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RuPaul often speaks about fighting the ego, but that doesn’t mean she’s not self-centered. RuPaul Charles is at the top of a sprawling drag empire, and the mononymous RuPaul is the supermodel of the world. She’s had to control her ego to get to where she is now, but now that she’s the queen, she’s letting her ego come out to play because that’s one of the benefits of being in a position of power. I don’t know if Ru made the decision to cover the workroom in pictures of her for this season’s remodel, but it reinforces Ru’s dominance by keeping her in the frame when she’s not physically in the room. She wants everyone to know that this is her show, and “The Unauthorized Rusical” makes that especially apparent as Ru puts herself and one of her personal favorite artists, Cher, in the spotlight.

This week’s maxi-challenge has the queens performing in “Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical,” playing different versions of the diva from throughout her career. To make this more challenging, the queens are singing live, so they have to channel Cher in both their demeanor and their voices. Chad Michaels delivers the introductory video message this week, but I wish Chad had an even bigger presence in this episode. If the show isn’t going to get Cher for the judging, they could at least get an expert in Cher impersonation, but Ru doesn’t bring on other drag queens as judges. This could also be an ego thing, and I’ve seen people say that Ru doesn’t want any other queens on the panel because she doesn’t want attention pulled away from her. The other judges are allowed to dress flamboyantly, but nobody else is in full drag so Ru always stands out.

The mini-challenges this season have been great, and Slap Out Of It might be the best Drag Race mini-challenge ever. Inspired by the classic scene from Moonstruck, this game has the queens coming up with a line that will compel Ru to slap the shit out of them, and the queen with the best reaction wins. It’s a showcase for Ru more than anyone else, and she comes up with increasingly entertaining ways of smacking her girls. Ru pretends to stab Cracker when she introduces the new host of Drag Race, Lady Bunny, and Monet gets a double slaps when she says Ru “wears it ehnnnn.” The Vixen doesn’t bother coming up with something insulting, instead going with a word that will get a very different reaction from Ru: “Vaaaaanjiiiiie.” Everyone starts dancing and chanting “Vanjie,” and while The Vixen’s guard is down, Ru launches her assault.

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The best moment of this mini-challenge comes after Asia tells Ru that she hits like a girl but doesn’t look like one, and Asia learns exactly how hard Ru hits when her hand makes contact with Asia’s face. The queens go ballistic, Ru looks horrified, and Asia runs around the room clutching her cheek before shouting, “IT’S ABOUT TO BE ASIA O’HARA’S DRAG RACE! I’M ABOUT TO OWN THIS WHOLE BUILDING!” It’s the perfect reaction, but she also earns herself a win because the show doesn’t want to get sued. Asia gets the opportunity to slap Aquaria when she tells Ru her birthday, and seeing Asia interact with Ru cements her status as one of this season’s top contenders, even though she doesn’t fare well in the maxi-challenge. Asia has superstar charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, and when she’s with RuPaul, it feels like they are colleagues.

The prep for the challenge is hilarious because it’s a chorus of drag queens trying to sound like Cher, but the live singing does cut into the humor of the actual musical. The lyrics get lost for a lot of the queens, who are trying to stay on pitch and project while impersonating a very distinct voice, and I would have preferred to hear the jokes rather than the mediocre singing voices. I understand why singing live is a good skill for these queens to learn, but even if they record singles after Drag Race, they’re most likely going to be performing those heavily produced tracks instead of singing live.

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Monet has opera singer training, and she gives one of the best performances of the night with a version of Cher that could be problematic if the show didn’t approach it from the right angle. She plays ’70s Cher on The Sonny And Cher Show, and she dons a Native American headdress as she sings about Cher’s history of cultural appropriation. It’s a very funny song, and Monet sells it by channeling Carol Burnett, making this a double impersonation that she knocks out of the park. Monet would have won if she didn’t have pieces of tape showing under her sheer black bodysuit on the runway, and the top two queens of this episode are both contestants who could really use their first win.

