'Shade: The Rusical' Becomes 'Battle of the Idols'

by Anneliese Cooper

Previously on RuPaul's Drag Race: The groups from each of the two-part premiere episodes finally met and promptly went head to head — or, rather, severed head — in a campy horror-themed acting challenge. The comedy queens nailed it (Darienne, especially), Trinity "Virgin Actor" Bonet squeaked through, and even though team leader Adore all but pissed herself on set, she was not made to lip sync for her life. That honor went to April and Vivacious — the latter of whom was sent packing, along with her gloriously bananas outfit. Au revoir, Ornacia! We'll always have the foam pit. Oh, and meanwhile, several of our world leaders became drag queens. But back in the Runiverse...

We all saw it coming. From the moment Courtney and Adore both announced their past Idol-franchise candidacies — and especially from the moment they met and got instantly catty about it — it was clear that an epic sing-off was in the cards. This week, that showdown finally arrived in the form of "Shade: The Rusical," an original composition packed with full-on Broadway cheese realness, for which Courtney and Adore gave us their best head-voice. But before we can enjoy the Battle of the Idols, the Falsetto Fisticuffs, the Clash of the Melismas (which, quickly, can we get #melisma trending? It would bring me such joy), we have to get through, y'know, the first 40 mintues of the episode — which begins, as usual, in the workroom.

Fresh off her (undeserved) lip sync, April is having "an awake up call" as she wipes Vivacious's lipstick note away. My fingers are crossed that this Rusical requires a propmaster, because that's a job she would slay. Meanwhile, to kick off this week's drama, Bianca decides she's had it with Gia: "She's kinda grown on me — like a rash," she insult-comics predictably, but she does so over footage of Gia and Laganja in the midst of what appears to be an insufferable-off, so I'm inclined to see her point.

Thankfully, She-Mail is quick to arrive, and there's no question that the queens know exactly what they're in for after that slew of puns ("It's time to strap on your Kinky Boots and form A Chorus Line"). "Musical theater!" they kiki gleefully, because of course they do, as Adore's grin threatens to split her face in two and Courtney preps her jazz hands.

They'll have to wait just a minute, though: Once again, this week's mini-challenge has zero to do with the theme of the week. Instead of Adele Dazeem (who, fine, wasn't yet officially christened at the time this was taped), Ru enters with Ian Drew of Us Weekly to kick off a round of "Female or She-Male," a guessing game in which the queens have to determine if a photo close-up is of "a biological woman or a psychological woman." The challenge rests on the somewhat shaky premise of "stars have their pictures taken, so, um, here's some of those pictures," allowing the US Weekly tie-in to make at least a little sense, but I'm honestly not sure Drew knows what he's doing there either; his peppering in of "witty remarks" is even more stilted than Bianca's. Speaking of which, during the game, she makes a jibe at Detox (after failing to recognize a picture of her infamously siliconed lips) — something along the lines of, "She got everything done but a nose job; what, did she run out of money?" — which is just not cool, Bianca. She's reminding me more and more of that anonymous jock in Mean Girls who asks Janis what her wig's made of; would that her quips got as little screentime as he. (Side note: Tina Fey would make an awesome guest judge.)

Other notable quotables include Drew dissing Tyra Banks's make-up artist — because, whoops, Raja did make-up on America's Next Top Model — and Darienne confidently identifying Michelle Visage's chest as a drag queen's fake breastplate.

Ultimately, though, DeLa and Adore are named the winners, meaning that once again, Ms. Delano is a team captain. Sigh. Then, in the drama of team-choosing, DeLa makes the strategic move of snagging Courtney for all things musical — "It's just so campy and cheesy and me!" the former Idol-er effuses, with all the bubbliness of a Disney princess — which puts the two divas offically at odds, and also finally breaks up the Episode 1-Episode 2 cliques (DeLa-Courtney-Darienne-Bianca-Gia-Trinity vs. Adore-Milk-Laganja-Joslyn-April). Trinity is picked last, which isn't all that surprising given her "virgin actor" hysterics from last week, but it is enough to put her in a snit that will last for the remainder of the episode. "I don't want to be a fuck-up, so I'd rather just kind of play it safe" she mumbles sulkily to her teammates — at which point we all know she's lip sync-ing, because that sits right next to "What else could go wrong?" and "Shots! Shots! Shots!" on the list of Famous Last Words.

