The new season kicked off with a rather dystopic look at past winners Alaska and Chad Michaels enjoying the Drag Race Hall of Fame. Adorned in red with the white hoods of "The Handmaid's Tale," they walked the streets of Los Angeles demurely, speculating on who might take home the crown this season, and just how nasty it's gonna get. It was a topical and fun way to kick off the season, though these queens were probably even happier to kick off those awful outfits.
Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist.. And I've spent the last eighteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, Ross Matthews and Hudgens. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
This premiere had a lot of work to do, introducing the returning queens and then putting them through the paces so we could boot one of them out. Just in case you don't remember all these larger-than-life personalities -- which means you weren't watching their seasons -- for this week only I'm combining a little bit about them with my critique of their performance in the Maxi-Challenge. Enjoy!
Shangela (Season 2 / 12th place & Season 3 / 6th place) came in ready for her "third time's a charm" moment. With hindsight, she's ready to admit she lacked certain fundamental knowledge, like hair and makeup, to really make it in this business. Now, she's been on TV and in Vegas and her drag game is on point.
Out first, Shangela set a high bar by lip-syncing to her own original recording which also happened to be about her. I loved the touch of "Halleloo" embroidered on her opening gown. She came with attitude, energy and panache, with lots of cheek and humor throughout. That was a great introduction to her drag persona and would make a perfect show opener.
BeBe Zahara Benet (Season 1 Winner) was brought in as a surprise tenth contestant at the last second. And while she may have already won, but as Ru pointed out, that was a long time ago. "Another day, another slay," she said after her triumphant return. "Who's first?"
BeBe brought Africa to the stage in a very effective performance and looked fierce doing so. It was a little slow to get going, with her just sashaying around at first. But once she lost that outer skirt and got into some of those traditional African dance moves, I was sold. This girl is here to win. She's definitely one-of-a-kind, and her roar face is just a little bit terrifying.
Thorgy Thor (Season 8 / 6th place) hit the floor next, to Chi Chi's chagrin. She chalked up her poor placing to problems focusing, but she's got that nailed now ... wait, is that a hair? I swear there's a hair on my glasses. Oh girl, get it together!
While she's quite an accomplished violinist, Thorgy's stage presence while performing left a lot to be desired. Yes, traditional symphonic music wouldn't have a soloist do much more than stand there and sway back and forth, but this is "Drag Race." Look to "DWTS" alum Lindsey Stirling or 2 Cellos for how to take classical music into a new generation and make it as visually exciting as it is an auditory delight. At least she had her Liza Minnelli meets Phyllis Diller look down.
Aja (Season 9 / 9th place) said it straight up. "I'm here to f-ck shit up," she said. "I'm sorry, I am!" And she didn't disappoint, missing her opening mark for her introduction. You better get your head in this game if you want to be in this game.
This girl did not come to play doing two half-split drops with one coming from a rather impressive height. Her song had attitude and her performance was just oozing with confidence and grit. Aja managed two spinning disrobe tricks in one, and her outfit left little to the imagination by the end, proving to be both provocative and cheeky at the same time.
Kennedy Davenport (Season 7 / 4th place) says she's grown since she was a bit entitled and condescending and rude and bitchy to them back in Season 7.
She came out strong and confident, if a little reckless in her physical movements. I was on the fence, but she really earned my respect with a front walkover onto the same platform Aja dropped from. That was confidence and control, because she didn't miss a beat. Plus, Kennedy didn't half-ass anything, she did a full split!
BenDeLaCreme (Season 6 / 5th place) was "Miss Congeniality" of her season, because she always chose kindness and positivity over catty bitchiness, and let me tell you, that put her in the minority with most of these queens. But don't worry, she has no plans to change that formula.
Tassels on top of tassels and girl could twirl those like nobody's business ... and that's not as easy as she made it look! The bit turned into a full-on comedy routine as tassels went missing, or got misplaced, and it was genuinely funny. BenDaLaCreme performed the hell out of this bit, selling every misadventure until she proved she could spin even four-foot long tassels. Respect!
Chi Chi DeVayne (Season 8 / 4th place) brought the bayou back into the house. The self-proclaimed "Trash Bag Queen" admitted she lacked polish then, but she's done brought it this time around! Or has she?
Oh man, this was kind of a mess. Chi Chi looked like a member of your high school dance team who'd fallen asleep on the bus and was woken up and told she needed to go perform right now. Hair was a mess, she almost dropped her baton at one point, and she just looked frantic and desperate. This was just amateur hour, even with a full split at the end. Not a good first impression.
Morgan McMichaels (Season 2 / 8th place) got herself into a lot of trouble with her sharp tongue, both in and out of drag, but she's older now -- and no better! Nevertheless, she parlayed her time in the house into a video shoot with Rihanna, a spot on all three seasons of Logo's "RuPaul's Drag U." Girl not only works it, she works it hard.
