RuPaul’s Drag Race doesn’t have the best history with musical episodes, but doing a Hamilton-inspired Kardashian musical is an inspired challenge that tests celebrity impersonation, lip syncing, and personal charisma. I just went to the Chicago production of Spamilton last weekend, the parody musical that pokes fun at Hamilton and a wide array of other shows, and the range of musical styles in Hamilton gives writers a lot to options when it comes to changing the content for comedic purposes. That versatility works in favor of this week’s episode, and ”Kardashian: The Musical” brings out some strong performances from the queens.

The contestants have their first mini-challenge of the season as they take sexy summer selfies with the Pit Crew, and most of the pictures are pretty bad. Alexis Michelle wins, but like a lot of the mini-challenges, the win feels pretty arbitrary. Someone needs to win, and RuPaul and the producers know that Alexis is a musical theater queen, so putting her in a position of power will probably make for good TV. Alexis has consistently been safe, so she’s getting a lot of attention in Untucked, but she’s still struggling to stand out in this group of queens. She comes to life when she’s performing as Kris Jenner, but that success is dulled by her lackluster runway look, which doesn’t do anything exciting with the “Faux Fur Fabulous” category. Alexis needs to find a way to bring the energy of her Kris Jenner performance into everything she does for the judges, because she’s going to be saved by that energy if her fashion continues on this lackluster path.

It’s immediately clear that “Kardashian: The Musical” is riffing on Hamilton, but it’s still different enough from its inspiration that it feels like there was some effort put into making it a separate entity. (That will probably be for sale on iTunes?) I really like how the music switches into a Britney Spears riff for the scene set in Les Deux Nightclub, 2006, and having the music tied to her character gives Peppermint extra motivation to turn it out for a character she’s not all that excited to play. Sasha also gets really messy for her Lindsay Lohan impression, and it taps into her silly side that helped her score a win in last week’s episode.

Aja’s Kourtney Kardashian is the strongest of the three core sisters, and Aja has a strong handle on both the lyrics and the exaggerated attitude. (Her makeup is also getting much better.) Performances on Drag Race often rely on the queens being willing to commit to being cartoony, and bigger is typically better if you want to grab focus. Valentina’s Kendall Jenner stands out a lot when put next to Farrah Moan’s Kylie, and there’s an enthusiastic energy behind Valentina’s performance that Farrah isn’t able to match. Valentina continues to be really damn good at this game, and her look on the runway is really clever in that it pairs a snakeskin gown with a fur stole, doubling down on the theme to give the judges something chic and sophisticated.

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Farrah has been very boring throughout this season, and after five episodes, I don’t think her personality can compete with the bigger characters in this cast. Farrah ends up in the bottom with Cynthia Lee Fontaine, who does a lousy job lip syncing and fails to give Kim Kardashian the grandiosity she should have as the main figure in the musical. They both underwhelm with the runway and the lip sync to Meghan Trainor’s “Woman Up” is pretty dull, but they’re saved by a last minute surprise exit from one of the safe queens.

“Reality Stars: The Musical” is a whole lot of fun, and this episode helps bring this season’s cast together as new bonds and rivalries are formed. It always takes a bit of time at the start of the season for the queens to become a group, and it’s felt longer than usual this year because of the exhibition episode and the extra queen. The group dynamics tighten up in tonight’s episode, but a lot of that development comes from the departing queen going out of her way to improve her reputation before she voluntarily leaves the show.

Last week’s episode had me wondering if Eureka was going to get a villain’s cut this season, and Eureka knows that she acted insensitively to Valentina and Sasha with the eating disorder conversation last week. She apologizes to both of them, which opens up a larger discussion about eating disorders in the gay community, and it’s a nice moment of sisterhood as the queens talk about their individual struggles with anorexia and bulimia. Eureka is on crutches after popping her knee during the cheerleading challenge, which severely limits what she can do in drag. The revelation at the end of the episode that Eureka is leaving the competition makes a lot of sense, but it’s a bummer that one of this season’s biggest personalities with a lot of talent has to leave the competition so early. On the plus side, she’s invited back for season 10, so she’s going to have a major leg up (knee up?) on the competition when/if she returns.

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As the Eureka/Trinity Taylor rivalry dies, a new one emerges in Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s resentment of Shea Coulée’s success in the competition. We know Nina is insecure, and Shea’s confidence and talent set her up as a strong foil. They have very different attitudes, and I doubt that Shea would have had Nina’s salty reaction if their roles were reversed. Nina is bitter that she doesn’t get the role of Blac Chyna, and while I understand her criticism that Shea shouldn’t get the part because she doesn’t pad and Blac Chyna has very dramatic proportions, it’s immature to hold a grudge over something Shea can’t control. Todrick Hall is very frustrated with Nina’s attitude during the rehearsal, and he brings it up during the judging, which puts up a big red flag for the judges as they see just how hard it is for Nina to put her emotions to the side so she can turn it out in performance.

Shea is my favorite queen this season, and she’s doing everything right this season. Her talking head interviews are funny, she has a lot of energy on camera without being cloying, she can dance and lip sync like a pro, and she rocks every garment she wears on the runway. She’s far and away the stand-out of “Kardashian: The Musical,” and I can’t imagine Nina bringing that much passion to her interpretation of Blac Chyna. There’s a fullness to Shea’s performance no matter what she’s doing, and it will be interesting to see what her weak spots are because right now she’s all strengths.

Shea looks incredible in her skin-tight neon face-dress, and she’s a queen that really understands how to create drag proportions without padding. Like Valentina, Shea is great at playing the Drag Race game, and after getting her second win a row, she leaves the runway by giving Ru a compliment that shows her gratitude and feels completely natural. With two consecutive wins, Shea is officially the frontrunner of this season, and I’m excited to see if she’s able to continue her streak going with next week’s Snatch Game, which is when the divisions between the season’s best and worst become very clear.

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Stray observations

  • RuPaul wears a lot of wild suits, but her dayglo ensemble this season got an audible gasp out of me.
  • I love the moment when the Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney do the point-and-walk move all together. I’m a sucker for pointing to where you’re about to go on the runway.
  • Stop trying to make “Sketchy Boots” a thing, Todrick.
  • Nobody deserves a Tony Award for “Kardashian: The Musical,” Todrick.
  • I appreciate Meghan Trainor going silly with her unicorn onesie, but like a lot of Meghan Trainor decisions, it does feel like she’s trying a bit too hard.
  • Kudos to whoever wrote Kardashian: The Musical for rhyming “lip plumper” with “Kardashian dumper.”
  • Trinity Taylor basically gives us Banana Lady: The Sequel on the runway, but she works that look so much harder than Kimora Blac.
  • “I’ve got a lovely bunch of Cucunuts.”
  • “It’s a Hanukkah miracle! Aja’s nose got smaller.”
  • Todrick: “I smell a Tony.” Ru: “Like Tony Danza?” Todrick: “More like a Toni Braxton.” Ru: “Oh, I can breathe again!”
  • “Dr. Zhiva-go, girl, go!”
  • Alexis: “These plain pink bottoms are getting boring!” Carson: “I’m right here!”
  • “Mama, you look so good tonight it’s damn near sinful.”
  • “Nina Bo’Nina Brown, you hit the runway looking like Mary J. Blige, but please girl, no more drama.”

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