A deep dive into the world of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race: which queen will Ru-le them all? Photo courtesy of GayTimes.

ERIC NOFZIGER | STAFF REPORTER | enofzige@butler.edu

Oh y’all wanted a twist, eh? For the first time in herstory, five queens instead of three or four have made it to the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Before Daya Betty, Angeria Paris VanMicheals, Bosco, Lady Camden and Willow Pill battle it out for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar and a modest prize of $150,000 — the largest sum of money ever awarded on the show — let’s take a look back at season 14 and Ru-mind ourselves how we got here. 

The queens

Each of the top five queens has had a unique path to the finale, with perhaps the strangest belonging to Daya Betty — a brutally honest and relentlessly competitive queen whose name refers to the Type 1 diabetes she’s been open about having. The 25-year-old queen was eliminated in her first episode but was brought back the following week as part of one of the season’s many twists. 

Since then, Daya has overcome criticisms of too closely resembling her drag mother  Crystal Methyd through unique, edgy runway looks and lip sync victories. She also survived a season-long spat with fellow queen and chatterbox of the season, Jasmine Kennedie, during which she was derided by her competitors for being perhaps a bit too honest.

Despite Daya’s brashness — or perhaps because of it — Emma Cushman, a senior chemistry major, puts herself firmly in the camp of Daya Betty apologist and stan.

“Daya has had some of the best looks I’ve seen this season, and she just brings something to drag that we don’t typically see,” Cushman said. “If I was competing for $150,000, I might get a little mean too. It’s not called RuPaul’s Best Friend Race for a reason!”

Queen Angeria Paris VanMicheals’ road to the top five has been comparatively smoother. She garnered two wins early and then landed in the middle of the pack nearly every week after that. Angeria, the self-proclaimed “Southern belle from A-T-L,” is the epitome of a pageant girl, often sporting beautiful gowns and approaching each challenge with a positive attitude. However, she has also transcended her pageant roots through her irreverent comedy and occasional runway experimentation

If Daya Betty experienced some turbulence on her flight to finale night, this season Bosco’s plane lost an engine and was struck by lightning but still miraculously managed to perform an emergency landing in the Pacific next to her native Seattle. After a consistent start, Bosco faltered in the middle of the season, finding herself in the bottom three weeks in a row and technically three times in one episode. In the third week, she was fully eliminated by Mother Ru herself but was saved by yet another twist — more on that one later — and has excelled ever since. 

Katie Cooley, a senior strategic communication major, is pulling for Bosco to take the crown because of her subversiveness and clear grasp on drag and queer culture.

“Bosco is so funny, and you can tell she just really gets it,” Cooley said. “She has at least two or three confessionals every episode that are so quotable, and she also consistently looks beautiful.”

The next queen, who originally hails from across the pond, is the ever posh and charming Lady Camden. Camden has been somewhat of a dark horse throughout season 14, not really standing out at first but quickly showing America and the judges that she has it all: beauty, acting chops and stunning lip sync ability, courtesy of her background in classical ballet. Her lip sync to Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” against Daya is a true jaw-dropper, and watching Camden slide into the splits in full Freddie Mercury getup was a shining highlight for fans from the season.

Last but certainly not least out of the final five is the captivating oddball Willow Pill. Willow, a Denver queen that comes from a family of Drag Race royalty — her drag mom is boundary-pushing season 11 winner Yvie Oddly — has established herself as the frontrunner this season through her wit, strategy and always-precise, always-surprising runways. Despite only picking up one win, Willow landed near the top several times throughout the season and is currently the fan-favorite, according to posts on Instagram and Twitter. She has also notably been open throughout her time on the show about living with cystinosis, a rare kidney condition that causes muscle problems.

Cushman is inspired by Willow’s story and is one of the many fans pulling hard for her to be crowned the winner.

“Willow Pill is just so unique, and there’s such a sense of refinement with her drag,” Cushman said. “She’s weird, but a perfected brand of weird. I just love her.”

The season

Like last season, season 14 will run for a total of 16 episodes by the time it ends, and many fans say that they have felt all of those 16 weeks. This is partly due to the fact that queens actually got eliminated much less frequently than in seasons past; in five episodes, no one was sent home, and the queens that did get eliminated in the first two episodes immediately returned a week later.

Allie Browning, a senior sociology and criminology major, felt that the season did drag, but she didn’t entirely mind due to the specific strength of the queens.

“It does feel like [season 14] has been going on and on, but the queens are entertaining,” Browning said. “If they were queens that I didn’t like as much, I think I’d be more upset.”

Bosco’s elimination fakeout occurred due to a Willy Wonka-style twist introduced at the very beginning of the season. In one of the first episodes, each queen picked a wrapped RuPaul branded chocolate bar with the knowledge that inside only one was actually a gold bar. From that point on, when a queen was eliminated, they unwrapped their bar, and if they possessed the gold, they were magically saved by the drag gods. Besides saving Bosco, this twist also gave fans the invaluable gift of seeing their favorite drag queens — who had merely seconds before had their lifelong dreams crushed — being forced to weepily look at RuPaul and utter, “It’s chocolate.

