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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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Over the seasons, the RuPaul’s Drag Race reunions have served different purposes. Sometimes they’re an opportunity for interpersonal drama and to build tension before the finale. Sometimes they’re a cheerful denouement to the season. Season 12’s reunion was unusual to say the least, produced remotely in the early months of lockdown in the United States. The episode embraced an easy-going sleepover energy that resulted in a charming and satisfying reunion, more slumber party than mud-fest. The production team has learned a lot since then, putting together and filming the entirety of season 13 under COVID safety protocols, so it’s not surprising they took a different approach for the season 13 reunion. Unfortunately while the result is a much more polished episode, it lacks the banter and appeal of the season 12 reunion.

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Say what one will about Ru’s season 12 reunion face-kini, limiting his segments to the theater robs the episode of much of its draw. It’s fun to see the queens ask each other fan questions, but audiences tune in to the reunions to get the real tea on the season, not just recaps and teasers for the finale. The queens’ music videos keep the episode moving and allow them one final opportunity to show off their rather estimable skills. However, it’s hard not to wonder what a traditional Drag Race finale would have looked like, getting Kandy and Tamisha back in the same room and seeing an in-person rematch between lip-sync assassins LaLa Ri and Denali. “RPDR Reunited” is fine, it flows and does a good job of building up the top four queens and the finale. But of the two Drag Race COVID reunions, “Alone Together” is the one that will linger in fans’ memories.

The reunion opens with Ru, understated in a black, gray, and blue plaid suit, standing in the theater at L.A.’s Ace Hotel, the location for the season finale. He introduces the venue and makes a point to thank the crew and medical professionals whose work has allowed the show to continue filming during the pandemic. Ru explains that for safety reasons, there won’t be a traditional reunion. Instead the queens will film from their homes and the episode will celebrate each queen in turn.

After a montage of season highlights, it’s time to spotlight the eliminated queens. Kahmora Hall is up first. Her montage is a good reminder of just how thoroughly she slayed her fashion during her brief time on the show and her reunion look, a black beaded wig and black and green beaded halter dress, is no exception. Kahmora lets fans know she’s worked on her makeup; now she can paint in three hours, instead of four. She’s a good sport about her critiques from Nicole Byer and her regrettable tree performance, and ends her section by talking about what it’s meant to be a point of representation for the Asian American community. For her video, Kahmora lip-syncs to En Vogue’s “Giving Him Something He Can Feel.” She looks amazing, giving a sultry performance that’s an excellent fit for the song.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Back at the theater, Ru throws to the camera crew outside—meaning a prerecorded bit in the style of Vogue’s 73 questions—as Mik pulls up to the hotel. He gets out of his van and the cameraperson peppers him with questions as he walks backstage. How was his season? Gorge. What superpower does he wish he had? Teleportation. Who does he want to paint? RuPaul. It’s a relaxed, breezy performance, and one that shows how far Mik has come with his acting since the first acting challenge. Back in the theater, Ru introduces the next queen, Joey Jay. Her montage focuses on Joey’s energy and charm, and Kandy’s crush. Fortunately, she says she’s flattered by Kandy’s attentions, glad to have her out-of-drag femininity celebrated. Her attempts to explain “Filler queen” as her entrance line falls flat, as does her repeated explanation of her Poison IV runway, but her tall blonde wig and silvery look are solid and she’s once again incredibly likable. For her video, Joey lip-syncs to *NSYNC’s “I Want You Back.” The video is a bit hit-or-miss, but it’s fun and features a brief cameo by Lance Bass at the end, sporting Joey’s trademark hair in blue.

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Rosé’s 69 questions are a bit more performative than Mik’s, but that feels right for him. What would the Broadway musical of this season be called? The Neverending Story. What time period would he want to live in, and why? The ’80s, to hang out with Tina Burner. What’s his favorite thing about being a drag queen? Changing people’s minds. Looks like Rosé’s aware many are predicting the crown will go to Mik or Symone and is excited to win people over. Next it’s Tamisha Iman’s turn, and her montage focuses on her personality and fashion. It’s great to see the workroom ball make the edit alongside Tamisha and Kandy’s infamous Untucked fight. In case anyone was uncertain, Tamisha makes it clear: Had that altercation happened outside of Drag Race, without cameras, things would have escalated. Her reunion look is cute—a light purple bob, stoned choker and statement earrings, and purple top with of course, plenty of cleavage—and her music video is the best yet, to her original song “Arrogant.” It’s a dance track based on audio from that epic Untucked episode, with Tamisha lip-syncing surrounded by ballroom dancers, slaying in black and silver. It’s simple and effective, and very catchy.

