RuPaul's Drag Race Lip Syncs For Its Champion
Season 9 ends with a lip sync tournament, more dramatic reveals than you ever thought possible, and a winner you may not have seen coming.
Drag Race herstory is made all over the place on this week's finale. First time four queens enter the finale seeking the crown? Check. First ever lip-sync tournament for the crown? Check. It's all very exciting!
After Peppermint showed up two weeks ago and burned down the studio with her "Category Is" performance, there was no getting rid of her in 4th like (it seemed) the plan was, so we got ourselves a final four. And in the months and months since the bulk of this season was filmed, Ru got the buh-rilliant idea to do a round robin lip-sync tournament, and I for one could not be happier. If there's ever been one flaw in the RuPaul's Drag Race concept, it's that the best queens hardly ever get to lip sync. On Drag Race, lip sync is a punishment...or at best a lifeline. It's always been a bit strange that a queen can go through a whole season and win, Bianca Del Rio-style, without ever once doing the thing that is a drag queen's stock in trade. Which isn't to diminish Bianca's win (or anyone else's!), but rather to say that if watching struggling queens lip sync is good, it stands to reason that watching the best queens lip sync is GREAT. And this finale episode proved that again and again and again.
We have a winner, baby! And rather than just implicitly trusting Ru's ability to pick the best out of a lineup of four (which we do), we instead get to see the queens make the case for themselves. I don't know about you all, but I agreed with Ru's choice at every turn. You can quibble with whether this season's winner did the best every week during the season, but when it came time to do-or-die in the finale, she slayed and slayed again.
...But let's get there first.
You'd think you'd be able to safely skip the extended intro where the godly voice of Michelle Visage calls out all the Season 9 queens, but then you'd miss Eureka O'Hara walking into the club trunk-first and serving us Babar-You-Kidding-Me realness:
And Cynthia Lee Fontaine giving her cucu a rest for a minute and letting her buttercream-frosting wig do the talking for her:
Of the finalists, the most stunning by far is Sasha Velour, already trying to snatch that crown subconsciously, decked out in royal blue and serving Elizabethan collar-ollar-ollar:
Ru greets the crowd with her patented "Everybody say love!" intro, ending it with "...now take that to your special prosecutor and investigate it," reminding me that this is our first Drag Race finale of the Trump era. Category is: Resistance!
Better Know A Queen
Look, I love all four of these ladies to an extreme degree, and I love hearing from them, seeing their families, watching them get messages of hope from various celebrities, et cetera. But fully HALF of this episode is spent table-setting, and I'm not going to lie to you and say that you need to deny your strong instinct to FF past it and get right to the lip syncs. A few things to note from these segments -- which take the form of four individual sit-downs with the finalists:
Wintergreen (a.k.a. Sarge from the crew) shows up to support Peppermint and can still make them EAT IT with just a look.
Transparent's Trace Lysette (in person) and Orange Is The New Black's Laverne Cox (on video) show up to support their trans sister Peppermint.
Trinity met her hot new boyfriend on Grindr after she got TV famous, so remember that there's always hope to land your favorite TV star, provided you've got cheekbones like this and a folder full of bomb nudes (probably):
After filming the season, Shea Coule lost her father and her sister to cancer, within a month of each other, which is just about the most devastating thing I've ever heard.
Sasha Velour fully quotes Gay Twitter's own @jpbrammer when discussing her reputation for serious workroom conversations about gay issues and history:
if you tell your saddest gay story while doing your makeup Sasha Velour appears in your mirror and gives a Queer History lesson
— JuanPa (@jpbrammer) May 20, 2017
Reveals On Reveals
After Ross explains to the gays how tournaments work, the queens emerge, having changed into their movement ensembles. There's a big ol' wheel with all four queens' names on it, and I hope whatever prop-room artisan had to work on it is very happy, because it gets used exactly once. The wheel spins to Trinity Taylor, who then gets to choose her lip-sync opponent. And possibly because she's been getting that good D from Cheekbones up there on the regular, Miss Trinity has lost her damn senses and picks Peppermint. You know, the Peppermint who Ru just called a "lip sync assassin" not ten minutes ago. It's tough to tell whether this was Trinity trying to go big and slay the dragon or if she figured Peppermint was still running in fourth place from her performance during the season and Ru would eliminate her no matter how the lip sync went. (This was the same impulse that led Valentina to assume she didn't need to take her mask off, FYI.)
