This Will Be… Dida’s Going Away Party

A few weeks back on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, contestant Dida Ritz blew me (and Natalie Cole) away with her lip sync performance of Cole’s 1974 debut hit “This Will Be.” She projected youthful glitz and boundless joy, and she even sorta looked like a twenty-something Natalie Cole in a metallic gold disco-inspired get-up. Her performance was enough to save her from an early elimination and it earned her a good deal of respect from her drag sisters. Prior to that (and ever since), she’d been fairly undistinguished.

Start Your Engines!

As much as I was rooting for Dida, she just never rose to Ru’s weekly challenges, largely coasting along happily while benefiting from the bigger mistakes of arguably better queens (see also: Willam Belli’s surprise elimination for “breaking the [as yet unspecified] rules”). With the competition down to the final five, Dida’s shortcomings – her stunning lack of imagination, her not-big-enough hair, her not-very-special runway outfits, and her woefully unmoisturized (“gray”) knees – were only amplified by the general polish of the remaining queens.

She was especially weak in last week’s challenge, a drag presidential debate (oh yes, a drag presidential debate) moderated by RuPaul with additional questions from guest judge, The Onion sex columnist Dan “It Gets Better” Savage. When Savage posed a hard-hitting question to Ritz (“How would you redecorate the White House?”), Dida tossed what Savage would later call a “word salad” that involved using Ralph Lauren’s name in vain, like a hundred times. All the while, you could hear the girl’s gray knees knocking behind the podium. It was a little hard to watch, and it was no surprise that she landed in the bottom two.

The bigger surprise was that Latrice Royale landed there with her, this despite delivering one of the most potent one-liners of the night regarding the ugliness of Phi Phi O’Hara, who, in playing some sort of Sarah Palin/G.C.B. hybrid, had just referred to Dida and Latrice as “The Help”. (Because, you see, they’re all black and stuff. You know. Funny, right?) Last week’s lip-sync was to Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”, and though Dida made a good go of it, her wild energy didn’t go well with the song’s soulful simmer. Latrice got it. True, she had the added advantage of looking like someone who sounds like Gladys Knight (Dida had the same advantage with that Natalie Cole song). More importantly, she gave her performance space to grow, starting off still and strong and eventually building to the fervor of a revival tent preacher.

All Dida could do, after dropping her skirt mere seconds into the song, was rip her wig off at the end – the last resort of the desperate-for-attention queen. Game over. The winner could not have been clearer and La Ritz received her long overdue “Sashay Away”.

Latrice Is Having All Our Babies, or “Straight Men Can’t Tuck”

That fierce performance from Latrice turns out to have been merely the warm-up for what was truly the greatest Lip-Sync for Your Life in all the show’s four seasons.

At the end of last week’s episode after the final four were revealed, Ru announced that she would be bringing back a previously eliminated queen of her judging panel’s choosing. At the beginning of this week’s episode we learn that Santino Rice (Project Runway Season 2 non-winner) and (90s dance pop refugee) Michelle Visage had chosen diminutive Puerto Rican Kenya Michaels to return for a second chance. Kenya’s main advantage all along had been that she presents as a girl – a really short, really cute, really girly girl – even out of drag. There is simply, absolutely no mistaking her for a man. But her inability to surmount the language barrier (and her inability to turn her language issues into a genuine schtick – see Yara Sofia from Season 3) kept her from ever presenting a serious threat in the competition.

Nevertheless, Kenya started the episode strong, winning the mini-challenge (but really, how hard could dressing a teddy bear in drag – for charity! – be?). But the main challenge was a doozie. A twist on last year’s challenge of turning older gay men into “drag mamas”, this week’s challenge had the queen-testants transforming daddies – “daddies”, in the case, meaning men who have actually reproduced biologically at least once, maybe twice, or maybe six times – into drag sisters. Hilarity ensues, right? But wait! As if RuPaul Charles were a sort of alternate universe infomercial Ron Popeil: there’s more! For the runway, the queens (including the newly dragged dads) would present as pregnant! With Beyonce-style (oooh, I didn’t go there) phony baby bumps!

But wait! There’s even more! Before doing the with-child runway walk, each pair would do a stage performance together! A burlesque! Now, how much would you pay?