Kameron doesn’t have an ideal personality for reality TV because she is so quiet and subdued, but she’s excelled in this competition by keeping her distance and focusing on herself. She’s a queen that does the preparation needed to ensure success, and that really comes in handy for celebrity impersonation. She did a spot-on Chyna, and she puts in the work to make sure her Cher appearance is on point and that she can capture her personality and voice. I’ve been setting the bar too low for Kameron even though she’s been good all season, so it always feels like she soars above it. I expect her to bomb anything that demands a big character because of her boy persona, but she’s a professional performer with high expectations of herself so she delivers.

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Kameron is very hesitant to have any sort of emotional reaction before she concretely knows if she’s in the top or bottom, which bugs the other queens because she doesn’t celebrate when she’s succeeding and she appears unfazed when she’s failing. Kameron’s win comes as a huge surprise to everyone, but it’s exciting to see a queen who has been hovering under the radar get a big bump in the competition based solely on her performance. There’s no personal drama to influence viewers’ impressions of Kameron, so we’re evaluating her primarily on her looks and her challenges, and she steps up when she has to.

Aquaria serves up heavenly body and Catholic imagination with her saintly look, and the golden flaps over her eyes add an element of mystery to the character that deepens her entire concept. It feels like there’s a story behind this look, and Aquaria has been very good at creating complete concepts for the runway. The same goes for her New York City twin, and you can see that Cracker is way more bothered by Aquaria’s success than vice versa. Cracker has a fun look on the runway with her vomiting gold skull, but that big ring throws me off, especially because Aquaria’s halo ring is so clear. The judges are hard on Cracker’s performance even though I think it’s one of the strongest, and it seems like they have an issue with the vocoder gimmick, which Cracker has no control over.

The Vixen has been divisive within the Drag Race fandom, and while some find her to be abrasive and unreasonable in her interactions with the other queens, others respect her dedication to defending herself and applaud her for bringing up issues that this series has shied away from in the past. I find myself going back and forth between the two camps, but there’s no denying that she’s been a very memorable part of this season. She’s brought a lot of depth to the social discourse, and is responsible for most of this season’s discussions about racial dynamics within the LGBTQ community.

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The most powerful scene in this episode is when Asia sits down with The Vixen and offers her support and guidance, cementing herself as this season’s true Miss Congeniality, no matter how fans end up voting. Asia talks about “Angry Black Woman Syndrome,” and she thinks that The Vixen has bottled up the anger from every time she’s had to take a back seat to someone who had more privilege than her and is directing at Eureka. It’s not the right way to handle things, but Asia also understands where The Vixen is coming from. She just doesn’t want to see The Vixen sacrifice her place on this series because she’s unable to separate Eureka from this deeper resentment toward a society that doesn’t respect her.

Asia wants The Vixen to make sure she understands why she’s angry and what she’s angry about. She sees The Vixen as a kid struggling to prove she’s worthy of being heard and loved, and she’s giving her advice not just for this competition, but for a career after Drag Race. Everything is going to change after appearing on this show, and she’s going to have to interact with other queens while also dealing with a fan community that is going to have a lot of opinions on her time on the series.

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Coming after Eureka in front of the judges wasn’t a good look for The Vixen last week, and she doesn’t fare any better when Ru asks her about this rivalry in the workroom. Tyra Sanchez was able to be nasty and win, but this show has changed a lot since season 2 and that kind of attitude won’t fly. Ru wants to see queens who can work well with others, and if you have issues with someone else, she wants you to work that out and try to fix that relationship instead of letting it deteriorate further.

The Vixen thinks that Eureka is just sliding through, and she can’t acknowledge that Eureka is performing exceptionally well and has delivered polished, spectacular looks on the runway. Some of The Vixen’s resentment may also come from the fact that Eureka has been on this series before, so she’s coming in with another huge advantage. She knows the filming process and what is going to be demanded of her, and she’s benefiting from the financial bump of being a Drag Race alum.

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When Eureka doesn’t want to sing her song lyrics during rehearsal with Todrick Hall, The Vixen sees it as Eureka expecting special treatment when everyone else is singing while dancing. Eureka explains later that she has childhood trauma surrounding live singing, but most (if not all) of these queens are living with personal trauma and pushing through it to satisfy the needs of the challenges. At a certain point you can’t rely on the pain of your past as an excuse in this competition, and that’s been a major part of Eureka’s story all season, beginning with the knee injury that sent her home last year.

