Ever since the little black box appeared—first at the beginning and then at the end of each episode of Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, informing viewers that Sherry Pie had disqualified from the finale—the season’s inevitable end was partially clear. Sherry must have made it all the way since the bulk of the season was filmed before allegations surfaced that she’d catfished young performers into sending explicit videos. That meant only three spots left in the usual final four.
Heidi’s departure in week 11 left four deserving queens—Gigi Goode, Crystal Methyd, Jackie Cox, and Jaida Essence Hall—vying for the remaining spots. But despite having a rough couple of weeks of late, Gigi’s standout performances early in the season made her pretty much a shoo-in for the finale as well, a fact even Gigi seemed to acknowledge in Episode 12 when she said, “I really want Crystal to be in the top four with me,” in a confessional moment that made it pretty clear most of the queens knew there were just two spots up for grabs in the semi-finals. So from the onset, Episode 12 felt stacked against fan favorites Jaida, Crystal, and Jackie, and the anticipation, not for who would make it, but who wouldn’t, dominated the entire experience.
In the workroom, the remaining contestants mourned the loss of Heidi, who was a true light of the season and should get her own show simply doling out pep talks to people in need of a bit of encouragement and puzzling over word pronunciations such as hepiphany. But as much as viewers, along with her fellow competitors, hated to see it, last week was Heidi’s time to go. In Episode 11, Crystal won her first challenge, making her a frontrunner for inclusion in the final four and leaving Jackie, the only remaining queen who hadn’t won any maxi-challenges, rightfully worried over whether that shortcoming would ultimately be held against her.
The mini-challenge, along with the rest of the episode, was primarily a plug for the franchise’s Vegas offshoot, RuPaul’s Drag Race LIVE. The queens made headpieces and created busted showgirl personas. Jaida was inadvertently hilarious as she balanced a heavy-looking, wobbly headpiece that was obviously in danger of toppling off at any second. I would actually buy tickets for her Vegas show Huh?, presumably just an hour or so of Jaida feeling confused about what the fuck it is she’s supposed to be doing. Jackie chose to do a bit more with her running merkin gag, pulling a pink feather boa from her panties as she made strange pigeon noises. The act was funny and odd but underscored a weakness that would be Jackie’s undoing in the main challenge—when asked to be sexy, Jackie always falls back on nerdy. This discomfort has been a downfall before—for instance, when it put her in the bottom of the Madonna challenge—as it reads much more like insecurity than any sort of persona. Crystal, on the other hand, also often falls back on goofiness, but disappearing into characters like Phenomenal Phil the obliviously terrible erotic dance instructor allows her to parody performative sexiness rather than avoid it altogether.
Gigi ended up the victor of the mini-challenge for reasons that must have been edited out, and the episode quickly pivoted to the main challenge: performing Drag Race LIVE for the judges and potential ticket-buyers watching at home. Additionally, the queens were tasked with contributing one original verse to a musical number focused on still being that bitch, a response to the season’s first challenges of creating songs called “I’m That Bitch” and “You Don’t Know Me.”
Of the remaining queens, all except Crystal had been in the top for the first song challenges of the season, with Jaida beating out Sherry Pie for the song challenge win in week two. And by season’s end, the queens had only gotten better, though nerves seemed to be getting the best of Jaida, who had tears in her eyes as the queens recorded their portions of the song.
The Drag Race LIVE performance brought the entire season full circle. In an opening number called “I Made It,” all the queens performed in the costumes they wore into the workrooms in the season’s first episodes. It was a bit jarring to revisit those first impressions from three months ago—Gigi Goode’s pirate couture, so delightful back in February, seemed less exciting now that we know she’s got a whole trunk of dress-up, Jackie Cox’s Micky Mouse Club getup really ended up having very little relationship to the more glamourous and adventurous looks Jackie has consistently served since. Crystal Methyd’s deranged, acid-green clown suit makes so much sense now. Jaida has stayed consistently stunning, and Sherry Pie has never wavered from her devotion to that crinoline-puffed ode to Hee-Haw the judges can’t seem to get enough of.