Over at Team Adore, things aren't faring all that much better: Their fearless leader casts herself in the leading role, of course, playing "Bad Penny," her justification being that she is "like Courtney Love." Which, just, no. If anything, she is like a twee Glee cover of that Fall Out Boy song Courtney Love just cameoed on.

Adore also appears to have learned a little from her mistakes last episode, saving April from reprising her role as "the butch queen" — but she then assigns that job to Joslyn. Excuse me, has she met Joslyn? Slight, giggly Joslyn "Black Horse" Fox? Still, maybe she's got a trick or two up her wee sleeves: When Ru comes around and asks from where Ms. Fox will draw her butch inspiration, she lands her first legitimate joke. "Bianca Del Rio," she responds without missing a beat. Finally, the insult queen tastes her own stale medicine. Joslyn is my Janis today.

Meanwhile, the producers decide to give us all a taste of what we've really been waiting for — that is, a quick-cut montage of our two rival songstresses revving up their vocal cords whilst glaring across the workroom at one another. Courtney's falsetto borders on glass-shattering, while Adore's flourish-laden belt is all but built for William McKinley High; the whole display is as showboat-y as it is ultimately unbearable — almost enough to make me long for Gia's cloying off-key whine (though, y'know, not quite). Darienne kindly supplies my read for me: "Gia's voice is kind of like if Fran Drescher got steamrolled by a dying duck." Pre-cisely. At least Courtney appears to have a sense of humor about it all:

When it's time to hit the stage for rehearsal, there waits (the eminently adorable and fantastically deadpan) Lucien Piane, RuPaul's trusty music producer, who apparently penned this piece of theater. The rehearsal provides stumbling blocks for every queen — including some rather literal ones for Trinity, who grouses and grouses about having to turn backwards as part of her choreography, claiming it will make her fall off the stage. Also, April struggles for anything beyond arhythmic talk-singing (what she calls being "a Downward Debbie") and Gia doesn't understand fart jokes. Were I Mr. Piane, I'd be a little worried about the integrity of my creation — but then again, this is "Shade: The Rusical" after all; I doubt "integrity" was a big part of the plan to begin with.

Back in the workroom, Bianca and Trinity have a fight, and it is perfunctory, so let's just skip ahead to runway day, on which two important things occur: 1) Ru designates the queens' outfit theme as "Tonys glamour" (a step up, I guess, from "Daytime Emmy couture"), and 2) Gia does not know what a Tony is. First a Delorean, then farts, now this?! I'm starting to think that this queen was raised in a modernized Plato's cave, subjected only to TLC music videos, old episodes of The Hills, and clips of people saying "Werrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk" on an endless, Kafkaesque loop. However, she does reveal that she comes from a background of traditional Kabuki theater; maybe they let a troupe visit her on Sundays.

This week, in addition to Lucien, the judging panel is graced by "OG Dreamgirl" Sheryl Lee Ralph — who, according to IMDb, was in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, so she gets my stamp of approval — and after her brief introduction, Ru announces the start of her play's Act I while flicking through an actual printed playbill (excuse me: "Dragbill"), a fact that epitomizes my love for this show. But now, to the show within it:

In the great tradition (and some of the WTF) of Mulholland Drive, "Shade: The Rusical" tells the story of a fresh-faced, just-off-the-bus ingenue, Penny (Courtney), who gets drawn into the dark underworld of showbiz by The Shady Lady (DeLa), only to emerge a Fish Oil-addled has-been (Adore). On the way, she meets some pageant queens (Bianca, Trinity), comedy queens (Darienne, Gia), vengeful showgirls (April, Joslyn, Laganja), and some kind of Griselda-from-Cats-esque wise woman (Milk), who saves the day with an earnest (if off-key) song about sisterhood. As to the humor, most of it is corny, yuckin' it up schtick — see: Gia's fart joke — until, in yet another stunning example of Drag Race's incestuous self-mythologizing, the musical made a "Backrolls?!" joke. Why. More importantly, though, as to the Battle of the Idols, it appears Courtney has the upper hand: She sells the crap out of her perky role, while Adore seems to be doing her best impression of a twitchy late-stage Gaga, tangled ombre wig and all. Plus, she ends up as fashion road kill.

