RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 9: Meet the Queens

As always, I'm very excited for the new season of the Drag Race to start, particularly because some of my favorite queens in the world will be on the show!

Shea Coulee has ruled Chicago for years, and she was one of my immediate favorites when I moved here in 2013.

Sasha Velour is a cartoonist friend of mine, and she brings an amazing avant garde energy to her looks and performances.

And finally, I went to summer camp with Alexis Michelle! I expect Broadway diva REALNESS from her!

I'm eager to see how these old pals of mine do on the show, and I'm just as excited to meet all of these new queens! 

 

ALL STARS 2: Episode 6

Brooklyn's Sasha Velour joins me this week to discuss All Stars! (Photo by David Ayllon)

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sasha1

Chad: Sasha! You're a designer, a cartoonist, an illustrator, a magazine editor -- I'm not sure how you describe yourself and what scene you consider yourself in, but my impression is that you're on the avant garde of drag, largely active in the Brooklyn scene, is that right? How do you approach and respond to the Drag Race -- as a fanboy? As a critic? Eager to be on the show yourself? All of the above?

Sasha: I'm definitely in the weirder art-meets-horror-meets-fashion-meets-club-kid part of the drag spectrum... but one of the things I care most about is that drag keeps getting more and more varied. I think Drag Race is a wonderful show, but its focus is purposefully kind of narrow when it comes to the world of drag. And that's okay. For me, the question isn't "does Drag Race do a good job of representing the drag world?" (because it can't possibly... it's a brilliant and fun tv show) but rather "how else are we going to represent ourselves". It's our job to create new platforms to showcase different/weirder/queerer types of drag. And maybe, in response, the show will evolve, too. So my short answer is that I LOVE DRAG RACE. It's fun, it's informative, it makes the careers of so many new talents.... but we need more! Other! Different!

Chad: Cool, I think that's a really smart and productive approach to the show. It evokes such strong and varied responses in its fans, and I wanted to get a feel for your thoughts on it as a place to start off our discussion.

Sasha: Awesome! Yes! I know a lot of people who are really critical of the show... there's definitely a place for that, too :)

Chad: I'm someone who also, clearly, loves the show, even if I find myself criticizing aspects of it every week.

Sasha: I'm ultimately the same. I think we have to celebrate it for what it is, not expect it to be something different!

Chad: Regardless of my feelings about the production of the show, its diversity and representation, what keeps me drawing every episode is my unabiding love for these queens.

Sasha: I feel like one of the show's greatest strengths is that it helps us as audience members fall in love with these weirdo geniuses! I feel really attached to these queens I’ve never met!!

Chad: This week's "merchandising" challenge was pretty brilliant, and a fabulous callback to season 5's perfume challenge. I love seeing these queens' creativity at work.

Sasha: I think some of the most exciting Drag Race challenges are ones where the queens have to be creative from start to finish because we get a better sense of what they are going to be like outside of the show, how their minds work.

Chad: And truly, for a successful Drag Race queen, merchandising is FUNDAMENTAL!I think the whole point of this challenge was seeing the queens display some cunning and self awareness, figuring out how to capitalize on their image and cater to their fans. But were there any remotely marketable products, or were all the queens basically just orienting their items to make a good commercial?

Sasha: In the end, it wasn't really about the items (because none of them are REALLY marketable, aside from being gag gifts), it was about humorous videos.... and it really wasn’t surprising that Alaska, Katya, and Alyssa put together the most successful videos, because they are the three that have already successfully used videos to brand themselves as queens.

Chad: Right, you can't discount the ease and comfort that those three queens must have in front of the camera! I thought Katya's was an absurd masterpiece, and I'm so glad she completely ignored the criticism of her product in the workroom. It's gratifying to see her operating with a grounded sense of confidence this season -- she seems to be in a much healthier and less frantic place this time around!

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katya-final-copy

Sasha: Katya's was my favorite, actually. I still can't get over that her product's initials read KKK though...

