The last episode before the Finale is always bitter sweet and anxiety-inducing for me. It's nearly the end, which means that I'll be stuck waiting however long (months most likely) until my next fix of RPDR. However it's also not QUITE the end and anything can happen here. Anyone could go- ESPECIALLY this season. Each of the four remaining queens are ALL girls I'm rooting for on some level (though I would be lying if I said I wasn't rooting for some more than others). And, honestly, that's a rarity on RPDR. There is somewhat of a tradition for Ru and Co. to keep a villain around- someone who let the competition get to them, let their bitch flag fly, and ultimately soured their chances at the crown (Ginger, Roxxxy, Phi Phi O'Hara, etc.). But not so with Season 8. And, much like Season 6 (sans Darienne Lake), the energy you get from four girls who all seem to really appreciate each other is a welcome change of pace from the bitter mess that was Season 7's Top 4. But enough of that, lets get into it:
The Maxi Challenge: The penultimate episode is always the dreaded Music Video Challenge. Ru has the girls film various segments that have the possibility of ending up in a music video for her latest single (usually the song that has been accompanying the runway presentations of that season.) For Season 8 it is "The Realness" (I like the tune, honestly. Maybe not as much as Season 6's "Sissy That Walk" but it's still a lot of fun). The girls' first task is to lie on their back and have sheets of neon fabric billow around them like wings while they lipsynch and attempt to keep their legs up. The second task is to have them dance in avante garde outfits. The third task is to lipsynch in front of a mirror as if they are berating themselves over their current life choices. There is usually a scene where Ru will have a spoken-word acting moment with each of the queens, but this season skips it (and the iconic- though honestly tired- Tic Tac Talk) in lieu of a child-photograph-laden runway interrogation.
The Runway: Like the Music Video Challenge, the Runway is the same for the Top 4 (or what used to be the Top 3) every year: Your Best Drag. However I think this would be far more accurate if the challenge had been "Your Best Leftover Scraps" because there is a long, storied history of nearly every girl's looks being overshadowed by something they wore previously in the season. Lasting this long is a taxing experience- not just on the queens but on their wardrobes. No matter how prepared a queen comes, no matter how many extra costumes they bring "just in case," this competition has a way of magically forcing the queens to use all their best work long before the final episode airs.
NOW: On with the show! In no particular order:
Bob The Drag Queen: Miss The Drag Queen has been and continues to be my personal pick for the crown. I genuinely believe that Bob is the most well-rounded of the girls left on the show, not to mention the best Show Headliner Ru could hope for. She's had as good a track record as Kim Chi, a more varied runway than Bianca Del Rio (a previous Comedy Queen winner), and her greatest strengths are those I truly believe fit best with America's Next Drag Superstar. She's a skilled orator, a politically active advocate, a motherly figure who encourages and helps her fellow queen, and extremely media savvy to boot (if you haven't yet check out her youtube channel and especially her series "Bobbin' Around" please do so. Hysterical.) And while I would pay to see any of these girls live- I would probably pay the most (and be the most motivated to get there) to see a Bob show. The reasoning is simple: she is a performance powerhouse. She can dance, she's got brilliant MC and comedy chops, and her lipsynch skills are some of the best the show has seen. A Bob show is an engaging, fun, exciting experience and would be a massive draw for Ru-related events.
Sure her makeup isn't as avant-garde as Kim Chi's or as flawless as Naomi's, and her costuming isn't on par with the works of art that Miss Chi has consistently sent down the runway- but they haven't been bad either. Some of them have been downright gorgeous in their own distinct way (her episode 1, 2, 5, 7 and Book Ball outfits especially). If Miss Bob's looks had been truly disastrous it would definitely make me question my support, but they simply haven't.
As for this episode? Bob had some trouble with the first part of the Maxi-Challenge (though not nearly as much as Kim Chi), she nailed the second part (proving once again that her lipsynch and performance skills are off the charts. Girl made the deathdrop cool again!), and her Mirror scene was fun (especially with her I Just Fisted A Coal/Gold-mine Hands). Overall she did as well or better than any of her other competitors. There honestly isn't that much for me to say here. One of the advantages the production has with a challenge like this is that they can pick and choose whatever cuts they want in order to form whatever level of quality it takes to justify their decisions- so it's not like we're truly seeing how good these girls did here. On top of that were weren't even given a Final Reel during critiques like they usually do- so their final performances are a mystery (at the time this episode originally aired. I assume we will be able to see once the Music Video airs).
