5 Fabulous Traits That Qualify RuPaul's Drag Race for TV's Best Reality Competition
Adding another reality competition in your life is an undertaking -- especially with Idol, Runway, The Biggest Loser, and Celebrity Apprentice overbooking your head space. But thanks to the Logo network, you will consider dumping a few of those middling productions and venturing beyond basic cable. Rupaul's Drag Race, Logo's runaway (or is it strut-away?) reality hit, features 10 drag queens vying to win an ad contract with Absolut Vodka, a feature in Paper, and the title of America's next drag superstar. In broad strokes, it sounds campy, maybe fun. Believe me, it is both. But upon closer inspection, RuPaul's Drag Race offers five anomalies to the reality-competition format, and all five shake up the genre in its staggering stilettos. It's a revolution, girls.
1. Perfect challenges
Season two of RPD kicked off by referencing the knock-down-draggiest movie of all time, Gone with the Wind, and forcing the queens to construct garments using curtains. Quipped the trenchant RuPaul of one competitor's look: "It's Vivien Leigh does Vivienne Westwood." In another recent challenge, the contestants imitated celebrities as part of an unbelievable Match Game parody called Snatch Game, with RuPaul donning Gene Rayburn's patterned suit and clutching a long thin microphone. Vivacious contestant Pandora Boxx perfectly captured latter-days Carol Channing ("Raspberries!" anyone?), while the salacious Tatianna tore Britney Spears to shreds.
2. Inspired judges (and guest judges!)
Like Project Runway, the final judging on Rupaul's Drag Race occurs on a catwalk. Regular judges RuPaul, author (and runner-up Launch My Line contestant) Merle Ginsberg, and Project Runway's own Santino Rice regularly offer critiques, but the one-off judges have been just as impressive. Last week's "Rocker chick" challenge gave us new faith in Black Flag's Henry Rollins and Berlin's Terri Nunn, who offered sage advice to the drag queens in their rock 'n roll stage attire, while burlesque week brought in the artform's doyenne, Dita von Teese. The best, however, was the second season's premiere guest, Kathy Griffin. Said the not-so-D-Lister: "Ru, I can't believe you dismembered our first lady, because you clearly have Michelle Obama's arms."
3. Incessantly dramatic contestants
Plus-sized Mystique didn't have much of a chance in the competition thanks to her unfabulous attitude, but she did throw down with another contestant backstage (in the "Interior Illusions Lounge") by proclaiming, in a monotone yell, "Bitch, I am from Chicago." She also jumped into the splits once an episode, which was astonishing. But that's just the beginning of the huffy antics on RuPaul's Drag Race. Prissy Tyra once, ahem, threw a rack of clothes at the other contestants when racing to pick garments at the top of one show. While that moment remains tops, every queen calls an adversary "tired" at some point every episode, and that's always the rude and catty in just the right way.
4. A signature sudden-death lip-sync
On Project Runway, Heidi forces the bottom-ranked contestants to stand silently while she explains how they fail as designers and, ultimately, as citizens of Earth. On RuPaul's Drag Race, our fine, feathered hostess believes talk is cheap -- she makes the losing queens "lip-sync... for yo' liiiife.." This makes for a wonderful, culminating burst of stage presence before the credits roll. Last episode, Jujubee and Sahara Davenport failed during their "rocker chick" stints, so Ru made them lip-sync to Alannah Myles's "Black Velvet." Sahara's formal training may have made her pirouettes and splits admirable, but Jujubee brought the sweaty, down-on-the-floor fervor that Alannah Myles's scratchy call requires. Rupaul then invoked the show's brilliant version of "auf wiedersehen": "Jujubee: Shante, you stay! Sahara Davenport, sashay... away." Thanks to the showmanship of the lip-sync, every elimination is emotional. I can't say the same for Project Runway's recent string of humdrum castoffs.
If ever an underrated emcee deserved an Emmy nom, it's RuPaul. She once began an episode with the incredible line, "It's RuPaul here with your Drag-U Weather forecast! We can expect a high-pressure system, followed by storms of 'Hell no!' 'Oh no she didn't!' and 'What you call me, bitch?'" The undeniable empathy of RuPaul's hosting, combined with her ability to loose ferocious one-liners at the drop of a wig ("And remember! Don't f*ck it up.") make her the bedazzled version of Tim Gunn that doesn't feel obligated to engage her subjects diplomatically. You can't say a nasty thing about a person who ends every episode by asking the remaining contestants, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love someone else? Can I get an 'Amen' up in here?" Amen! And all hail the queen!