5 Fabulous Traits That Qualify RuPaul's Drag Race for TV's Best Reality Competition

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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.

5. RuPaul

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!



Comments

  • NP says:

    Amen to this post. Except for the whole "Mystique has a bad attitude" thing. I don't think Mystique ever had a bad attitude--she was just shunned and ridiculed by most of the other contestants for her size. Raven has a bad attitude (though already I see it dissipating a little now that she's not part of a cliquey alliance). Monica Lewinsky jawed, freckle faced Morgan had a bad attitude. Sonique had a bad attitude. If you gonna call a bitch out, call the right bitch out.

  • OMG, YES! Seriously, I got hooked on the Season 1 reruns just before this season's premiere (and, yes, I think Season 1 was better and the girls overall more talented, not to mention less petty; also, oh how I miss "CAMEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON!") and haven't looked back. I always loved RuPaul, but she is now a National Treasure in my book. She's just so smart and with-it and witty (those one liners she peels off are insanely marvelous). And, she, like, actually has constructive things to say to the girls, all packaged with warmth and wisdom and compassion. I want Miss Ru to be the drag mother I never had!
    So who do you want/think will win? Anyone but Tyra would be my preference, but I do think she'll be this season's Rebecca Glasscock: totally on for too long and far too coddled by the judges, but ultimately not really in contention. I do NOT like Raven; she's like every stereotype of the mean-bitchy-bitter queen rolled into a not-terribly-attractive package. I'm personally a Pandora Boxx fan, but if you put a gun to my head, I'd actually say Jessica Wild (who I totally want to do as a boy) is the dark horse.

  • Randy says:

    I think RuPaul had a bad attitude when he wrongly axed Morgan McMichaels. She is a real professional with lots of experience and I think RuPaul had it out for her from the beginning. Maybe because she reminded him too much of himself--the plain, freckled face out of drag and the fiercely dramatic drag persona. In the wedding episode RuPaul picked on her saying only whores wear white shoes and then when Morgan laughed nervously when called on to lip sync a second time, yelled, "What are you laughing at?" Sahara Davenport should have sashayed away en pointe and Morgan would have kicked ass on the next episode in the rock competition!

  • hellcat says:

    Lip-sync for your life is the best.
    I was shocked a few episodes back when a drag queen didn't want to do the stripper competition because she thought it was cheap and slutty. So much for acceptance.
    Ru rocks, the show is tight, no pun intended.

  • TimGunn says:

    My mom told me RuPaul does a good Tyra Banks, and I was like, I think it's the other way around.
    Pandora's Boxx all the way! Would like to be married to her to be honest.

  • theescapist says:

    Love this show, only embarrassed that it took me so long to get where she was going with her "Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent" business.

  • JeezJon says:

    This is hands down the best reality show on the air right now... and quite possibly, the best one to come down the pike since "Top Chef". It's simultaneously an excellent competition reality show and a pitch-perfect send-up of competition reality shows. The "Heel Or No Heel" portion of the "Snatch Game" episode was especially hilarious. It's a fantastic show, so glad Movieline is giving it so much love!

  • Tova says:

    Love the show. Ru is a great mentor to the girls. Great judges.

  • jojo says:

    Great article, I agree with everything wholeheartedly.
    Pandora Boxx is definitely my favorite, and embodies everything a good drag queen should be. Everyone seems to forget that drag queens really earn their bones by emceeing and hosting events, and for that, you gotta have personality and (hopefully) be hilarious. otherwise nobody's gonna give a crap. I'm glad this show tests personality as well as drag and lip-synching skills.
    One thing... You don't need to say "Black Flag's Henry Rollins". Come on now. Henry Rollins is so, so much more than the former frontman of Black Flag. Solo career, poet, journalist, DJ, rock historian... He's basically a God to many people so putting a descriptor in front of his name seems kinda tacky.

  • SousChefGerard says:

    Morgan's "rocker" look was about as fake as her eyelashes. Other than pursing her lips and sticking out her tongue in the photo shoots, she couldn't design a simple concept dress and had a strut a butch female would be very proud of.
    Pandora Boxx should win but Fake Tyra will probably prevail.

  • stretch65 says:

    Mystique - is that YOU? YOU BETTER DIET!

  • denise crapps says:

    Rupaul this Denise Crapps Fashion Designer in Nashville,tn I would love to Design for you

  • Jacki says:

    I am definitely into the show. This is the only show in years that I run home to watch. I love it!!.
    Tatianna is my favorite and it's not because she's the prettiest, it's because Raven constantly bad mouth her every chance she get and friends like Jujubee who need enemies. Her little commits she make about Tatianna is just as bad, and she calls Tatianna her friend. The bottom line Tatianna made it this far and they should stop hating on her. Jujubee got on stage as a rocker chick and froze. I wouldn't call her the next Drag Star. Raven atitude stinks and Tara has no personality.
    I was sad to see Pandora Boxx go. She was also my favorite. I think
    she also had what it takes to be the next Drag Star.

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