Checkered Flags and Polka-Dot Panties

Watching Logo’s new reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race on DVR, you can’t vote for which queen you would eliminate via SMS (I would have voted to cut Ongina) — but at least you can skip past the Oxy Clean guy. Oh my god, I hate him.

“Chantez, you stay” or “sashay away”?

I am not accustomed to seeing much of RuPaul out of drag. I seem to remember an episode of HBO’s Real Sex in the late ’80s or early ’90s that featured him among several other queens, and I think there were scenes of the boys undergoing their transformations. Who knows which episode it was. My hormone-addled memories of those days, watching “dirty” TV shows in the dark with the volume turned down after mom and dad went to sleep, are not what I would call clear or reliable.

I had a chance to meet him today. In person, he is about a mile tall without the heels. He is fierce without the wig. He is tall and lanky and angular. He is striking. And I know he’s as real as it gets, but I can’t avoid thinking of that male body as a mere canvas for the feminine persona.

On the show, playing in turns the host, the mentor, and the ultimate judge, Rupaul is so classy and together. In his pinstripes and conservative (if slightly oversize) spectacles, he lends a professional, practiced air to the proceedings. One can almost hear him in the dressing room practicing all the sponsors’ lines. American Airlines. M.A.C. Absolut.

Hey, a girl’s gotta pay the bills.

In his tucked-and-plucked getup, he is every bit the good-old RuPaul I have frankly been missing for a long time. It took this show to remind me.

One thing that surprises me is the good chemistry among the contestants. I expected a cat fight, but I didn’t get it. They dish on each other a little bit, but they outwardly express heaps of break-a-leg support. And it feels real. It’s a nice change. It takes balls to be a drag queen — even if you are tucking them up and under. The grace and humility in front of the judges, so far, even when the opinions come off as a bit harsh, is refreshing. They are all so young, and there is much to learn — even for the barbecue-seasoned elder statesman Pork Chop.

The show comes off as a bit earnest yet extremely self aware and playful. Like drag, it doesn’t take itself too seriously &#8212l from the ferocious eyes to the wicked painted-on lips; the soft lighting and warm colors to the frosted lens; RuPaul’s melodramatic pronunciations (“Don’t fuck it up”) to the whole “Gentlemen, start your engines … May the best woman win” thing. It is one long catch-phrase.

There is no shortage of aggrandizement for host and judge RuPaul. Even the workroom clock is an image of him. He makes Heidi Klum look modest. But that larger-than-life ego is also very drag. He’s got two people inside of him. You try to contain that.

So, Pork Chop is gone. I’m disappointed the fat girl got cut first. It would have been nice to have a diversity of size up there. But as it turns out, whatever her skills as a performer, Miss Victoria Parker can’t sew a stitch. And that will never do. What was she thinking?

(Plus, all those skinny bitches are making me hungry. Have a chicken wing and a plate of ribs, honey. Don’t try to look like one!)

Nina Flowers looks promising, but I wonder if she’s a one-trick pony. I like Bebe, but I’m always gonna pull for a girl from Minneapolis.

I’m looking forward to seeing some growth from Jade. As a boy, he is a cutie, but a little girly. Strangely, as a queen, she looks like a boy in a wig and makeup.

I think the underdog so far is Tammie Brown. She looks like a coked-up Bette Davis with a Great Plains forehead, but there’s something I like about her. She’s got a fire in her, and I think we’ll see it come out before long.

Best lines from tonight’s show:

RuPaul: “Ooh! This ain’t no truck stop, honey!”

RuPaul: “… hotter than Tyra. In a fat suit. In July!”

Akashia: “Jade is real cute. Um, I might be a lesbian wit’ him.”

Merle: “Hmm…, ‘Ongina.’ This sounds like a cross between a heart attack and a yeast infection.”


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