Fourteen Thoughts On RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season Nine, Episode One

After an Emmy win and a thrilling All Stars season, our little queer reality show baby is all grown up: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season Nine, debuted on VH1 with none other than Lady Gaga present for the majority of the episode. This is big news.

The question that lingered in watching this crazy forty one minutes of gaiety was if any of this was really that great. The queens were all fine and Gaga was good but it mostly felt like an appetizer to the actual season, a supertrailer for the uninitiated (Ahem: straight people.) to understand what they’re getting into with this show. There were no fangs, there was little fun, and it was largely predictable.

Is that bad? Unsure. Let’s analyze what’s going on by taking apart the fourteen biggest moments of the episode based on the fourteen (!!!!! More on this.) contestants still in the game.

14. The kids are alright.
Did anyone else notice that all the contestants—outside of Charlie Hide’s 52 along with Trinity, Nina Bo’Nina, Peppermint, and Alexis’ thirtysomething—were markedly children? Over half the cast is under thirty with four at 25 or younger: it’s almost shocking how young the cast is. This was a reminder of another season marked by the young (Season 7, more on that later.) but doesn’t necessarily mean these queens are untalented. What is interesting is that the show has been on for eight years and, hypothetically, someone who watched this show since they were ten years old could be competing now at 18. What all these 22 year olds is transmitting to me as an old, jaded, former reality and news television producer is that these queens started watching the show as they entered high school at fourteen and now—as Shea Couleé said—are “here to slay.” We’ll see what this means.

13. The Kardashians Cometh
Another fascinating something I hadn’t really thought about: the influence of the Kardashians on the queens. Kylie has been a makeup influence for years but the reality world has come full circle with this season’s body queens—Trinity and Kimora—both citing Kardashians as hallmarks. Does this mean they are DOA or legit threats? I want to say DOA based on both of their performances today but this is an intriguing moment.

12. GOING GAGA!!!!
Long story short: Gaga was great. It was like the Monster Ball all over again and I was in San Diego at her concert, 24, with my ex-boyfriend and I thought Gaga was never going to die. This folds time, offering Gaga a revisionist history where everything she did was just divine. Note how there were no Joanne queens, right? (Granted, if this shot in August/September, no one knew who Joanne really was so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) From Gaga’s iconic entrance as “Ronnie” to Eureka’s emotional moment, this was the best thing she and the show have done in a while. It was instantly memorable and so very gay. I couldn’t help but wonder though, in my jaded queerness: were any of the queens like “Oh, Gaga…cool.” because I feel like I would have been over her presence in five seconds. Why? Well…

11. The Gaga Training Wheel Effect.
Again: Gaga was great. However, she monopolized the episode, making for a giant near-hour training wheel episode. Think about it: no one was eliminated. All these young queens got to make their splash, get harsh and non-harsh critiques, get one-on-one time with Gaga, all to set them up to know their flaws off the bat and rise or fall. This was awesome to have Gaga so involved but it sucked the necessary poison out of the format making it a pageant instead of a competition. It couldn’t have been any other way though: imagine Gaga giving queens a critique and sending one of them home. How heartbroken would the first queen to get kicked off be to get kicked off by Gaga? That is grounds for years of therapy. I’m sure Gaga’s request for being on the show was that she didn’t have to kill anyone off and thus we had a defanged showing.

10. Skinned & Suited
A catty point but lots of the queens have bad skin. Like, distractingly bad. Second catty thing: Ru’s suit was awful. Not that yellow isn’t a fun color but the fit was not good and his shoes were dreadfully Valley Dad. It’s rude to say but I’m going to say it.

9. Season 7, Episode 1, Mini-Challenge
All these shenanigans withstanding, this episode was a giant mini-challenge. Specifically, it was Season 7, Episode 1’s mini-challenge in regards to the hometown pride looks. All that was missing was Violet Chachki’s dramatic reveal. No one’s costume was that great nor that dramatic. Trinity’s “anal sun” and Alexis’ Statue Of Liberty were not dramatic: big signs are boring costumes. Some killed it—Sasha, Nina, Shea, Valentina—but we didn’t even get an understanding of what went into creating their outfits as all workroom activity was cut out in exchange for more Gaga time.