We can talk about her runway, however. In the proud tradition of Raja and Violet, Miss Bob's final runway was the visual equivalent of a "wa waaaaaaaa" sound effect. I personally enjoyed it, and understood her reasoning for wearing it- but it was ultimately a little too simple and boring for a final runway look. Her padding was great, her makeup was okay, and her hair wasn't a hot mess- but that's the best I could say for it. Like I said before, though: the final runway is usually a letdown, so the relatively disappointing showing by Miss The Drag Queen doesn't change whether I think she deserves to win (obviously). What it means, however, is that she really needs to bust out some AMAZING shit for the Reunion. If Bob can show up in her best looks of the entire competition then I truly believe she has it in the bag. I hope she understands this and has been spending the last year preparing for just that.
I'm rooting for you, Bob! Don't fuck it up!
Kim Chi: Kim Chi has done about as well in this competition as one could hope, and easily deserves her place in the Top 3. From the very beginning she has been a stand-out on the runway, giving us breathtaking look after breathtaking look that showcased the brilliant flexibility of her makeup skills and fashion. Once you drop the desire to create a convincing female illusion the world of Drag Makeup tends to become limited only by your imagination- and that is something Miss Chi clearly has in spades. Everything from her very first cat-inspired Wig Realness Look to her Picasso On Acid Neon Runway was well thought out and impeccably executed. Miss Chi has, in my opinion, shown herself to be among the greatest Visual Queens RPDR has ever seen.
She has also been playing the game about as well as Bob: she knew exactly when to reveal the interesting parts of her life, had endearing (and often hysterical) confessionals, and was able to come up with a catchphrase that, while not reaching the levels of "Purse First," will still manage to be one of the most remembered lines of the season: "Donut Come For Me". Even her weaknesses couldn't keep her down (no matter how many times they caused her to literally fall to the ground). It takes an exceptionally intelligent queen to spin her greatest weaknesses into endearing quirks, and Kim Chi did just that when it comes to her lack of performance skills and inability to walk in heels. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kim Chi is the yin to Bob The Drag Queen's Yang- both equally strong, talented, intelligent competitors with complimentary strengths and weaknesses.
But those weaknesses do exist, and they are weaknesses I truly believe are less conducive to the crown of RPDR. When people have asked me to elaborate on this my answer can be summed up like this: everything Kim does best (which is flawless and considerable) can be found on her various social media and digital outlets (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc.). I wouldn't necessarily feel the need to go out of my way to see her live because everything she does well can be appreciated just as easily from the comfort of my tablet or smartphone. I feel like the Crown is best served by a girl who can be a good host (as I mentioned above) and this is exactly where Kim Chi shows herself to be the most lacking (at least in comparison to Miss Bob). This isn't to say, however, that she isn't an eloquent girl. She proved that she can give emotional, well thought-out, powerful speeches in this episode (hers, even more than Bob's, got me teary eyed). And honestly if the crown indeed goes to Kim Chi I am ENTIRELY confident that she would do the title justice. She's simply too amazing not to. It's just my humble opinion that, between these two wonderful girls, Bob deserves it just a tiny bit more.
Anyways, let's get into her performance in this episode: she was (predictably) the worst when it came to the first section, managing to give us one last Kim Chi Wipeout as she fell off the black box she was lying on. The second part, however, was a perfect example of Kim Chi realizing her strengths and weaknesses and downplaying the latter while emphasizing the former. Her outfit was STUNNING (even more stunning than her final runway look, to be honest) and it had lovely wing-like shoulders that she was able to interact with. Using these she stayed stationary and let her upper-body and costume do the talking, and it worked out extremely well. The final section was not amazing, but she still looked FANTASTIC while standing there awkwardly talking into a full-length mirror.
Now for her runway: bitch hit it out of the park again. While I don't think it escaped the curse of her "best drag" being overshadowed by other looks worn earlier- it was easily the strongest look on stage (fun fact- supposedly her Cherry Blossom look from Episode 2 was supposed to be her "Best Drag" look but she decided to whip it out early due to her subpar performance in the Maxi Challenge). Tonight Kim Chi was giving us Donnie Darko Rabbit Collided With A Giant Black Buzzard Realness and I was living for it.
Again: do I want her to win? Not as much as Bob. But if she did win? I would totally get it. It feels very much like Season 3 in that respect. In the end I was happy with either Raja OR Manilla taking that season- and the same can be said about Bob and Kim.
Naomi Smalls: Naomi Smalls is not who I would have predicted making it to the Top 3 with Bob and Kim Chi. While I have been very much a fan of this leggy girl since she was first introduced, her initial performances seemed destined for the kind of mid-season elimination that many girls get relegated to when they can't make themselves stand out. She always did moderately well, and I always loved her runways (except for the first one), but at the same time she was never the best at the challenges and there is validity to the criticism that her looks were all strikingly similar. In fact I'm somewhat shocked that Michelle never bothered to whip out her "Stop Relying On That Body" with Finger Swazzle in response to her third or fourth Lingerie look. But then Wizard's Of Drag Happened. And I know some of this was probably edited for emphasis- but Naomi worked it the fuck OUT in that episode and remained consistently strong throughout the rest of the competition. She had a genuine "Wake Up" moment- as opposed to Season 7's Pearl whose entire "Wake Up" narrative felt forced and heavily overblown (the girl was never asleep, thank you very much).
