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The momentum of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 has dipped with the loss of Monét and Cracker, two of the more charismatic queens who were especially valuable to the series when they were out of drag. The 90-minute running time isn’t doing the show any favors now that there’s a small group of queens left, and the first halves of these most recent episodes have been a slog without any conflict to energize the workroom bits. I’m surprised at how low my enthusiasm has dipped going into this week’s final challenge given how much I’ve been enjoying this season, but this episode successfully boosts my spirits by spotlighting why each of these queens has made it this far.

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As has been the tradition since All Stars 2’s iconic “Read U Wrote U” number, the last season 10 challenge has the final four writing and performing their own verses for a RuPaul track, “American,” which they lip sync to while performing challenging choreography for judges. We don’t actually see the judges at all during the performance, though, which doesn’t take place on the runway, but on a soundstage that gives the queens more space to move with an ensemble of dancers. Todrick Hall is back to vocal coach and teach choreography (bring back Alyssa), and when it comes to singing, his big tip is telling them to take their voices up an octave regardless of whether or not they can hit those notes. He gives Eureka a truly awful note to make an elephant sound after saying she’s an “elephant queen,” and thankfully this bit doesn’t make it into the final cut of her verse.

Based solely on track record, Aquaria should be the winner of this season, but she recognizes that having no odds stacked against her does actually hurt her a little bit. But only a little bit. Reality TV viewers want to see drama and struggle and tension, and Aquaria hasn’t really had any of that this season. Her conflict with The Vixen died down quickly and the show never made much use of her rivalry with Cracker. Aquaria’s entire story is that she’s been training herself for nearly 10 years to become a Drag Race winner, and when she has to give her younger self advice on the runway, she makes it clear that she knows about the opportunity and privilege afforded to her that other people don’t have. That inherent privilege can make it difficult to connect with Aquaria, but she does have a very endearing moment when she breaks down in tears during rehearsal. She’s overwhelmed by the reality of achieving her dream, and she can’t stop the tears of joy as she thinks about how close she is to being crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar.

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While the others are rehearsing, individual queens are pulled to the side to record segments for Ru’s What’s The Tee? podcast with Michelle Visage, and this is where it becomes especially clear that Aquaria hasn’t had to deal with the same life challenges as the other queens. Asia talks about the difficulty of losing both of her parents when she was 27, and how she’s had to support herself emotionally, spiritually, and financially afterward. Asia makes a smart move by eventually directing the topic of conversation to Ru, talking about how Ru’s words of wisdom gave her the self-confidence and strength to push through the competition and recognize the depth of her talent.

Eureka is willing and eager to share all of her insecurities with Ru and Michelle, talking about her struggles with her body, recovering from her injury after last year, and her mother’s throat cancer. It’s interesting to compare Eureka and Kameron’s podcast interviews, and while Eureka openly talks about her relationship with her mother, Kameron is much more cagey about her bond with her father when he was still alive. Ru and Michelle don’t feel the need to delve deeper into Eureka’s family, but they want to examine Kameron’s emotions and see how her daddy issues have impacted her personality.

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Kameron is Ru’s project this season, and she gives Ru the chance to go into New Age self-help mode and talk to her about overcoming her personal demons and walking through the fire. My favorite moment of the episode is when it looks like Kameron has had a major breakthrough and decides to join the other girls to put on her makeup, and for a moment it seems like Kameron has completed her arc and really opened herself up to the friendship of the other girls. But the lights are hot in front of the mirror and Kameron is not there to have her makeup melt, so she leaves. It got a massive cackle out of me, and I love that Kameron doesn’t give a fuck about the narrative being set up for her. She needs to do her best work, and that happens when she sticks to her routine.

The actual performance of “American” is the least impressive of these production number finales, and the choppy transitions give the impression that there are multiple takes of each section. This makes the number feel a little less special, and the stakes are diminished when the queens have more than one opportunity to get through their verse. Aquaria glides through her verse with ease, and it makes me wish that we could have seen her lip sync for her life because she turns it out. This number is Asia’s opportunity to redeem herself for her awful Beyoncé impression, and she’s able to finally channel that Bey spirit when she hits the floor. But the most astounding dancing comes from Kameron, who has an intricate “Rhythm Nation”-style bit of quick hand movement that she hits perfectly. Kameron is a perfectionist, and you can really see that in how she attacks her dance moves and lyrics with power.

