RuPaul’s Drag Race kicked off its fifteenth season on Friday with a double episode ‘One Night Only’ special. The new season sees sixteen queens (a record high for the series) competing for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, and the ‘One Night Only’ opening follows the series’ typical opening format of a superstar guest judge and a talent show challenge for the queens, but with some twists.
The first change to the series typical format is that rather than splitting the queens into two groups that get one opening episode each, they instead meet at the end of the first episode, coming together for one talent show in the second half. This essentially leaves the first part of ‘One Night Only’ feeling full of filler and without much competition, but in typical Drag Race fashion, there’s drama inserted into the episode over the second group joining late into the choreography the first group had been working on.
Other than that, part one is mostly just the queen’s entering the work room for an hour and doing a mini challenge. Whether this is a welcome change or a tiring one will likely come down to just how much of a Drag Race fan you are. Superfans will of course love the extra time spent in the werkroom, while more casual viewers may find things a bit too bloated. This has been more true in recent seasons, where the show can go for many weeks without an elimination — but this may be coming to an end soon with the show’s shift to MTV and a new, tighter runtime.
With the first mini challenge for the girls, Drag Race aims to introduce new MTV watchers to the show by referencing its iconic moments of years past. If there is one thing Drag Race loves to do, it is be self-referential. In earlier seasons, this was campy and comedic, playing on the show’s foundation in parodying other reality competitions like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway. In more recent years after the show gained momentum and commercial success, Drag Race‘s penchant for recalling its own past started to get a bit stale and overproduced.
With Season 15, the queen’s begin their Drag Race journey in two groups, doing photoshoots inspired by the first shoots the competitors from season one and two of the show participated in. With this, Drag Race gets it right — managing to reference it’s long-spanning reality television roots without it being overly done (like Season 5’s challenge to recreate moments from Untucked! that was just unwatchable).
The first eight queens to enter the werkroom get the surprise bonus of meeting the week’s guest judge — Ariana Grande — but also face the challenge of having to pose for a photoshoot in drag while getting wet! The second group doesn’t get their moment with Ari until Untucked!, but instead get to stay dry while recreating the show’s second season opening photoshoot.
Irene Dubois wins the challenge for the first batch of girls with a fierce photo (although there didn’t appear to be much water in it, unlike some of the other competitor’s shots!) The second group had a clear winner with Loosey LaDuca, who managed the one photo from the second group that actually made me go ‘Wow, that’s good!’ when it came on screen.
Production, unfortunately, portended an ill fate for the two queens who nabbed the mini challenges. When it came to the talent competition, the real show began (albeit with an odd ‘opening number’ that was clearly added just to cause drama for the first episode.)
The first queen to showcase her talent was Malaysia Babydoll Foxx lip-syncing to an original song. Props to Malaysia for producing something original and clearly well thought out. Her track didn’t feel like an effort to promote a song on iTunes, but instead, with its lyrics shouting out season 15 and boasting about her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, felt like a proper introduction to a queen that knows how to play the game and play it well.
Up next was Spice — a TikTok superstar along with her twin and fellow competitor, Sugar. Judging by the amount of times queens introduced themselves as ‘TikTok famous’ in their opening entrances, there’s clearly going to be some drama surrounding this later in the series, but it seems like Sugar and Spice should quickly be able to squash that with their impressive follower count and ‘One Night Only’ show offerings to back up their talent. Of the twins, Spice gave the stronger performance in comparison — but only because the lyrics to her original song were more catchy. Both queens offered a fun and entertaining performance for their talents, and it was clearly enough to quiet some of the queens who were doubting their abilities upon first impressions.
Nonetheless, Malysia, Sugar and Spice were all safe — along with Luxx Noir London, Aura Mayari, Princess Poppy, Sasha Colby, Salina Estitties, Mistress Isabelle Brooks, and The Robin Fierce.
Marcia Marcia Marcia debuted strong with an utterly off the wall theatrical performance piece mixed in with ballet about a sexually charged girl and her lust for…Ross Matthews. Yes, it was as ridiculous as it sounds when condensed into one sentence!
Also starting the competition strongly was Anetra, warning the audience she was there to ‘wear their pussies out’ — and she most certainly did with her combination of lip syncing, taekwondo, dancing, and duck walking.
Jax also proved a strong competitor with her using her own hair as a jump rope and doing backflips. Jax’s history as a competitive cheerleader brought her unique skills that the other queens didn’t have, and it was smart of her to showcase them on the main stage.
The judges praised Marcia, Anetra, and Jax for all bringing their non-drag related talents to the talent show and infusing them alongside their drag, and it was clear that these three were the top performers of the week. Their performances were all elevated beyond just a lip sync, and it was nice to see the judges notice and praise this, considering some of the talent shows in Drag Race past have felt more like one nightclub performance after the other, showcasing more of their drag aesthetics and lip sync prowess than other talents.
Irene Dubois had a hilarious premise for her talent show offering: a ‘how-to’ demonstration of making ice water. This tongue-in-cheek performance was actually one of the smarter ones on the main stage, but after condensing the routine to fit time restraints, Irene just was not able to deliver comedic timing the way the bit needed. As hilarious as it may be to go onto the main stage of Drag Race and proudly proclaim your talent to be making a glass of water (and struggling to do so), the routine didn’t go as planned and ultimately fell flat. The extra time would’ve allowed Irene to ham it up more and really take the simple task and drag it out and make it larger than life.
Amethyst also found struggles in comedic timing for her talent presentation, revealing her gag at the start of the number rather than the end of it. When you’re doing a number with a wine glass in your hand about how hard it is to find your baby, you probably shouldn’t show that the baby is strapped into the backpack you’re wearing within the first five seconds. Amethyst’s characterization also wasn’t quite larger than life, and I’m sure the decision to wear sneakers also played a part in her landing in the bottom with Irene.
Loosey LaDuca, despite her strong photo in the mini challenge, made the choice to sing live for the talent show, and ended up delivering a performance that lacked the energy or vocal prowess that the judges needed to see. This may have been a risk that didn’t pay off at all — but it was a risk she took nonetheless, and while it landed her in the bottom three, her ambition is likely what spared her from lip syncing for her life.
After a lip sync to guest judge Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings‘, Amethyst sent Irene home. With the way the show was giving Irene so much screentime, it feels unusual to see her sent home first. From her time in the werkroom to confessionals, Irene was genuinely funny and entertaining. Her talent showcase didn’t deliver by any means, but her ambition to do something unexpected could have easily landed her in the safe group, just as ambition saved Loosey from lip syncing. With that in mind, Drag Race may be on a new network and switching up its routine format, but it seems like production is still the show’s ultimate and omnipotent villain. Whether this will change over the rest of the season remains to be seen…but it seems unlikely.