So yeah- Naomi isn't who I would have predicted making it to Top 3. Hell, I don't even think she makes the optimal Top 3 out of the Top 4. But the girl deserves it nevertheless. She can move like a goddess, dance like a Diva, and her makeup skills/fashion sense is stronger than girls who are twice her age with five times the experience. She's also insanely sweet, having built obviously strong ties to all the Top 4 girls (and many of the eliminated queens as well). Naomi also represents a wonderful trend in our culture: a girl whose talents thrived due to a strong supporting family who love her for her. It's a heartwarming, powerful example all parents of LGBT children should aspire to- and what better way to show off this poster-child for New Age Acceptance than by giving her the Crown and the press that comes with it? It may not be as compelling a case as the ones for Bob and Kim Chi- but the argument is there and it is valid.
When it comes to the Music Video Challenge: she did second-best in the first part (her overly-long legs and lack of core strength kept her from being the best, honestly), she was MESMERIZING in the second part (her blue Kylie Minogue-inspired Outfit was just stunning), and she was in her element in the third part. As for the runway? It suffered the same "too simple godammit" issue Bob's was afflicted with, but it was also well fitted, pretty, and as polished as any of her previous pieces. That's all I can really say there.
Naomi Smalls easily exceeded even my initially lofty expectations and I'm thrilled she is Top 3. Regardless of whether she wins the crown or not (by my prediction not) she has already won by making it this far and doing so with more grace than nearly anyone else this season.
ChiChi Devayne: Awwwwwwwwww shoot. I'm going to say it right now: I was thoroughly (THOROUGHLY) disappointed that Ru didn't say "fuck it" and simply decide to keep all four queens for the Finale. For the first time in RPDR herstory I was going to be genuinely broken up regardless of which queen was sent home- and it proved very much true with ChiChi. The minute I saw her at the NYC Live Premier I had already begun to adjust my initial impressions, and by the end of the first episode I was hooked on Miss Devayne. She has been a charming, charismatic highlight of nearly every episode, and she managed to give us LSFYLs that will go down in herstory as some of the best to ever grace the mainstage. While it is true that she had the spottiest track record of all the remaining queens (she had to LSFYL twice with one other low rating on top of that) she was also easily as improved as Naomi and, quite honestly, had the best personality out of all the remaining girls.
She also would have been the queen to make the most well-rounded Top 3. If Kim Chi is Yin and Bob is Yang, then ChiChi was Yong, the dancing, bright pink third slice that creates TRUE Fabulous Balance in the universe. She also made for a wonderful Underdog. They may have beat us over the head far too frequently with the information that she came from nothing and still had nothing- but they also had a point. More than anyone in this competition ChiChi would have benefitted THE MOST from the $100,000 and publicity the Crown would bring. Unlike Bob or Kim Chi (especially Kim Chi) Miss Devayne was a relatively unknown queen coming into this. Barely any presence online, no national following whatsoever . . . when I tried to look into her before the season began I distinctly remember coming up empty-handed. Does she need the crown to advance her career? Not at all- her mere presence on the show has all but cemented her as a fan-favorite. But it would have helped nevertheless.
When it comes to her performance in the episode: she did amazing in the first section, hit a snag in the second (I honestly wasn't all that big a fan of her makeup and the dress was not conducive to dancing), but looked STUNNING in her mirror portion. As for her runway: it was good. The hair and makeup were an 11 out of 10 but the dress was kind of cheap looking and "just okay" to me. Like I said before: none of these queens seemed to do any better or worse than their fellow competitors. ChiChi's efforts in this episode were as successful as the other three girls who made it- so the track record I mentioned above is probably what ultimately proved to be the deciding factor. It's frustrating, but completely logical. I just wish Ru had used a slightly different line of reasoning.
However this is where we must say "until we meet again" to our Kajun Girl From The South. I can't WAIT to see what the future holds for Miss ChiChi- because I know it's bright. As long as she stays true to herself and keeps working her ass off she can easily become an international hit in the Drag Scene.
And so now we wait for the finale, holding our breath and watching as Kim Chi's established internet fanbase proceeds to skew the voting system (I jest, but mostly because I think it's true). Whose team are you on? Why? Let me know! Also as a heads up: I will be doing a RANT for the Reunion where I will be talking about each girl's looks and final impressions. Stay tuned for that one!