It’s a strange sensation to watch a top 4 episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and feel like any one of the queens could be named America’s Next Drag Superstar and truly deserve the title. Bob The Drag Queen, Chi Chi DeVayne, Kim Chi, and Naomi Smalls have all proven themselves on this series, and a strong argument could be made for each of them as to why they should win. It’s especially easy to root for them because they all got this far without being overly nasty competitors, and while that means we don’t get very much drama in “The Realness,” the sense of sisterhood among these queens makes for a very warm episode.
As has become the norm, this top 4 episode involves the queens performing in a RuPaul music video, and the show whips out a cruel twist for the first part of filming “The Realness.” Director Jayson Whitmore has the queens pretending to fall through the air, an illusion he achieves by having them lay down on elevated blocks, looking up at the camera while their feet dangle in the air. It’s one extended core exercise that the queens have to lip sync during, and most of them have a lot of trouble serving face while keeping their lower halves elevated and posed.
Chi Chi fares best thanks to her experience as a dancer, but everyone else has a lot of trouble because they’re all tall men trying to embody feminine grace in a really uncomfortable position. Naomi normally kills the posing, but her extra long legs and lack of core muscles work against her, and Bob has similar difficulty keeping her legs in the air in a flattering position. Kim struggles the most, though, and she’s responsible for this episode’s funniest moment when she rolls off the platform, a fall captured from two embarrassing angles. (The slow motion overhead shot of Kim falling off is amazing and I cannot wait to see it turned into a .gif.)
Kim fares horribly with this first segment, and having that failure drives her to step up her game in the next two segments. The second part has the queens dressing in avant-garde looks while they lip sync in front of a plain black background, and Kim has the most memorable outfit with her neon feathered dress that feels genuinely avant-garde in a way no one else’s look does. Her make-up is dramatic and exceptionally clean, and every part of the look fits together perfectly. There’s a full character in Kim’s appearance, and she’s able to channel that in her lip sync, which makes up for her lack of dance skills. She makes a wise decision in wearing a dress that has an extra functional element in the blue wings, and she uses them well to punctuate her performance.
Naomi’s avant-garde look is simpler than Kim’s, but she rocks the hell out of it and once again shows how comfortable she is with performing. Her make-up is where the avant-garde plays a bigger part, incorporating extra patterns to give the entire ensemble an alien quality. Bob’s avant-garde look is underwhelming, but she makes up for it in her lip sync, listening to her director and pushing her main strength, comedy, to the forefront. She makes her character big and exaggerated, so her final death drop feels like a natural, explosive ending to her performance. Chi Chi’s look is the roughest of the three, and the ugly netting of her outfit is extra unfortunate because it gets in the way of her dancing. She doesn’t have experience dancing in gowns, and gets caught up in her netting multiple times.
The final segment has the queens performing in front of a mirror in their glamour looks, and the episode moves through it fast. Everyone fares well, although the weaknesses with Bob’s make-up are very apparent here. As Kim has said, it just doesn’t look she has any on, and it interrupts the feminine illusion Bob is going for with her ’80s Janet Jackson-inspired look. Bob is definitely the biggest performer, but I’d like to see that bigness carry over to her make-up.
The queens are asked to bring their best drag to the runway for their final showing before the judges, and frankly it’s a disappointment except for Kim Chi. Bob’s tuxedo, Chi Chi’s gown, and Naomi’s pantsuit are all pretty mundane, and while they work these garments on the runway, none of them have the wow factor of Kim’s dark princess. She once again uses feathers to create a powerful silhouette, and incorporates a horned mask that adds character and looks really cool with her paint job. None of the other queens show this level of creativity or ambition in their best drag looks, and over the course of the competition, Kim has learned how to model these amazing fashions on the runway.
Bob The Drag Queen is technically the frontrunner based on the statistics of this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kim Chi named America’s Next Drag Superstar after tonight’s episode. Kim saved some of her best looks for last, obliterating the competition on the fashion front, and she’s also shown a lot of growth in performance, proving that she has the charisma needed to take control of a crowd. She has the most emotional speech to her younger self (she’s the only queen that breaks down in tears), and she goes through an entire journey in front of the judges, showing them the vulnerable Tsang that lives inside the formidable Kim Chi, who is hugely confident and already knows she’s a Drag Superstar.
When the judges are deliberating, Ross Matthews mentions that Kim Chi has the potential to truly evolve drag, and you can see RuPaul’s eyes light up as she agrees. Kim is one of the most talented queens to ever be a part of this show, and her work elevates drag to fine art. I want to see what she could do with the resources afforded by this series’ $100,000 grand prize, and I think Ru does too. The judges shower praise on everyone, but Kim is the only one that is named as the queen that could usher in the next stage of drag, which makes me very optimistic about her chances in the finale.
The four-way lip syncs on this show always feel disjointed and there’s no way of getting a good handle on who does the best, so it ends up looking like everyone does pretty well. It’s a relief to see that Kim doesn’t crash and burn as she lip syncs for the judges for the first time, and like in the video, Kim compensates for her lack of rhythm by committing to the character she’s wearing. Bob and Naomi’s outfits are the most conducive to choreography and they make good use of the space, but Chi Chi’s stuck in a gown, and we already know that’s not a good thing for Chi Chi.
There’s nothing particularly bad in Chi Chi’s performance, but this was her chance to whip out her dancer skills and she’s stuck in a dress that prevents her from accessing her greatest strength. Chi Chi has the lowest standing because she’s been in the bottom twice, and she doesn’t give the judges that something extra that could keep her in the game. Chi Chi has been a lot of fun to watch, but she has some very tough competition for the top 3, and she can’t match Naomi and Kim’s fashion skills or Bob’s comedy skills. Chi Chi is no slouch in those arenas and has shown a lot of talent in both, but she’s still working to get to the point those other queens are already at, so it makes sense that she would go home this week.
Bob, Naomi, and Kim is a surprising final three, and I’m excited to find out whether Ru will go with the comedy queen or one of the fashion queens as America’s Next Drag Superstar. I’d be happy with either one, and they’ve each earned it in their own way: Bob has been the best performer this season, and has risen to nearly every challenge. Naomi had a rougher start, but she had the breakthrough Ru loves to see and has been on top ever since. Kim has had her fair share of challenges, but she’s also the only queen that has never been in the bottom because she’s never let those obstacles get in her way. Anyone could win RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 because they’re all fierce competitors, and the strength of this top 3 is indicative of the general strength of this entire season, which spotlighted some exceptionally talented drag queens.
- Bob wastes no time wiping Derrick’s message off the mirror. Good riddance.
- Naomi with smudged make-up is giving me The Joker realness.
- Bianca Del Rio makes a quick cameo for a bit where she reads the queens by comparing them to past winners. I like to think that Bianca suggested this when the producers reached out about having her in the season premiere and she couldn’t make it.
- I love that the other queens are put to work waving the strands of fabric during the falling sequences.
- RuPaul’s dress has me craving saltwater taffy.
- It’s odd that we don’t see a rough cut of the video before the queens are critiqued for their performance.
- From Viola Davis To Patrick Ewing: The Bob The Drag Queen Story
- “Kim Chi looks like a fuckin’ upside down turtle.”
- “She’s fallen more than anyone in drag race history.”
- “His right hand looks like he fisted a coal mine, and his left hand looks like he fisted a gold mine”
- “I learned that I can’t walk in heels, I can’t dance, and I have a lisp.”
- “You eat other people’s buttholes!”
- “Kim Chi gets better with a little time.”
- “Oh and go to a dancing class as soon as possible!”
- “You mothertucking earned it.”
- “Her POV became OMG for me. LOL.”