Friday, April 22, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - RuPaul Crowns a New Drag Superstar From the Las Vegas Strip in 'Grand Finale!'

VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 14.16 "Grand Finale!"

RuPaul crowns America's Next Drag Superstar in an epic Las Vegas drag revue show.

Live from the Las Vegas strip, it's the grand finale of Season 14! This has been the longest season of RuPaul's Drag Race to date. It certainly felt that way a number of times too. So many episodes featured no eliminations whatsoever. And then, Jorgeous and DeJa went home at the same time. In this finale, three queens are cut after their first performances. Only two of the finalists actually lip sync for the crown. That was somewhat expected given the presence of five queens in the finale. Production couldn't feature the same lip sync smackdown format that has been common since Season 9. Instead, it basically reverts to the format seen in Seasons 7 and 8. Each of the five queens gets their chance to shine onstage in an original number. It's their last chance to impress RuPaul. They are competing to enter the final contest. Only two will prevail. Of course, everyone is essentially rewarded for enduring this long season. The new Miss Congeniality receives $10,000. The runner-up for the crown gets $50,000. The winner gets the largest prize to date with $150,000. Meanwhile, every queen who competed is given $2,000. It's a way to uplift the stories they displayed throughout the season. And yes, this finale does a solid job in spotlighting the various queens. No one has a particularly bad outfit when they make their final walks. Plus, the eliminated girls get to perform alongside the queens in the RuPaul's Drag Race Live! stage show in Vegas. If you are a fan of drag, so many queens are given the chance to shine in so many venues. The industry has exploded thanks to RuPaul and the show. However, the viewer can't ignore or forget gay history either. For decades, queens pioneered this art form long before it was cool or popular. That includes Hot Chocolate as the premier Tina Turner impersonator. She is given her recognition as well.

When it comes to the individual performances, one clearly stood above the rest. Lady Camden blew the competition away. It was wild and energetic while telling a complete story. None of the numbers were long enough to completely fulfill what the audience needed. As such, each number has to be compact while still getting its point across. That's incredibly difficult. It does seem like the queens had their hands in developing the numbers. It was simply more fun to see Camden's high-energy and Willow's campy reveals. Bosco and Daya relied on similar animatronics. Meanwhile, Angeria delivered what a person would typically expect from a regular drag show. Angeria may have disappointed the most simply because she went first. She also performed in an outfit the audience has seen her in whenever she is asked to showcase this particular skill. When she is tasked with performing, she opts for a leotard with exaggerated shoulders. That's what she delivers. It simply pales in comparison to what she came in with. That was probably the biggest outfit worn in the competition to date. It was absolutely stunning. Kornbread and Kerri were similarly beautiful for what they wore in this final showcase. It's great whenever a queen decides to do something completely out of the box. Kornbread looks amazing while delivering on the fantasy of Beauty and the Beast merging as one. It's particularly amusing when she is crowned Miss Congeniality in that look. It's so striking. It also showcases how we ultimately missed out on so much great drag by her twisting her ankle early on. Willow even cites that for why someone else is being crowned at all.

The musicality on display with Lady Camden was simply different than the other finalists. It was enhanced by a male vocalist. That provided dimension while paying homage to the classic runway reveal she had. Of course, Lady Camden is more than that Freddie Mercury look. She really impressed her way to the top. She deserved that final spot. It was a complete toss-up over who would join her there. RuPaul ultimately names Willow Pill. That's more to do with her overall aesthetic and performance throughout the season. The other queens have strong trajectories as well. Bosco and Daya would be the first queens who were previously eliminated to make it to the final lip sync. That would have been iconic and justified bringing back girls after they've been eliminated. Bosco's performance features her transforming from an angel to a devil. It's a different take on burlesque from her. It's fine. Daya features some strong physicality in her role as a spider coming to life. It plays into her hunched stance a little too much. But she sets the bar for what the queens could do with this format. She succeeded only for Camden to completely destroy the competition. Willow was cute in what she did. The final punchline was better than what happened before it. The starting look was incredible. It was inevitably going to lead to a reveal. The audience expects that in finales now. That's especially true in the American format. Sure, the queens can riff on running jokes from other extensions of the franchise. But it's awkward how much of this finale is simply devoted to RuPaul talking about the fundamental journeys of each queen without directly addressing them. She just stares at the camera while hoping the queens and their families can bring the satisfying, emotional drama to the stage. It comes across as very low energy from the Emmy-winning host.

Lady Camden and Willow Pill lip sync for the crown to Cher's cover of "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" by ABBA. Again, it's evident the queens have reveals coming. Willow's look is purposefully baggy. It's part of the story she is telling. With Camden, it's perhaps a little too loose. It's possibly her being too prepared and thus not being able to execute things to the standard that everyone expects. It's never a flop. In fact, it's actually uplifting when Camden and Willow start performing together. In this situation, the queens are often so focused on the crown. They are doing what it personally takes to win. Here, these two get to joyously celebrate this moment together. They share in it. They have that freedom because they know they will both be winning a ton of money. Their lives will change regardless of who wins. That too has become central to the franchise. Winning means a lot. It's not the most meaningful thing that can come from this show anymore. It's about providing entertainment while celebrating what makes each person unique. So many queens felt empowered to embrace their true selves over the course of the season. Some of that happened during production. Some was a result of reflection afterwards. The franchise has finally embraced trans excellence. So many incredible performers identify as trans. It doesn't matter what gender identity a person starts with when it comes to drag. Kylie Sonique Love is the reigning All Stars winner. And now, Willow and Kornbread get to carry that visibility proudly moving forward. They were both perceived as the frontrunner at various points. Their wins are still completely deserving. That narrative belongs to them because of their unique take on drag. So many perspectives are valid. Symone's step down look is nothing like what the other winners have done across the years. It's still absolutely stunning. Willow had a similar delivery in her stylization and exploration of what drag means to the new generation. It's empowering and creates a sweet ending to a very chaotic and bumpy season.