Hello and welcome to the first in a new series of posts that will recap each episode of BBC Three’s RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. For years, fans of the hit American reality TV competition have been wondering when RuPaul will make the journey across the Atlantic to assess the Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent of the drag performers over here. Now the wait is finally over! Here is my recap of the first ever episode of the show, starting with my thoughts on the entrances of each of the ten competitors.
|Coming out in an animal print businesswoman attire that is miles better than what she had on show for the promotion, Baga’s personality is already at an 11. It is hilarious (and pretty surreal) to hear so many British terms and TV shows already on show. My worry is that she could grate on viewers and the other competitors if it always stays at an 11.|
|Viewers instantly get a sense of who this performer in from the second they walk around the corner. Wearing a skin-coloured dress outlined with hundreds of blue, white and pink flowers, and having a matching light blue wig, Blu Hydrangea states that she is the queen of the make-up brush and social media. Normally those in the latter category don’t live up to that on TV but this first look is good. There is already a real charm coming from them during the confessionals.|
|Divina De Campo|
|Another one who shows a lot of promise based on confessionals. Even though the look is more daytime drag, her personality (and THAT LAUGH) really manage to sell it well. There is always one queen per season who manages to list off their iMDB page, though this one is done with humour. I wonder if she will be able to live up to the long list of talents she says she has (I want to see her sing in 4 and a half octaves whilst doing the splits on the show!)|
|Using a very clever line that I think was a twist on the Maybelline adverts (“Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s body dysmorphia”) regarding her one tit outfit, Crystal looks far more experimental and out of the box in terms of what she represents. She is another who claims to have several talents, aerial circus and having “cool drag” being two of them. The outfit was bright but I got the feeling that there wasn’t as much energy as the first three when interacting with the others.|
|Sum Ting Wong|
|I really love the infectious positivity that this performer brings to the Werk Room right out of the gate, so much so that she giggles whilst saying her opening line and then proceeds to cough and sputter when laughing at her own joke; was there some shady editing there? The outfit looks okay (she says she designs her own stuff so that is pretty great) and that name is pure brilliance.|
|Real talk here: as someone who comes from Essex, I instantly understood the references this performer made in her confessional and have lived around those accents all my life. She also is pretty known in the UK drag scene for her dancing and lipsyncing, so it is no surprise that the other performers knew who she was. The editing suggests she may fall into the bottom two a couple of times, and also hints at the future appearance of Cheryl Cole as a judge on the show.|
|The best aspect of this performer’s entrance is her look; it is probably one of the most polished and unique in this line-up and is also memorable for the performer admitting she is a “bit of a Chav”. They also come across as incredibly sweet and endearing in the confessionals, but I do worry that the admission that they are “quite introverted” could get in the way when more personality is needed in the challenges.|
|Entering with an iconic line from the BBC soap opera EastEnders (“I didn’t just become a bit of a slag. I became a TOTAL SLAAAG”) and being well known from the off, the reaction from the others is probably at its highest with this performer. The revelation that she has worked on the West End in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie with Michelle Visage raised some eyebrows, as did that outfit. As Divina De Campo puts it perfectly “She brought the party…and that wig”|
|So many eyebrows were raised in the Werk Room when Scaredy Kat admitted her age (19!!), how long she’s been doing drag, that she’s never performed before and that she isn’t gay and has a girlfriend who also does drag. But I think it is great for the show that this performer takes the viewers in a whole different direction, even if the overall look isn’t as polished as others. I’m not a fan of how they have removed 18 year old Morrigan from Drag Race Thailand from the archives of the show however.|
|Boldly proclaiming that “this isn’t going to take two minutes” in her entrance line, there is a level of confidence coming from The Vivienne that immediately rubs the other competitors up the wrong way, Cheryl Hole in particular. About four years ago she won a small contest to become Drag Race’s UK ambassador but that didn’t really mean much. Nonetheless, you can instantly tell that she will be a frontrunner, even though she will probably receive a beat down somewhere along the line.|
Those are the ten competing in the first ever series of Drag Race UK. And the prize they receive is an amazing… trip to Hollywood to record a web series. I mean, we shouldn’t be surprised with that, since the BBC is funded by the money of taxpayers rather than through advertising, so it seems that there is no cash prize. There isn’t any prizes for winning challenges either, so I guess that this is one consequence of having the show on this channel rather than ITV or Channel 4.
It is on to the first ever photo shoot of the show. In the great tradition of Anne Boleyn and Mary, Queen of Scots, the performers will be posing with their own severed heads, giving body and face in two separate pictures that are combined. Most of them do very well and manage to leave Ru in stitches, most notably The Vivienne and Crystal, whilst a couple flatlined (Gothy Kendoll was hilariously flat with her delivery). In the end though, it was Scaredy Kat who took the victory for the crude line about shitting her head out, which I am meh about but that win was ultimately meaningless, since there are no real prizes this season.
The maxi-challenge is announced and it is a bit of a disappointment to me: the performers have to come out on stage in two outfits they have brought with them, Queen Elizabeth II realness and a look inspired by their hometown. This feels very similar to the opening of Season 9 of Drag Race and I wished that they had an actual design challenge of royalty that would test the performers creativity from the off.
