Last week we had the Snatch Game, and this week we were given another RuPaul’s Drag Race institution – the Rusical. Dating back to its season five prototype, the drag ballet challenge known as “Black Swan (Why Is Gotta Be Black?)” and then season six’s “Shade: The Rusical” where they couldn’t pass up having two Idol alumni singing live in a challenge. Since then, Drag Race has had Rusicals that have drawn inspiration from Pitch Perfect to pharmaceutical drug commercials to the women of the Trump administration to the Kardashian-Jenners themselves – each one involves choreography, acting, and sometimes actual singing.
This season’s Rusical pays homage to Madame X herself, Madonna and, by proxy, permanent Drag Race judge Michelle Visage (perhaps the biggest Madonna fan in existence). These two divas finally get their past-due attention from the show and it makes for perhaps the best Rusical challenge in Drag Race her-story.
Feelings Are Hurt
Coming off the high heels of Aiden’s elimination, the queens are in their feelings over what had transpired during last week’s Untucked (the 30-minute, behind-the-stage look at what the queens say and do as they await judgement). Heidi was upset with Gigi’s uncalled for remarks about Heidi’s makeup (a topic of interest that was shuttered as far back as episode one) and Widow was not letting go of Jackie and Sherry more-or-less lecturing the queens on their supposed lack of preparation for last week’s Snatch Game (“This is the ONE challenge that we all had THE MOST time to prepare for”). However, since Widow was declared safe it’s odd that she would take such offence to their words. Nonetheless, Widow is still salty about the exchange throughout episode seven and even into Untucked.
When the queens learn that their next challenge would be the Rusical, Widow is over the moon since dancing is her forté, and not necessarily Jackie’s. With any other queen, this would be perfect fodder for a villain edit but Widow is somehow evading this sentence – either she is sticking around for a while or production is finally wising up to how past editing has unfairly vilified black queens. Maybe it’s a mix of both. Either way, it’s important to remember that this was all filmed over a year ago and none of these queens deserve hate mail, racial slurs, or death threats sent to them – a statement that unfortunately has to be made as often as possible since racism is rampant in the Drag Race fandom.
Don’t Go For Second Best, Baby
It’s a new day in the workroom and RuPaul enters to let them all know that there is no mini-challenge – they have to get right into it the Rusical. Nobody is assigned leader or casting director for the challenge, so the queens have to negotiate and fight for the parts that they want, and this is Madonna, the Queen of Reinvention, so there are so many to choose from. Ultimately, we are given three blocks of Madonna’s career – the early years with “Lucky Star” (Early Madonna), “Like A Virgin” at the VMAs (Boy Toy Madonna), and platinum blonde in “Papa Don’t Preach” music video (Unapologetic Madonna). Next, we bring her into the 90s with the iconic “Blonde Ambition” tour look (Cone Bra Madonna), the extremely controversial “Justify My Love” music video era (Sex Madonna), and Movie Star Madonna, with references to Evita, A League of the Own, and Dick Tracy (among others). Last is the more recent incarnations of the Queen of Pop namely, her ode to Kabbalah in the “Ray of Light” (Enlightened Madonna), cowboy hat-wearing Femmepire Madonna and the final boss, modern Madonna Forever.
Most girls get their first choice of performance except for Gigi Goode and Jan; Gigi wants Cone Bra, but ends up with Unapologetic. Jan just doesn’t want to go first but ends up doing so as Early Madonna. Now, unlike the last Rusical dedicated to an iconic diva (season ten’s unauthorized tribute to Cher) this will not have live vocals, but instead, the queens will record their own vocals to lip-sync to later (how very like Madonna) and Jan has a real leg up on the competition – she is an actual singer. She nails the vocals and picks up the choreography very well; Gigi on the other hand is shown to stumble with the recording and messes up some of the choreography – which is interesting since she quite literally did the dance move she SEEMS to struggle with here in her lip sync against Widow way back in episode one. That is some misdirection right there.
A Perfectly Immaculate Performance
The Rusical begins with a Michelle Visage as Madame X Madonna video introduction that pulls back to reveal Jan as Early Madonna. She hits the stage and takes over the world; her vocals are superior and her look and movements are pure Miss Ciccone. She is followed immediately by Jackie as Boy Toy Madonna, who takes the “Like A Virgin” beat literally and doesn’t come off as confident or powerful; we next see Gigi as Unapologetic as can be, as she stuns with her looks and her flips. Of course, she nails the dance.
From there, we’re brought onto the Blonde Ambition tour with Brita in the iconic Cone Bra; she’s given some fun lyrics and her vocals are good, but she misses a step or two in the choreography. Jaida then completely KILLS it as Sex Madonna – everything is perfect from her suy spoken word to her wig to her sensual body language. Her performance is so good that the mood can’t be lowered by Sherry as Movie Star Madonna, who sings of her various film roles as Madonna’s Golden Globe-winning role from Evita; Sherry is good, but the role is inherently less than special. It’s a part that was meant to be safe.
We are then introduced to Madonna’s biggest reinvention yet – her devotion to the Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, with Crystal’s kooky take on Enlightened Madonna. Emulating the “Ray of Light” music video look and letting herself shine through in the performance, Crystal more than makes up for her weak vocals. Next is Widow as Femmepire Madonna, as she dances the house down in all white and this era’s signature cowboy hat. Last is Heidi as Madonna Forever – a more recent version that focuses on being the One True Pop Diva. Heidi’s dancing is perfect, but there is very little Madonna in her performance. Overall – and this is no exaggeration – this is the best ensemble Rusical performance in the entire run of the show. As I watched it live, I could not fathom how the judges could criticize the queens. It was upon my second viewing that I saw the teeny-tiny flaws, but the assertion still holds – this is the best Rusical of all time.
