'RuPaul's Drag Race' Season Premiere Recap: Who is the 14th queen?
RuPaul's Drag Race broke with years of tradition for its ninth season premiere Friday night. Instead of the usual format — mini-challenge, main challenge, bottom two lip-sync for their lives, one goes home — RuPaul threw everything out the window and just held a pageant. (The Miss Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent Pageant, of course.)
While there was a winner of the competition — which saw queens present pre-prepared looks based on their hometown and on Lady Gaga's career — no one went home. Instead, most of the episode was focused on introducing the queens and having fun with guest judge Lady Gaga. The result was a fun, if slightly underwhelming, hour of TV, with a big ol' cliffhanger ending reminiscent of All Stars season two's infamous Revenge of the Queens twist.
Yes, in the episode's final minute, RuPaul announced that the 13 previously announced queens would not be the only competitors in Drag Race season nine. She was adding a 14th queen — someone returning to the competition. Who could it be?
Unfortunately, this is not the mystery Drag Race producers were hoping it would be. Obsessive viewers who frequent the show's subreddit flagged an NPR interview back in August featuring some audio from the set of season nine. In it (around the one-minute mark), you can hear the very distinct voice of a queen who competed in a previous season. For those seeking a spoiler-less experience, we won't reveal who it is — but the silhouette of the 14th queen we see in the final shot of the episode indicates Reddit's sleuthing was right.
What makes this would-be twist somewhat frustrating is that All Stars season two revealed the Drag Race producers are quite savvy. They understand the fandom around the show, while knowing how much to respond to fan chatter and how much to hold back. Yet because there was no elimination in this episode, producers must be banking on the buzz of this reveal to keep people talking until next week's episode. That's a tough proposition when the answer to the "twist" has been widely speculated for months and is easily discoverable via a quick Google search.
Besides the ending, the rest of the episode gave us a chance to briefly meet the new crop of queens and hear Gaga — who really was terrific in this episode — talk about her career and legacy. Since the judges critiqued every queen this episode (a rarity on Drag Race, which usually just makes time for the tops and bottoms), let's do the same.
Here's a ranking of every queen's performance in the pageant, scored based on both their looks and the tagline they offered in accompaniment with their hometown outfit. Which queens have fallen from their pre-season glory, and whose stock has risen?
13. Kimora Blac
Hometown look: 5
Ahead of the season, Kimora looked like our villain who sticks around too long. During the premiere, she reveals herself to be a generally sweet queen — albeit with a hefty dose of ego — who has very little going on in the drag department. Her tagline, a garbled mess about being from Las Vegas, reveals little of the wit Ru prizes in her queens. The most interesting thing she does is inspire Ru to make a "Blac Lives Matter" joke. She'll be an early out.
12. Jaymes Mansfield
Hometown look: 3
"Jaymes Mansfield looks scared," Sasha Velour says after Jaymes' workroom introduction. Truer words were never spoken, Sasha. Jaymes has a ton to offer off the show, but her bedraggled pair of looks indicates this is not her venue.
10. Trinity Taylor and Charlie Hides (tie)
Hometown look: 4
These two queens score exactly the same, and it's easy to see why. Both fail to execute on any kind of interesting idea in the hometown look, offering up lame taglines, but kill it when it comes to serving Gaga. Here's hoping their Mother Monster drag is a better reflection of what they do. Trinity's got a big target on her back after trash-talking Eureka and Aja, too. She needs to really bring it in the next few challenges to stay in the game.
Hometown look: 5
It's a bummer to rank Peppermint this low, because she's fun and game for whatever. Her hometown look is uninspiring (both she and Aja went for misguided Statue of Liberty drag), but she shows a little wit with her "Metrocards and EBT cards" line. Her David Bowie-inspired Gaga look needs work, too — Gaga herself is right on the money when she dings Peppermint for inappropriately adding large hoop earrings. Thus, Peppermint sits firmly in the middle of the pack for now.
Hometown look: 5
Listen: Not a single queen on this list has done something as impressive pre-show as Aja's "Look at Me Now" lip sync. It's easy to see why Sasha says Aja is the number one name in Brooklyn at the moment. But her hometown look is as standard as they come. Her face is a mess all episode — Trinity Taylor is generally wrong in her confessionals, but her clock of Aja's makeup is right-on. And Aja's Gaga look is just a duplicate of an existing high-fashion garment; there's no interpretation. Aja has a ton of potential, but hers might have been the single most disappointing performance relative to expectations.
7. Farrah Moan
Hometown look: 7
"I don't get it" is generally not a helpful criticism of art; it reveals more about the person offering it than the art itself. But if there's something to "get" about Farrah Moan, she certainly hasn't revealed it yet.