After the performance is done, the queens sprint through a lightning-fast runway outing, offering just a split-screen flash of each look. I'm actually a little upset we didn't get to hear the judges' Tony-themed runway shout-outs this week; I bet Ru could have dusted off a good Bernadette Peters joke or six.

NOTE: Because five of the girls were deemed insta-safe and sent into the Product Placement Lounge, in place of their critique notes, I will instead be relaying a moment from their backstage banter in Untucked. Because this week was a good'un.


The Look: You guys. She wore a pregnant belly. Yes, it was under a black sparkly dress, blah blah — but it was a pregnant belly. Apparently, to Milk, "Tonys realness" means showing up showing — which, sure, it worked for Fanny Brice.

Best Untucked Moment: Of course, her with-child couture causes a stir among the other girls, but she stays strong, as ever: "This is my drag. I will not put on a dress and just be a pretty girl." Please never do, my dear.


The Look: Okay, that is just the craziest hair: A trapezoidal pile of brown curls flopped atop a set of blonde-ish bangs, it's a 'do straight out of Hey, Arnold! Also, there's a blue dress of some sort, but that is once again negligible.

Best Untucked Moment: Joslyn's had a good week: In addition to her Bianca joke, she spends the first segment of Untucked defending Milk to the death, which she does mainly by calling Gia "ignorant." Repeatedly. Like, repeat-repeatedly, to the point where it doesn't quite sound like a word anymore (or, makes me think that she might herself be a bit ignorant of its meaning). Still, good on ya, Joslyn. Keep it up.


The Look: ... is a pale pink ballgown, complete with an updo, glittery bits, and fingerless elbow-length gloves. Yup.

Best Untucked Moment: Predictably, Gia is the most troubled by Milk's clothing choice, dropping all kinds of unwarranted shade: "Drag means dressing up as girls. Clearly I'm on the 10 and she's on the 1." Ugh, Gia, we have already had this conversation, re: "My drag is draggier than your drag"! Jeez! Still, the best by far is her reaction to Joslyn's defense: After spitting "You calling me ignorant is the biggest fucking insult to me, ever," the girl who didn't know what a Tony was tries to read Joslyn by saying her outfit "comes from the Quinceañera store." I just— I'm done.


The Look: ... is what Edgar Allan Poe's sexy love interest would wear if that "Young Poe and Lincoln" movie from Party Down actually got made (and if the writer hadn't married his cousin): baroque black lace overlay ending in a massive feather cascade — and, to top it off, a full raven perched up on her head.

Best Untucked Moment: As part of RuPaul's continued effort to ruin everyone's eye make-up, Untucked featured another "parents I thought disapproved of me sent in a supportive video" bit, this time for Laganja. Of course, we all saw this segment coming from the moment she shoehorned in a scene-stealing cry about her mother on Untucked Episode 1. The video is just about what you'd expect — "I'm getting there," Mother Estranja offers, regarding her support for her son's drag career — and everyone predictably reaches for the Kleenex. However, after a few empathetic back-pats, Bianca makes a joke to lighten the mood, and the other queens jump in with stories about their own parents. Which makes Laganja livid. First she sulks, then when her pout doesn't draw enough attention, she calls Bianca out: "The importance of this is not the other girls jumping on my coattails," she insists. "What's important is that this is MY family moment." So, let's get this straight: She's not just upset because she saw an emotion-inducing video of her parents. She's upset because she saw an emotion-inducing video of her parents and that's not all everyone can talk about. The cherry on this self-indulgent sundae is her rant-ending line, which sounds like it came out of a book of inspirational quotes run several times through Google Translate: "Say what you motherfuckers want, I AM THE BIRD THAT THEY WANT ME TO BE." Where is a t-shirt with that on it, and can I be wearing it right now, please. (I am totally serious. She has yet to respond to me.)


The Look: Bianca's interpretation of "Tonys realness" is apparently very literal: This outfit is all gold and sparkles, topped with a curly orange wig. (So that's where my Bernadette Peters shout-out would have come in. Sigh.)

Best Untucked Moment: Once the critiqued girls join the safe five backstage, tiffs ensue, to which Bianca remarks, "For once it isn't my fault!" I mean, at least she's self-aware?


The Look: Long violet gown, flowy train bit attached at the waist. The rhinestone-crusted belt is looking a little home-Bedazzled for my taste, but I'll take it.

