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The RuPaul's Drag Race Queens Gag For Gaga

And Gaga herself proves she could be a professor at the Fashion Institute in the Season 9 premiere.

Don't call the police, y'all. The whoops and screams coming from my apartment are merely my response to this bomb-ass episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. All the familiar pieces are here -- girls preening, girls stomping, RuPaul in slim-fit suits -- yet there's also a freshness that tickles my spot. (Don't be gross. I didn't mean it like that. Except I totally did.)

Specifically, the ladies get dropped immediately into a complex, two-look pageant challenge in which they are required both to show their own personalities and demonstrate their ability to mimic a celebrity. It's a little bit runway, a little bit Snatch Game, and not one bit gentle. And it shouldn't be! Drag Race is arguably at its cultural zenith right now, and if it's going to hold onto that scepter, it has to come through with worthy challenges.

I appreciate, though, that for all the twists, this week's focus is still on the queens' ability to slay as performers and models. It's not like, say, Top Chef, which often tries to keep us interested by getting away from cooking and focusing instead on archery or chipping chicken breasts out of a glacier. Ru and Company know that when it comes to intriguing possibilities, drag is bottomless. (Don't be gross. I didn't mean it like that. Except I totally did.)

Oh, and did I mention that Lady Goddamned Gaga is here? And she's spectacular? Say goodbye to your faves, because they literally could never.

Welcome, Hos!

As always, the debut entrances have me reaching a praise hand to the sky. And it looks like I'm getting better at unfairly pre-judging these gals, because I love now who I loved then.

Case in point: Nina Bo'Nina Brown mouses the house down with this look.

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If Kim Chi and Acid Betty opened the door for this kind of artistry on the show, then may we forever praise their names.

I'm also here for Eureka's '50s-housewife couture.

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If you're wondering what kind of queen she is, Eureka uses an interview to explain: "People would categorize me as a pageant queen, but to me my drag is the genre of...fabulous." Yes, gurl. That genre also produced some of my favorite singles of the late '80s.

And let's not sleep on the go-go-girl goodness of Shea Coulee.

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If you look closely, you'll notice that's Pearl on her dress. Self-referentiality is only cute when it's this well-executed.

But ultimately, it's Sasha Velour who makes me scream:

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And I do mean "scream," because when Sasha enters the room, she stands there and just YELLS -- incoherent hollering for a good fifteen seconds. AND I AM ALIVE IN HER FIRE. It's so funny and confident and batshit crazy, and to top it all off, her paint is on point.

So in other words, Sasha is the opposite of Farrah Moan, who has all the charisma of a Barbie doll that my cousin Lisa left in my grandparents' back yard for two weeks.

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I'm also underwhelmed by Aja, who immediately gets clocked for her sloppy makeup. (Could that come back to haunt her?!?!) Nor am I delighted by Trinity Taylor, who has had plastic surgery to make her ass really big. She brags that she doesn't pad, but surgical enhancements are basically just permanent padding, so maybe work out the repercussions of a boast before you make it, okay? Plus, she and Eureka are apparently in some kind of feud because Eureka always loses to her on the pageant circuit, and oh my god, I do not CARE.

The bottom of the barrel, though, is scraped by Jaymes Mansfield.

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Homegirl not only looks sloppy, but also comes out with a puppet. Remember when Mimi Imfurst flounced in with cookies, and it was really awkward and desperate-seeming? Jaymes forgot to learn from that mistake. Plus, she just seems so egregiously fake. And I realize they're all putting on personalities and characters, but Jaymes's persona doesn't go beyond "baby doll voice" and "flyaway hairs," which suggests a lack of substance and effort. We are far too deep into the story of our lives for this kind of bargain-basement bullshit.

Lady Gaga, The Drag Queen Professor

After all this, a final queen comes through the door, and at first the girls think she's just an amazing Lady Gaga impersonator.

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But then they realize she actually IS Lady Gaga.

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And predictably, the girls FALL OUT. Eureka cries about how much she loves Gaga, whose artistry has pulled Eureka out of dark times. The rest of them just generally gasp and get beside themselves.

