The RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise is a behemoth. It’s been going on so long that most of its contestants started drag after the show launched. And there’s so many spin-offs that there’s at least one version airing somewhere all year. That couldn’t be clearer than in season 16’s premiere as we watch queens constantly making references to the show’s own history. But all that means is it’s going to take a little more to stand out.
Season 16 launched with a two-part premiere (a tradition that has lasted over the last few years) and a photo-shoot mini challenge (a tradition that goes back to season 1.) The girls are confident, shady, and dolled up in all the ways we’ve come to expect. By this point we’ve seen it all, so nothing — not Dawn’s elfen couture or Mirage’s psychedelic covered “Baby Girl” dress — is shocking. (Well, maybe Amanda Tori Meating’s lack of polish seeing that we are 16 seasons in but … a conversation for another day.) After their one line entrance quotes, they are off to a photoshoot with Ru via Ring camera, and in short order are told the Maxi Challenge is a talent show with Oscar winner Charlize Theron as an extra special guest judge. Casual.
Like everything on Drag Race, talent shows can be really hit or miss. Some queens err a little too ambitious, while others may be a touch too conceptual. And while it may not always work we try to appreciate both. But it’s time we just say it: using the TALENT show to put on your normal Friday night club number often makes the eyes glaze over.
Like everything on Drag Race, talent shows can be really hit or miss.
There’s exceptions to every rule but we get a lot of lip syncing on Drag Race. There’s a girl group challenge, a Rusical, and if you stay long enough you will lay down a verse to one of Ru’s songs. These days it’s likely you’ll have to do some sort of lip sync for the crown in the finale! So unless you are punching up the performance with a novel bit of humor, or have Leland as your producer, let’s try figuring out another talent.
There’s a reason that in this premiere the two clear stand outs were Q and Sapphira; Q put on a detailed (red bottoms on ballet flats) puppet show while Sapphira combined her singing ability with theatricality (the split in a gown, mama) and humor to blow everyone away. Dawn put on an amazing show in what was, on its face, a lip sync, but in practice, a peek into her aesthetic and design skill.
In a Rate-a-Queen twist, Q and Sapphira were voted the tops with no one going home. From the moment that RuPaul raised an eye at Sapphira in the lip sync for the cash, she had won. Coupled with her mini challenge win, the Philadelphia-based performer is leaving the premiere with $7,500.
It wasn’t a breathtaking start to the season, sure, but that’s hard to do after so long. But it was enough of an introduction for us to do it all over again next week.