Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is arguably its most competitive yet. The queens have delivered all season, and several have gone home for missteps that would barely register in previous installments. Early on, Gigi and Sherry dominated the game, but recent stumbles have leveled the playing field, clearing the way for any of the remaining contestants to feasibly earn a place in the finale. With “Superfan Makeover,” however, the standings come into sharp focus, and a top four have emerged: Crystal, Gigi, Jaida, and the now-eliminated Sherry. Heidi and Jackie are terrific queens, but if they’re going to muscle their way into the finale, they need a burst of momentum and creativity, and they need it now.
The episode begins as the queens return to the workroom after Widow and Jackie’s beautiful lip-sync to “Firework.” Jackie may have sent Widow packing, but she’s not riding any highs coming off her win. She’s clear-eyed: Crystal and Heidi are on an upward trajectory, and she’s been slipping. She needs to reverse course or her days are numbered. The next day, Ru comes into the workroom and announces to the queens that it’s time for the makeover challenge. This season, they’ll be making over Drag Race superfans, women who think they’re there to attend a taping. This is a fun twist on the challenge, and it’s nice to see the producers return to pairing the queens with complete strangers.
Ru and the queens surprise the superfans, who are shocked and delighted, and as the winner of the previous challenge, Jaida is tasked with pairing the queens and their new drag daughters. She chooses Bethany for herself, Grace for Crystal, Janet the Planet for Sherry, Nicole for Heidi, and Shea for Gigi, leaving Tiffany paired with Jackie. Ru heads out and the queens set about getting to know their partners. Everyone seems to be getting along well—Grace loves glitter, phew!—and entertainingly, the only queen to run into trouble is Jaida. Her partner, Bethany, doesn’t wear heels. That’s going to be a problem in the House of Essence Hall. Bethany’s determined to try, however, and the editors have fun cutting between the other queens’ reactions and Jaida’s attempts to reassure Bethany without budging an inch.
While Bethany’s feet are in for a rough couple days, the rest of the superfans seem comfortable with their queens. Nicole isn’t necessarily comfortable with herself, though. She’s nervous about showing her legs, having been bullied about her appearance since middle school. Heidi gives her a needed pep talk, advising her to take the hardship she’s endured and wear it as armor. It’s poignant, and as is trademark Heidi, she pairs that with a joke and gets Nicole laughing and focused in no time. After some Wonder Woman posing and anxiety management advice from Grace, another fun and relatable moment, Ru returns to the workroom for a walk-through.
First up are Jaida and Bethany. Ru asks Bethany about bringing her daughters to DragCon, Ru’s annual fan convention dedicated to drag. Bethany is passionate about what a positive experience it is for her daughters, and encourages other parents to take their children. While she may be a veteran DragCon attendee, Bethany has never done drag or even worn fake eyelashes before. Fortunately Jaida has lots of experience doing makeup on the drag pageant circuit, and she’s confident she’ll do well by her daughter. Next are Sherry and Janet. At six feet in height, Janet is used to standing out, but it took practice to not slouch and try to hide. Her childhood insecurity is all but gone now; she’s grown into quite the character. Janet legally changed her name to Janet the Planet over 20 years ago. She’s a good fit for the theatrical Sherry.
Ru walks over to Gigi and Shea next, who seem to be getting along famously and are sporting matching black and white hats. Like Jackie, Gigi is very aware that she’s been faltering and needs to step up her game, and her conversation with Ru underscores this. Ru moves over to Heidi and Nicole, dubbing Heidi “Heidi Afrodite” and explaining their name banter to Nicole. Nicole then opens up about her insecurities and how she tends to hide in her wardrobe, something Ru pounces on. Ru believes firmly in drag as a revelation of inner self, and she urges Nicole to stop hiding. Grace is a bundle of nervous, giggling energy when Ru gets over to her and Crystal. They’re in sync and seem to be doing well, and Ru moves quickly on to Jackie and
Tiffany Snacky. Ru pushes Jackie on her bottom placement in the previous episode and Jackie promises more energy and drive. Before leaving, Ru announces a twist: The superfans will be lip-syncing for their lives as well as walking the runway.
After some trash talk and fun in the workroom, the queens take their superfans to the main stage to practice their lip-sync. Bethany is still struggling with her heels, but everyone else is having a blast. This is a nice final moment of tension-building. Jaida is a fantastic makeup artist—her quick drag is ridiculous—but if Bethany trips walking down the runway, there’s only so much makeup can do. The next day, the superfans are stoked and ready to slay. There’s plenty of boisterous energy in the room, but also a few more emotional moments. Jaida and Bethany bond as Jaida paints her face, with Jaida opening up about how much she misses her boyfriend of 12 years, and Jackie and Tiffany talk about their relationships with their parents. Jackie’s mom may not know she does drag, but her father is a big supporter.
Watching the queens paint is always interesting, but seeing their drag daughters’ faces mid-process is particularly fun. There’s a wide spectrum. Jackie is going for a very natural face for Tiffany and on the other side of things, Crystal is painting Grace straight-up yellow. The face reveals aren’t nearly as transformational as usual, but they’re satisfying none the less and the editors wisely save most of them for the runway. Ru comes out in a sparkling purple gown and welcomes back Michelle and Ross, who plugs his new book, Name Drop. Guest judge Daisy Ridley is immediately game, jumping in with a lightsaber grip joke, and it’s time for the runway.
