Where are the characters on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race? A lot of the queens have well defined styles, but the personalities aren’t as big as usual, both in and out of drag. The contestants that are bringing that extra individuality need to push it even further, because at this point in the series’ history, these queens aren’t just competing against each other, but the memory of past Ru Girls. Simply by being cast, the contestants are immediately a part of that elite group that includes all Drag Race alumni, but if they want to become Drag Race royalty like Jujubee or Latrice Royale or Alaska, they need to step up their game because no one in this year’s group is on that level yet.

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Those three queens I mentioned didn’t win their respective seasons, but they had strong personalities that made them superstars. I definitely see potential for greatness in this season’s queens—particularly Katya, Ginj, Kennedy, and Jaidynn—but nobody has had a major breakthrough moment yet. Ginj is the closest to that point thanks to her consistently strong performances, sharp runway looks, and bubbly disposition, and she inches even closer to her big break this week. “The DESPY Awards” continues this season’s streak of challenges that stretch different drag muscles in contexts the show hasn’t explored in the past, making the queens hosts, presenters, and nominees in an award show. Working in pairs, they have to come up with banter, throw shade at the other queens, and be prepared with memorable speeches if they win, and Ginj is far and away the strongest performer of the ceremony.

But Ginj doesn’t win. The queens are judged in pairs, and Ginj is brought down by her wooden partner Kandy Ho. Instead, the victory goes to Max and Pearl, who have solid chemistry and land a few good jokes, but are by no means exceptional comedians. After a tense encounter with RuPaul in the workroom, Pearl knows that she needs to bring some semblance of personality to the table, no matter how broad, and her bitchy, raspy character is apparently enough to impress the judges. But I have trouble believing that Pearl is turning over a new leaf with her presentation at The DESPY Awards.

If Pearl is supposed to be this season’s big underdog story, she’s not doing very much to get the viewers to sympathize with her. Her struggle is learning how to thrive in an environment where everyone doesn’t love her and she has to work for praise, which isn’t an especially hard mountain to climb. If Pearl seriously listened to the judges’ criticism and changed her behavior to satisfy those concerns, she would be a more engaging figure. But instead she acts like a brat. After last week’s elimination, Pearl says she’s over the judges, and when RuPaul asks her how she’s going to show more personality in this week’s challenge, she becomes defensive and petulant. It’s not a good look for Pearl, but she realizes this and gets her act together for elimination day, making sure to tell RuPaul that she’s grateful for the tough love because she doesn’t want to be on Ru’s bad side.

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Mrs. Kasha Davis is justifiably annoyed by Pearl’s attitude, but it gets RuPaul’s attention. Pearl is a project that RuPaul can work on, whereas Kasha is an old dog that probably isn’t going to learn very many new tricks. She has the clearly defined character of boozy suburban housewife, but she doesn’t push it far enough. Guest judge Isaac Mizrahi points out that a workhorse queen has to make the audience laugh immediately or she falls flat, and that’s exactly what happens with Kasha this week. She immediately fumbles over her lines at the start of the awards ceremony, and her performance doesn’t get much better from there. There’s little chemistry between Kasha and her co-host Katya, but Katya at least has a fun acceptance speech for “Meatiest Tuck” that puts her in good graces with the judges. Kasha starts boring and stays boring, and that lands her in the bottom with the equally unexciting Kandy Ho.

Kasha brings a lot of energy to her lip sync performance of Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl,” but Kandy Ho has more variation, which makes her more interesting to watch. She starts slow and sultry, getting into the groove of the music before cutting loose during the chorus, and capturing those different dynamics keeps Kandy in the competition. Like many of this show’s past queens, Kandy needs to find a way to bring the ferocity of her lip sync to the other areas of her drag performance, but she doesn’t have much time to figure out how to make that happen. She doesn’t have very sharp instincts with scripted material, and I don’t know if that’s something she can learn over the course of a few weeks.

Personality can come from the strangest of places, as we learn this week from Miss Fame’s story about growing up on a chicken farm. An ongoing joke this season is that Fame loves to hear herself talk, and she goes on and on about how to care for chickens and her emotional attachment to the birds her family raised. But in this case, the chattiness is appreciated because it reveals a fascinating aspect of her history that is so dramatically far removed from her glamorous drag persona that it leads to the biggest laughs of the episode. It’s not enough to propel Fame into the top ranks of this season’s queens, but it’s a great example of what I want to see more of from these queens. Every contestant has their own “chicken farm,” a surprising fact about their character that will make the audience sit up and pay attention, and this season’s queens need to start sharing that information. Miss Fame’s story paints her in a new light, and if her competitors begin publicizing the things that make them unique, this season’s personality shortage could be quickly remedied.

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Stray observations:

  • This week’s minichallenge has the queens making paper copies of classic celebrity red carpet looks, including Lil’ Kim’s purple pastie VMA outfit, Cher’s Bob Mackie Oscar gown, and Björk’s swan dress. If Kasha’s Joan Rivers impression is a taste of how she would fare in the Snatch Game, I can’t say I’m sad to see her go before that challenge.
  • It’s always disappointing when the queens don’t walk the runway in any given episode. I want to see as much outrageous drag fashion as possible!
  • How much do I love Ru making fun of Laganja on the runway? A whole lot.
  • Ru’s golden statuette look tonight is gorgeous. Love the bow. Love the hair. Love the classic Hollywood glamour.
  • I really like how Isaac Mizrahi comments on the layers of irony that are involved in the viewing of this series. He likes Katya because he senses that irony at her core, and I absolutely agree with him there. I think Ginj is also aware of the irony at play, but I’m not so sure about the other queens.
  • One of the judges should have been with Kathy Griffin during her coaching sessions with the queens so that the judges would have an idea of how the girls take direction. I feel like that would have informed their critiques quite a bit.
  • Violet will laugh the loudest when shade is thrown her way, but if you repeat a joke someone already told at her expense, she is not going to pretend to be amused. Sorry, Kandy.
  • “I’m not actually that young. I’m just ignorant.”
  • “Is there something on my face?”
  • “Oof, god. Ooy.” Kathy Griffin’s reaction to bad drag queen comedy is spot-on.
  • Things I wasn’t expecting to hear on Drag Race this week: “You basically flip ’em upside down, show the asshole to the judge, and then they say, ‘Your bird’s healthy.’” “That’s how I talk to chickens.”
  • “Get ready to gag!”
  • “Can you imagine if I did a death drop right now? I don’t know if the AARP covers death drops.”
  • “The gorgeous Pearl, the drag equivalent of a Valium taking a Xanax in a K-hole.” Judging by the laugh, this is Michelle’s favorite joke of the night.
  • “I’d like to thank Mexico for the tapeworm that snatched my body.”
  • “The Brooke Hogan of drag: Katya!”
  • “Last but certainly not youngest: Mrs. Kasha Davis!”
  • Kandy: “I am so honored to be here at the first annual DESPY Awards!” Ginj: “And I’m…working off community service.”
  • “I believe it was the great American painter Bob Ross who said: ‘The key to a swollen vagina is courage.’”
  • “Are you kidding me? This is from the Brooke Hogan collection!”
  • Michelle: “Get out your rattail and start teasin’ it. Give us some kind of volume.” RuPaul: “Thank you—New Jersey’s—Michelle Visage.”
  • “How is your head?” It’s perfect that Fame misses Ru’s innuendo because she’s in her head.
  • “Bring back my…girls!?” Is this a reference? Whatever it is, it’s hilarious.
  • “Mrs. Kasha Davis: your big opening…was a little sloppy.”

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