Drag Race-watching veteran Daz Skubich recaps and reviews the eagerly awaited first episode of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’. Keep reading for reads, toots, boots and more eleganza than you can handle!
I was not expecting much from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK – I’ve made this clear before. But on Thursday night, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that Britain’s answer to Project Runway but gay was full of charm, wit and filth! The budget was there, the cheesy sound effects were there, and of course RuPaul himself was there, making Drag Race UK the first international iteration of the show to feature the titular queen in person.
First impressions are important, and the show itself nailed it. But what about the queens? Aside from the Meet The Queens promotional videos, the first time we learn anything about the cast of the show is when they enter the Werk Room. Setting the tone, Baga Chipz was the first to grace our screens. Sadly, my opinion of her was already tainted by the recent discovery via Twitter that she had endorsed voting Conservative back in 2017. However, her Kat Slater-esque look and uniquely British blue humour did have me giggling. Hearing the phrase “a good ol’ shag” on a show that is usually so American was jarring in the best way.
Next up was Blu Hydrangea, a makeup artist and look queen from Northern Ireland. She is stunning, and her entrance look did not disappoint. Blu said that she’s going to bring some “Northern Irish flair” to the show but never quite explained what that means…
Divina De Campo is a pretty good example of what many people think of as an English drag queen. She’s been on loads of telly and can sew – which is always a good skill to have on Drag Race – and a VERY distinctive laugh. Crystal is an absolute cutie and her entrance look was bold. She’s not afraid to bend the rules and the gender binary, featuring her hairy chest in many of her looks.
Hearing the phrase “a good ol’ shag” on a show that is usually so American was jarring in the best way.
Sum Ting Wong, in my opinion, is a standout candidate for the crown. Her entrance look was gorgeous, she’s funny and creative, and from the short confessional clips we have seen so far, she understands the politics surrounding drag in the UK and what it means to be a person of colour in drag. Vinegar Strokes is bubbly, charming and a seasoned queen who has performed on the West End in the hit musical Everyone’s Talking About Jamie. These ladies are the only queens of colour on Drag Race UK, which is exactly what many fans and drag performers were worried about when they heard about the show coming across the pond. The UK drag scene is extremely diverse across race, class, gender and sexuality, and the line up for this first season doesn’t seem to reflect that.
As someone who originally hails from Essex, I wanted to root for my hometown queen Cheryl Hole so badly. She’s primarily a dancer but is an all-round performer, and she aptly plays the role of Cheryl in a Girls Aloud drag tribute group. The Vivienne already had a name for herself in the Drag Race community prior to Drag Race UK as the UK’s official Drag Race ambassador. This clearly means that she’s talented, but in her entrance she did seem a little braggy.
And finally we have the babies of the season: Gothy Kendoll and Scaredy Kat. Both of these queens are stunning in their own unique ways, and represent the newer drag scene perfectly. Gothy’s glitzy chav look was gag-worthy and as a J-fashion enthusiast myself, Scaredy Kat’s general sweet lolita vibe made me extremely happy. Gothy has some experience on the drag scene but at only 19 years old, Scaredy Kat has never performed live and has never even SEEN a drag show! What’s more, she has a girlfriend who is also a bio queen (a woman who does drag as a woman).
The show follows the structure of its US counterpart pretty closely. The first mini challenge was a photo shoot, as is tradition, and the Pit Crew have had a makeover to become the “Brit Crew”. It was oddly charming to see the British queens educating Ru about British slang and culture, and this resulted in the episode being far, far dirtier than anything we would see on the parent show. The benefits of British on-demand TV!
The UK drag scene is extremely diverse across race, class, gender and sexuality, and the line up for this first season doesn’t seem to reflect that.
However, something that will take some getting used to is the lack of product placement. In general, it’s seen as a good thing that we aren’t allowed product placement in British TV shows, but in the wider context of Drag Race, it makes for some interesting changes. The winners of the maxi challenges no longer win a $2000 gift card for a wig brand, or a luxury weekend getaway for them and their partner. Instead they are awarded possibly the most British prize of all – the RuPeter Badge.
The first Maxi Challenge was a double whammy – the queens had to showcase a look that represented their hometown, and then change into a look inspired by Queen Elizabeth II. The hometown category had a huge amount of variety, but I was disappointed at the lack of creativity with the Queen looks. We could have seen a corgi inspired outfit, or a swan inspired outfit, but instead we mostly got lacklustre recreations of Her Majesty’s actual outfits.
Some of my top Toots of the week go to Sum Ting Wong and The Vivienne. Both of Sum Ting Wong’s runway presentations were stunning, and showcased her versatility and creativity. Her Birmingham Bullring look perfectly combined glamour and camp, and her stamp-inspired outfit was creative, funny and somehow still elegant. That’s impressive with a cardboard box on your head! The Vivienne’s Queen look was completely different to anything that the other queens had thought of, and the way she was able to transform her face with age makeup was incredible.
There were of course some Boots too. Vinegar Strokes’ hometown queen look was extremely basic, and the Thames across her waist looked a little too homemade. Cheryl Hole disappointed me with both of her looks, but particularly her Essex look. If you are given the opportunity to go full Essex girl, you need to do better than that! Amp up the fake tan, wear a huge hat like you’re going to ladies day at the races! Not to mention her Queen look, which was frankly boring.
The first week’s judging panel featured comedian and talk show host Alan Carr, and actor Andrew Garfield. When I first heard about Alan Carr being made a regular judge on the show I was a little doubtful, but after seeing him in action I think he was an excellent choice. He gets the show’s humour, adds some British charm, and actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to drag looks. I was confused about why Andrew Garfield was there other than the fact he’s British and famous but I’m not complaining!
Finally, it was time for the first lip sync. Gothy Kendoll versus Vinegar Strokes (I think Cheryl should have been in the bottom two). The performance from both queens started off quite weak, and I think this may be a running theme for the show. Charlie Hides mentioned on season nine that most UK queens sing live rather than lip sync, so their performance is far more focused on their voice rather than their stage presence. Hopefully this has been accounted for throughout the series, otherwise we’ll be in for a few double eliminations.
Vinegar did start to get into it as ‘New Rules’ by Dua Lipa continued, but the longer the lip sync went on, the more I realised that Gothy is not a very good dancer. At all. Bless her, she tried, but she was generally quite awkward for the entire performance. I’m a little sad to see her go so early on but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her in the coming months!
Come back next week for another TQ Drag Race review!
Follow Daz on Twitter (@paleghosty)