While the evil Phi Phi O’Hara was blessed with a dad who came to win, Kenya (who, as a reward for winning the mini-challenge, got to play matchmaker between the queens and dads) chose for herself the dad with the “prettiest” face, who also turned out to be the biggest wet blanket of the bunch. Their pregnant runway was so unintentionally depressing, I laughed until I cried. The freshly redeemed Kenya found herself up for re-elimination.

Latrice was also, once again in the bottom two, having transformed the totally game but not terribly graceful father of six Leland into more of a drag BFF than a drag sister (yes, “family resemblance” was one of the judge’s criteria for this challenge). While, of all the remaining queens, Latrice is my clear favorite, I was sorta thrilled to see her back in the bottom two. Her lip sync on last week’s show was the best of this season, aside from Dida’s “This Will Be” (which seems more and more like a fluke at this point). How would she and Kenya fare with…

“(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”. Aretha. Again, this is a song that hardly makes a competition between Latrice Royale – a regal black woman of ample build and bedazzled face – and lil’ Miss Kenya seem fair. Again, Latrice friggin’ looks like someone who sings like Aretha. (Indeed, Latrice is often given to leading the girls in a rousing gospel chorus of “Jesus is a biscuit!”) She wouldn’t have needed to do much to convince us.

Regardless, she worked the song over, “singing” Aretha’s words (well, Carole King’s words) to her baby bump, then addressing the heavens with what can only be described as the proverbial glow of a mother-to-be. Latrice stood solidly center stage and never stopped earning her spotlight, even as little Kenya performed wild jumps, pirouettes, and splits all around her – like some kind of giant methed-out fruit fly – desperately trying to upstage the un-upstageable.

Latrice had memorably praised Dida Ritz’s great take on “This Will Be” as “high drag”, but the drag on this show has never been higher than what Latrice delivered this week. She was glorious, and her “Natural Woman” was incredibly touching and sweet (her challenge partner, sweet, straight Leland, father of 6, said it gave him goosebumps!), but it was also very sweetly funny, because you absolutely believed that this very large man (who’s been to prison, remember) was a very pregnant woman. Really amazing stuff. Fast forward to about 38:30 in the video below to see it:

The Final Four, Confirmed

The Final 4 are:

Latrice Royale
I’m ready to crown Ms. Royale this season’s winner based solely on that performance, but there are a couple of epic challenges left before RuPaul places that tiara. Even if Latrice lands in the bottom two next week, I can’t imagine any of the remaining queens beating her in the Lip Sync round.

Phi Phi O’Hara
Urgh. I hate her. A nasty, scheming queen who wears her insecurities like glittery sequins, who oversells her own abilities, and loudly underestimates the talents and smarts of those around her. There are some villains you root for (see Willam Belli). And then there’s sad, ugly, smug, awful little Phi Phi.

Chad Michaels
She’s a professional! Clearly the most polished of the bunch, Chad Michaels is most notable for having committed violent crimes against his face in order to look more like Cher. I didn’t take her very seriously in the beginning because of that. Her primary strength is her polish, her professionalism and her consistency. But it’s all those things that would make her the most boring choice for this season’s winner.

Sharon Needles
If, at the beginning of the show, before a second of it had aired, you’d asked me who would be first eliminated, Sharon would have been my guess. But she has consistently surprised me with both her dry, mordant sense of humor and b-horror flick runway looks. Although she has stayed true to her genre, she’s also shown a wide range of it, and out of drag, she’s proven to be a smart, strong, sensitive, entirely decent person with a very big heart. She may be a monster, but girl’s got feelings, yo.

In last week’s Drag Presidential debate, she brought a kind of Michelle Bachmann realness – all business, purposeful and righteous in a sober pantsuit as she expounded on the virtues of not only marriage equality but divorce equality, and asserted that “this country is in dire need of a sex change, and I’m just the drag queen to perform such an operation.” She played up her cynicism as a family value, but in her summation speech, she delivered a raw mini-autobiography to stand in solidarity with all the small-town, working class freaks and outcasts of America.

But can she out lip-sync Latrice? I’d like to see her try.