‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 8 Premiere: Keepin’ It 100

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RuPaul's Drag Race.

RuPaul’s Drag Race.

After a superb set of Meet The Queens video (a major improvement over last year’s hostage outtakes), we’re finally finally FINALLY seeing Season Eight. What’s interesting about the first episode is how easily this season’s major players stand out from the also-rans. To wit:

First to arrive is Naomi Smalls, the leggiest contestant in Drag Race history. She seems perfectly nice and pleasant, like another (though better) DiDa Ritz. She might coast to the end like Ritz, but the show has gotten away from being looks-based. Next up is one of the most excruciatingly annoying queens in the show’s history. Cynthia Lee Fontaine is trying to be the love child of Tammie Brown and Alexis Mateo but seems to have neither the zany humor of the former or the on-point look of the latter.

Third is Dax ExclamationPoint, “Queen of the Nerds,” dressed as Storm. Cosplay and drag have certainly interacted with increasingly frequency in recent years, and it’s great to see the first true cosplay queen on Drag Race. Her no-eyebrows look is creepy as hell, which only adds to the comic-book mystique (get it???). Her Meet the Queens outfit showed she’s more than a comic mimic, so she has some real potential.

Fourth is the instantly forgettable Naysha Lopez, basically Candy Ho redux. Why these pageant girls try out for the show is beyond me. Even last year’s Kennedy Davenport, one of the best dancers the series had ever seen and a total sweetheart, had zero support at DragCon of the final four.

Finally an actual contender to take the crown arrives. Acid Betty comes in with a mirrored faceless mask, spraying some hairspray and single-handedly destroying the ozone layer. Acid is so excited that she runs around the Werk Room. It’s always a treat to see how giddy the girls are, especially those like Acid whose persona is severe. Acid is what Vivacious was going for, an elevated club-kid look that’s more about being living art than female impersonation.

Then we have Robbie Turner. Oh, Robbie. She tries to be ironic by describing herself as “the kindest queen you’ll ever meet” before mugging “ironically” for the camera. In many ways Robbie is a second Tempest DuJour, old-school camp, except Tempest’s entrance was genuinely funny and Robbie’s…um. Not to mention that she has one of the worst official cast photos ever, with a horrific wig paired with a leaves-of-lettuce dress.

And then we have one of the sure breakout stars from this season, Kim Chi. Like Miss Fame and Pearl, her pre-show photos were jawdroppingly original and creative. Just like Fame, her persona might be picture-perfect but her personality is total dork—an ideal combo. I can only imagine how intimidating it must be to go up against someone who is such a mistress of visual artistry.

Next is another queen who might break out this season, Thorgy Thor. Despite looking like a typical Bushwick horror show out of drag, Thorgy is anything but. Rather than acting blasé and too cool for school (RIP Drag U.), she radiates genuine enthusiasm at all times. The queen came to bring fun and a smile and that is really what most true entertainers are there for in any field. She seems like a frontrunner for this season’s Miss Congeniality.

Then in comes Bob the Drag Queen, who is simply hilarious and does not take herself seriously at all (she gave a great turn late last year at Bianca’s roast). She gives great soundbite, so it’s seem highly unlikely she won’t at least make it to fifth or sixth.

Next we have Laila McQueen. It seems unfair to critique her, because she’s only twenty-two and probably the greenest contestant the show has ever seen. Yes, Tyra was only 21 when she won, but queens who are that polished at that age are one in a million—and Laila is not one of them. She struts in with Max’s Sharon Needles outfit from Snatch Game and a cheap wig that looks like the one Jade Jolie wore on her last runway. It seems clear that she should have honed her craft before auditioning.

Next we have Chi Chi DeVane, wearing a garbage bag dress but seeming completely uninspired in general. Finally we have Derrick Barry, an uncannily perfect Britney Spears impersonator. We can argue at length about whether female impersonation is technically the same thing as drag, but regardless Derrick will obviously have to be able to deliver something other than Britney. Although now that I think of it, it would actually be pretty crown-worthy if she just did a Snatch-Game version of Britney all season long and just stayed in that character.

(If you want to see all one hundred queens enter, Logo has conveniently put together a compilation!)

Now on to the episode itself. The queens had to pose with all the former winners (sans Bianca, plus literal circus clown). The photo challenge never seems to make that much of a difference, because really the final judgment seems to come down to runway look and personality. For the runway, as with every first season, the queens have to put together their own outfit on the spot. Past winners and contestants show up to announce the categories—neat to see cameos from Morgan, Shannel and Raven for this one hundredth episode.

Some of the queens really turn it out on the runway. Kim Chi’s Cowardly Lion look is one of the best the show has ever seen, especially due to her makeup artistry, and she gets the easy win. The other real standout is Acid Betty’s Money Ball presentation. Robbie Turner barely escapes having to lip sync—her whining about her look and choices really was quite reminiscent of the execrable Magnolia Crawford. It’s hard to tell if Robbie is getting a bad edit or she just has RBF, but she is not coming off well at all.

The two to lip sync are Laila and Naysha, who deliver cringeworthy performances to Gaga’s “Applause,” one of the most danceable songs in recent memory. I don’t think there’s really a wrong way to dance to this hi-tempo song, but somehow both find a way. At least Laila has the sense to go punk for a bit and whip her hair around. Ru has no choice but to send Ms. Lopez home. The pageant queen can take solace in the fact that she couldn’t do “drag on a dime” if her life depended on it–not necessarily a bad thing.

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