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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The top eight slay the runway as RuPaul’s Drag Race pivots toward the season 12 endgame

Illustration for article titled The top eight slay the runway as iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i pivots toward the season 12 endgame
Photo: VH1
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Season 12 is at a pivot point. The queens who’ve struggled are gone and while there are a couple front-runners, the battle for the top four remains anyone’s game. There’s a lot to like in “Droop,” but before anything else, let’s take a moment and appreciate that runway. The top eight turned it out this episode, each polished and beautiful in their own way. There isn’t a bad look, and each speaks to that queen’s personality and style. The runway starts early, half-way through “Droop,” but with this much style and personality to work with, future episodes could stand to follow this format.

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The episode begins as the queens react to the Rusical judging, with Jan upset over Brita’s elimination. They’re good friends and Brita leaving, along with her inability to finally get a win, pushes Jan to an emotional breaking point. Even Jackie is surprised Jan didn’t win the Rusical, though she commends Gigi on a job well done. Jan is frustrated, but she points to Brita’s departure as the tipping point for her emotions, rather than her loss. The other queens don’t buy it, but they leave her be in the moment. The talking heads are on point here, commenting on the mounting stress of the competition. Now that they’re down to eight queens, the top four and the finale are coming into view, and the queens are each determined to make it.

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The next day in the workroom, Jan is refreshed and focused and the queens are raring to go on the next challenge. Ru enters in a striking red suit, courtesy of Klein Epstein & Parker. That’s not the only product placement this segment, the mini challenges are back, thanks to FabFitFun. For this episode’s mini challenge, the queens are paired by Ru and each duo will need to curate a FabFitFun gift box, then get into quick drag and share that box with another pair of queens, having a quick kiki and throwing as much shade as possible. Given the numerous shots of sunglasses, this mini challenge may be a sponsored substitute for the traditional reading challenge, but that remains to be seen. Jackie and Gigi are paired with Jaida and Crystal, and Heidi and Jan are paired with Widow and Sherry. Everyone does well, with the first group edging out the second, and the win ultimately goes to Jackie and Gigi. This is the best group improv of the season by far, and the queens’ comparative ease with their scenes is a good sign for future comedy-based challenges.

For the maxi challenge, the queens need to come up with, brand, and film a commercial for a ridiculous and completely unnecessary product to sell on Droop, the new drag queen lifestyle brand that’s in no way inspired by Goop. This is another familiar challenge on Drag Race, so the queens should have had time to brainstorm before the season started and come with a few ideas prepared. Ru welcomes health and fitness guru Bob Harper and the two do a quick circuit, checking in with the queens and offering advice.

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Heidi is set with her product, but gets some good advice from Ru and Bob about re-branding it to incorporate her name. Widow has her product set and has it well thought-out, but Ru is able to instantly get in her head by mentioning her recent safe streak. Bob is excited about Jan’s idea, but Ru quickly steers the conversation to her emotional reaction to the previous episode. Jan continues her line that she was most upset that Brita was eliminated, but it doesn’t land any better this time. With a reminder to get her head into the game, Ru and Bob move along to Jackie, who’s taking inspiration for her branding from I Dream Of Jeannie. Jackie’s selling merkins, and both Bob and Ru are skeptical. Well, Bob is concerned and Ru is practically gleeful over a potential train wreck of a commercial. Ru wraps up the walk-through by announcing that Bob will be directing them for their commercial and that for the runway, they’ll be joined by Chaka Khan. The diva elicits an appropriately dramatic response from the queens, and immediately, the stakes are even higher.

It’s time to film. The queens only get 20 minutes on set, so they need to be prepared. Jackie is up first, and while she struggles to communicate what she needs, she’s eventually able to execute her concept. Gigi looks fantastic, but needs to work on her energy and vocal delivery. Jan has the opposite issue; she needs to reel it in a bit. Jaida keeps touching her mic and Heidi has trouble translating her charming personality to her commercial, but both seem to eventually pull through. Widow, meanwhile, stumbles over her lines and reacts to the stress by slowing herself down to a glacial pace. Last is Crystal, who comes in with her boy hair, a delightful powder blue suit, and a clear vision. Bob is doubtful, and the episode plays her up as silly, but what we see from Crystal is reminiscent of other successful high-concept, visual commercials. She’ll likely be fine.

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Bob Harper on set, directing the queens
Bob Harper on set, directing the queens
Photo: VH1

The next day, the queens head into the workroom to prepare for the runway, and in a nice change of pace, there’s little drama or angst. Jan reiterates that she was most upset last episode about Brita leaving, a beat the editors are bashing into the ground, but otherwise the pre-runway chat consists entirely of the queens doing impressions of their season 12 sisters. The episode then moves right along, and it’s a good thing it does, because there’s still a runway, commercials, judging, and a lip-sync to get to. Ru walks out in a black and gold dress and greets Michelle, looking fabulous as always in an understated black look, and Ross, in a silver patterned suit, before welcoming guest judge Chaka Khan. Chaka looks amazing and has brought her own fan; she’s an instant hit on the panel.

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Category is: Black Wedding. Jackie Cox comes out in a comparatively simple period-inspired look, with hair and makeup to match. She delivers a complicated but effective narrative, her bride-to-be notified of her beloved’s death in combat and her wedding gown re-contextualized as mourning black. Next is Jan, who is in a stunning gown, with feathers, sparkles, and long gloves, and is beat for the gods. Her look has drama and texture, and when she’s ready to walk back, she takes off her ring, serves face, and turns around, “I Don’t” emblazoned in bright white on her train. Jaida is third, wearing a beautiful black gown in a more traditional wedding dress style. She’s also put together a full character, her statement jewelry and performance capturing her trophy wife persona, more excited for her new financial stability than the husband that comes with it.