Night of 1,000 Michelle Visages
In Drag Race her-story, there is a long-running joke about Madonna’s wardrobe that stems from one of season eight’s runway categories, “Night of 1,000 Madonnas”, where four out of eight queens wore kimono on the stage. It caused a lot of uproar, which season nine tried to make up for with a take two of the same runway theme, but there still ended up being two sets of copies on the runway (two queens dressed as Madonna from the 2013 Met Gala, and two queens wore the Marilyn Monroe-inspired costume from the “Material Girl” music video). Needless to say, they decided to go in a different direction with this Madonna-adjacent theme and decided to dedicate it to Michelle Visage. The runway looks cover many different eras of Michelle’s own career – from her days as a bikini-clad vocalist for The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. to her various trashy early-Drag Race outfits to her modern-day fashion-forward gowns – and thankfully, not one of them is a repeat! That is one thing that Michelle has over her idol and hero.
The special guest judges for this week are model Winnie Harlow and United States congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is an enormous Drag Race fan. They join RuPaul, Carson Kressley, and Michelle Visage, who cannot contain her excitement over being the focus of the runway. Visage is also the harshest judge on the show so the queens have a lot to lose by not only messing up one of her idol’s legacy, but also her own fashion.
The queens strut their stuff and then line up for their critiques – Jaida, Widow, and Sherry are declared safe and are dismissed to Untucked, while the rest of the contestants await judgement. Jan, Gigi, and Crystal are given high praise for both their performances in the Rusical and for their runways. Jan and Gigi look exactly like Visage with their individual looks – Jan takes on a season seven campy “Jet Set Eleganza” look and Gigi takes it back to The Bodyguard soundtrack days, blonde hair, ridiculous acrylic nails and all. Crystal’s runway is classic talk show red Visage from The RuPaul Show days, paying tribute to her career as her best friends second banana. Every one of the judges loves the walk-down-memory-lane look and they loved how unique her performance was.
Jackie is told that though her trashy All Stars Visage runway is extremely detailed and on-brand, her portrayal as Madonna just wasn’t enough. AOC takes a moment to try and build Jackie up from the negative critiques, and it creates a really lovely moment between the two where Jackie, a Muslim queen, tells the congresswoman how important her ascension to Washington is so important to her. It’s a nice reminder that getting out to vote is more important now than it has ever been. Brita is told that her gown and glasses are on point, but she made the tragic mistake of not wearing drop earrings, on top of the fact that she messed up the choreography. Heidi is given a similar critique to Jackie and Brita: her performance wasn’t Madonna enough and her fashion wasn’t Michelle enough.
Jan, Tonight You Ruled The World… You Are Safe
And with those nine simple words, RuPaul knocked Jan down a peg or two – this was the challenge that every single queen thought that Jan would win…including Jan. After being safe for so long, it would have been so rewarding to see her get her first win but the stars were not in alignment for her this week. Instead, the win goes to Gigi Goode for the second week in a row and for the third official time in the season (in earlier reviews, it was stated that Gigi had already won her third challenge, but this writer was mistaken in calling Gigi’s performance in the premiere a win, when it has now been established that she was declared Top 2 – this also means that Sherry has two wins and not three). Both queens did extremely well but there is something bothersome about the spotlight shining on one contestant, especially when these queens are overall so talented and on their game. It seems that the thing that gives Gigi the edge is her high-heeled back handspring and the fact that Ru was tickled by how well she pulled off such a simple, nostalgic look, whereas Jan’s runway – though completely on point – wasn’t an outfit one would think of when reflecting on Michelle Visage’s career. Either way, Jan is not happy.
Jan may not be happy with being declared safe, but at least she’s not in the bottom two, unlike Brita, and Heidi. Jackie is ultimately saved from having to lip-sync because of her perfect New Jersey runway look and makes her way to the back of the stage. This is now Heidi’s second lip-sync and Brita’s third, which usually means you are going home, unless of course, you’re season five’s Coco Montrese, season ten’s Kameron Michaels, or season eleven’s Ra’Jah O’Hara. However, it is a close battle as Brita brings everything that was missing from the challenges – confidence, charisma, and the right moves as her and Heidi dance and lip-sync to “Burning Up” by – who else? – Madonna. The song is upbeat and poppy and the two queens pull out all of the stops. It’s the best lip sync since episode one, and it really can go either way – both Heidi and Brita are fully bringing their all. In the end, RuPaul chooses Heidi to shantay and Brita to sashay away. Brita seems content with making it as far as she has but someone at the back of the stage is very upset when Brita leaves the stage – Jan, who is heavily crying. Does she shed tears for Brita, her New York sister? For herself? It’s hard to say, but it’s most likely a combination of both.
With Brita now gone, it looks like Heidi – our forever MVQ – is the new weak link. It’s sad to say but out of all the queens who are left, she is the only one who has lip-synced for her life, which means that either she is the next to go or a real shake-up is coming. Every episode so far has been a mixed bag of acting, design, or performance challenges – these are all important qualities for America’s Next Drag Superstar (the official title of the winner of the season) but they are not everything. Next week’s challenge will be about branding and marketing and hopefully, it will bring more zest to the top and bottom three. Nobody likes a predictable TV show and nobody wants to see Gigi (or Sherry) win every single every week – where’s the fun in that? All I know is that Jan had better win something and Heidi had better not be the next queen to sashay away.
What did you think of episode seven? Did Jan deserve to win over Gigi?
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