Farrah walks into the workroom serving skin, then presents two looks that cover her entire body up. Both the looks are technically solid, but the judges rightfully point out her Las Vegas showgirl fantasy is hardly Vegas at all ("Anna Karenina goes to Game of Thrones," Carson Kressley calls it). Plus, they note, it looked like Farrah's "Alejandro" video look would include a reveal, but none came. She's a gorgeous girl, and she clearly knows fashion, but Farrah's got us pressing the snooze button for now.
6. Alexis Michelle
Hometown look: 5
Points for putting "#BlackLivesMatter" on her New York-inspired look and not going for the obvious Statue of Liberty drag. Minus points for said outfit being underwhelming and poorly executed, with a clunky tagline to match. The Gaga drag, on the other hand, is goddamn stunning. Going for Gaga's most restrained look — her Golden Globes dress — requires nailing the proportion, the style and the attitude. Alexis does all three. As Gaga said herself, Alexis is one to watch.
Hometown look: 9
Gotta love a girl who throws off all the other queens by talking about how new to drag she is. It inspires nothing but jealousy that only amplifies when the queen in question goes out and kills it. Indeed, Valentina smashes the runway this week, offering two great looks and earning Gaga's praise for her model walk. Attagirl, Valentina; keep thos veteran ladies on their toes. You'll go far.
4. Eureka (O'Hara)
Hometown look: 8
First of all, it is hilarious that Drag Race hates Phi Phi O'Hara so much that Eureka isn't using her last name. Also hilarious: Eureka herself! She's the third queen into the workroom and holds court from the moment she arrives. Her quips at the other queens' expense are mostly funny and sharp, although if we're not reading generously, she seems to be performing for the room a bit. (Her read of Jaymes being fake is the only joke that crosses the line of playful shade and becomes bullying, and Eureka practically scopes the room before she delivers it as if she's winding up at-bat.)
That aside, Eureka makes the top three in the pageant, and while we wouldn't have put her there, it's still pretty deserved. Her trashy hometown Tennessee look is fun, while her Gaga look — a riff on the "Telephone" video — gives glamour. Michelle Visage is impressed; that's a great place to be week one.
3. Sasha Velour
Hometown look: 6
A bit of controversy kicked up ahead of the premiere after Sasha described her drag as "brainy" in a Logo web-exclusive video. The knock, it seems, is that her answer indicates a high level of self-regard — although it's hard to see how this is different than a queen like Valentina or Kimora talking about how hot they are. Regardless, Sasha's hometown New York drag, an ode to modern art that includes a poster of herself, isn't likely to quell her haters' passion.
Her Gaga drag, on the other hand, is a revelation. She gets the "Applause" video look exactly right, totally transforming her own drag in the process. Sasha is a chameleon, and if she had nailed her hometown outfit, she would have been this episode's easy winner. There's some skepticism of her drag in the workroom when she first comes in, but her performance this episode — and the performance of winners like Raja and Sharon Needles in the past — should serve as an important reminder to the other girls. It's wise to never underestimate the sharp, weird and, yes, brainy queens.
2. Shea Coulee
Hometown look: 8
Shea is our resident Drag Race superfan this season. When presenting her hometown look, she properly shouts out season two's Mystique Summers Madison with a hearty "Bitch, I'm from Chicago!" She walks into the workroom wearing a print of season seven queen Pearl on her dress. Luckily, she backs up her references with strong fashion and a good sense of humor. The half-hearted Gaga dress worries us (and probably keeps her from the judges' top three), but she's made a solid first impression.
1. Nina Bo'Nina Brown
Hometown look: 8
It's been one episode and we could write 3,000 words on our love for Nina Bo'Nina Brown. This queen walks into the workroom dressed like a mouse, with purposefully and delightfully bizarre makeup, and introduces herself by singing, "Go Nina/ Bo'Nina/ Banana/ Fofana/ Osama/ Bin Laden/ Brown." She dresses like a Georgia peach on the runway, complete with a paper peach head and more spectacularly odd makeup. (She inspires a Zika joke from Michelle Visage that just about has Gaga on the floor.)
Nina's Gaga look is an exciting, sexy riff on Gaga's iconic 2009 VMAs Alexander McQueen lace outfit, complete with mask. Not only is she strong on the runway, but she nails the personality component, too. Nina is confident and kooky, but is also appropriately grateful and humble when Ru and the judges name her the winner.
"I see a star," Gaga says in deliberations about Nina. Who are we to disagree with Mother Monster? It's a huge first week for Ms. Bo'Nina Banana Fofana Osama Bin Laden Brown, and we can't wait to see what she does next episode, which airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.
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