Gigi blows the judges away with a Dior New Look-inspired dress and Veronica Lake-inspired hair. It’s another gorgeous runway from Gigi, and another welcome departure from her previous silhouettes. Sherry goes spooky, but is just as polished as the rest, in another beautiful period-inspired dress and excellent paint. Then there’s Heidi, who lifts her veil as she heads down the runway in her most elegant and refined look yet. Her dramatic, sparkling shoulder piece draws the eye to her cold shoulders and face and an extra frill at the hip accentuates her excellent body work.

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Next is Widow, who is regal in a sequined dress with a voluminous, swirling train. Instead of a wig, she opts for a sparkling head piece and veil of crystals, which she lifts to reveal her best paint of the season, an HD-ready mass of black tendrils working up from her inky black, possessed eyes. Last is Crystal, who coughs up some dust as she starts her processional, an undead bride who’s clawed her way back from the grave to find her love. She’s painted entirely in gray, silver, and black, and unlike the others, her dress plays a bit with color, implying a white wedding dress that’s been blackened through trauma and dirt. Crystal’s quasi-skeletal makeup looks fantastic, striking yet still beautiful, and she even brings detail to her nails, which have burst through her gloves during her time in her grave. All eight queens look fantastic. All eight queens have distinct characters or narratives they’re selling. And all eight queens deserve to stay, at least based on their runway. It’s one hell of an achievement, and it speaks to the caliber of the season.

Illustration for article titled The top eight slay the runway as iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i pivots toward the season 12 endgame
Photo: VH1
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After the queens slay the runway, it’s time for judging. Ru goes down the line, one queen at a time, and shows their commercial, before the judges give them feedback on both that and their look. Jackie’s merkin commercial is fun and silly, and she gets high marks from the judges. Jan’s spray commercial has some solid bits, but there’s an underlying tension throughout that keeps it from really clicking. Jaida brings humor and specificity to her tucking panty commercial and nails her delivery; she’s a clear contender for the win. Gigi has some good ideas in her fragrance commercial, and she can definitely pull a face, but it’s under-baked. In a different season, she’d be a shoo-in for safe. In this season, she’s in trouble. The same is true for Sherry, whose pie commercial is forgettable.

Heidi’s lotion commercial is absolutely ridiculous, exactly what Ru was looking for. After being overlooked and underappreciated much of the season, it’s great to see Heidi celebrated for her charisma and humor. Widow is next and while again, in a weaker season her spray commercial would keep her safe, her stilted delivery at the beginning tanks her and she isn’t able to recover. Last is Crystal, who nails the challenge with her Magic Mullet commercial. It’s campy, energetic, and utterly delightful. After the judges’ feedback, Ru asks the queens who they think should go home, and they agree it should be Widow, with Widow herself choosing Jan. This is intended to stir up drama, but both Widow and Jan take their lumps in stride. They know they have the weakest videos, and that they’re likely to be in the bottom.

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After deliberating, Ru declares Jackie, Jaida, Heidi, and Crystal as the top queens, giving the win to Heidi. Gigi and Sherry are safe, and that puts Jan and Widow up for elimination. Both are prepared and determined to lip-sync their hearts out, and when the song begins—Chaka Khan’s “This Is My Night”—they go all out. Jan stumbles out of the gate slightly, getting tripped up as she sheds her extravagant runway look in favor of a sparkly mini-dress. Widow wisely waits for a slight pause in the lyrics to throw off her top layer and free up her movement. She isn’t able to bust out as many moves as Jan, because of her floor-length dress, but they both crush it, with Widow slightly edging Jan out in her emotion and face. This is the best lip-sync of the season so far, and while it feels like Ru made her mind up about Jan a while ago, it’s hard not to want a double shantay after that performance.

In the end, Ru saves Widow and Jan is sent packing. She may not have broken through to the judges the way she needed to, but Jan did well this season. She’s earned herself a new legion of fans and with some time to decompress and exhale, there’s no doubt she would slay in a future All Stars season. As for the rest of the queens, “Droop” shows just how minuscule the margin of error has become. The six remaining eligible queens are all smart, charming, and talented, and they can all deliver on the runway. Gigi seems to be a lock for the finals, but the other spots are still wide open, and it’s easy to imagine almost any configuration of queens making their way to the final four. Buckle up, Drag Race fans, the push to the finale is here, and this season, the queens aren’t messing around.

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Stray observations

  • I’ve loved watching Jan observe and engage with her fellow queens’ work this season. She’s thrilled to be there and very present, celebrating her fellow queens’ successes and soaking the experience in.
  • Both Widow and Jan show themselves well with their mature responses to the other queens naming them as who deserves to go home. It’s refreshing to see such self-aware, professional reactions.
  • Hello again, Ms. Sin. Putting Dahlia in the Droop logo is my favorite broccoli cameo yet.
  • Heidi made all of $9000 last year, working at a gas station? We knew she’s a small town queen, but that certainly puts things in perspective.
  • If you’ve enjoyed Jan this season but haven’t made the trek over to her YouTube channel, do yourself a favor and check out Jan’s Jukebox. She’s been releasing covers of the lip-sync songs from this season, complete with videos.
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