The Critique: Michelle criticizes Trinity's enunciation difficulties, or "mush-mouth thing" as she puts it. When Trinity tries to defend herself, Sheryl Lee Ralph jumps in with a forceful "Put a cork in it. Literally." At first, it seems like she's setting herself up to be the greatest guest judge in the history of guests and judging, but it turns out she actually has a firmer grasp on the meaning of "literally" than most and is just submitting her candidacy for World's Craziest Stage Mom: Apparently, practicing speaking around a cork is helpful for enunciation. Who knew. Also, Ru later reveals that Trinity wears fake teeth while in drag, which I feel like is something we should talk about, but then I realize, I just can't be made to care.


The Look: So! Many! Sequins! It is floor length and long-sleeved and I love it.

The Critique: For some reason, the judges found Darienne worse than Gia, and they refuse to buy her "I was trying to harmonize with a foghorn" defense. Also, for all the past-season-quoting these queens engage in, no one can seem to remember the fact that Michelle Visage hates the color green with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Or maybe Darienne just #DGAF.


The Look: Cotton-candy pink coif, sleek iridescent gown with a big ol' side slit — what Katy Perry's back-up singer might wear to the Tonys, were she invited.

The Critique: ... mostly consists of fawning; Ralph's "FABulous" even includes some of that hyper-falsetto kettle tone. Lucien calls her a star, too — though when he tries to qualify that with even a tiny criticism of her rehearsal process, Courtney cuts him off with quibbles. Not a good look for a good-looking lady.


The Look: A red sparkly number with a fascinator (lots of those going around lately) and a great big pouffy shoulderpiece.

The Critique: Ralph insists DeLa remove the shoulder pouf, which she thinks makes the dress eons better. Meanwhile, Michelle thinks she could have taken her performance as "The Shady Lady" further, while Santino praises the "Evil Bettie Page" realness of her leopard bikini and matching eyepatch — to which I say, 100% yes.


The Look: ... is trying for an alluring "white lace on flesh tone" effect, and it's mostly working — except for the giant pearl beads appliqued all across the bodice and the Winona Judd red of her wig. Also, there are no distracting wacky accessories this week. This does not bode well.

The Critique: April was playing "the big girl," and the judges expected her personality to live up to her size. Also, Ralph takes a moment to read her make-up: "It's like you have a beard on your forehead." I mean, she's not wrong. Still, the harshest shade comes from Michelle after April's left the runway: "Look, she's beautiful, and she tried really hard," said matter-of-factly and with a shrug. Way to twist the knife, sister.


The Look: ... is rhinestoned to within an inch of its life and augmented with a very flat brown wig. I will say, however, that of tonight's contenders, Adore does look the most like she's Tony-bound (though that's not necessarily, like, an outstanding achievement).

The Critique: Ralph says she could immediately tell Adore was a student of American Idol (because really, where else would you covet that style of singing?), to which Adore drawls "Partyyy!" Michelle, however, is concerned with her lack of a waist cinch for the second week in a row. "I'm a better drag queen than I'm coming off, I swear!" she wails, which for some reason they find charming, when other girls with similar excuses are repeatedly told some variation on "Step it up." Maybe it's because she makes faces like this over essentially mundane news:

But in the end, even Adore's reaction shot prowess wasn't enough to snag her the crown — or, in this case, Kinky Boots tickets. Victory in the Idols Battle goes to Courtney, as it well should have, in this recapper's humble opinion. As for the lower-placing girls, April and Trinity are left to their own fight over Chaka Khan's ubiquitous drag anthem "I'm Every Woman." Though both come at it with panache, April's rendition is a little too "I'm Every Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," as she grimaces and tears at the bottom of her dress while Trinity works the flowy bit on hers. So, adios, April — you and your penchant for props will be sorely missed. Still, there's a bright side to the bummer of it all: Now that Adore's fulfilled her sing-off destiny, maybe the producers won't feel so strongly about keeping her around? Hey, a girl can dream.

But most importantly — because, wait, hyperventilating, OMG — next week is the Snatch Game, AND BIANCA IS PLAYING JUDGE JUDY! Say what you will about Triumph the Insult Queen, but she sure knows how to pick a perfect character for herself. So, I've got to ask: Any chance one of you invented time travel since last I checked, and we can all just hop to next Monday now? No? Fine — but I will be counting the seconds.

Images: LogoTV