‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Recap: Sure, Gigi’s Goode And Crystal’s Addictive, But Jaida Is Essential
Between the bird vomit, zoom lipsyncs and RuPaul as an all-seeing eyeball, this socially distant finale really went the extra mile.
Jaida Essence Hall is America’s newest drag superstar and Drag Race winner, though you’d be hard-pressed to find a loser within the (non-disqualified) season 12 queens.
Dusty Ray Thee Bottom said on a recent episode of ‘Pit Stop‘ that all the queens were competing at an All Star level this year, and while we’ll be able to test out that theory in just a week’s time (Ru is fracking the empire for everything it’s worth), it’s worth repeating that these S12 queens are just all so talented.
While enough time has passed to see that S11 was even shakier, dear than S7’s ‘Shakesqueer’, S12 has matched its cast to its challenges, and, for the most part, not really pushed storylines. Queens have gone home at the right time (save for Rock M. Sakura, will never forget), and, for the first time in a while, it felt like any of the top three could’ve taken the crown — if they turned it out in the final five lipsyncs. Add to that the novelty and fear-factor of this year’s socially distant finale, and the anticipation was all-time.
For the most part, the finale was pretty solid — ever since they’ve been filmed live, there’s been a lot of filler to get through to the crowning, and S12’s no exception. But the Zoom-call aesthetic worked pretty well for the queen’s interviews: it’s a lot more intimate when a crowd isn’t screaming at every answer, and even RuPaul’s ‘childhood photo’ prompt felt a bit more natural.
The webcam filming also made the show’s tribute to late producer Jacqueline Wilson much more touching, as queens shared their memories from their own homes, with a raw emotion that let the audience know just how important she was to the queens they love.
While the show’s editing did an excellent job of keeping things high-energy, it’s no replacement for the crowd during a lip-sync. Or for the S12 queens to come out for possibly their last main-stage moment on the show — the home-filmed role call was cute, but it’s a shame we only got a second or two to soak in their looks. At least they all got $2000 for their troubles, as announced after Heidi won Miss Congeniality: it only feels fair, given how much they’ve gone through.
In some ways, the ‘at home’ finale worked even better than usual — each queen being allowed to lipsync and create a production for a song of their own choosing really showcased what their drag is, instead of focusing on reveals.
After theorising about how the five lipsyncs would work, we were completely wrong. First, we got an up-close webcam lipsync/face-only category to RuPaul’s new track ‘Bring Back My Girls’ — an incredibly boring song to choose, but hey, she’s got to rake in those streams.
Gigi is undoubtedly the winner. She had the whole song choreographed down to eyelash movements, and continued adding in small elements that kept drawing focus.
Having said that, Gigi definitely came third this finale. Sure, Crystal isn’t the best lip-syncer — and bless her, she knows it. In the last round, she starts doing the ‘Savage’ TikTok dance while the others were throwing down.
But Gigi, again, came off just a little too prepared this finale. Where it worked for the first lipsync, it felt a little flat in her interview with Ru, where she chose to replicate one of her ’90s looks. It’s an odd choice to cosplay at this point, and combined with her talk about being “confident not cocky”, all felt a little sycophantic. Gigi is an amazing queen, but it’s unclear what exactly she wants to do with that talent.
At the moment, it seems she largely relies on an (incredibly impressive) pop-culture cache, as her ‘at home’ solo lipsync riffed off A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ video, and the final lip-sync saw her dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz — Ru’s favourite film, but a choice that didn’t really make much narrative sense for the song, Destiny Child’s ‘Survivor’. It’s all almost perfect — and was for most of the competition — but there’s just some character that needs to kick in.
— RuPaul's Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) May 30, 2020
We saw something similar off the show this week, as Gigi continually suffered from foot-in-mouth. First, there was an insensitive and unfortunately-worded tweet, where she wrote “I can’t breathe” in excitement for the finale in a week where George Floyd spoke those same words before he died by police brutality. Then there was a long not-really apology for said post with what, in retrospect, was a teaser for her final lip-sync look, via an odd-at-the-time reference to Dorothy.
This isn’t to say these are cancellable offenses. Gigi is self-admittedly a very privileged, ‘not very political’ person, and being verified on Instagram doesn’t suddenly teach her to speak to a wide audience on social issues, nor does being really good at drag. But being disengaged by nature also isn’t terribly inspiring.
We doubt this is anything Drag Race considers for the crowning — the show is more concerned with being a show, which, you know, makes sense. But it all ties into the main cross against Gigi’s claim to the crown: we hate to use a RuPaulogism, but where’s the vulnerability? She’s studied so hard that her excellence almost feels robotic. In reality, her talents might just currently outstrip her voice, but she’ll undoubtedly fine-tune it, and be the one to beat on All Stars 6.
Crystal Methy’d, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
Meanwhile, Crystal Elizabeth Methy’d can’t help but reveal that personality: where past queens felt the need to constantly announce their weirdness, Crystal is a real proponent of ‘show, don’t tell’. And she sure showed a lot this finale, between the body-hair see-through pink mesh suit, the Pinata look and that ‘at home’ lip-sync.
More Sesame Street than Drag Race, Crystal created a cartoonish backdrop and a mama and daughter bird look for her song, ‘Like A Bird’ by Nelly Furtado. Still, the main influence was Lady Gaga, as it was “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender, shit on it, vomit on it, eat it, give birth to it”.
A lot of people have criticised the lip-sync, but I loved it. That kind of subtly perverse kid-show schtick reminded me of punk-queerdo Seth Bogart’s short-lived series with World Of Wonder. While Crystal wasn’t necessarily as original as “completely not ever been done before”, in context, it was one of Drag Race‘s weirdest moments ever.
The pure nerve to do something like that… A Star Is Born!
Then there’s Jaida, who took the ‘at home’ lip-sync direction very literally and rolled around her living room to Ciara. Significantly lower-production than the other two, Jaida’s lip-sync was admirably simple: it was just showing what she does best.
Her and Crystal are responsible for almost all their looks this season, and their video packages are proof that you don’t need a budget to make an impression. There’s something so, so charming about Jaida not even moving her laptop charger out of shots — it’s a testament to a drag queen’s ability to turn out a show whatever the shitty venue.
Then, the final. To make things fair under the eye of SauRUon, the queens were given the same at home stage set-up.
While Crystal did her thing and Gigi pulled out some non-sensical reveals, Jaida just performed, which is more or less what she did for the whole of S12. In a time where the show’s queens can feel the need to self-produce, Jaida just delivered drag excellence — and Black excellence, which can’t be understated right now.
In an post-win interview with EW, Jaida says she’s painfully aware of the timing: she’s crowned as Black Americans are protesting police brutality at a new-found scale, resulting in only more brutality — and horrific calls for the ‘shooting to start’ from Trump.
“Right now, with what’s happening in the world, [I love] to be a black queen winning Drag Race, to be a black queen just being myself, to be a black queen who’s from where I’m from, to be a black queen who loves being a black queen while celebrating all the things about myself that make me unique in being a beautiful black person.”
Jaida was always a deserving winner, but hopefully, her win offers some small light to those hurting. If that’s you, then take some time out to watch this video of Milwaukeeans in a drive-by parade for Jaida, only stopping to drop off gifts. It’s a shame she doesn’t get her big moment as it should be, but this is mighty cute.
— LynSanity (@LynKream) May 31, 2020
Long live the queen.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is on Stan, with All Stars 5 airing each Saturday AEST 1pm from June 5.
Jared Richards is Junkee’s Night Editor, and he’s on Twitter.