Eureka ends up doing fine—her costume does a lot of the work for her Cher and her icy runway look is very sharp—but The Vixen ends up lip syncing for her life against Asia, whose sparkly clown can’t redeem her forgetting her lyrics as Cher. The Vixen’s fate in the bottom two is sealed when she goes to one of the worst excuses possible and tells the judges that her Cher wasn’t as iconic as the other queens, which is immediately shot down by these die-hard Cher fans. Asia feels similarly about movie star Cher, but she knows not to express that opinion in front of the judges, who will always challenge that defeatist attitude and take it into consideration during deliberations. Asia bitches about it a lot backstage, but you can’t have that attitude about your assignment or you won’t commit to it. The queens are annoyed by Aquaria’s confidence, but that’s the right mindset to have in a competition. You have to believe that you’re a winner, and that you can turn any character into a winning performance.

The Vixen wants viewers to really evaluate white privilege and how that plays into this series, and a queen like Kameron doesn’t have the same pressure on her as The Vixen, who has been living under the weight of institutionalized racism. She’s made herself a representative for all of the black queens of Chicago’s South Side to show them that they can make it to RuPaul’s Drag Race, and its a responsibility that puts her on the offensive when she sees other queens skating buy. The Vixen can’t step back, disengage, and focus solely on her own performance. She needs to take out the competition, and she devotes way too much energy to Eureka when she should be sharpening her Cher.

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Asia and The Vixen face off in an excellent lip sync to Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart,” and while it doesn’t really have any big moments, it’s a passionate performance of a song that both of the queens know very well. You get the impression that this track lives in Asia’s bones, and there’s a smoothness to her performance that puts her above The Vixen. Asia glides through this number, taking detours into comedy with facial expressions that work especially well with her clown look, and she makes sure to react to what The Vixen is doing because if she can use another queen to boost herself, she will do it. Asia was a friend to The Vixen when she was feeling alienated from the others, but she’ll send her home if it means staying in the competition. She gives a flawless, effortless performance, and she shows the judges why she deserves to stay.

Stray observations

  • Todrick Hall is fine, but he’s no Alyssa Edwards. She needs to be Drag Race’s resident choreographer.
  • RuPaul jokes about an Ethel Merman challenge, but I would love that. A brassy Broadway queen doing Ethel Merman for Snatch Game would also be wonderful.
  • Blair would have killed this challenge.
  • Monet and Cracker are so excited to hear Aquaria sing. They know it’s going to be a mess and can’t wait.
  • The official Cher musical, The Cher Show, debuts in Chicago next month and I really want to see it. It’s going to be so gay.
  • I have mad respect for any queens that references Meryl Streep in She-Devil. Kudos, Kameron!
  • It’s weird seeing a Billy Eichner who is totally chill instead of yelling at the top of his lungs.
  • Ru calling Michelle out on her use of “temporary” makes me very happy. They’ve had fun interactions all season.
  • Aquaria: “It’s a different kind of beauty.” Asia: “It’s a different species.”
  • “Underneath that mask you have a black mustache. This Levar Burton look is going to be EVERYTHING!”
  • Asia: “Hater’s gon’ hate, but y’all can’t hate the body!” Monet: “Yes, we can.”
  • “Why are you standing so far away, bitch?”
  • “They call you mother, but at your age shouldn’t you be—” **SLAP** Ru: “I don’t like the way that was going.”
  • Et tu, RuPaul?”
  • “She’s gonna insult Beyonce and Cher two weeks in a row.”
  • “Cher’s not old, she’s ageless.”
  • “No, I do not see Cher. I see Dennis Rodman, girl.”
  • Monet: “What do you sound like?” Asia: “I sound like I won more challenges than you!”
  • “Turn into a robot from outer space!”
  • “Y’know what: Black Thighs Matter.”
  • “You guys were checking out the dancers’ asses, I actually left, had a whole Grindr hook-up, and came back.”
  • “Aquaria you don’t know it, but you’re talking to no one over there.”

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