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Eureka dances well, has a ton of personality, and delivers my favorite line of the night: “You can be a stripe and get in line, or be a star and not be defined.” That’s really clever use of the American theme, and she sells it with her expressions. Ross Matthews goes wild for Kameron’s verse about being from a small town and rising above the pressure of that environment, but I most enjoyed Asia’s frank, poetic lyrics about overcoming darkness to find the light inside of herself: “Her name was etched in sorrow, but now it’s blasted in lights. What beauty that can blossom out of dark cold nights.” There’s a sadness to her verse that I find fascinating, and she gives me the strongest feeling of someone who has had to overcome a lot to get to this point.

On the runway, each of the queens does excellent work distilling their drag point of view in their look. Aquaria serves sex and body with flawless hair and make-up, and the comparisons to Violet Chachki have never felt more apt. Asia wears a bold, heavily structured Tiffany blue and gold gown channelling Egyptian royalty, and she shows how well she adjusts her personality to fit her ensemble. Eureka loves making everything her, so she wears a white gown that has the definition of “eureka” printed on it, a simple but effective look with intense graphic impact. And then there’s Kameron, who goes hyper-feminine as a lavender goddess in a gown that hugs her perfectly proportioned curves.

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I love the tradition of having the final queens give advice to their younger selves, and there are some especially poignant moments from Asia and Eureka. Asia talks about finding beauty in darkness and accepting the high price of being a drag queen, and Asia is open about the financial and emotional stress of doing this thing she loves. Eureka talks about the freedom of embracing her size and how honored she is to represent the plus-sized community, and you can feel how her time on the show last season has given her a greater sense of responsibility. Kameron’s speech hits me the hardest, though, and the image of a young Kameron hiding around the corner with a karaoke machine so no one could hear him says so much about the person she becomes as an adult. She’s still that shy, quiet little boy out of drag, but once she gets into character, she blossoms into a new liberated person.

Because there’s 90 minutes to fill, this episode ends with a four-person lip sync to “Call Me Mother,” an appropriately difficult song for this final leg of the competition. I’ve never enjoyed these four-person showdowns, and as usual, there’s too much happening on stage and there’s no way of knowing who actually does well. None of that matters because we already know the four queens go to the finale since they filmed it before this episode aired. The power rankings for this season haven’t really shifted by the end of this challenge, and Aquaria is still the frontrunner. The sheer number of Aquaria clips shown when the judges deliberate is a testament to how well she’s performed this season, and while an inevitable win isn’t especially exciting, it’s a deserved one. Of course, there’s still time for a big surprise (remember Shangela?), and hopefully the grand finale will deliver some twists to end this season with excitement and some element of suspense.

Stray observations

  • I would not be surprised at all if “Bring Back My Girls” is actually a song featuring Todrick on Ru’s next album.
  • Props to Ru for being very aggressive in promoting voter registration and emphasizing the importance of this year’s midterm elections. Click here to register now if you haven’t already. The fate of our country depends on it.
  • I have no idea what Eureka and Asia are arguing about, but it involves Kameron in some way? There is no drama in this group of queens.
  • Asia has the right idea when she says there’s only one correct choice for the winner of this season: MISS VAAAAANJIIIIIIIE. It really is incredible just how much of an impact she made given her minimal amount of screen time, and I’m excited to see Vanessa Vanjie Mateo return in season 11 (we all know it’s happening).
  • “We’re talking Martha Graham here, kids. Fosse, Fosse, Fosse.”
  • “Your voice is not on the rhythm that your feet are making. And that is a read.”
  • “Fuck the crack.”
  • “Get it the fuck together because those are cheap feathers, a really shitty tutu, and we’re gonna need a higher heel.”

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