Why Music Fans Should Be Watching RuPaul's Drag Race
Call it the chief paradox of modern pop culture: Most reality television shows blow, but we keep watching, because in a weird way, they're as compelling as they are mindlessly entertaining: The exploits of Honey Boo Boo's family may be exploitative, but, dammit, if they don't love each other. The Kardashians are the very definition of that "first world problem" meme, but we continue to watch, eager to bitch-slap Scott "Lord" Disick and watch Kim dab Kourtney's breast milk on her legs.
Which brings us to RuPaul's Drag Race, which finds itself in an interesting position, propelled higher than "so bad it's good" accolades to the perfect hodgepodge of music, drama, creativity, humor, and glamour.
RuPaul in and out of drag is entertaining enough; just look at the glam high jinks of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! and his role as a butch camp counselor in But I'm a Cheerleader. Ru stands at the center of Drag Race, which involves a series of drag queens competing for the title of America's Next Drag Superstar. The show is just as catty and over-the-top as it seems, but it features some great music elements as well.
Cher done right by Chad Michaels
Most drag queens have fairly predictable muses. Cher and Barbra Streisand are pretty cliché by now, but that didn't stop Chad Michaels from doing a killer Cher impersonation (meanwhile Delta Work fell flat). Each season has its lows and highs. Usually, the more a pop star relies on their looks, the flatter the impersonation falls. Just look at Sonique's Lady Gaga in season two (and Phi Phi O'hara's attempt at Gaga in season four), and the mediocre portrayals of Alyssa Edwards' Katy Perry and Detox's Ke$ha.
But for every miss there's a stellar performance, especially in the case of Tatianna's hilariously dumb Britney Spears. In some cases, the impressions are awkwardly funny, like when Puerto Rican Yara Sofia struggled with imitating Amy Winehouse's British accent and went Scottish for a moment. Alexis Mateo took on Alicia Keys, who isn't typically a funny person, and excelled by flirting with Amber Rose in character.
Divas are a popular choice, as Shangela passionately portrayed Tina Turner in season four and Coco Montrese nailed the Janet Jackson look. Jinkx Monsoon's Little Edie put the rest of last night's queens to shame, but the pop star influence continues to rage on. Nicki Minaj's style has made a few appearances this season, with Monica Beverly Hillz' bad girl swagger and Coco Montrese's attempt to serve up her fishiest look last night.
Yes, this really happened.
The Guest Judges
Unlike shows that trump up each special appearance, the guests are pretty secondary on this show. But it's always exciting to have Lady Bunny or Chaz Bono make an appearance, because as Alaska said, "Chaz Bono came out of Cher's vagina," making him an easy shoe-in for the show.
Michelle Williams was one of the first judges, appropriately stepping in for the girl group episode of season one. Some appearances are pretty unexpected, with Henry Rollins sitting alongside Terri Nunn for the rocker chicks episode of season two. Season three featured quite a few R&B chanteuses that are popular in the gay community, including Vanessa Williams, Fantasia Barrino, and LaToya Jackson, who've made multiple appearances on the show.
"Faking it" may have gotten Ashlee Simpson in trouble on SNL, but a riveting lipsyncing performance actually takes some talent. The queens have complained about being thrown off by people who actually sing, because it's not about vocal acrobatics; it's all a matter of serving up face.
In some cases, it's more of a matter of body: In season three, Raja and Carmen Carrera (half of the "Heathers") lipsynced to Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," and things got pretty heated as both stripped down and rubbed against each other.
During the all-stars season, teammates Jujubee and Raven were forced to lipsync against each other to see whom would get sent home. Both were reluctant to face off against their friend, so things got pretty emotional during their performance of Robyn's "Dancing on my Own," ending with both of them in tears, and Jujubee experiencing a breakdown.
Others have just sucked. Last week, Vivienne Pinay and Honey Mahogany faced off to Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again," which should have been an easy performance, but both queens faltered and because of that, both were victims of RuPaul's first and only double- elimination to date.
The Actual Singing
Not every drag queen is meant to sing, but it's pretty damn funny when they try. In season three, all of the queens were pretty shocked to find out that they had to actually sing their assigned genres, and not surprisingly, Raja excelled at punk, Alexis Mateo had fun with hip-hop, and Carmen Carrera and Shangela both struggled. Season five will feature another singing episode next week, which looks pretty '80s from the teaser, not to mention amazing.
The Rock in the Grandview neighborhood hosts a screening of Rupaul's Drag Race Monday nights at 7 p.m. See also:
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.