There were no bad performances in the penultimate maxi-challenge. Jackie’s verse in “Just the Mirror” was about being caught performing drag by a disapproving mother and was especially moving considering Jackie’s self-professed conflicts with her disapproving mother over her choice to become a drag performer. And despite my running frustrations with their seemingly free passes to fuck up without notice from the judges, Sherry and Gigi absolutely showed up for their last chance to impress the judges. Especially Gigi, whose siren-red ensemble, along with a stunning singing voice and perfect execution of her choreography, was a show-stopper, as was Jaida’s perfectly on point dancing and the complete command she takes of the stage any time the spotlight finds her. The two of them hypnotically dancing in tandem when the song called for a duet made it unquestionably evident that after those performances, only one spot remained for the finals.
And so it came down to a battle of the oddballs. Crystal, while adorable, seemed a bit timid in her choreography, and her verse, while cute, said very little. Jackie, on the other hand, said a great deal in a few words about the obstacles she’s overcome this season. However, her performance once again fell back on silliness, as if Jackie worries about taking herself too seriously, which in turn, unfortunately, gives judges a foothold to dismiss her.
On the runway, the category was “Eleganza Extravaganza,” a mandate several queens bafflingly interpreted to mean “wear blue.” Crystal opted for a head-to-toe tribute to Violet Beauregarde’s bad blueberry trip in a puffy, asymmetrical, deep blue velvet number complete with matching body paint that unfortunately quite literally blended into the blue background lighting, making it a little difficult to see her, though the golden highlights on her cheeks and her choice of green and purple accent glitter on her eyes and lips was inspired.
Gigi wore an eveningwear take on the 1970s powder-blue ruffled tuxedo that she paired with high-fashion headgear in a story about a wallflower at prom. It was cute, but at this point, seeing Gigi in costumes on the runway has become a bit tiresome, and I’d very much like to see what she might do with actual, unironic eleganza. Jackie wore one of her best looks of the season—a hot pink and yellow polka-dot ball gown with a massive bow and exaggeratedly flounced skirt that still managed to make a beautiful silhouette. She paired it with blue lipstick, wig, gloves, and shoes, and overall the effect was as fun as it was referential and sophisticated, just like Jackie at her best. Sherry wore a feathered teal vaudeville costume that might as well have been selected at random from her collection, and the judges predictably loved it. Jaida was a gorgeous golden idol who took the assignment 100 percent seriously and brought a welcome touch of earnest elegance to the main stage.
Gigi won the challenge, but with her place in the final all but guaranteed already, the real suspense in the episode was the anticipation of the loser, not the winner. As Jackie and Crystal inevitably moved into their lip-synch, the real contest was between what the judges called Crystal’s season-long upward trajectory and Jackie’s stasis. On one hand, Jackie has been consistently good, excepting a few missteps, while Crystal has been unexpectedly delightful. They’re both charming and talented, and so the choice ultimately came down to what they could do to stand out against one another. The chosen song for their square-off, “On the Floor” by Pittbull and Jennifer Lopez, was just as silly and weird as the two performing it, since it had the effect of leaving each queen dueting with herself, pantomiming rapping in Pitbull’s signature growl before abruptly shifting to J. Lo’s sweeter-sounding contributions. But Crystal had several advantages Jackie did not—all her ridiculous and hilarious Phenomenal Phil dance moves and no cumbersome hoop skirt. When Jackie began stripping off her jewelry and shoes, the contest was over, no matter how precisely she knew the Pitbull verses.
And now that Sherry is disqualified, I will be fine with whoever wins Season 12. This week’s frontrunners are the three remaining queens in a season stacked with incredibly talented contestants. And even though it would feel a little disingenuous to ask Jackie Cox back for the finals after picking Sherry over her on national television, I will miss what she might have brought to the finale and am very much looking forward to seeing what she can do in All-Stars.