8. Bad Politics
Here was something real weird that I had to discuss with friends about because it was a bit unnecessary: Alexis Michelle had #BlackLivesMatter painted on her bust which was a bold, fantastic political statement but it was followed by Kimora Blac coming on stage—A queen who has only identified in Untucked as Vietnamese—to Ru’s reply, “Blac lives matter.” I get it. It’s “funny” in quotes. I know there is no harm, no foul, and I’m PC policing but it felt like a line that should have been cut out given Alexis did conjure the real Black Lives Matter movement. It felt akin to someone muttering “You’ve got shemale!” and then adding no qualification. This is a behind-the-scenes joke that probably should have stayed there. It was weird given it actually followed up a literal Black Lives Matter moment. You guys know better. (Also, speaking of problematic, do we think it’s problematic or hysterical that Nina Bo’Nina always adds “Osama Bin Laden” into her name? I love it but feel free to police me, PC police.)

7. Masturbation Parade
In addition to showing off their hometowns, the queens had to also show their best Gaga look. While I applaud this, this was an excuse for Gaga to get masturbated on by the gay community. Literally, all she did was offer director’s commentary on her favorite looks that were OK recreations of designer costumes. It offered the same feeling the opener did by parading around the importance of the show in their post-Emmy world. But was it worth it? Not really. It wasn’t campy nor fun but like looking back at a bygone rolodex of looks from a personality who no longer subscribes to said point of view. It made you more mad at Gaga than anything else because all the Gaga’s on stage were more exciting than she was. Shame. (Also, imagine the poor Associate Producer who had to wrangle the queens’ looks to get them to all be different yet recreations of specific things. This was no easy task considering these queens didn’t just “make” their looks in the moment: this was all highly premeditated and pre-packaged moment to avoid too many Madonna kimonos.)

6. The season revealed by the judges.
The one saving grace of this episode being a training wheel was that it offered a tease of what’s to come via judging. Everything the judges said—From Farrah being beautiful but not going there to Nina’s appealing oddity to Jaymes’ hiding behind a character.—serve as the season’s story arcs. You saw their reactions to everything in a swoop and it won’t change that much. Mark my words: this was foreshadowing and can be unpacked to map the events of the entire season.

5. Sasha, Nina, Shea, Valentina.
Easily the top four. This group got the most screen time, had the most fun, and were the most inventive: Sasha is motivated to finally take the title for an art queen (and Sasha out of drag looks a lot like Sharon Needles out of drag, which is another ghost of the past); Nina is a delightful oddball whose drag is forging into new homespun territory that takes the polish of Chi Chi with the charm of Stacy Lane; Shea was a fierce character whose creativity and ability to coax together an homage is quite wonderful; while ten-month-old Valentina is an adorable charmer who seems to do so much by doing so little. These girls are great and rub the darkness off my decaying reality show loving heart.

4. Fourteenth.
The problem with the entire episode is that it was the vehicle for a reveal that should have come five minutes in, therefore giving you televised blue balls: there’s a fourteenth queen. Not since the return of Shangela has this happened and it seemed so appropriate yet so random that it had all of us—Well.—gagging. So who is it? The leading theory is that it’s failed art queen Serena ChaCha from Season 5 and is who immediately came to mind for me. Why? This queen is tiny and a woman of color. It ain’t no chunky white chick like Laila or some tall gawker like Magnolia Crawford. As Reddit via Bustle reports, ChaCha is the leading theory although April Carrión and Cynthia Lee Fontaine have also been mentioned. The thing is: this queen’s look looked nothing like Carrión nor Fontaine. However, ChaCha is so forgotten and so distant that no one would care or be rocked by her return. I’d love for it to be Dax but she is too tall. We’ll have to wait until next week, I guess, but it has to be someone who was eliminated too early and needs redeeming but isn’t talented enough for All Stars. That’s why it’s not Cynthia: she won Miss Congeniality.

3. Gaga’s Drag Race master class.
For those who need reminding, Untucked is the most important ancillary content for this show. You have to watch it if you consider yourself a fan. This week’s extra content was no exception because Gaga stopped by to give each queen individual notes and praise. It was a fantastic master class that let you see Gaga and the queens in a completely new light. I’m telling you: you have to watch it.