Chad: Oh god, I didn't even notice that!

Sasha: But I'm an anxious person and I have stress-treatment sprays in every room.... so I would fully support her Krisis Kontrol product. I wonder what it smells like?

Chad: Wait, wait, wait, are stress treatment sprays a thing????

Sasha: YES!!! Aromatherapy, darling!!!! I love lavender and sandalwood, myself.

Chad: Okay, I think my gay card has just been revoked, I don't know if I can continue this conversation. What did you think of Katya's runway look?

Sasha: I LOVED THE RUNWAY! The yellow brown and gray late soviet depression-tracksuit was all so twisted and weirdly glamorous.

Chad: I was kind of waiting for a reveal under that tracksuit, but I thought she looked stunning. At least, from the neck up.

Sasha: For me…it was innovative. I’ve never seen a drag queen do a look like that! Katya often does pretty out-there stuff with silhouettes and textiles. She’s not a classic fashion queen, but for me she’s a true original…and that’s what fashion needs to be about.

Chad: Yes, very very true.

Sasha: I agree with RuPaul. It was so wrong...it was right

Chad: What are your thoughts about Detox? I feel like she consistently comes down the runway with stunning looks, but she's typically middle-of-the-road in the challenges. I don't know what's holding her back!

Sasha: I was surprised she wasn't in the bottom on this one. The video just really didn't make a strong impression, and the product makes no sense. I LOVE Detox, and I think she has the most brilliant VISUAL eye of the bunch.

Chad: I think her fashion speaks directly to both of us -- extremely sleek, graphic, bold. She's stunning on the runway!

Sasha: The Thierry Mugler pointy red/white fashion vacation look was sooooo pleasing.

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detox-final-copy

Chad: I thought her commercial was FINE, but not... exceptional. I may giving her the benefit of the doubt, though, because her trash talkin' trash receptacle bore a STRONG resemblance to one of my favorite Chicago queens, Imp Queen.

Sasha: Big PAPER eyelashes? Iconic. Chicago drag is so top notch. And there's some strong love between Brooklyn and Chicago queens, especially.

Chad: Yes, I've definitely been getting that impression! I feel like Detox excels at both the runway and in her stage performances, but she just isn't displaying the same creativity as Katya and Alaska in the challenges. I guess everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, eh?

Sasha: I kind of have the same complaint about all these commercials, though... which is that we've seen a lot of the jokes before. All these videos were REALLY self-referential. I think they are all equally guilty of that. Maybe that's the curse of "marketing".

Chad: I agree, but don't you think that a queen inevitably capitalizes on their most popular catchphrases and memorable moments when creating merch?

Sasha: I guess you're right! It's the curse of All Stars then, that we get a more "branded" contestant.

Chad: Honestly, that's part of what appealed to me about this challenge, and about this All Stars season in general -- how do you as a performer maintain a certain level of consistency and fan service without stagnating?

Sasha: Do you feel like some are doing better than others?

Chad: Well, I think Tati and Alaska are both very skilled at surprising us.

Sasha: Tatianna has been one of my favorite parts of the season because she really is giving us something new. Her drag is so different from what it was on season 2. And the show—really the whole audience of drag—has changed. I thought she has been nailing it.

Chad: I really felt like Tati was going to be a dark horse this season -- I mean, certainly, I think she came across very well on the show, but I wanted to see so much more of her!

Sasha: Everyone's jaws dropped at the bar where I was watching. We all wanted more Tati.

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tati-final-copy

Chad: She's not the kind of queen I normally find myself rooting for -- exceedingly fishy and beautiful, but delightfully bitchy when called for.

Sasha: She's really smart, though... it gives her such an interesting edge.

Chad: Yes, she displays an intelligence that should serve her well outside of the show. I hope she takes advantage of her increased visibility and runs with it!

