The second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is now in full swing. Lee Williscroft-Ferris sits down to watch episode 2.
The second episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race is often the real debut for the queens, the one that proves whether they have the chops they claim to have. The ‘look queens’ sometimes struggle with the performance aspect of drag while those overlooked on first impressions come to the fore.
Last week’s episode left us with multiple potential ‘story arcs’; Lawrence Chaney’s lack of self-confidence, A’Whora’s propensity for bitchiness and Veronica Green as the contestant underestimated by her counterparts. It was perhaps predictable that at least one of these narratives would be turned on its head in this episode.
The mini-challenge involved the queens voting for one another to be crowned ‘Secretary of Shade’, ‘Trade Minister’, ‘Leader of Lording it Up’ and ‘Baroness Basic’. The outcome was fairly obvious and saw A’Whora named the shadiest queen and Tayce the ‘trade’ of the season. Meanwhile, Lawrence Chaney was confirmed as ‘Leader of Lording it Up’, while Tia Kofi took the ‘basic’ title on account of her ‘thirsty wigs’. Ultimately, the sole purpose of the challenge turned out to be identifying the queen who would take the lead in the main challenge. In this case, Tia Kofi was given the task of allocating roles in Rats: The Rusical, a song and dance challenge centred on a satirical drag version of West End staple, Cats.
Tia did an efficient job of dishing out roles and despite some momentary tension between Cherry Valentine and Veronica Green over a prominent part, everyone seemed fairly laid back about the whole task, in contrast to the US version, where queens often end up embroiled in lengthy stand-offs for centre stage. In rehearsal, Lawrence Chaney struggled to master the choreography as his self-confidence dissipated. He was consoled by his fellow queens as he sobbed on stage. The battle for dominance that often characterises performance challenges on the US version of the show didn’t come to the fore on the episode. As the queens headed back to the Werk Room to paint, we got an insight into Cherry Valentine’s background as a member of the traveller community.
Rats: The Rusical turned out to be a real treat. These challenges are always tricky to judge; in some ways, queens are hostage to the limits of the roles they are given. In this case, there were a few real standout performances with everyone else falling firmly in the middle – no one let themselves down, although Ellie Diamond and Lawrence Chaney’s lights were dimmer than their fellow queens’. Asttina Mandella was also surprisingly sedate given her performance last week. Ginny Lemon, as expected, put in a star turn as Dame Judi Stench and Bimini Bon Boulash was something of a revelation as Diphtheria, channelling her inner Keith Flint and giving us a whole different side to her character. It was, however, Veronica Green’s moment; the oldest queen on the show took her performance as Evita von Fleas and really honed it into a masterpiece. Her great singing skills, timing and facial expressions set her apart from the others with guest judge Sheridan Smith later describing her as a ‘triple threat’.
The category on the runway was ‘Surprise, Surprise’. Disappointingly, this didn’t turn out to be a tribute to Miss Cilla Black but rather a very open goal based around outfit reveals. Highlights were served by Veronica Green with her 50s housewife/robot combo, Asttina Mandella with her risqué zombie-themed look and, it has to be said, Bimini Bon Boulash, who, despite some rather lacklustre balloon-popping, looked absolutely stunning. On the other end of the spectrum, Lawrence Chaney’s tartan creation was unflattering and uninspiring, while Cherry Valentine sadly missed the mark with her wig and make up for her ‘pregnancy’ reveal. I also didn’t see anything especially remarkable about Ellie Diamond’s triple Wizard of Oz look, in contrast to the praise heaped on it by the judging panel.
In the end, there was realistically only going to be one winner this week; Veronica Green put in a stellar performance and thoroughly deserved her RuPeter Badge. I’m excited to see what more she has to offer. Meanwhile, Cherry Valentine and Tayce wound up in the bottom two. As I said, this week was a tough one to call. No one embarrassed themselves. It came down to who had failed to push themselves forward enough. I would argue that Lawrence Chaney, who visibly struggled during the ‘Rusical’ and whose runway look was pedestrian at best, should have landed in the bottom this week. Ellie Diamond also faded into the background and made me question whether she has the range of skills to advance very far in the competition. I wouldn’t have necessarily had Tayce lip sync – she was no worse than many of her counterparts in the performance and her runway was striking, despite the black corset.
As RuPaul always reminds us, the final decision is hers to make. So, Cherry Valentine and Tayce faced off in a lip sync battle to ‘Memories’ from Cats. It’s an unusual choice for a lip sync but an excellent one from the point of view that it left the queens with nowhere to hide. No death drops, no splits, no cartwheels. This was all about lip syncing talent and the ability to convey the emotion of a song in a more understated way. It was a very evenly matched battle but there was something in Tayce’s eyes and movements that brought the song to life. RuPaul agreed and the Newport queen was saved while Darlington’s own Cherry Valentine was asked to ‘sashay away’. Was this the right outcome? It’s a matter of opinion. In an episode like this, it comes down to slightly raggedy wigs and ‘good’ rather than ‘excellent’ performances.
What I can say with confidence is that Episode 2 lived up to the hype generated by last week’s instalment. This is a great group of queens with bags of personality and the unique brand of drag that only the UK offers. We’re thirsty for more.
Queens to watch: Veronica Green, Ginny Lemon, Bimini Bon Boulash
You in danger, gurl: Lawrence Chaney, Sister Sister, Tayce
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.
Follow Lee on Twitter (@MXOFO)