Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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Sometimes performers have a particularly good day. All the hard work comes together and they’re able to get into the flow and execute at their peak. Everything that can go right, that should go right, does. And sometimes, they don’t. An issue or insecurity crops up and suddenly the performer is in their head, or over-compensating, or powering through the steps rather than living them. There are plenty of ways to build a satisfying reality competition episode around someone who’s out of their depth, or over-confident, or not doing the work. It’s much harder when a fan-favorite just has a bad day, and in the final elimination episode of season 11 of Drag Race, that’s what happens. There’s no drama, no glaring misstep or hubris, just two, arguably three queens who have a good day, and two who don’t. The queens are mostly confident right up to the runway, and without workroom and talking head interview material to build a compelling narrative, “Queens Everywhere” winds up being a surprisingly kind-hearted, but anti-climactic episode.

As always, the episode begins as the queens return to the workroom after Nina’s elimination, giving her a fonder farewell than we’ve seen in a while. Everyone seems surprised at her elimination, and given the tone of their conversation, Nina’s a shoo-in for Miss Congeniality this season. Silky is still upset at Brooke for pairing her with Soju for the makeover challenge, but there’s no doubt among the queens that she deserved to be in the bottom. Both A’keria and Brooke are straight with her about her underwhelming lip-sync. Silky’s been hyping up her lip-sync skills all season and when finally tested, she was a complete mess. She waves away her lackluster performance by claiming TLC’s “No Scrubs” isn’t her genre of music, but Silky has a long way to go to redeem herself in the eyes of her fellow queens, and the viewers at home. After some discussion from Yvie and Silky about the other queens naming them as who should go home, the top five take a moment to revel in their victory. One more elimination to endure, and they’ll be in the finale.

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The next day, the queens are pumped, ready to tackle their final challenge. Michelle greets them rather than Ru, introducing the maxi challenge—no time for a mini this episode. The queens will write and record a verse to add to RuPaul’s latest single, “Queens Everywhere,” then master challenging choreography from Todrick Hall to accompany the song. They’ll have to perform the routine live, and in the midst of all of this, they’ll also stop by RuPaul and Michelle’s podcast, What’s The Tee?, for an interview. It’s a lot. Writing lyrics pushes the queens to crystallize their brand and identity in only a few lines. Recording tests their ability to work and collaborate under pressure. The choreography requires physicality and performance skills, and the interview ensures that there’s substance and staying power beneath each queen’s glittery surface. There’s a reason Drag Race has settled into this as their go-to final elimination challenge.

The queens get to work right away, each focused and bringing their distinct point of view to their verses. One of the benefits of competitors knowing what to expect in their final challenge is that they’ve all prepared for this. They’ve thought about their voice and what they’d like to say, and this makes for a smoother recording process and more polished final product. The first queen to record is Vanjie, working with Todrick and producer Markaholic. Her rhythm sounds great and she goes in with purpose. Todrick tries to give the producers something to work with, playing up a potential wobble, but it doesn’t land, thanks to Vanjie’s confident delivery. Yvie is next. Her verse is good, but she has a little trouble spitting the words out quickly enough. By the end of her session, though, she’s in the pocket and Todrick helps her bring more inflection and personality to her performance. Brooke is third, and she gets the comedic or delusional edit of the group. As with Vanjie, the edit doesn’t really feel particularly meaningful because by the end, Todrick seems happy. Silky starts out strong only to flub her lines partway through, but this is only on her initial record. She picks herself back up and ends well. Last is A’keria, who Todrick compliments for her rhythm, but who needs a bit more personality. All in all, the queens a good job with their lyrics, and Ru’s track seems to be in good hands.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Over at What’s The Tee?, A’keria kicks things off, talking about her family and her experiences raising her brother’s son. This is a fascinating new side to A’keria (make that, Gregory) that viewers haven’t seen this season, and the discussions they have around identity, masculinity, and sexuality are the highlight of this portion of the episode. Silky is up second, and she’s charming in her interview, focusing on themes of forgiveness—her forgiveness of the other queens. Brooke goes third, and besides dropping the nugget that she hasn’t had a boyfriend, she talks about her gravitation toward structure and control, first in the ballet world and then the pageant cycle. This is the closest the episode comes toward building a thread that carries through to the runway; Brooke’s need to loosen up and find immediacy in her performance has come up previously this season and it will again, later in the episode. Vanjie rounds out the interviews, and while she is her usual entertaining self, the spark of energy that has made her talking heads a highlight of the season isn’t present. The producers could have started to build an anxiety or nerves narrative for her here, but for whatever reason, they don’t. Instead of a red flag, this comes across as a blip.

Choreography rehearsals always get plenty of time on Drag Race, because they make for easily entertaining visuals. Either the queens nail it and are exciting and fun, or they struggle, and help the producers build tension. This time around, the queens break fairly neatly into these two camps. Vanjie and Silky do well, Yvie and A’keria have trouble, and Brooke, well, as Todrick says, she needs, “to go to The Cardi B School For Girls.” A little less ballet, a lot more stank. After the queens finish their individual and group coachings, Todrick takes them to another part of the set. They’ll be performing their routine not on the main stage, but as part of a one-take music video, with more choreography yet to be revealed. Performing live for an audience is hard, but at least you have the energy of the crowd to draw on. Performing a one-take music video has the pitfalls of performing live without the benefits, and the queens are appropriately sober at the thought.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

After what was undoubtedly a long evening of rehearsal and individual practice, the queens return to the workroom for their final runway prep. They’re treated to cocktails and unexpectedly, this whole portion of the episode is heart-warming and affirming. They talk about their favorite moments in the competition, they thank each other for their support, or for putting up with their drama, and inquiring minds—A’keria, Silky, and Yvie—ask after the future of Branjie, now that the competition is winding down. Any potential source for drama and strife is diffused. Brooke and Vanjie seem to be on the same page about their relationship, Silky and Yvie have squashed their beef, and all is peaceful and calm in the workroom. It’s a little strange, but after this season’s numerous screaming matches, both here and on Untucked, it’s a refreshing change of pace.

