Friday, April 14, 2023

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - RuPaul Crowns a Winner Through a Resonate Message About the Art of Drag in 'Grand Finale'

MTV's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 15.16 "Grand Finale"

RuPaul crowns America's Next Drag Superstar in an epic battle for the grand prize of $200,000.

Drag is not a crime. Aura displays that message on a giant fan during her walk as part of the final presentation of the Season 15 cast. It's also the overall message RuPaul shares throughout the finale. It's important for the show to speak out. Drag is under attack across the country. It carries especial significance in Aura's home state of Tennessee, which has implemented the most restrictive anti-drag legislation to date. It's not contained there. Instead, this community is under attack. This show provides so much joy for countless fans across the globe. It's become a powerful force for good. That frightens institutional power. It became easy to coordinate attacks that have little basis in reality. It just means celebration of drag needs to be just as loud and powerful. Drag has always existed as a protest. It's a radical form of art. It reveals who people truly are. That is a common refrain throughout this series. It allows people to be who they were always meant to be. There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone is beautiful and unique. They have the skills to show off their talents in some remarkable ways too. All 16 queens of Season 15 were cast for a reason. Some showcase their glow-ups during the reunion and finale. Some already emerged fully formed. Four queens are left standing to compete for the crown - Anetra, Mistress, Luxx and Sasha. They each perform individual numbers before RuPaul narrows the competition down to a final two. A new Miss Congeniality is crowned. A final lip sync occurs. That's the known process for the finale. However, the filler moments also highlight the ways in which this community is special and must stand against the bullies who wish to silence our voices.

The four production numbers are signified as determining the final two. If that were the true criteria, then Sasha and Mistress should have received that recognition. At a certain point, these numbers blend together. As such, something in the actual performance has to stand out as unique. Performing in a theater is a different energy than the main stage or the typical clubs these queens work in. Some adapt to it more easily than others. It also just takes a solid concept to make these numbers work. It can't rely entirely on the lyrics. Anetra suggests "Lotus" provides deeper meaning for the journey she's been on in her drag career and on the show. She had to struggle in order to emerge as the best possible version of herself. It carries that importance for her. However, it was forgettable by the time the finale concluded. Similarly, Luxx offered a statement about being driven by fashion. She presents herself as the look queen who happened to do well in other challenges too. And yet, it's just awkward whenever any queen other than Anetra duck walks this season. None of them do it as well as her. She doesn't own the move. Even some in the community critique the way she performs it. However, she has that special energy that stands out. That's required instead of simply going through the motions. That's what Luxx's number felt like. Meanwhile, Mistress delivered the most memorable lyric of the night with "Bitch I'm the cure for your drag delusion." She finally accepts the mantle of being the cause of so much delusion throughout the season. She was playful with it and the number showcased her flexibility. She may represent for the big girls but she really isn't limited in anything she does. And finally, Sasha did what she does best. Sure, the overall look was a bit of a letdown considering what she has produced this season. However, the competition is over the moment when the dancers grab ahold of her hair for flips. That was when Sasha proved she deserved this crown above her competitors.

The various segments to pad out the finale had varying degrees of success. Like many finales, a moment is spent honoring a legend who has meant a lot to the drag community. This year the focus is on Bob Mackie. Moreover, he becomes the inaugural carrier of the Giving Us Life-time Achievement Award. He certainly deserves it. He revolutionized the fashion industry. So many creative minds are ultimately inspired by his work. Plenty of drag queens have paid homage to him on the main stage. Even RuPaul is constantly in awe and seeks to wow him. He's always offered universal support to the community - serving as the guest judge on the very first episode of the show back when it was on Logo. Later, Leland and Orville Peck perform the ballad from this year's Rusical - "Built on Drag." That moment cemented the win in the challenge for Anetra. It carries power because it's meaningful. However, it's awkward as the cast arrives on the stage. First, they are covered in darkness. When the lights come up, they are mostly unsure if they are meant to be performing as well. Some lip sync. Many just sway back and forth. Even the high energy moment following is chaotic as the dancers are the ones that come in with the choreography. And finally, Jinkx returns as queen of all queens to perform "When You're Good to Mama" from the musical Chicago. She just achieved a lifetime dream of performing in drag on Broadway. RuPaul even plays the footage from a decade ago stating that desire. It's a wonderful achievement. It carries resonance because of the obvious talent she exudes at all times.

Willow Pill and Kornbread then return to the stage to crown Season 15's Miss Congeniality. Willow's step down look is remarkable. It has a wonderful balance of being delicate and strong. It's ethereal while completely grounded in her personality. She speaks on the struggles she's had. That makes her even more relatable. Plus, she still has plenty of fun with Kornbread. Last year, Kornbread was stunning with her look mixing the main characters from Beauty and the Beast. She is less successful with her look evoking The Lion King. It plays towards something she has already done instead of offering something exciting and new. She raps about the season. That's creative. The business is still about passing the baton to the next Miss Congeniality. The cast rewards Malaysia Babydoll Foxx with the title. Obviously, Anetra was the true fan favorite of the season. However, she was out of the running because she made it to the final lip sync. Salina would have been a deserving winner as well. However, no one can really be mad about Malaysia because she offered plenty of drama to the season too. It's a nice and well-deserved prize.

It all comes down to Anetra and Sasha Colby. Luxx and Mistress were entertaining. They deserved their placements in the finals. Again, the argument could be made that Mistress should have been in the top two. That's not the decision RuPaul makes. Instead, it's a battle between the obvious frontrunner all season in Sasha and the queen who won everyone's hearts in Anetra. When they return in their final outfits, it's immediately clear Sasha has reveals planned. Meanwhile, Anetra looks unprepared. That ultimately makes her reveal more effective. It's always better when the audience doesn't see it coming. The very first beat of the song features Sasha slipping out of one outfit into the next. She is always going to look gorgeous. She is stunning in everything she wears. That will always be true. She is a great performer as well. In fact, Anetra and Sasha's prior lip sync is one of the best from the entire season. That episode was chaotic for Anetra despite how well she did in every number. Performing is what these two do best. Everyone expected a brilliant showcase. Sasha got naked and Anetra kept pulling fabric out of the heart on her chest. It became less about the song - which was "Knock on Wood" by Amii Stewart - and more about these two presenting their tricks. That's what the final lip sync has evolved into over the years. It's all about who came with the more impressive gag. Sasha is declared the winner. Again, that feels right. It was the narrative that drove the entire season. It came to fruition despite the legitimate threat from Anetra. Plenty of the season's contestants will be welcomed on a future All Stars stage. The personalities were more engaging than the various constructions from production. Sasha declares this win as a victory for "every trans person past, present and future because we aren't going anywhere." Those are powerful words that should resonate with every single person watching. This is more than a competition. This is life. This win is an affirmation of Sasha's talents. She's also a beacon in this community who stands firmly on the shoulders of so many who made sacrifices and those who continue to fight for more respect in society.