The only RuPaul’s Drag Race challenge more cringe-worthy than the lip-sync production number—which this season, in case your brain has blessedly blocked it from all memory, was the extended pharmaceutical commercial from hell—is the one that forces the queens to show off their vocal chops. So what better way to double our fun than to combine the toughest aspects of both of them, with the added difficulty factor of celebrity impersonation?
Welcome to “The Unauthorized Rusical,” which for curious and potentially legal reasons doesn’t include the name of the celebrity being paid tribute, but from the moment we’re reminded that “she done already done had hers’s” and not RuPaul but Chad Michaels shows up in the video monitor to tease the queens with their challenge, the suggestion that Cher will be at the center of this week’s episode is, shall we say, “strong enough.” Yes, the queens are assigned to recreate the seven stations of the Goddess of Pop, at all different stages of her career, from Sonny & Cher through Auto-Tune. And they have to do it to Todrick Hall choreography. And they have to sing live.
“Why do they keep booking me on these chicken-shit gigs?” Chad jokingly asks someone off screen during her cameo, referencing one of her memorable Snatch Game punchlines from season four, and no doubt a number of the queens are seriously asking themselves the same question. Back-to-back celebrity mimic challenges right at that crucial midway point in the season where the queens who haven’t done enough to present their best personas are quickly running out of time? Cough, Kameron Michaels, cough! Actually, why am I coughing? Kameron herself says explicitly as much at the start of the episode, vowing to turn it up and split away from her seemingly permanent position in the dead-zone middle of the pack. Meanwhile, The Vixen, who last week was identified by Aquaria, Monét X Change, Asia O’Hara, Monique Heart, and not Eureka as the queen most deserving to pack her bags, is busy doubling down on telling Eureka how much she hates her without feeling the slightest bit compelled to offer any tangible reasons why. Evidently there’s enough hate in her heart to be able to hate Eureka the same amount and supply a fresh supply of it to the rest of the workroom.
The Vixen’s contempt hangs so thick in the air that Asia takes it upon herself to once again act as the unofficial house mother for season 10’s girls, pulling The Vixen aside to say that she fully understands the source of her wounded pride, and that she, too, has had to deal with the same racism from would-be LGBT allies that The Vixen is fighting with absolutism. (The example Asia quotes The Vixen as having said: the high-profile bartender in the gay community, if such thing can be said to exist, who spewed “trash from the South Side ruined pride.”) Asia says The Vixen suffers from what they in Texas call “the Angry Black Woman Syndrome,” words that The Vixen actually uttered herself in her fight with Aquaria on an earlier Untucked episode.
But Asia isn’t referring to how specific interactions will read to the cameras, but to the psychologic bottling-releasing cycle that spurs The Vixen to come so hard at people who aren’t the direct source of her oppression. The Vixen has from the very beginning of the season been so concerned with taking control of the show’s narrative that she’s arguably allowed herself to fall right into the producers’ trap. Asia’s sage advice to her: Make sure that when you get mad at Eureka, it’s because of something Eureka specifically did to you, not because, say, she’s another corpulent, white gay guy who every time he talks a purse filled with cultural assimilation falls out of his mouth.
“Strength doesn’t always have to be vocal,” she finishes. It’s the explicit advice The Vixen needs at this point, compared to the passive “suggestions” RuPaul offers in her workroom rounds. Ru, who’s been characterizing Cher in terms of being a fighter, muses that the biggest fight we all face is the fight with ourselves. The problem with that is that The Vixen doesn’t need coaching on when to be ready to fight; she needs help understanding when not to fight. (As Tina Fey told David Letterman in the most recent episode of his Netflix talk show, referring to the one thing she forgot to say during her controversial cake-eating Saturday Night Live monologue in the wake of Charlottesville, never stop fighting…except in the way they want you to fight.)
But back to matters far more frivolous: The multiple layers of talent required for this week’s challenge ensure that almost everyone gets at least one weakness exposed. Eureka has a heretofore unvoiced but crippling fear of dancing and singing at the same time, probably because it’s like what walking and chewing gum simultaneously is to other people. Aquaria has a singing range thinner than her waistline. Monét’s deep singing voice is more Bea Arthur than Cher. Todrick Hall gets about twice as many awkward-pause reaction shots as Alyssa Edwards did during the pharmaceutical number rehearsals, and the anticipation of an impending train wreck somewhat eclipses the basic okay-ness of the performance itself, once showtime arrives. Ironically, the challenge’s multi-facets end up giving Kameron, of all queens, the edge. Her above-averageness in look, song, movement, and costume lift her to a challenge win that honestly makes me wish I were a betting girl.
Even more ironically, it’s the two queens who are featured in the episode’s most touching moment of solidarity who land in the bottom. The Vixen’s there because there was no Cher there in her performance, and Asia, who had all the right words for The Vixen earlier, is there because she lost the words completely during her performance—though she intuitively turned that into a joke. That the Rusical was unauthorized is even more apparent when it turns out that the LSFYL isn’t to a Cher track, but to Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart.” It’s hardly a difficult song to convey ebullience during, and it’s an awfully close call between the two bottom queens, but in the end, The Vixen’s redemptive arc comes to a close at least a week too late for many Drag Race fans and she’s sent home, ideally taking Asia’s advice to heart back on the South Side. On the other hand, her final mirror message, “Evil triumphs when good does nothing,” indicates she’s ready for a presidential run.
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