroting her catchphrases the whole episode! I think she was amazingly effective in her short time on the show. I really, really hope her fanbase follows over into whatever she does in the future.
Hellvetika: I wonder if she went in with "choices" in mind or if it happened naturally, and she went with it.
Chad: Ha! I try not to think about that stuff too much.
Hellvetika: It was definitely funniest the first time when she said it about Coco's talent performance.
Chad: Yeah, agreed. I have to say that I thought Alaska came through really well -- she looked absolutely stunning, and she took Ru's questions with the right amount of levity.
Hellvetika: She looked fine to me, very Alaska. I wasn't necessarily "gagging" over the gown. I get that it's a Hairspray reference, but the patchy bugs were a little distracting for me, I guess. I think personality-wise she came across as congenial and funny and relaxed and confident as Alaska tends to. Definitely felt like the winner.
Chad: I really, really loved the absurd beehive she had going on -- I think it gave the whole look the right alien vibe to it. And the fact that it fit perfectly into her "new hat" was just perfect.
Hellvetika: Haha, I think I'm just underwhelmed because the last time I saw her she was in her crowning look, which is probably the best I've seen her. And she had that amazing Bobbie Z wig.
Chad: I mean, I do think her career took a hit in the final few episodes. But do you think she's bouncing back Or is she in a better position than ever?
Hellvetika: I wouldn't say she's in a better position than ever, haha. I actually feel like the season may have positioned Katya to make a run for the most popular queen title... Alaska was already getting a lot of criticism for maybe unfairly winning the lip syncs on a few of those challenges BEFORE the meltdown.
Chad: Right, right. It all happened over a few episodes. A perfect shitstorm.
Hellvetika: Honestly, before this season, there was pretty much no Alaska dissent ANYWHERE. Everyone loved everything about her
Chad: Exactly, yes. It's hard being top dog.
Hellvetika: And now there's just a little bit of doubt. While Katya made it through completely unscathed. We still haven’t seen her do ONE unlikeable thing.
Chad: Ha! Except offend Harvey Dent. But yes, I agree -- Katya continues to be funny and weird. I tune in to all of her Youtube videos, especially UNNGGGGHH.
Hellvetika: I feel like Katya has been coming into her own so much lately, and since All Stars 2 was filmed so long ago... She just seems poised to be really, really huge. And that Unnhhh thing is the best show on the WoW Youtube by a longshot.
Chad: Absolutely. It's so perverse and profane and put together so brilliantly. Do you have any other thoughts on the season? On the future of Drag Race? On drag? On internet haters?
Hellvetika: The future of Drag Race scares me, because I think we're getting to the point where half the queens are going to have been doing drag for 4 years max. So they've all been inspired so heavily by the show.
Chad: I mean, I'm pretty sure Kim Chi hadn't been doing drag for four years when she was on Season 8. But yes, absolutely, the snake eating its tail.
Hellvetika: Her and Pearl both. Like 2 years or something? Laganja was just a few...
Chad: Right. I think the Drag Race fosters a lot of creativity and inspiration -- hopefully we can embrace the unique new directions that queens take it in... rather than seeing the same "Raven" mug on everyone.
Hellvetika: Everyone's going to look like Naomi. Which is pretty, but... mix it up guys.
Thanks for joining me for another Drag Race season! You can find my work on Etsy and pre-order my ALL STARS book collecting all this season's art! You can also support me in the off-season and get some custom artwork on my Patreon!Now I'm going to hide at home and desperately try to finish my giant new graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom in the four months before Season 9 starts. Oof.