Pep then gets the task of picking one of two random boxes with a RuPaul-beloved song choice in it and draws "Stronger" by Britney Spears. Which sharp-minded and/or old gays will tell you was already used as a Lip Sync For Your Life way back in the Vaseline-streaked days of Season 1, when Bebe Zahara Benet took down Ongina. I suppose enough time has passed (and Ru likes to pretend Season 1 never happened anyway) that we can do this again. The lip sync is solid but unspectacular work from both queens for the first half. Trinity rips her skirt off to reveal All That Ass, which is fun but expected. Peppermint seems to be biding her time, but for what? Surely she's already gone to the wig-reveal well once this season. I can't imagine what she could do that could OH MY GOD A DRESS AND WIG REVEAL AT THE SAME TIME.
And a blonde wig besides! If you're going to self-reference, self-reference like this. Plus, Peppermint really works out her suddenly-long skirt for all its worth in the final moments. Trinity, as you might expect, gets tucked away (see you in All-Stars, gurl!), and Peppermint moves on to the finals. Which is so exciting and immediately puts the viewer off guard: the season was the season, but for this finale, the lip syncs mean everything, honey.
I Wish I Didn't Like It So Much
Sasha looks like Kimora Blac fucked Abby from Scandal in her wavy red wig, and I am living for every inch of it. The Battle of the BFFs draws Whitney Houston's "So Emotional" for its track, and I could not be more excited for this moment. The first Sasha Velour lip sync of the season! And if you've seen her stuff on YouTube, you know she is conceptual as hell and really good at this shit. Shea, meanwhile, did an above-average job in her one previous lip-sync, beating a checked-out Nina Bo'Nina Brown. I'm nervous for our four-time challenge winner.
Okay, now I'm REAL nervous for her. Shea isn't bad here! She's committed and commanding; she stomps that stage left and right. But this is no normal Lip Sync For Your Life. Word from finale taping is these queens had two weeks' notice about the lip-sync tournament, and in that time, Sasha Velour built a floor-to-ceiling performance, and it starts with tearing that rose apart with savage intensity. The rose-petal theme persists, with Sasha taking off each one of her gloves at dramatic intervals and showering the stage with the petals inside. This is theatricality, this is drama, this is intelligence, this is artistry. If you were wondering what makes Sasha Velour special enough to win RuPaul's Drag Race, it's this right here. Well, and more specifically this:
Find the video of this and watch the crowd absolutely fucking lose their minds at this. You won't stop smiling for days. This is DRAG in the most jubilant terms. Shea Coule brought it all season, and I hope she comes back and wins fucking All-Stars, but Sasha just won that lip-sync, and shantay, Sasha indeed does stay. I can't tell if Eureka O'Hara is happy for Sasha or sad for Shea in this moment, or maybe both, honestly, because...
Both Right and Okay
Last year's champion Bob The Drag Queen comes out looking like all of Coming To America just exploded all over her, and when Ru says it's time to pass the crown on to the Season 9 champ, she demurs, "I'd like to keep it on, please." Keep reading Valentina, queens. It's all I ask of you.
For Peppermint and Sasha's championship-deciding lip sync, it will be Whitney again, this time with "It's Not Right But It's Okay." Feels like this one sits right in Peppermint's wheelhouse. But then Sasha takes the stage. You want Valentina mask references, honey?
Alien face-hugger realness! The lip sync begins and Sasha immediately rips off the bottom part of the mask, so there will be no shenanigans about trying to get away with something. The top half of the mask, however, gets a more dramatic reveal.
A word to future queens about reveals: Peppermint and Sasha done done it. It would be unwise to turn Drag Race into a series of escalating reveals, until the Season 13 winner just emerges from a series of ever-smaller Russian nesting dolls. That said: holy GOD these reveals have been wonderful.
Both Sasha and Peppermint have a fantastic sense of drama to their performances, bringing life and energy into literally every lyric. As much as Shea and Trinity dominated the challenges, this lip sync tournament is proving that the right two queens are facing off for the crown. Would every season of Drag Race have turned out differently if this were the finale format then? Maybe, maybe not. But watching this particular finale unfold with drama, artistry, and gag moment after gag moment only underlines that there are MANY ways to slay as a drag queen, and many deserving Next Drag Superstars over the seasons. When a season of Drag Race ends, it's not like the winner goes on to tour the country while the others get sent to the glue factory. All these girls get famous and perform all over the world. This finale reminds us why.
And so in this all-NYC final two, the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 is...
Sasha Velour! And her final words are the most appropriate:
"Let's change shit up. Let's get inspired by all this beauty -- ALL this beauty -- and change the motherfucking world!"
Come through, you beautiful monster!