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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Romance fizzles, but friendship finds a way as COVID-19 closes RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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Much of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue has centered on the queens’ struggles to balance their work with their personal relationships. This has come through strongest with the Asia, Naomi, and Derrick conflict, but it’s been a theme all season, from Derrick’s nonexistent relationship with her mom to Kameron and Vanjie’s dating woes. It’s not the most elegant reality TV storytelling, but the finale manages to bring these themes together with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdown of Las Vegas. The stark reality of the pandemic and what it means for people working in the entertainment industry puts the drama of the season in context, underscoring the show’s meaningful tensions and helping viewers look past the frivolous ones. Not all of Vegas Revue has worked, and some of the earlier narrative choices are puzzling in retrospect, but there is something here that with further tweaks could grow into a reliable and entertaining extension of the Drag Race brand.

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“Leaving Las Vegas?” begins right where fans will want it to, with Derrick and Naomi asking Vanjie and Kameron about their bar moment the next day. Vanjie is optimistic about the possibility of an on-set love connection and Kameron is clearly still buzzing. Kameron doesn’t love how Derrick pushed the issue, but she acknowledges that without that giant shove, she wouldn’t have had the courage to say anything. Seeing Kameron peek ever so slightly out of her shell has been one of the real treats of Vegas Revue. A big part of why she’s so shy, Kameron says, is because of the constant bullying and harassment she went through in school. She learned to close herself off and while she’s much happier and more confident now, she can immediately go back to that space when vulnerable.

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Naomi asks Vanjie whether she and Kameron are going to try out a real, honest-to-goodness date. She’s far from optimistic, as in her experience dating a fellow queen never works out, but she still hopes the two find what they’re looking for. Naomi isn’t the only skeptical queen. Vanjie previously dated fellow season 11 queen Brooke Lynn Hytes, which did not last beyond filming, and later in the episode Silky warns Vanjie away from repeating old mistakes when Vanjie calls to fill her in. As for Kameron, she hasn’t had a significant relationship with a drag queen before, but she’s willing to give it a go with Vanjie and see if they click. This is the most open and smiley Kameron has been all season, and it’s lovely to see.

Over in the other main storyline, Asia reflects on how great it was to have Brett there, and how alone she feels now that he’s gone. She doesn’t feel like she can be herself and get ready with the other queens, so she’s decided not to move back into the cast dressing rooms. Her continued isolation is difficult, and she’s not sure she should even stay with the show at this point. Producer Randy was clear that he wanted the cast split resolved, but the weeks are ticking on and there’s no change in sight. Cue director Jamal Sims, who stops by prompted by RuPaul. He’s worried that the backstage issues will start impacting the rest of the cast and crew and ultimately, the energy on stage.

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RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1

Asia seems unwilling to change, though she’ll give up her private dressing room as long as she doesn’t have to get ready with the other queens. Jamal asks to mediate a conversation between Asia, Naomi, and Derrick, and this at least is something Asia will give him. Jamal goes to get the other queens and they quickly get down to brass tacks. Asia opens by asking what she was supposed to do—she was told the other queens didn’t want to get dressed with her, so she took her things, when they weren’t there, and left. Naomi understands, but feels that they should have been able to discuss things in the dressing room before Asia left. They go back and forth a bit, with Asia conceding that she has work to do on communication and she and Naomi seem to work to a place of more understanding.

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That understanding does not extend to Derrick. Asia’s main problem is not Naomi’s complaints about her, but how they were communicated, and the context in which they were brought up. Derrick claims that she was merely trying to find out what the problem was between Naomi and Asia—insert skeptical Jim Halpert look to camera—but Asia is direct. She considers what Derrick did mean and the way Derrick spoke to her is why she left. It was malicious and intended to hurt her. Derrick was doing something she’s very good at, and something she was hired to do: Creating a dramatic reality TV moment. Asia’s feelings didn’t come into consideration.

Derrick pushes back at Asia, saying she shouldn’t have run away from the situation. She should have stayed and fought it out. But Asia refuses to budge. She will not accept poor treatment, and she will not agree that she should stick around when she’s being attacked. The most generous interpretation for Derrick is that she is a fighter. She finds it cleansing to lance the boil, pour out all the pain and frustration that’s been pent up, and then let it go, moving forward without the baggage. That’s not how Asia works, and that disconnect in how they process interpersonal strife is at the core of their conflict. Jamal jumps back in to explain where he’s coming from, but the conversation has reached a standstill. Derrick wants an apology from Asia and one is most definitely not coming. Asia hugs Jamal and Naomi before they leave and things are at least better with Naomi and her, but Derrick and Asia are still worlds apart.