Before long, it’s time for the runway, and the debut of the queens’ music video. “Queens Everywhere” is not the most exciting track to build from, but each of the queens’ verses work. Performance-wise, A’keria starts strong, but fades by the end, as she fills time before walking the camera to Brooke. The Queen of the North also suffers from needing to fill time post-verse and it’s puzzling why ballerina Brooke isn’t given more to do during this time. Silky is sloppy, but energetic and she definitely benefits from her verse moving directly to Vanjie’s, without any vamping. Vanjie does well, and with much more choreography than Silky, but she feels disconnected in a way she hasn’t in her previous lip-syncs. Yvie is last, and she bursts out the gate, the clear winner on personality and performance. It’s hard to see some of the group choreography at the end, but all things considered, the queens should be happy with the finished product. It’s fun and breezy and overall, they’ve done well.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

On the runway, Category is: Best Drag. Brooke comes out in a Swan Lake-inspired ballerina look, and while this is not her most inventive runway, she looks great. Silky goes full pageant, in a gown with swirling pinks and nudes, with giant blonde hair. Vanjie plays against expectations with a lovely green dress, inspired by Vivian Leigh’s famous green costume from Gone With The Wind. It’s a departure for her, but one that’s effective. Unfortunately, as in her music video performance, she feels off. Vanjie has been selling her looks hard all season, even that unfortunate golden bunny, but here, she feels hesitant. Yvie serves glamour in a gorgeous red gown, but in true Oddly fashion, she has three eyes, three breasts, and three fingers on each hand, among other threes. She looks terrific. So does A’keria, who rounds out the runway in a gorgeous blue and purple stoned and fringed pageant gown.

It becomes apparent early in the judging that Yvie and A’keria wll be going through to the finals. The judges love their looks and connected with their performances in the video. Silky also feels safe. She gets a minor read from Michelle about sloppy detail work, but Todrick loves her and Ross appreciates her passion. The two question marks are Brooke and Vanjie. Brooke is praised for her look, but Michelle thinks something is missing and Ross wants more edge. Each of the judges comment on Vanjie being disconnected. She didn’t bungle anything, but she didn’t shine either. This wasn’t her day.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Before the judges deliberate, Ru asks each queen to speak to their younger selves, holding up adorable pictures of each in what has become a frequently moving, but at times overly manufactured pre-finale runway tradition. A’keria advises young Gregory to be true to himself, and to love himself. Brooke tells young Brock that he’s perfect and wonderful just the way he is. Silky gently chides young Reggie for hiding himself for so many years. Vanjie tells young Jose to lean on his mother, who will always have his back, and Yvie encourages young Jovan not to build up walls that will take years to tear back down. It’s sweet and impactful, and a lovely final moment for the top five queens to share together.

In the end, Ru sends Yvie, A’keria, and Silky through to the finale, leaving Brooke and Vanjie to lip-sync, to Aretha Franklin’s “Pride: A Deeper Love.” Both Brooke and Vanjie have lip-synced earlier this season, and both have turned it out. Neither particularly slays here. Brooke performs mostly on pointe, which doesn’t particularly fit with the song, while Vanjie takes of her green skirt so that she can move more easily. As in the video however, Vanjie’s dance moves feel disconnected, and she doesn’t build enough momentum. Both Brooke and Vanjie want to stay, and neither is going to throw their performance to help their paramour, but for whatever reason, neither clinches their spot in the finale the way both are capable of. In the end, Ru saves Brooke and sends Vanjie off to pack for an inevitable return in All Stars. Even despite this underwhelming final lip-sync, Brooke feels like a queen to beat in the finale, and Vanjie has cemented her place in Drag Race fandom. First queen eliminated in season 10 to top five in season 11. Not many could pull off that kind of turnaround. She may not have made the finale this time, but with a bit more seasoning, Vanjie will be a serious contender wherever she pops up next.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Stray observations

  • We have our final four. Despite tremendous growth from A’keria and a strong showing here from Silky, season 11 still feels like it’ll come down to Brooke versus Yvie. Then again, after Asia and the butterflies, I’m loathe to feel too confident about anyone in a Drag Race finale.
  • Next to Silky and A’keria’s pageant gowns, Vanjie’s final look may not pop, but I love this choice from her. She was rightfully read for her over-reliance on leotards this season, but she had some terrific looks—she didn’t get enough love for her zodiac look, for one—and I’m excited for what she’ll bring her next time around.
  • I enjoyed how invested everyone, from the other queens to Ru and Michelle, are in Branjie. I expect they’ll be a topic of great interest in the upcoming reunion episode.
  • Season 11 had a really fun batch of queens, but on reflection, it seems like it would have benefited from one or two more comedy queens, to shore up the performance challenges. I usually love the Drag Race roasts, but was glad we didn’t get one this season.
  • What a delightfully, uniquely Vanjie way to leave. She was never going to top her iconic first exit, so it’s fun to see her go such a different way this time.

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