#DragRace Diary 3: Alyssa Rising

BADDEST BITCHES IN HERSTORY—a worthy, if overambitious, project for a variety show featuring high-caliber drag performers. A worthy project, in concept. But the boat, so to speak, couldn’t be docked, mostly for bad writing and bad thinking. Writing and thinking that turned Helen of Troy into a guitar-wielding, second-rate Joan Jett. Writing and thinking that tried (and failed) to piece together the wrongheaded, grasping image of Princess Diana as a ‘bad bitch.’

Methinks RuCo is in need of an overhaul at Creative.

Such slipshod conception meant that we fans felt either (i) unsurprised that a given queen was able to flesh-out a slam-dunk character; or (ii) ornery / bemused that our favorite queen had to roll her proverbial stone up a manufactured grade.

Of those in the first category—Alaska, Roxxxy, Alyssa, Ginger—only Alyssa really exceeded expectations; of those in the latter—Detox, Phi Phi, Katya—Katya, yes, fell hardest.

But: all of us with a high school education should be disgusted that Marie Antoinette was reduced to a hostess dancing minuets, Helen subjected to the most daft anachronism, Diana included at all. This challenge did not do a service to even a pop understanding of women in history. Also, we ought to be suspicious that Ginger (whose in-challenge performance was second only to Alyssa’s) and Detox (whose look was superior) ended up respective bottom and top All Stars.

Alyssa Edwards, however. Edits featured her consistently this episode, and she was all delivery; indeed, she reads as a completely different competitor and performer nowadays, running the gamut from character to caricature, comedienne, actress, dancer—most surprisingly, perhaps, the show’s most independent thinker.

Who could’ve predicted Alyssa Edwards would be the queen to break apart this All Star bloc engaged in—frankly—dicksucking the Absentee Royalz? For the first two episodes and most of the third, RuCo has looked absolutely brilliant in her (peripheral?) machinations, with every winning queen giving nod to ‘the judge’s critiques’ in her elimination preamble—hell, why ought RuCo bother bloodying her hands if the queens will eliminate like pure puppets, buttressing Mama’s epithets all the while? But—but—Miss Alyssa Edwards. Watch again (as I’ve done 46 times) the electric intensity of her lip sync, the intensity, the lioness’ own measured bending and strutting of it all. She made Detox’s ‘sex me up’ routine look ridiculous. And then, before saving Katya from what seemed certain, boring, tragic, follow-the-rules defeat, that repeated first-person pronoun: I, I, I, I, I. Not a solitary reference to anyone’s provisos (or none that made it to TV). ‘As I tell my students,’ Alyssa said; ‘I looked into this queen’s eyes’; The queen I chose to save.’ Miss Alyssa Edwards says she’s got a practiced set of neurons and a sense of what’s artistic merit—imagine that!—I, I, I, I, I.

It’s those chops that made her parting words to Ginger, and her reassurance to Katya, so obviously sincere. The shakeup that follows will either rouse the queens from their servant’s torpor or set every eye on Alyssa as the dissenter, reinforcing solidarity among the marionettes.

#DragRace Diary is a weekly column tuned to the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It is primarily concerned with the cultural and intellectual context of drag as evinced by RPDR; what counts as ‘aesthetics’; how gender signifies; camp; and the future of the Queer.
Joseph Spece (www.joseph-spece.com) is editor and publisher at the SHARKPACK imprints and at Fathom Books. His books are Roads (Cherry Grove, 2013) and my centigrade is like a captive star (Pyramid, 2017); recent publications in poetry and experimental prose include DIAGRAM, 3:AM, Salamander, Noble / Gas Qtrly, AGNI, and Volt.

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