RuPaul’s Drag Race finale, season 11, ended yesterday with Yvie Oddly crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar.
I’ve always been ambivalent about the show.
Brooke Lynn Hytes vs Yvie Oddly – “The Edge Of Glory” by Lady Gaga (Lipsync For The Crown – Season 11 The Finale)
— frank ocean do brasil (@iamabadkids) May 31, 2019
If you just want the T or are hungry for shade, scroll down to the pics.
RuPaul’s Drag Race undoubtedly contributes to the causes of tolerance and inclusion by its mere presence on the airwaves.
It introduces diverse people to a mainstream audience.
The show lets isolated kids know they are not alone. As a kid who grew up in a then remote country town a few decades ago, I remember how I treasured the very occasional media references to people like myself.
We forget sometimes that not so long ago we were the people whose names could not be spoken.
I clung to the slightest hint that people like myself existed somewhere in the universe.
The scant mentions of sexually diverse people appeared to me like garbled signals from an alien race on another planet — my alien race.
We may scoff at drag shows.
I often do.
But in the 70s when the local TV station televised The Peter Moselle All Male Revue from a club in a nearby regional town it signalled to me that the Mothership was out there. If I could just find my way, it offered tantalising refuge to the scattered orphans of our alien race.
Haters now whinge about the attention to LGBTIQ communities.
They whine about too much focus on minority groups at the ‘expense’ of the majority.
To that we say “F*** you!”
For centuries, you clipped our wings and locked us in cages. You threw blankets over those cages to silence us.
Now we are out, we will chirp and cheep, and squawk and sing.
Sometimes we will soar across the skies on gossamer wings and sometimes, transfixed by our own reflection, we will fly into windows.
But we are free, f*** you, and will not shut up.
To borrow from a past battle in our history.
Silence equals death.
Drag Race vs Drag History
Anyway, to return to RuPaul, for all the good the show does, I entertain doubts.
The saccharine, scripted pop psychology drives me nuts.
The sometimes far too convenient eruption of emotion over past tribulations brings out the cynic in me. The obvious contrivance jars.
And to someone of my vintage, the co-opting of drag culture to a commercial venture rankles.
Believe it or not, stuff like tuck jobs, contouring and so many other titbits nonchalantly exposed on that show, were once the hidden secrets of drag culture. Drag queens passed that knowledge down through history from one queen to another.
That drag community lore was not Drag Race’s to expose for profit.
It’s like watching some kid on YouTube expose magic tricks that took decades to devise.
But that’s the world we live in.
Despite the show’s occasional nods to drag queens of pageants past, I see a generation of dragons who assume RuPaul invented cross-dressing as light entertainment.
Magnificent transgender performers invented the modern drag show. Shows like Australia’s Les Girls and The Moselle ‘brothers’ productions in Queensland performed invaluable service to the LGBTIQ communities. Their visibility in a less tolerant age led mainstream audiences to question the prejudice against our communities.
Gay pantomime dame style performers often played important roles in those otherwise transgender shows as comperes or comedy relief.
And the gay communities cherished transgender shows as visible symbols of diversity and inclusion.
As tolerance for LGBTIQ people became more widespread in western countries, gay drag performers came more to the fore. They took over from the transgender stars of years gone by.
Perhaps also, transgender performers backed away from drag shows, their job done, and not wishing to become anachronistic ‘fat ladies’ of the modern era – a freak show.
Divine – the original out loud, large and in charge
In retrospect, the turning point came with Divine.
Divine was fat. She was loud. Crude, rude and dressed size and age inappropriate. She couldn’t sing. She couldn’t act.
Yet she became a successful singer and actor.
Because, quite honestly, she couldn’t give a f***.
Divine did it her way whether you liked it or not.
And she was charismatic as they come. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.
Her original movies with John Waters found fame for their celebration of inclusion, for crudity, for incidental nudity and for Divine eating a dog turd.
None of this belonged in a mainstream movie, yet these cult films aspired to mainstream acceptance.
I never realised until recently that the films included snatches of pornography. The softcore versions available in Australia caused such a sensation, I never realised the censor’s scissors had been at work.
However recently I stumbled across a snippet cut from Female Trouble. That particular scene seemed outrageous enough at the time. In it Divine performed simulated oral sex on her ‘son’.
But it was not simulated!
The uncensored clip shows Divine chowing down on her co-star’s limp dick like she’d found the mother lode. However, there was no load in that lode, not even a skerrick of stiffness. But our heroine never cared. She licked and slurped and sucked like her life depended on it.
Divine led the way for entertainers like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to parlay outrage over sexual scandal into a mainstream bonanza.
Sadly, few queens manage to emulate Divine’s greatness, though many try. So very many plus size queens attempt pale imitation.
It’s often tempting to think, very incorrectly, “Honey, you’re not Divine. You’re just fat.”
But I’d get killed if I said that publicly, so please don’t repeat it.
I hit fast forward for most of the show.
Please, I already watched the series. I really don’t need the edited highlights. You’re in a beautiful theatre. Give me a show damn you — not a highlights reel.
I do like the supportive parents and siblings in the audience. Often the parents appear more sympathetic characters, and more colourful, than their drag offspring. However, I suppose they only need deliver the odd carefully scripted bon mot. They’re not the ones responsible for making us keep up a streaming subscription or madly search torrent sites.