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RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1

The episode jumps back to Kameron, who has officially asked Vanjie out on a date. They go to the High Roller, an observatory that has gorgeous views of the city. Things seem to be off to a good start, but after a while, the conversation dips, then lags, then completely stalls. Awkward silence reigns and Vanjie’s familiar, “Yeah…”s start lingering. The date is a total flop, but the two leave together to go get food, determined to keep things cordial and go back to being friends. As Vanjie says, “If I had to sum it up in one word, don’t date your friends.” It’s a shame the two fizzle so spectacularly, and it’s notable that there aren’t any reactions from Kameron after the fact, only from Vanjie. Maybe they weren’t on quite the same page after all?

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Regardless, that night at the show, coronavirus pops into the conversation. Yvie, Vanjie, and Derrick talk about New York City shutting down and how their parents are reacting to the situation. The scariest thing for Derrick would be if the Vegas strip shut down, which she has never seen—it was last closed in 1963, for the funeral of JFK. For now, the queens are focused on the task at hand, putting on a great show, and the episode cuts to Derrick’s montage, a sequence featuring her lip-syncing to Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

This is the final regular moment of footage, and the transition is abrupt and jarring. The next chyron indicates a week has passed, and all of the casinos have shut down. The queens shoot their own footage as they pack up their belongings. Then the episode jumps to a month later. The strip is closed and Derrick is right, it’s eerie. The queens talk about their quarantine experiences from self-shot video and it’s hard not to think of them as precious summer children, only a month into quarantine. Asia talks about how COVID-19 has impacted her and Brett’s wedding plans—the wedding is on hold for now, until it’s safe for everyone they want to attend. Derrick commends Nick and Mack, talking about how being together all the time has made their relationship stronger. Yvie’s been living with her boyfriend too, as his classes were suspended. Naomi is focused on trying to stay productive, and Derrick and Kameron talk about transitioning to working from home, setting up their own studio spaces. Vanjie has a surprise: She and Silky have moved in together and like so many during quarantine, they’ve started a podcast, Word On The Curb.

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The episode picks back up three months into COVID-19, with a six person Zoom call organized by Derrick. The queens share what they’ve been up to, and what they’ve learned. Yvie and Vanjie have both tested negative for coronavirus and both Vanjie and Asia have discovered they have high blood pressure. Naomi asks about the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation and Asia, Naomi, and Yvie share what they’ve been doing and feeling. Yvie feels a particular connection to the protests, as her grandfather Lauren Watson was a leader of the Black Panther Party’s movement in Denver. As Yvie says, “I’m pissed we’re still fighting this same fucking movement.”

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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Before the end of the call, Derrick moves the conversation to Asia and thanks her for her work making masks. She talks about having time to reflect, as each of the queens grapple with extra down time, and not being happy with where she left things with Asia. Rather than demanding an apology from her, as Derrick seemed intent on back in Vegas, she offers Asia an apology of her own, talking about having stirred the pot and butted in. She hopes Asia knows that she values her as a performer, person, and friend. Derrick still hasn’t connected with her mom and she doesn’t want other stalled, disconnected relationships in her life. Fortunately, Asia reciprocates, sharing how her experiences during the pandemic have given her perspective. At the end of the day, they’re still family, and Asia is very happy to move forward with Derrick as family and as a friend. The two high-five over Zoom and bury the hatchet.

This renewed sense of camaraderie turns nostalgic as Yvie starts singing the opening strains of the closing number to the Vegas show. This is not the best ad for her budding music career, but it’s fun to watch. As Kameron says, “This is why most drag queens lip-sync.” The audio from the show comes in and the episode closes by sharing the big production number “Losing Is The New Winning,” cross-cut with footage of the queens dancing along in the Zoom. It’s a sweet way to send out the finale, and the queens reiterate how much they miss each other and the show, signing off only for the episode to reveal that two weeks after their Zoom call, they found out the show is officially back on, returning on January 28, 2021. It’s a joyful, energetic way to end the series and it certainly gives Vegas Revue a strong closing punch. Whether it will actually happen remains to be seen, but it’s about as much of a positive note as could be expected right now.

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Vegas Revue is far from the behind the scenes docuseries it began as, struggling to find enough making of material to fill the show once the queens got into the swing of their Vegas residencies. It didn’t quite sing as a Real Housewives-style docusoap either, needing more of the cast on board with the producer shenanigans essential to that approach. Instead it found its feet by embracing substance and the complications of the queen’s relationships. There’s still plenty more to explore in these queens’ relationships and experiences should World Of Wonder decide to bring Vegas Revue back along with the live show, but if not, the show is an interesting experiment, a testing ground for the kind of non-competition reality TV series in which Drag Race alums can flourish.

Stray observations

  • Vanjie remains a delight, “I’m optimistic, I’m open, and I’m open-minded, open-mouthed, and open legs and open arms.”
  • The conversation in Yvie, Vanjie, and Derrick’s dressing room about Vanjie and Kameron’s date is hilarious, without being mean-spirited. The, “Does he make you laugh?” “Does he make you laugh?” exchange takes the cake, and Yvie’s mature assessment is a nice way to end the conversation.
  • The best part of Derrick and Asia making up over Zoom is Vanjie’s very Alyssa Edwards angle adjustments while the other two are talking.
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