Last week, RuPaul announced a new slate of Drag Race All Stars competitors, which means the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race is swiftly spiraling toward its conclusion, as the circle of Drag Race life demands that one season of the franchise must die in order for a new installment to be born. In the workroom, the six remaining queens have begun to sound like staying in the competition is akin to appeasing an angry god, with Jackie offering praise for her salvation in last week’s rare and miraculous double Shantay. Heidi also had a religious experience in the form of learning that the word “epiphany” has but one “h,” giving the new sect of Heidevotees (of which I am a member) a fresh term for our liturgy. Hepiphany shall henceforth be the term for raptures inspired by watching Heidi Formerly N Closet make a face like a just-born baby lamb upon learning something new.
The mini-challenge invoked the recurring Drag Race sacrament of using puppets to point out competitors’ flaws, and Jackie used her Sherry Pie puppet as a vessel for saying all of the things the audience screams about Sherry Pie weekly—she’s a smug one-trick pony who seems to be skating by on the judges’ inexplicable hard-on for her, though Jackie is too politely Canadian to say that last bit despite its veracity. Jackie’s “chewing the scenery” joke was inspired, and she deservedly won the mini-challenge. Of the other puppetmasters, Sherry was predictably cruel, giving Heidi a mannish hillbilly accent that sounds nothing like Heidi’s naturally dulcet tones. Gigi cracked up at her own jokes until she realized no one else was laughing. Crystal and Jaida were fine, and Heidi was correct in her assessment that, after last week’s insane-yet-endearing muppet drag, Drag Race has become “The Crystal Show.” And Crystal Methyd’s Drag Race is much more upbeat and kind-hearted than The Sherry Pie Hour would have been had editors not cut most of her footage because of allegations that Sherry is even more awful off-camera.
The maxi-challenge was one of the biggest tests of charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent Drag Race offers: the six remaining queens are given three to five minutes all alone on stage with no real guidelines for entertaining a live audience other than vague instructions to be entertaining. Previous iterations of this challenge have included roasts of Ru and Michelle, talent shows, and stand-up comedy sets. When the challenge goes well, Bianca Del Rio is introduced to the world as a gifted stand-up comic, when it goes badly, Phi Phi O’Hara sings a capella and the collective pull of the audience sinking into secondhand embarrassment likely creates a new black hole elsewhere in the cosmos. This week’s instruction was to create a one-woman show, but interpretations of what that meant varied wildly.
Jackie Cox has struggling all season to figure out who her character really is, and she was clearly trying to avoid getting personal with a few awkward jokes. But guest mentor Whoopi Goldberg and Ru wisely advised that stand-up might not be Cox’s forte. Instead, Cox ended up creating a confessional and movingly honest bit about how her parents’ differing expectations has been the source of Jackie’s conflicting desires to both hide and perform.
In previous weeks, Ru has given Heidi specific workroom instructions for how to perform well in the challenges, right down to workshopping new names, but this week, Whoopi simply gave Heidi a brief course on movement for the stage and left her to her own one-woman show plot devices. The result was a bit of a disaster. In her family-themed skit, Jackie was able to quickly and easily differentiate between her parents with a quick change of glasses and diverging accents. But the players in Heidi’s recounting of a family picnic all morphed in voice and characteristics, becoming just a confusing blob of Heidi, who is delightful but perhaps not quite ready for a challenge of this magnitude.
Unlike Jackie, Crystal seems to have come into this competition knowing exactly who she is—a good-natured weirdo for whom drag is a platform for sketching out strange characters. Crystal’s Phenomenal Phil, a 1980s exotic dance instruction was quite possibly the funniest thing to happen all season. I fully intend to learn the Litterbox and drunkenly embarrass myself with it in the near future.
Sherry Pie also created a character in the form of a drunken psychic who predicts the future with a goldfish bowl full of alcohol. At least that’s what the choppy editing intended to minimize Sherry’s appearance seemed to suggest. What was clear was that a hard stop at five minutes got pushed back to a full 17 minutes for Sherry. The “epic yarn,” as Michelle called it, rattled Jaida, who was slated to close the show. Once again, the judges seemed content to let Sherry do whatever the fuck she wants and giggled along with the performance gamely before letting it slide on the runway instead of holding her to the rules her fellow competitors followed.
Gigi Goode’s Sartre on an airplane schtick was as adequate as anything else she’s done recently. Jaida, unfortunately, went with an embarrassing story about a time she pissed herself (and her boyfriend) that could have been funny had it included jokes but was, instead, as mortifying as actually watching someone piss themselves. Heidi and Jaida were clearly in the bottom, especially factoring in previous episodes’ evidence that Sherry just doesn’t get critiqued by anyone who is not a puppet.
On the runway, the category was The Color Purple, and everyone did, in fact, wear purple. Gigi’s mother made her a very nice Scooby Doo-inspired jumper, and Sherry was a cat. Both were fine. Heidi finally sorted out her makeup, much to Michelle’s delight. Jackie experimented with a Crystal-esque One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater character, which came off well. However, Jackie couldn’t beat Crystal at her own game. Crystal’s rag-doll cow couture inspired by Nick Cave’s sound suits was silly and smart at the same time, just like Crystal.
Despite looking beautiful, Jaida and Heidi faced off at the bottom, while Crystal deservedly finally won a challenge, making her a surprisingly strong contender as we go into the final weeks of the season.
It became clear that Heidi, lip-synching to Prince’s “1999,” didn’t stand a chance against Jaida as soon as Jaida whipped off her flying saucer chapeau and long brown wig to reveal a blonde version of Prince’s iconic curly bob. Both Jaida and Heidi are compelling, energetic performers who understood the tone of the song. But Jaida’s experience holding the spotlight rather than stealing it really showed next to Heidi who seemed like a little sister playacting the backup dancer. Heidi was outshined fair and square, and the little hug they shared as the music died down was a lovely moment between two of this season’s standouts. Heidi was sent home with a round of applause from the judges and her fellow competitors, and the fact that it was time for her to go didn’t make it any easier to see her leave. Looking forward to Heidi Something’s almost certain inclusion in a future season of All-Stars.
And while the word Hepiphany was the clear frontrunner of Episode 11, it’s time to get serious about Drag Race Season 12's actual frontrunners. Since Sherry has been disqualified, it’s looking like Crystal is the one to beat, though this episode’s editing also wants us to get on board with Jackie’s comeback narrative. Past season winners Aquaria and Violet make it impossible to rule out Ru’s belief that being young is a talent in and of itself, so Gigi will almost certainly end up a finalist and might just win the whole thing. But here’s hoping my cynicism is soundly rebuked and Jaida gets a chance to shine next week and in the finals.