Sasha: Me too! I want to see more content from her! Videos! Spoken word album!! Bring it on! See me with them hands!

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alaska-close-up

Chad: In all this discussion about branding, about expectations, and about playing the Drag Race game, we have to get around to Alaska. I think she's such an amazingly, hilariously, endlessly surprisingly contestant on this show. I think it must be profoundly difficult not only to operate within the confines of the shooting environment on this show and create anything remotely original and creative, but to create something that feels so edgy, strange, and stunning. I absolutely loved her commercial.

Sasha: She is SLAYING this competition every week. She clearly understands herself and her "brand" really really well... and that is the ticket to having success in ANYTHING, especially drag. I could tell that she was really organized and purposeful about designing her commercial--the shots, the voiceover... it was all really well planned out at a totally different level than the other girls. It was still quite simple... but just brilliantly and carefully conceived.Alaska is creative AND professional/business-minded...which is so intoxicating to watch. I was so inspired.

Chad: Yeah, I think Alaska is just wildly intelligent, creative, and focused. And she's so Thunderfucking fun to draw!!!!! Something about her weird, edgy looks pushes me in strange, strange directions.

Sasha: That makes me want to make some art of her!! Yours are always AMAZING!

Chad: Oh, thank you! I find myself using a rough, almost jagged and sparse technique when drawing her this season, more so than with any other queen! It suits her much more than the usually clean, simple style that works with the others.

Sasha: That totally fits! Alaska makes drag look really really fun and wild. That's so important. I think that's why drag queens love her so much, because it's a reminder of that passion and creativity that took us to drag in the first place.

Chad: Right, I think that's a great way of describing her appeal! Frankly, I think you bring a similar creativity and innovative edge to your performances, which is why I react so strongly to them!

Sasha: THANK YOU CHAD!!! <3<3 That really matters to me---to do something different, to be myself, to have fun. I always try to "say something" with drag... even if it's crazy or doesn't totally make sense or looks a little ugly. And I'm drawn to queens and kings with the same philosophy:)

Chad: I think it's that experimentation with the form that pushes it forward and explodes its boundaries!

Sasha: YES! DRAG REVOLUTION NOW!

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alaska-final-copy-2

Chad: What are you hoping to see the rest of this All Stars season? I think there are only a few episodes left!

Sasha: Gladiator-style combat with Ru dressed as Nero? Esther Williams-style synchronized swimming challenge? Write minimalist operas based on your life and perform them with only the help of the pit crew? Create your own religion and try to get converts on the street? Pitch and teach a 300-level seminar at UCLA on the meaning and history of drag?

Chad: HA! Yes, please, ALL OF THEM. I think next week is a makeover episode, which is always fun. I have this feeling that a lot of the drama may be over for the season, or at least, I hope so.

Sasha: That's right! We haven't had a makeover, yet!

Chad: My guess is that the principal source of tension between the queens will be the question of Rolaskatox -- will one of them be forced to send another home? I think there will be some grueling, difficult decisions to make, but it will be some delicious drama!

Sasha: That storyline wasn't the most interesting the first time we got it.

Chad: Ha! True, but now that the queens' fates are in each others hands, it's interesting to see play out.

Sasha: But it's easy to forget when you are home watching through a screen just how intense and personal these decisions are! I have to remind myself how hard it would be if I was with my Brooklyn sisters, trying to make decisions like these.

Chad: Right, these are queens that care about each other and respect each other, so despite all the exciting drama surrounding it, this structure must be excruciating.I saw Willam speculating on Twitter that, at the finale, the queens will have to pick the winner! Which would be a lovely, affirming way to end the season, wouldn't it?

Sasha: All the eliminated queens? That's kind of beautiful.