I'm excited, too, but for more structural reasons. What I LOVE about this entrance is that it encourages the contestants to assume that Gaga is one of them -- meaning, a drag queen. What a wonderful comment on how context controls how we see other people. If you look at someone and expect to see a drag queen, then you see one. You tell yourself that person looks an awful lot like Gaga, but you also tell yourself it ISN'T Gaga, because context demands that it isn't. Because no other celebrity guest has ever been introduced this way, and everyone knows this is the moment in the season for the girls to make themselves known.

And that's a pretty great distillation of what drag does: it willfully distorts our understanding of reality. Whether they're fishy and trying to "pass" or edgy and trying to dismantle feminine archetypes, drag queens rearrange context all the time. Which is why, in this moment and for much of her career, Lady Gaga is a drag queen herself. She even talks about it with the contestants, saying how drag has always been part of her life. It's a great reminder that "drag" doesn't haven't to mean "a dude in a dress." It CAN be that, but it can also be many, many other things. Lady Gaga is here to teach us those lessons, so everybody grab some paper and a Lisa Frank pencil, because there WILL be a test.

Pageantry

After all this, RuPaul comes out and announces that it's immediately time to crown Miss Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. Welcome back, beloved and long-absent catchphrase! The girls will each have to strut down the runway with two looks: one that celebrates her hometown and embodies who she is, and another that serves her favorite Gaga realness.

We jump almost immediately to the runway, and let me just say: many of these looks are glorious. More importantly, no two queens have the same Gaga look, which suggests the show learned something after half of the Madonna runway was just girls in kimonos. The queens were probably told in advance to prepare a hometown look and a Gaga look -- some of these imitations are too spot-on to have been whipped up on the fly -- but that's fine by me. Results like these are worth the advanced planning.

Let's start with Alexis Michelle, who has a musical theatre background, lives in New York, and wants to be on Broadway in drag. Clearly, she's a lady after my very own heart. I also love her "Gaga at the Golden Globes" ensemble, complete with trophy.

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I'm also appreciating Charlie Hides, who currently lives in Boston and so appears as a naughty Pilgrim:

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The judges will read her later because it takes too long for her to tear away the skirt that covers those gams, but I'm not mad. Plus, at a shockingly youthful-looking fifty-two, Charlie seems full of energy, ideas, and cultural knowledge. (Though what is it about older queens and costume problems? Looking at you, Ornacia.)

I'm also loving Sasha Velour's Brooklyn street art...

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And Nina's awe-inspiring Georgia Peach headpiece...

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While Jaymes's "drunk Gaga" look is just atrocious.

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Especially that wig. My GOD.

As for queens I haven't mentioned yet, let me praise Valentina for this Mariachi look that celebrates East L.A.:

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And while Kimora Blac is clearly a middling queen...

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...she DO look fine out of drag.

Judging And Kvetching

The pageant concluded, the judges get down to business. Carson and Michelle are back and as flawless as ever, and Ross has a deep tan, a new figure, and a new hair color. It works for him! Meanwhile...Ru stays in a suit the entire time. This may be the first episode where he hasn't appeared in drag at any point. A sign of things to come?

Gaga is a champion judge, by the way. She just knows so much about fashion! When she discusses contestants, she does it with remarkable specificity -- "Bowie wouldn't have worn hoop earrings, or he would've only worn one"; "That hair is difficult to master without showing any lacefront" -- and a matching generosity. She doesn't go easy on anyone, but she's never cruel, either. Color me impressed. Or make that "more impressed," since I think we all know that she's a true artist.

Lip Sync...Later?

Ultimately, the top three are Nina, Sasha, and Eureka, the last of whom has interviewed that she just wanted to beat Trinity in this pageant. (Sigh.) Nina is declared the winner.

We've known since the beginning of this episode that no one is getting sent home, and that's because RuPaul has another twist: a former queen is returning to the competition! Gasp! (Gasp-ish, really. Rumors have been circulating for weeks.) We won't learn who this girl is until next week, which I like. This week, all the new girls are the focus, and with a star like Gaga spreading love, it's cool that no one goes home. But next week, it's clearly time to get back to business.

Most Watchable Moment

There's a lot of strong stuff here, but if you must choose only one moment, then make it the hometown portion of the pageant. The best girls' looks and personalities are a treat. Plus, there's that peach head.

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