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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The queens channel their inner Housewives as RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue hits the strip

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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RuPaul’s Drag Race is as popular as ever and fans are clamoring for new ways to follow their favorite queens. The time is right for another Drag Race spin-off. Filmed in the Before Times, RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue follows six fan-favorite queens as they head to Las Vegas to headline RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, the new show-in-residence at Flamingo Las Vegas. While the live show will likely feature a revolving cast, the six stars of Vegas Revue are there to kick it off: Yvie Oddly, Asia O’Hara, Derrick Barry, Kameron Michaels, Naomi Smalls, and Miss Vanjie herself, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo.

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Vegas Revue is pitched as a docuseries, but based on the premiere, viewers should expect less behind-the-scenes process and more reality TV shenanigans. Plenty of fans watch Drag Race for the interpersonal dynamics and workroom blowups and they’re well-served by this episode. Not so those who are more interested in seeing the hard work and creativity that goes into a live drag show. “Baby, We Made It” has all the pieces of an entertaining docuseries, but it could work on its proportionizing.

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The premiere begins with a dramatic full-season trailer. With promises of in-fighting and the looming specter of COVID-19, the episode then winds back two weeks to pick up with the queens as they head to Vegas. First up is Vanjie, who gets some help packing for Vegas from her upstairs neighbor, season 11 alumnus Silky Nutmeg Ganache. As Vanjie admits, she is a lot, and she’s immediately full energy, talking a mile a minute and building her narrative. Vanjie is looking for love, or at least a three month fling, and she figures this residency may be a good opportunity to find a connection. Next is Asia, who is looking forward to being in the show and already feeling the pressure. While Vanjie is on the prowl, Asia will be wedding planning with her fiancé, who’s in nursing school back in Dallas. Kameron has already landed in Vegas. After touring regularly post-Drag Race, she’s looking forward to the consistency of a three-month residency. The person she’s seeing, Andre—no labels, please—is in New York, but based on the trailer, there’s at least a little smooching with Vanjie in her future.

With half of the introductions out of the way, Asia stops by Kameron’s apartment to pick her up and the narrative finally gets going. Everyone heads into the Flamingo for their first day of on-site rehearsal and their excitement is infectious. However, as rehearsal gets underway, the seams start to show. Everyone has been working hard in L.A. to get the choreography down, but there’s still a lot to do, and only two weeks to lock everything in.

The choreography may look familiar, but rest assured, Jamal Sims has some gags planned for the live show. Derrick will be jumping onto the stage from 30 feet in the air. This leads neatly into the introduction of Derrick, who is the Vegas resident of the main cast. Derrick has talked about his boyfriends Nick and Mack on Drag Race before—they’re in a three-way relationship—but it’s neat to see a bit more of them interacting. Back at the Flamingo, Derrick is all strapped in to try the stunt, with the rest of the cast gleefully looking on from below. She lets out a yelp as she starts to free fall—the harness kicks in half-way down—but once safely back on the stage, she looks ready to go again. With that excitement out of the way, Sims pushes everyone to focus. They have a lot of work to do, and RuPaul will be at rehearsal tomorrow.

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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The next day, Yvie heads to the spa with Naomi. While the other queens’ introductions center significantly on their romantic lives, Yvie’s focuses on what a great place she’s in professionally and personally, coming off of her season 11 win, while Naomi’s builds up the conflict between her and Derrick. Tensions hinted at earlier come to the fore as Yvie and Naomi discuss Derrick’s style of drag. They do not respect what she does, though they at least give Derrick her due as a performer, marveling at her willingness to throw herself into whatever the choreographers ask of her.

There’s a familiar shift in energy the next day when RuPaul heads into the theater—everyone is immediately on edge. Because several songs from the show were already previewed during season 12, the producers are able to show the queens rehearsing a bit, cutting together different moments to one of the tracks Drag Race fans are already familiar with. Having a sense of where the queens are headed with the choreography helps viewers gauge how far along they are in the rehearsal process. Ru is playing the big scary director here, but the points are valid. There is definitely work to be done.

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Ru’s final note is the most important one: Yvie needs to go to the doctor. Despite having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, Yvie hasn’t been to the doctor in 10 years. She felt discouraged and shut down last time, so she’s stayed away, not wanting to hear what she assumes the doctor will say. The revelation is startling, particularly coming this week after the death of beloved Drag Race star Chi Chi DeVayne from pneumonia at age 34. Yvie’s fear is understandable, and her health decisions are entirely her own. Still it’s hard not to worry for her.

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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Later, Kameron’s frustrations and insecurities come pouring out over Facetime with Andre. This is when the premiere pivots from backstage making-of documentary to full reality TV. The episode cuts to flashbacks of Derrick’s party the night before, where the queens fight over past slights. It’s jarring and unfortunately, just a drop in the bucket. Naomi leaves the party, upset over her conversation with Mack, and the next day, Derrick decides to try to smooth things over by inviting the queens out to the casino floor. Of course, she throws in a side dig at Naomi in the process, so her intentions seem doubtful. The queens stay in drag after rehearsal and make a night of it. They seem to be having fun, but then Derrick gets a text from Mack (who’s coming from a shoot as his drag persona, Nebraska Thunderfuck) asking to join them. It goes as should be expected, and the episode ends with a fight brewing between Nebraska and Naomi.

Cutting back and forth to the queens in various drag looks—both in the moment and in their talking heads—heightens the unreality of it all, and perhaps that’s the point. It’s ridiculous and fake. But it’s not interesting or all that funny, and based on the trailer, viewers should expect a lot more of this as the season continues. Engaging with and exploring the artifice of reality TV and drag is an intriguing concept, but the series will need to heighten things markedly if they really want to run with that idea. Until then, the show is stuck in a hazy middle ground. It’s not specific or technical enough to fill six episodes with the nitty-gritty of a live drag production in Vegas, and it’ll need more than a few pointed statements and awkward exchanges if it wants to out-Housewives the reality competition. Hopefully it will find its voice, and quickly, as the season develops.

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Stray observations

  • Zavion Davenport (Chi Chi DeVayne) had been sick for a while, but his death still came as a shock. The family’s official notification is available on Instagram.
  • As these performers are going by their drag names and personas on the Vegas Revue, I’ll be porting over the pronouns used on Drag Race, using the gender of their drag personas.
  • We finally have Asia O’Hara’s Drag Race! I love that she’s the host for the live show.
  • Are we really still talking about the validity of Derrick’s drag? It feels very tired. Also, Nebraska reaching for years old reads speaks poorly of her and points to a ginned up conflict.
  • Including the Kameron and Vanjie kiss in the trailer is a great call. It lets viewers eagerly anticipate and over-analyze every moment the two share leading up to it.
  • This is nowhere near the show I expected to get from RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue, but here we go!
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