Other non-eliminations happened on two separate occasions when Ru decided that both queens gave such a strong lip sync that she could not in good faith send one home. The most unusual non-elimination, though, was the episode of Snatch Game, a challenge in which queens have to bring their most impressive celebrity impersonations to a Match Game spoof.

To put it lightly, every queen besides one — Deja Skye playing a heightened Lil Jon, “yea-yuh!”’s and all — performed so truly terribly during Snatch Game this season that RuPaul put them all up for elimination. This then rolled over into the next episode, the rare LaLaPaRUza, in which the seven bottom queens were forced to compete in a lip sync tourney, a well-received episode that almost made the critically-derided Snatch Game worth it. 

Despite the infinite length of season 14, many fans agree that one queen didn’t get enough time to reach her full potential. Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté was forced to withdraw from the competition during its fifth week due to an ankle injury suffered on set. Because of her first-week win and immediate spot as one of the season’s premier comedy queens, many — including Cooley — were extremely upset to see Kornbread’s departure because they believed she would have excelled in the competition.

“I would have put money on Kornbread making it far,” Cooley said. “She’s so funny, and it’s tragic that she wasn’t able to continue on the show.”

Kornbread is also notably one of five transgender queens this season, a groundbreaking act of inclusion from a show that has faced backlash in the past for insensitivity towards trans contestants and trans people in general. Kornbread and Kerri Colby were openly trans from the beginning, while Willow Pill, Jasmine Kennedie and Bosco all publicly came out as the season was airing. Viewers got to see these queens have very honest discussions about everything from gender euphoria to hormone treatment, conversations which have continued via social media, like in Jasmine Kennedie’s coming out post on Instagram.

“I am now at a place in my life where I feel confident enough to finally start living my truth and stop worrying about what others think,” Kennedie said in her post. “I started my HRT [hormone replacement therapy] a couple months after coming back from Drag Race, and I couldn’t be happier.”

The courage of the trans queens this season — along with the crowning of Kylie Sonique Love as the winner of All Stars 6 and the first transgender winner in the show’s history — may mark a turning point in Drag Race’s relationship to trans people. 

The empire

The Drag Race empire doesn’t end with this particular show. In fact, it’s best to think of RuPaul as a sort of gay Johnny Appleseed; if she planted a sapling at the edge of mainstream queer culture in 2009 with the U.S. iteration of Drag Race, then she’s currently tending to a forest so large that hundreds of theater kids from around the globe enter it every year and are never seen again.

On top of regular old Drag Race, there have also been six All Stars seasons, in which fan favorites from years prior get a second chance at the crown. Additionally, several other countries have seen new iterations of the franchise, including Canada, the U.K., Australia, Spain, Italy, Holland and Thailand, with upcoming spinoffs set to premiere this year in Sweden, France and the Philippines as well. Fans saw the release of eight new seasons of Drag Race in 2021 alone. 

But the reign of Queen Ru doesn’t stop there. Fans of the show can see their favorite queens perform live and in-person all around the world as part of a number of tours and residencies put on primarily by Voss Events. If that’s not an option, then just head on over to YouTube, where you can watch hours worth of Drag Race content for free including The Pit Stop, the show’s official recap series featuring a variety of iconic queens. What if you actually want to meet a queen or two? Go to DragCon, an annual expo celebrating “the art of drag, queer culture and self-expression for all.” And the list goes on.

What fans are perhaps currently looking forward to most, though, is the recently-announced All Stars 7. For the first time, every returning queen is a winner of a previous season, and eight of the most beloved drag queens of all time will duke it out for the title of “Queen of Queens,” along with a cool $200,000. The season will premiere in May.

Browning is excited for All Stars 7 due to the stellar cast, and she has already picked a favorite among the best of the best.

“I think it’s going to be really cool to see all of those queens interact,” Browning said. “[Season 12 winner] Jaida Essence Hall is one of my all time favorites, so I’m pulling for her.”

Still, some may be left wondering if this barrage of Drag Race content may be reaching a point of oversaturation, if the glammed-out snake is beginning to eat its own tail. It’s worth noting that, considering the oldest season 14 queen is just over 30, all of this year’s competitors likely gained a lot of their drag knowledge from watching the show or were at least influenced heavily by a program that is not necessarily indicative of drag culture as a whole.

Cooley worries that Drag Race is starting to restrict the idea of what drag can be and what’s classified as “good drag”.

“Queens on the show are almost forced to bend to Ru’s will,” Cooley said. “If everyone is trying to do what she likes, there’s not a lot of room to branch out and try something new or wild.”

Cushman has a different perspective on the issue and instead thinks that all these seasons of the show are only pushing drag forward. 

“RuPaul’s face may be stamped all over everything, but she is really giving all these queens a platform to show off their drag, and drag is different all over the world, even from state to state and city to city,” Cushman said. “The more seasons there are, you get people saying, ‘Oh, other queens are doing things this way; what can I do to go further?’ And it’s putting a spotlight on these more creative people.”

Despite all these big questions looming over the franchise, Drag Race fans currently have their sights firmly set on the conclusion of season 14. With all of the remaining queens being so evenly matched, which of the five will take home the crown is truly anybody’s guess. What fans can be sure of, though, is the continued expansion of Drag Race as a cultural phenomenon and the unwavering, unstoppable rule of RuPaul, Queen of Drag. Long may she reign.

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