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sasha2

Sasha Velour is on Instagram, and she also has a shockingly beautiful website. I beg each and every one of you to watch this tour de force performance where Sasha unleashes a stunning multimedia extravaganza -- please, for the love of drag! Sasha's monthly show "NIGHTGOWNS" will be Thursday, October 13 at Bizarre Bushwick in Brooklyn! She's also currently exhibiting 6 new art pieces in a group show Coney Island Babies curated by Patti Spliff and Chris Bogia at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division (in the Manhattan LGBT Center). The second issue of VELOUR: The Drag Magazine (formerly VYM) debuts on October 21 (including a drawing by me!). (Photo by Marloes Haarmans)

You can find my own work on my

Etsy shop

where I have much of this week's art available as lovely prints, and I just posted tons of brand new

All Stars postcards

! You can also support me and request custom sketches on my

Patreon site!

postcards
postcards

RPDR8, Episode 8

Joining me this week to discuss the Drag Race is IMP QUEEN! She recently celebrated her very first year of drag, but she's already an indelible presence in the Chicago scene. (Photo by Jo Control with styling by Daniella DeLuna)

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imp1

Chad: I was so thrilled with this week's episode -- I think it might be the high point of the entire season! There's plenty of fun stuff to talk about, but first, let's dig into the workroom drama between Naomi and Derrick. What do you think was at the heart of their bickering?

Imp Queen: I think last night they reached the point of the competition where politeness and tact and desire to appear "unbitchy" on TV went out the window. Derrick accused Naomi of attacking her to cover up her own insecurities, but sometimes I think the behavior you imagine you are seeing in others is really the behavior you are refusing to see in yourself. I think Derrick seemed really shaken by the journey of the competition, the struggle to find his own "authentic" identity in drag. And I think Naomi was rightfully annoyed that Derrick kept criticizing Naomi's objectively superior visual drag. Also, as much as this is "the big fight of the season," there really wasn't all that much animosity, just spirited disagreement. This wasn't a Shangela/Mimi or a Phi Phi/Sharon moment. Which I think speaks to the increasing media savvy of the queens each season.

Chad: One of the reasons I enjoyed this episode so much was that, even after all that animosity, Naomi and Derrick made an effort the following day to talk and help each other out. It was very humanizing and warm -- the bonds of their sisterhood were evident.

Naomi
Naomi

Chad: Naomi was described this week as the underdog of the season, but honestly, I had been thinking that was Chi Chi's storyline! Who do you think deserves a spot in the final three?

Imp Queen: I've been saying since week one that Kim and Bob are locks for the top 3 to me. I just could never for a moment imagine the season going any other way. But the third spot could really go either way. Both Naomi and Chi Chi have performed extremely well in all aspects of the competition. They both are endearing. I think Chi Chi's edit has a little more storyline, but only because the judges were kinda sleeping on Naomi at the beginning of the season for some reason. Pageant answer: they both deserve it. Non-pageant answer: I pick my Neverland sister Naomi.

Chad: I would truly be happy to see either in the final three, alongside Kim and Bob, of course!

Imp Queen: Also, like, heaven forbid Kim Chi gets cut next episode-- it would be really cool to see an all Black top three, especially since there hasn't been a black queen in the top three since season 2.

Chad: I can't even contemplate such a thing -- No Kim Chi in the final 3? I think that's officially sacrilege, especially in the city of Chicago.

Imp Queen: Yeah, exactly. It's actually just not possible to comprehend.

Chad: I have two questions for you: Are you a fan of Strangers With Candy? And were you a fan of the queens' performance that paid homage to it?

Imp Queen: I LOOOOOOOVE Strangers With Candy! I thought the queens' performance was like the Ball challenge opening numbers always are-- silly, pointless, sloppy, and wonderful. It was a lot of fun to hear Amy singing (I would LOVE a Strangers With Candy musical...) but like, what was with the false teeth they were all wearing? None of them were able to lip sync!

Chad: I know! That was the weirdest part of it. I'm also a huge, huge fan of Amy Sedaris and her work on Strangers with Candy, but I agree entirely with your summation of the homage. But... at least it was short!