She came out to fight, with an original song where she was basically challenging all of the queens watching, asking them, "Why you mad?" She probably should have geared her performance more for the judges, though. It's one thing to do some jabs at the competition, but to perform straight to them was a little off-putting. On top of that, her routine itself lacked inspiration or originality. It was a lot of walking up and down and showing off her ass. A little too aggressive, methinks.
Trixie Mattel (Season 7 / 6th place) has done well since getting eliminated, releasing an album,, and starring in the web series "UNHhhh" with fellow alum Katya. Last year, the pair launched "The Trixie & Katya Show" on Vice.
Trixie looked like a gorgeous drag Dolly Parton, but this girl was playing the autoharp instead of a guitar. And while the other queens lip-synced (which admittedly is tradition), Trixie set up a mic and belted out for real. Like Thorgy, the actual musical talent was certainly a standout, but does it make for a dynamic enough performance to win over the judges? I thought Trixie was just charming.
Milk (Season 6 / 9th place), the endearingly wacky queen with the even wackier fashion sense, parlayed her relative lack of success on the show last season into a burgeoning fashion career. One thing you can't deny is that she definitely has an eye for unorthodox fashion.
The paper doll motif was certainly original, but as time wore on, the song was too repetitive and she didn't do much other than stick clothing on the front of herself and wiggle back and forth. Come on, this is supposed to be a variety show, not a paper doll fashion show. Do something!
This competition is pretty simple. One by one, the queens come to the front of the room and "read" their fellow competitors, which basically just means they rip into one another. All in good fun, of course. Let's just enjoy some of the best burns, shall we?
"Shangela's the most annoying things I've met in my entire life. She's like a pull-up toy that says, 'Halleloo!'"
"Big and Milky, girl just like the drink, you give me the sh-ts!"
"BenDeLaCreme, where you been? Like literally, where you been?"
"Kennedy Davenport, the only queen who doesn't have to to look both ways before crossing the street."
"Shangela. I always thought her name was Angela and people were just telling her to shut up."
"Kennedy Davenport, you seem a little offended by our jokes. But we weren't offended by your parents' joke.""Morgan McMichaels, I know you like to perform hard rock music, and that's good, because that face is also a hard rock."
"Aja, you're beautiful, you're gorgeous, you look like Seal."
"Wow, Milk, you put a lot into this look. What? 2 percent?"
"Trixie, I love this whole outfit. I usually only get to see about this much when you're handing out balloons from that sewer grate."
"A lot of people clock your makeup, but I totally get it. You're just painting for the back of the room, which makes sense because that's where your audience collects if you remember to lock the door."
"I'm not gonna read Morgan McMichaels. Life already has."
In "All Stars" the top two each week compete in a lip-sync battle. The winner of that gets to send home whomever they want of the bottom queens. This format was established last season, and for the most part the girls were pretty nice about it, sending home the weakest.
Morgan said upfront she was going to send home the strongest. It's a solid strategy, but not one to win any friends. We'll let Aja say it: "Sweetie that's a great strategy that you should not have said out loud in front of all these queens."
After the maxi-challenge, Ru' called Trixie, BeBe, Milk, and Kennedy safe. The rest of the queens make up the tops and bottoms of the week. After the judges' critiques, Aja and BenDeLaCreme were dubbed the top two of the week.
Morgan McMichaels and Chi Chi DeVayne wound up in the bottom two (how do those words taste now, Morgan?), and it was the right answer. As an additional note, I need Thorgy and Milk to up their game, too, if they want to keep me invested in their journey.
Before the lip-sync final round, Aja and BenDeLaCreme had to lock in their elimination choice between Morgan and Chi Chi, and quite frankly, Morgan's earlier promises about how she was going to cut people was hanging in the air of DeLa for sure.
I loved the song choice of Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda." Even more, though, I loved the choices DeLa made in her performance, offering a gentle, but cheeky interpretation, only ratcheting up the energy and tension and Nicki did. Aja, on the other hand, was like a mechanical toy wound too hard, stuttering and flailing around way more than the song deemed.
It's a silly song, so DeLa's comedy approach was appropriately deemed the winner. Somebody's having a very good week, winning both challenges. That also puts DeLa firmly in Morgan's crosshairs for future challenges. This could be the only saving grace for Chi Chi, who was a mess.
Honestly, it was a no-brainer for BenDeLaCreme. Morgan McMichaels said she was gunning for her biggest competition if she ever got the chance, and for the moment DeLa has just proven herself the biggest threat in the house. That's good news for Chi Chi DeVayne, who was probably more deserving of going home. Alas, Morgan's mouth got the best of here again and it was buh-bye, bitch!
"RuPaul's Drag Race" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.