Searching for Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent

Season 7 of Rupaul’s Drag Race has returned.  More than simply another reality show, Drag Race belongs to a longstanding drag tradition in which participants compete for titles.  The show’s word play name evokes racecar competitions and subverts normative gender types—drag racing, unlike drag queening, being popularly associated with daredevil masculine men.  The opening sequence includes drag racing themes such as checkered flags (never mind Miss Thing’s checkered past) and the sound of screeching wheels.  While Drag Race is all about competition, it is also about self-empowerment.

RuPaul's Drag Race logo

With drag competition, a key premise is that the artful and adept drag queen—regardless of her physique or humble beginnings—can be The Queen.  Above all else, she must own who she is, which means she must accept herself and resourcefully work with what she has.

In drag competitions resourcefulness pays off as participants may get assessed for different types of “realness,” such as “corporate realness” or “wealthy suburban housewife realness.”  For drag purposes, realness is always a social category in quotes because drag recognizes that all forms of realness are performance-based.  There is nothing “natural” about any social category.  Or, as RuPaul says, “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.”  Drag queens, unlike most people, are hyper-aware of the art and skillful performance that must go into realness.  The successful drag queen visually and physically evokes a type and through her satirical performance plays with the distance between herself and the constructed social category.

Significantly, the show is also an important herstory lesson as echoes of two important drag documentaries—The Queen (Simon, 1968) and Paris is Burning (Livingston, 1990)—resonate throughout the workroom’s pink walls.  Yet RuPaul’s Drag Race no doubt reaches a larger audience than any filmed drag competition to precede it.  Between television, iTunes, Twitter, and Facebook, Mother Ru has filled every technological opening she can!

Miss Sabrina prepares her stage look as documented in The Queen (Simon, 1968).

The best drag queens understand how finely honed the overall art of drag performance must be.  Last week, in episode 6 of season 7, Ginger Minj created a look that had her being eaten by a bear for the “Death Becomes Her” runway challenge.  A plush grizzly bear mouth with sparkly teeth engorged her head, its skin serving as a coat for Ms. Minj; sleeves ending in red tipped glove-claws.  Glittery blood ran down Ginger’s forehead—a stunning and clever look that visually commented on a gay type, the bear.  Mother Ru took the word play further by quipping, “She’s bringing bear[bare] back.” 

Ginger Minj in the "Death Becomes Her" challenge
Ginger Minj is eaten by a bear for her "Death Becomes Her" runway look in season 7.

Speaking of the art of verbal performance, last season’s winner, Bianca Del Rio, demonstrated like no other preceding queen on the show how essential it is to have a quick wit.  Some have it, some don’t.  Last week, RuPaul asked Miss Fame the age-old question, “How’s your head?”  Alas, Miss Fame missed her window to make ‘em laugh and Michelle Visage had to complete the punch line with, “She hasn’t had any complaints yet.”   

Bianca Del Rio as Judge Judy in Season 6's Snatch Game
Bianca Del Rio channels Judge Judy for the Snatch Game competition in season 6.

Tonight’s episode includes the anticipated competition of the season: Snatch Game.  Snatch Game is the pièce de résistance of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as it requires queens to deliver costumes, celebrity impersonations, improvisation, and wit.  In short, Snatch Game epitomizes what RuPaul looks for in a winning queen: Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.

Who will the queens impersonate?  Will Miss Fame get her wit back?  Will anyone choke?  Who will make us gag?

Stay tuned and check back soon for a review of this season’s Snatch Game.

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