Imp Queen: Kinda great, though. One of my favorite lip sync moves is to do the Coco Montrese point-at-your-mouth thing, but then get all the lyrics wrong.

Chad: HA! I love that so much. I wasn't initially thrilled with the Book Ball challenge -- I was worried that the use of paper would echo the Money Ball from Season 3. But I actually LOVED the autobiographical theme of the challenge, and the runway looks slayed me. Which were your favorites, and what are your thoughts on their construction/innovation/concept?

Imp Queen: Kim was hands down the winner of the Ball. The queens were joking about it in Untucked, but she really did "embrace the material"-- and not just paper, but the whole idea of an autobiography challenge focused on your relationship with drag and your mother. She went deeper conceptually and emotionally than any of the queens, crafting a clear and compelling visual story that HAD ACTUAL CONTENT!!! Her looks said something deeply personal about her life experience, something that has a real emotional cost for her to share. She didn't win because of her flawless construction and her perfect taste. She won because she showed us something special and sad and beautiful about herself.

KimChi
KimChi

Chad: I thought Kim's looks were utterly stunning. Her story and her performance were so masterful!The way the challenge was constructed to allow the queens to visually convey their history and character was fantastic, but I think it was particularly suited to Kim's skills -- she knocked it out of the park! I adored both Naomi and Chi Chi's eleganza looks -- what did you think of them?

Imp Queen: Naomi's was absolutely stunning-- the silhouette when she leaned back was just gorgeous. I don't know if you're aware of this, but I look exactly like Naomi Smalls. We're practically twins. (lol in my imagination) I think Chi Chi was also great, especially the hair and face pieces. I think both Naomi and Chi Chi's looks felt a little bit similar to their looks from the wizard of oz challenge, but amplified. I think that makes a certain sense; you're creating all of these pieces so close together, and I know my drag sort of moves through phases of similar visual obsessions.

ChiChi
ChiChi

Chad: I agree -- I'm obsessed with those hairpieces that Chi Chi made. And the earrings, too. I had to draw her close up, because the angles were stunnnnning. I thought her use of the varied textures were really interesting, but I wasn't quite as drawn to the overall gown.

Imp Queen: Yeah, the way she placed the earring to extend the lines of her bone structure was super QT

Chad: I guess you're quite knowledgeable about unconventional uses of paper applied to one's face, aren't you?

Imp Queen: lolol what can I say, I love a nice natural lash... just one pair of 3001s. I actually really liked Bob's look, too.

Chad: Yeah! The colors were gorgeous, and I loved that hair on her.

Imp Queen: I think it's very smart to spray yourself a strong color if everyone else is walking out in off-white.

Chad: Do you feel like she skirted the challenge by using primarily cardboard?

Imp Queen: I mean, I guess so, but i don't get the sense there's a real advantage to cardboard over paper-- so it doesn't feel like cheating or dishonesty, just like missing the opportunity to give the judges what they really wanted. I'm glad cardboard-gate didn't turn into tulle-gate 2.0

Chad: Bob got a lot of shit from the other girls about her makeup -- what do you think of her paint?

Imp Queen: I mean, it's not good... Kim said it best-- it looks like she wears lips and lashes. But like Bob said, her paint isn't really the point. So, like, I think I can be a sickening drag queen even if I can't death drop or tongue pop or serve you Rihanna in a one-armed leotard. And i think Bob can be a sickening drag queen wearing one pair of 301s and some strawberry lipsmackers. It's all about what you DO have to offer. That said, once you get to a certain level, maybe it's time to step your pussy up (and I think Bob has, paintwise. She looks so much better now gigging the gig than she did shooting a year ago.)

Bob
Bob

Imp Queen: I LIVED for her Sylvester lip sync!!!!

Chad: Ha! It was fabulous! And I was so tickled by the song selection!

Imp Queen: One of my favorites, and you could tell Bob really loves the song, too. Derrick did a great job, too, but she was definitely the supporting actress.