2. The Curious Case Of Jaymes Mansfield
I’m so concerned with Jaymes! This queen was barely on the debut and, when she was, there was marked tension surrounding if she was going to get eliminated for just blinking. It wasn’t that she was unprepared but that she was markedly absent in many ways. Eureka’s attacking and bullying Jaymes in Untucked highlighted how this problem went beyond the television screen and led to Eureka’s apologizing for her actions on social media. I know Jaymes isn’t going to win but I want her to succeed and I’m worried about her. It wasn’t that her showing was sad but that something was happening here. It’s too predictable to say “She’s the first one out, bye.” but that’s exactly how it feels. They should have probably saved the return of the fourteenth to give Jaymes a return pass for season ten.

1. All wasn’t what it seemed.
Outside of Gaga, the real thing that happened in the first episode was what didn’t happen. As Untucked revealed, an entire alternate universe was laid before us of what was slimmed down as it related to interior motives and conflicts: there was the battle to understand Jaymes; Kimora Blac revealing that she—Shockingly.—”hasn’t had any plastic surgery” save for getting her lips tweaked (Whether that’s a joke or not speaks more to Blac’s delivery.); Nina joked that she was “on the way to a Grindr date” when she found out she was cast only to reveal in a very heartbreaking moment that this was her last time trying out for the show because she still lives at home and feels her light fading, a storyline fact that will undoubtedly last all season long; Farrah Moan did have a reveal under her terrible “Alejandro” robe that she chose not to show off in the final moment; and Hamburger Mary’s is now the after show sponsor. It was a lot and suggested that this season, according to the first episode, is not what it seemed.

Boy. I’m already tired. Did you have as many issues as I did? I had a lot of issues, obviously.

Anyway, that leads us to our power ranking that is very shifted around from my initial ranking.

14. Jaymes Mansfield (Maintained. Sigh. I want her to beat my expectations! But she’s seemingly already checked out because…)
13. ???? (Void. This queen isn’t walking in and then walking out. Moreover, since we have no clue who she is, I’m going to leave her here. No one else was as flailing as Jaymes [Ugh.] to be ranked below.)
12. Kimora Blac (Down four. Somehow—SOMEHOW—Blac is more boring than Gia Gunn and her cool, untweaked body will only take her so far. Her underwhelming costumes support this too.)
11. – 9. Charlie Hide & Alexis Michelle & Peppermint (Maintained, down five, and down two. These three queens are nice and serviceable and talented enough but are missing some umph to carry them out of a tie for the middle. They’re interchangeably fine with their own storyline to keep them around, from Hide’s age to Peppermint’s being transgender. Regardless, their showing today was neither all that impressive nor all that terrible. These are the middle of the pack queens.)
8. Trinity Taylor (Up four. Slightly above the aforementioned middle pack is Trinity because she is a bitch and because she will feud with other bitch Eureka for many episodes. Moreover, she will have her fucking Orlando pride moment to cry about how she was down the street from Pulse. I’m shocked it didn’t happen in the first episode although the producers attempted to coax it out by having a fucking hometown challenge. Dense.)
7. Farrah Moan (Down two. This little kewtie bb is just not polished enough but her pretty face will take her far.)
6. Aja (Up four. Ditto but in terms of creativity.)
5. Eureka (Up four. This bitch could pry her way into top three but you know someone like her is going to get in her own way. Shame. We have yet to have a verifiable big queen win! She ain’t helping the evil big queen trope.)
4. Valentina (Down three. An easy grab for Miss Congeniality if she doesn’t win. I want to eat her up like a little Latina candy.)
3. Shea Couleé (Up one. Shea and Sasha are going to be this season’s kiki-ing Naomi Small and Kim Chi. Mark my words.)
2. Sasha Velour (Up one. Ditto. She only has one up on Shea for being a bit more of a creativity queen with a little more personality already on the table.)
1. Nina Bo’Nina Brown (Up one. Take everything I said about everyone, add some heart and soul and body paint, and here we are. Nina’s biggest challenge will be to not be constantly clowny but I am rooting for Nina Bo. I wanna bite outta that peach.)

Thoughts? Who are you gagging over? What did you hate? Give me your notes.

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