I watch for the drag, so I’d rather watch a recording and zoom through to the lip sync battles.
Here’s what I learned.
Taking off a dress is not a f***ing reveal.
Drag Queens borrowed the art of the reveal from old Russian circus quick-change acts.
Those acts showcased centuries of accumulated knowledge, the skills of accomplished seamstresses and the flair of charismatic and dedicated performers.
During those performances fuller, longer garments appeared seemingly from nowhere as lithe hands snatched away smaller covering frocks.
Sadly, in drag shows, we often witness the simple taking off of a dress lauded as a ‘reveal’.
Queens sashay on stage with suspiciously full figures, appearing not so much dressed as upholstered.
“Oh, she’s going to do a reveal,’ we think.
Silky Nutmeg Ganache provided a wonderful example in her lip sync battle against Brooke Lynn Hytes.
Already a plus size performer, Silky landed on the finale stage padded with sufficient undergarments to survive an Arctic winter.
And who knows how many polyesters died cruelly in the manufacture of a Guinness Book of Records worthy Afro that screamed ‘there’s more wigs underneath’.
The problem was neither wig nor dress were anything much.
Not made to impress, their function merely to cover.
Don’t do that!
You’re a drag queen.
Everything you wear should impress us. It takes no more effort to sew a nice dress, than a plain.
During the performance, Silky’s dresses and wigs came off in rapid succession, each time exposing something less impressive below.
Drag Show 101 in how not to perform a reveal.
In the same number, Brooke Lynn performed a shoe reveal. That’s new. That’s classy. However, beyond the cleverness of it, not great entertainment of lasting value except for foot fetishists.
Brooke Lyn swanned about the stage en pointe, filling in time while Silky rolled towards her inevitable elimination.
Having Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent doesn’t mean being a ****!
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In days gone by, drag queens survived by their wits. They became famed for cutting remarks and devastating quips.
Nevertheless, few actually possess great ability in that regard.
While some kill with a genuine talent for hitting a raw nerve with devastating humour, many rely on learned and recycled clichés, while others are just nasty.
Just nasty doesn’t cut it.
I remember when I first saw Bianca Del Rio in season six.
When other queens clumsily contrived to outwit each other with rusty standard drag lines that never quite fitted the situation, Bianca raised a quizzical eyebrow and cut to the chase with original pertinent observations.
Sadly, it seems she has now done a Joan Rivers and crossed the perpetually moving line between kickass zinger and unthinking nastiness.
Therein lies much of Silky’s woes during the season. She mistook nastiness for confidence and comedic ability and lost too much likeability, especially in her sniping at Yvie Oddly.
I suspect she’s a much nicer person than we saw, but such is reality television and she made her bed.
Engage your audience
The second lip sync battle I barely remember.
A’keria, who I grew to really like throughout the season, made little to no attempt to engage the audience.
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As far as I remember, Yvie Oddly saved her energy for the final battle and never worked especially hard.
Engaging your audience is drag 101.
Let’s face it, there’s often not a lot to a drag number.
Most drag queens do not go to lessons from the age of four to learn their craft like ballet dancers or opera singers.
Few are trained singers or dancers.
Sheer force of personality wins their audience along with appearing to know the words they mime, not falling off the stage and wearing something interesting.
Yet a good drag act is mesmerising.
Now sometimes drag queens bring different skill sets to their acts.
Singing, circus skills, comedy chops, magic — or as in Brooke Lynn’s case – ballet.
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However, it rarely really works.
Somehow, the legitimate entertainment training fails to merge seamlessly with the drag to bring about the superior entertainment experience it should.
Using the example of Brooke Lynn in this series we see why. Too often when displaying her enviable ballet skill, she failed to engage the audience. This was never more obvious than the final lip sync battle when she whirled and twirled madly round that stage in far too earnest a search of the crown. Meanwhile Yvie Oddly relaxed, entertained and engaged.
A recent performance provided a truly exemplary example of audience engagement.
Brisbane drag queen Sellma Soul appeared on The Voice.
I read about her appearance on this very website and watched the video.
The lights came up and she appeared.
Slightly intimidating, I would think, to a suburban audience. The shaven head, the Divinesque make-up, and a little too thick-waisted for a leotard. (Hold on before you round up a posse — I’m thicker-waisted.)
And she slayed.
She had her audience from the opening moments.
Because she engaged.
Now, the singing obviously helped. She knows her voice — its power and its constraints — and she chose her song and delivered it to perfection.
Nonetheless, of more importance, I think, the audience loved her.
She engaged ferociously with the most radiant smile and sparkling eyes that told everyone watching how much she appreciated them.
(Camera shots of her gorgeous, loving and supportive family didn’t hurt either.)
That video should be compulsory viewing for every competitor on Drag Race.
I’ve never met Sellma, or seen her perform live, but I know she’s one hell of an entertainer.
The final lip sync battle — Yvie Oddly —an all-time favourite winner.
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The battle began promisingly enough for Brooke Lynn.
The outer garment with ‘REVEAL’ printed all over it was a touch of genius.
But sadly, after that, she proved all too girly and unassertive for one of Gaga’s finest tunes.
Yvie Oddly staged the finest reveal of all time — a non-reveal.
And Yvie Oddly — she just killed it. Nothing else to say. Yvie Oddly is a winner, baby.
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