Chad: I took a million screengrabs during the lip sync for reference, and I was struck by how many wonderfully expressive and varied faces Bob was pulling at every moment in her performance.

Imp Queen: I loved the moment when Bob slid on his knees, and then Bob and Derrick sort of scooted along the floor together in sync.

Chad: And then her moment with Derrick after Bob was told to stay -- I think that was a magnificent moment of tenderness between them. It was an incredibly WARM episode. They've been through a lot, but there was a lot of reconciliation this week.

Imp Queen: Also, like, from an appearing-on-reality-TV standpoint, that was really smart. Like, Bob knows some shit went down with him and Derrick, he doesn't know 100% how the edit will go down, so he makes a point of saying, in a very public moment, how positive he feels about Derrick and how much they've grown.

Chad: I think Bob is EXTREMELY smart with how she comes across onscreen. Compassionate and fun and creative.

Imp Queen: She and Kim both I think are being very genuine, but also playing the TV part of the game very intelligently-- like Bianca and Willam did, where it felt like they were holding up little storyline signposts for the editors to pick up on and use. That's Kim's ultimate embrace of the material.

Chad: HA! Brilliant. That leads me to my final question: When's dinner?

Imp Queen: lololol seriously though, I'm hungry.

Chad: Did you have any other topics you'd like to discuss?

Imp Queen: Last little thought about Kim Chi the entrepreneur--- I think Trixie and Katya changed the game last year in terms of how to market yourself online and IRL during the airing of your season. And I think Kim is really taking what Trixie did and going, like, ten steps further. She's far and away the best businesswoman to ever be on the show. Releasing gorgeous Adam Ouahmane photos of every runway look, a new limited edition T shirt of every catch phrase... She's playing the fuck out of this game, and building the kind of platform that will keep her one of the top Ru girls for years to come.

imp2
imp2

Find Imp Queen on InstagramSoundCloudand Snapchat! (@impqueen) She'll be performing May 4th at Hydrate's #FACE, and she'll be at SmartBar's Queen! on May 8th. She'll be performing and hosting at IT Presents' next party May 12th at Berlin, and then at Neverland's Animal Farm IML party at Charlies. Every Monday, she's at Annex at the Boom Boom Room, and every Thursday, she's at Debonair Social Club for Neo.  (Photo by Erik Michael Kommer)

Find all this week's art on my Etsy store!

RPDR8, Episode 6

Hi folks! It's just me and my dumb art this week. My interview didn't work out, but that's okay, because after talking Drag Race non-stop for 4 days in Seattle at Emerald City Comic Con, I'm happy for a break! (Thanks to everyone who came by! It was great!) With the Wizard of Oz runway, I was really hoping for wild, avant garde looks from the queens. They don't assign you a poppy-fueled interpretive dance challenge if they don't expect you to pull some crazy shit, right? But the majority of queens brought out underwhelming looks. Some simply lacked the imagination, others probably lacked time.

In any case, let's get to the good stuff:

thorgy-emerald
thorgy-emerald

I liked the looks of Thorgy and her partner -- I didn't actually know what the "Citizens of the Emerald City" looked like, but after googling them, it's clear that Thorgy stuck pretty close to the source material while giving her looks a sleek, simple consistency.

kim-witch
kim-witch

Kim and her partner came out in fairly simple garments, but they had a fabulous graphic appeal. And those brooms! Trading, hitting, flying on them. Maybe even sweeping with them! Plus, I'm a total sucker for stripes.

naomi-scarecrow
naomi-scarecrow

I was excited that Naomi stepped it up this week. I like her a lot, but I agree with the judges that she needed to branch out beyond her lingerie sets, and it's clear she's learned a lot from those Barnes & Noble fashion magazines!

This week's prints of Kim and Naomi are already available on my Etsy store! And if you feel like it, you can sign up to send me a few dollars every month at Patreon!