Category is: Drag Family Resemblance. First up are Heidi Afrodite and Honey Almighty. Heidi’s in a pink sequined jumpsuit with dramatic long sleeves and an afro, while Honey’s in a lilac minidress and curls. Honey looks cute and is far more confident than her reservations earlier in the episode indicated, but there’s little family resemblance. Jackie Cox and Lil’ Snacky Cox are second, keeping the disco theme going. They’re in matching red and black, with Jackie in a red jumpsuit with black accents and Snacky in a black romper with red accents. There’s a clear family resemblance, but compared to the others, they’re not all that memorable. Jaida and Jazz Essence Hall, in contrast, are in matching but distinct red animal print dresses with red boas, Jaida in a floor-length pageant gown and Jazz in a cocktail dress. Their hair and faces match, though Jaida’s in a brown wavy bob and Jazz in a blonde, and both are painted for the gods. Despite her earlier heel woes, Jazz pulls off the runway, making her way through without letting down the Essence Hall name.
When Crystal and Opal Methyd come out as Bert and Ernie, Grace’s strange paint in the workroom gets some context and they both look terrific. This is one of the boldest makeover choices in Drag Race herstory and Crystal nails it. Opal is Bert, in a colorful, long dress with vertical stripes and a tall black updo, while Crystal is Ernie, in green pants, a horizontal stripe shirt, and black spikey wig. Opal is yellow and Crystal orange, but their makeup is still distinctly Methyd, with Crystal’s standard oversized glitter lips and eyes, and they both sport chunky statement jewelry. Sherry Pie and Tara Misu are next, dolled up as ’50s diner waitresses. Sherry’s in red and Tara’s in yellow—ketchup and mustard—and they’re both ready to take orders. The paint is spot on, to the point where it’s hard to tell who is whom, and Janet is fully in her element. Last are Gigi Goode and Bebe Bad, in matching black and white faux fur coat dresses and hats. Gigi’s painted Shea well and they have matching blonde and black bobs, but while they look great, it’s hard not to want more. They ham it up on the runway, though, and really sell their dynamic, elevating their performance.
It’s time for the judges’ critiques, and looking at the queens and superfans together, the season 12 contestants have once again outdone themselves. The superfans look great. However, there’s a clear delineation. The judges read Heidi for not getting more creative with her approach to Honey’s look and finding more ways to cement a family resemblance. As for Jackie, in a weaker season she’d sail through as safe. Among this competition, it just isn’t enough. The judges are gaga for Jaida and Crystal, they really like Sherry’s take, and are mixed on Gigi, with Ross enjoying her chic look and Michelle wanting more. After commending Jaida on her excellent pairings, Ru announces the lip-sync, and the superfans dive into RuPaul’s “U Wear It Well.” They all turn it out, Snacky going into splits, Bebe ending on a dip, and the rest strutting their stuff and making sure to get their words out. It’s a fun addition to the makeover and a more celebratory way to end the runway, rather than on the judges’ critiques.
After deliberations, Jaida gets the win, earning a $5000 tip for herself and a $5000 gift certificate from Betsey Johnson for Jazz. Gigi, Crystal, and Sherry are safe, and that leaves Jackie and Heidi in the bottom. They lip-sync to Alex Newell’s “Kill The Lights,” and here’s where the episode lets itself down. After the last two killer lip-syncs, Jan and Widow’s “This Is My Night” and Widow and Jackie’s “Firework,” expectations are high for Jackie and Heidi. Both have some fun moments, with Heidi in particular getting into the vibe of the song, but neither performance has much of a progression. Heidi goes for a straightforward interpretation, while Jackie goes for comedy, playing a creepy, overly intense woman who doesn’t realize she’s coming on way too strong. Unlike in “Firework,” where Jackie’s comedic start blossomed into something new, her “Kill The Lights” is static, and quickly gets old.
Some may prefer Jackie’s interpretation, this viewer would have given it to Heidi, but either way, this does not have the energy of a double shantay performance, particularly after the last two tough eliminations. Ru declines to eliminate someone because the superfans are there and the producers don’t want to rain on their parade. When there are two queens who deserve to be in the bottom and who don’t seem likely to move up in the standings in the next episode, and the lip-sync is only good, not great? That’s not the time for a double shantay. That being said, it’s hard to complain about an extra week with either Jackie or Heidi, both of whom are charming and talented. Hopefully one of them can knock Sherry out in the next episode. After this episode, though, that seems unlikely. It will be exciting to watch them try.
- Jaida as den mother is adorable. Her exchange with Janet has shades of Bianca Del Rio’s season six reluctant mom-in-the-room vibes, and I am here for it.
- The shade and banter among the queens and superfans in the workroom is delightful. Bringing in people connected to Drag Race, rather than the individual queens, allows for the gameness and excitement the show gets from bringing in the queens’ family and friends without sacrificing the getting-to-know-you energy of making over strangers. It was a clever choice.
- Jaida’s take on Bethany’s shoe woes—if you need to cut off a pinky toe to fit, cut off the pinky toe—is very Cinderella’s evil step-mother. I don’t know how Bethany powered through for Jaida, though I expect the editors were kind, but she did it.
- Only one makeover winner has ever failed to make that season’s finale, Miz Cracker in season 10. After her last two wins, Jaida’s a lock for the finale. Gigi and Sherry seem all but certain as well, and it will take a lot for either Heidi or Jackie to oust Crystal. It will require someone making a not insignificant mistake, and these queens don’t seem likely to slip up.
- Daisy Ridley is another strong guest judge in a season full of them. She’s not up to Leslie, Nicki, and Rachel levels, but she’s a treat to watch.