Kahmora, Joey, and Tamisha kiki for a bit, answering fan questions. Tamisha hasn’t talked with her biological children about Drag Race yet, of all the trees, Kahmora would be a coconut tree, and Joey and Tamisha have very different ideas of big hair. Outside the theater, Kandy arrives and answers his 69 questions. What kind of actual candy would he be? Sour candy. Either you like him or you don’t. What’s a moment from the season he wants to do over? Pockets. Who does he look up to the most? Himself. Back in the theater, it’s time for the LaLa Ri experience. LaLa is in a bright orange wig and black gown with gold jewelry. She looks terrific and is absolutely feeling her glow-up. Which is good, considering the montage gives appropriate time to LaLa’s bag look. Thankfully it also shows her more successful fashion moments and her delightful confessionals and workroom hijinks. Like Tamisha’s, LaLa’s video is an original song, featuring Ocean Kelly, “Bad Bitch Tip.” The song is a focused and precise rap with plenty of attitude and personality. LaLa serves face and gives a strong performance, making sure to bust some moves with the backup dancers.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Symone’s 69 questions round out the arrivals. He seems much more relaxed and centered than in the recent episodes; the time off looks to have served him well. What song encapsulates his Drag Race journey? “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. Ross or Carson? Michelle. If he wasn’t doing drag, what would he do? “Eww. Nothing.” Symone’s segment makes for four out of four charming finalist profiles. Ru returns to introduce Elliott with Two Ts. Her montage centers on her eliminations and her performances, but also allows time for Elliott to talk about her history dealing with depression. That was one of the more impactful arcs of the season, so it’s nice to see it given space in the reunion. Elliott looks good in white hair and a silver fringed look with a florescent blue and green backdrop, and dedicates her video to her dancers and choreographer. The song is Kiesza’s “Hideaway” and as ever, Elliott knows her strengths and plays to them. Her dancing is front and center throughout the video and she nails it, performing the heck out of the song with her two backup dancers. Elliott and LaLa’s fan question banter is friendly, but brief, and the episode moves quickly to the next queens.

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Denali, in an aurora borealis-inspired look that is the standout of the reunion, talks about what a rollercoaster the season was for her. Her montage highlights her lip-syncs, “Phenomenon” performance, and friendship with Rosé, but also her struggles to stand out. Like Kahmora, Denali is gracious about her weaker challenges and acknowledges her mistakes in the makeover. For her video, Denali lip-skates to BLACKPINK’s “How You Like That.” Fans who have sought out her other lip-skate videos over the season won’t be surprised, but for those who haven’t ventured beyond VH1, this will undoubtedly be a reunion highlight. She even incorporates a costume reveal. That feeds nicely into some tooting and booting of the season’s runways. The queens are in line with the rest of the fandom: Toot or shoot for Utica’s sleeping bag look, Kahmora’s dragon look, and Symone’s train look, and boot for Elliott’s flamingo look, Kandy’s beast look, and Tina’s color scheme. In a nice bit of self-awareness, they also shout out the runway repeats. The segment ends with LaLa’s bag look, which is both booted, for obvious reasons, and tooted for its now legendary status. Ru awards LaLa the Golden Boot Award for the worst look of the season (and arguably Drag Race herstory), which LaLa graciously accepts. This is a fun addition to the reunion and one that will hopefully return in future seasons, but only when warranted.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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Tina wisely opts for a black dress for her reunion look, considering the boot her color scheme just received. Her montage reminds viewers of why. Some of her red, orange, and yellow looks did work, but she waited far too long to start changing things up. Her performances in the disco-mentary and Rusical get a lot of play, but even Tina does not stand behind her makeover of Rosé. For her music video, Tina performs an original song with a bunch of local New York queens. That sounds great in theory, but alas, for “Turn It & Burn It” she puts the other queens in her red, orange, and yellow looks, with Tina in a flame-patterned leotard and leggings. The song is confident and well-performed, but will do little to win over fans tired of her brand. Denali and Tina’s conversation glances past Tina’s still distant relationship with Rosé, but Denali promises fans an ice show once pandemic restrictions lift.