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much time spent in the workroom before the runway. Conversation moves quickly from how Baga Chipz looks identical out of drag as in drag to the subject of teeth, and how The Vivienne has clip-in veneers. This topic hits hard with Gothy Kendoll, who makes an effort to hide her teeth with her hand when she smiles so that others won’t see them. This insecurity makes her even more endearing but it also raises yet more questions as to how confident a performer they really are and whether they are ready to be on Drag Race.
We move on to the runway, where the queens have put together looks in two categories: 1) a look that represents their hometown, and 2) Queen Elizabeth II realness. Ru and Michelle Visage are joined by new regular judge Alan Carr and the extra special guest is actor Andrew Garfield. Here is my ranking of the ten, based on what they brought out on the main stage:
|1) The Vivienne|
|Two very polished looks from this queen, justifying the early confidence. I love how she manages to embody both personas in her walk and her behaviours; a complete transformation without having to try too hard.|
|2) Sum Ting Wong|
|I had this one down as an early exit, so I was very pleased to see how finished and imaginative both of these looks were. I think that her Elizabeth II realness was the best of the evening.|
|The versatility on display with this performer was great to see, as was their attention to detail. The military jacket for the Elizabeth II look was really well done and I really liked the silhouette and wig made of pearls that she wore to represent East London.|
|4) Baga Chipz|
|Baga would have been a fair bit lower on this ranking had she not completely sold the outfits with her performance, embodying Amy Winehouse and The Queen in a way that was over the top and comedic. I do agree with Michelle when she said that the 1970s look was played way too old and was just a bog standard queen look.|
|5) Divina De Campo|
|She probably had one of the strongest home town looks for me, with her big red hair combined with a golden teapot and saucer fascinator, and a flattering green dress to match. It felt very British to me. I think that the Queen look was just okay, feeling good but not as detailed as others on the stage, which may be why she was safe.|
|6) Scaredy Kat|
|Another performer who was one of the best in the Hometown category, with the mystical forest vibe completely different from the mainly urban based looks on stage. However, I felt that the Baby Queen look wasn’t anywhere near as detailed, even with the overacting. The contouring was way too dark for the performer to pull off this look really.|
|7) Blu Hydrangea|
|Lower down, but still miles ahead of the bottom three, Blu’s standout look was her Queen Elizabeth II pound look, where she painted her face to camouflage onto a giant pound coin. The dress itself was very pretty too, even if it lacked the detail of some of the others. The Hometown look was mixed for me; I loved the colour palette of yellow and black, though I felt like the reference to the cranes that built Titanic was a bit of an obscure one. It would have been great if she literally had the Titanic sign on stage.|
|8) Cheryl Hole|
|Was definitely saved from the bottom two with the Essex Hometown look, which was really on point (as someone who grew up with people who looked like that), right down to the tissue on the bottom of the shoe. She completely failed to encapsulate Queen Elizabeth II though, coming across as a girl going to Ascot in a nice dress, coat and hat.|
|9) Vinegar Strokes|
|The better of the two looks was the Elizabeth II 1970s look, which did look similar to the picture provided for the show, if the details weren’t quite there. The Hometown may actually be the worst of the bunch, since there were so many things that could have been done with London. Tea since the show has aired revealed that producers didn’t get her wear a Tube Map inspired outfit due to copyright, which may have been why the look on stage felt so ill-thought.|
|10) Gothy Kendoll|
|The simplicity of the looks could have been executed well had a confident performer been wearing them (Violet Chachki for example), but Gothy looked terrified throughout the runway presentation and deliberation. As a result, both the Hometown look (a black outfit with tiger face paint – Alan Carr sums this up so well) and the Elizabeth II look (lacking the detail of someone like Crystal for example) fell flat.|
Before the deliberations, Crystal, Blu Hydrangea, Scaredy Kat and Divina De Campo were named as safe, which was probably the correct decision on paper. The Vivienne and Sum Ting Wong were given near universal praise for their looks, whilst Baga Chipz was commended on how she sold the outfits. Cheryl Hole was praised on the Essex girl look but torn apart for the Queen look. Vinegar Strokes was pulled apart on the lack of specifics in her outfit, to which she became quite defensive to Andrew Garfield, and Gothy Kendoll was politely told by the judges that her outfits weren’t good enough and that her nervousness will go in time but she has to ride the wave, beautifully put in advice from Garfield to her. Back in the Werk Room, Divina De Campo was unhappy at just being safe for getting outside of the box, maybe pressure getting to someone already, whilst Vinegar breaks down and Cheryl Hole seems to ruffle a few feathers with her frustration.
The Vivienne won this challenge and received a RuPeter badge (no prizes remember) whilst Vinegar Strokes and Gothy Kendoll were up for elimination. People on social media have been very unfair, saying that both deserved to be eliminated, but I think that lies down to the terrible song choice for week one of Drag Race UK, with its slow and lacklustre energy. It is the type of song that will send people off the dance floor and towards the bar. Vinegar Strokes, with two wig reveals and her sass on show, easily wins this, whilst Gothy Kendoll, with a lack of energy or understanding about how to tackle this song (it was apparently the first she had ever lipsynced to) was second best throughout. It was no surprise then that she was asked to sashay away, but I think she has a bright future ahead of her if she chooses to keep performing. This leaves nine remaining to fight to become Britain’s Next Drag Superstar.
What did you make of the first episode of Drag Race UK? Who are your favourites in this competition? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below and subscribe to get notified about when I post my Drag Race UK recaps. I’ll see you all soon for Episode 2, where the queens perform in a new costume drama, Downton Draggy.