Back in the theater, Symone joins the other finalists backstage and they catch up, incorporate a painfully unsubtle product placement for Bubly Bounce. The queens check out the finale stage and are joined by Ru, who encourages them to savor and really experience this time. It will be over in a blink. The queens introduce Utica Queen, whose montage centers on her quirk and her fashion. Her reunion look is only alright, a pink, silver, and black blouse with patterned gloves, orange glasses, and an orange pixie wig, but that’s easily forgiven as viewers are reminded of her many amazing runways. Nothing was going to save those Snatch Game and roast performances, though. Utica acknowledges her weaknesses, particularly the roast, and thanks Symone for helping her find her inner power and grace during the makeover. For her video, Utica goes country, lip-syncing to Halsey’s “You Should Be Sad.” Utica stands center frame in a black strappy look, flouncy coat, gloves, and hat while holding two pairs of scissors. She’s tangled in strings and slowly starts to cut herself free as the protagonist of the song sings about freeing herself from a destructive relationship. It’s effective, but it feels interrupted, ending with Utica still very tangled and having stopped trying to free herself.

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Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Olivia Lux is the final queen featured, practically beaming in a bright pink dress and a giant, curly, orange wig. Her montage plays up her polite diva persona, which Olivia has fully embraced. She talks about not letting her fellow queens choosing her as the next queen to be eliminated get to her, advice future queens would be wise to take to heart when put in that situation. Like Utica, she also has a thank you ready for Symone, who taught her how to lay down baby hair, and for her video, Olivia lip-syncs to Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down.” After a truly egregious bit of faux piano playing—either change those nails and play or don’t even bother—Oliva settles into an emotional and effective performance. There are several costume changes, each of which look great, and the video is appropriately charged. It’s not the best of the reunion, but it’s another strong outing in an episode full of them. The final fan question segment is with Utica and Olivia, who discuss Utica’s marijuana non-answer and give their own non-answer about their post-season date.

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After much teasing through the episode, Ru names LaLa and Denali the lip-sync assassins of the season and challenges them to a lip-sync rematch for charity. Denali, filming at Roscoe’s in Chicago, lip-syncs for the National Center for Transgender Equality, while LaLa, filming from My Sister’s Room in Atlanta, lip-syncs for the National Black Justice Coalition. The winner’s charity will receive $10,000. Denali and LaLa are both terrific lip-syncers and the song, “Be My Lover” by La Bouche, is a solid choice, but there’s only so much that they can do given the restrictions of filming remotely. In person, this would have been a fantastic lip-sync and both performances are good. The overall effect, unfortunately, is nowhere near what both queens put into it. This is exactly why the production has made other plans for the finale. Ru gives the win to Denali, but awards LaLa’s charity $5,000 as well. It may not have been under ideal circumstances, but season 13 has some of the best lip-syncers in Drag Race herstory, most if not all of whom have not made it to the finale. It’s nice to see that acknowledged and celebrated once more before the end of the season.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race’s lip-sync fueled reunion is polished, but disappointingly distant
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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To close out the reunion, Ru plays a clip cut from the previous episode, showing each of the finalists’ answers for why they believe they should be crowned. Mik argues her drag represents not only the trans community, but everyone who finds themselves not in the black or white, but the gray between. Kandy also argues for representation, as an Afro-Latina and a big girl who’s not afraid to be loud. Rosé points to her skill set, drawing a clear parallel to Ru and saying she’s the most qualified to fill Ru’s multi-talented heels. Symone acknowledges her journey from Conway, Arkansas to the main stage and asserts her potential as an inspirational figure for the viewers watching at home. All four queens let their work speak for itself and each of their cases is sound. It really will all come down to the lip-syncs. So tune in for the finale, because if season nine taught Drag Race fans anything, a lot can change with the right lip-sync.

Stray observations

  • The queens really did knock their lip-sync videos out of the park. Even the less memorable ones were entertaining.
  • That being said, this did not need to be a two-hour episode. Joey may be the self-proclaimed filler queen of season 13, but some of the episodes this season have given him a run for the title.
  • I still feel like the finale will come down to either Mik or Symone, but we’ll see. Shea Couleé seemed like a sure bet until those rose petals came raining down.
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