RuPaul’s Drag Race fans across the country just watched Aquaria snatch the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, becoming the 10th queen to do so in the show’s decade of being on the air. But of course, through the magic of television, fans were actually watching something that happened three weeks ago.
Drag Race’s Season 10 finale filmed at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on June 8. I know this, because I was in the audience. This was just after the top five episode had aired, and we’d seen Miz Cracker go home. Michelle Visage, the pre-show host for the evening, had to spoil it for us and tell us that, as we saw the next week, no one went home, making for a top four of the season. That, naturally, meant we were going to see a Lip Sync for the Crown tournament. What we saw shocked, delighted, and horrified — sometimes all at once.
Of course, not all of that made it to your TV screens. Here are my recollections of what went on during the taping that you didn’t get to see.
Interview portions went long
Did you enjoy the quick-and-crisp interview segments with the final four? I hope so, because we sat through interminable filming for them. The interview segments were easily the longest filming stretch of the episode, and drained the audience of a lot of energy ahead of the lip syncs. I get why Ru and the show like them: they leave more time for the non-top four queens during the reunion, because these interviews serve as reunion-style chats. But they went on forever, and revealed little new or interesting information.
They might’ve been better if most of the queens weren’t pretty bad at being interviewed. Asia O’Hara knocked her segment out of the park, but Kameron Michaels was low-energy and bizarrely self-effacing. Eureka was funny, but was also subjected to a new series of questions about her sick mother, with answers that much resembled what we heard about her mother all season. I lost my father two years ago; I have great empathy for anyone with a sick or dying parent. I wish the show weren’t so willing to repeatedly exploit queens’ traumas, especially when there’s actual elements of the show that involve drag to get to.
The real mess of this portion, however, was Aquaria. She was awkward and uncomfortable throughout the questioning. It revealed her age and immaturity in a way her drag rarely does. All of this is to say: Drag Race, leave the Q&As to the press. We want to see a damn show.
Aquaria vs. Eureka inspired an audience shouting match
If I may be so bold as to offer a hot take: While I think Eureka did her reveals well during Janet Jackson’s “If,” there wasn’t much to her actual lip sync. It was just some kicks. Aquaria arguably did too much, but I admire that she was actually performing. Reveals are not a performance, especially when they are disconnected from the song itself.
That said, I understand why Eureka went reveal-heavy, because the live audience lost their shit over them. Every one increased the audience’s enthusiasm, from hair to dress to body suit. Even as Aquaria got in front of Eureka, Eureka dominated the space. When it was all over, half the audience chanted Eureka’s name in unison. This didn’t sit well with the other half of the audience, who then led a chant of Aquaria’s name. It may have been unprecedented, but Ru’s double save made the most sense in the moment, based on audience reaction.
The double shantay certainly seemed impromptu
When reports of the finale first hit the Drag Race spoiler subreddit, there was speculation that the three-way lip sync was planned, because the song — “Bang Bang,” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj — had three artists.
We’ll never truly know how planned it was, but it certainly seemed like an of-the-moment call. Ru kind of botched his delivery of the news when he first gave it: He quickly said, “Eureka, Aquaria, shantay you both stay,” practically spitting the words out. They actually had to reshoot it with new words on Ru’s teleprompter. Throughout the rest of the show, teleprompter-preloaded phrases had to be changed on the fly, and queens had to be instructed on where to stand for the three-person lip sync. If it was pre-planned, the production team did a great job pretending like it wasn’t.
Part of Aquaria’s crowning had to be redone
Speaking of things that needed to be reshot involving Aquaria: Her crowning was a mess, with Ru forgetting to deliver several phrases, and the music was turned up far too loud. One part had to be filmed after the other two crownings just to ensure coverage.
(Speaking of the other crownings: Eureka’s was incredibly emotional, and Kam clearly knew she would never win. But she was a good sport.)
A fourth lip sync battle happened
Because the stage has to be clear of cameras for the lip syncers, RuPaul records his close-up reactions to the lip syncs separately. But he needs something to react to, of course. Enter two PAs, who did their own lip sync to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty.” One even had a full reveal to a rainbow jumpsuit underneath his clothes! Honestly, other than Aquaria’s “Bang Bang,” it was probably the best lip sync of the finale.
All right, I’m not dumb. I know what you wanna know. What happened with Asia O’Hara’s butterflies during her lip sync to “Nasty”?
The truth is, we in the crowd couldn’t really tell what was happening with the butterflies at first. The prevailing feeling was one of confusion. Asia had spent most of the lip sync after flipping her breast pieces in the air crouched on the ground, fiddling with something on her fingers. It was perplexing above all else.
Then we saw a couple of live butterflies flying around the theater, and it all clicked. Then we saw the cleaning crew come out to sweep away all the butterfly corpses from the stage. And then we realized that fiddling was Asia trying to get some of the surviving-but-weak butterflies to fly. This as Kameron was doing flips and splits around the stage. Onto the butterflies.
There’s no sugarcoating it, even for a queen I like as much as Asia: Using live butterflies as a reveal was an absurd idea, and showed a remarkable lack of forethought. Did she really think the butterflies would survive the heat of the stage lights? What was her plan for after the lip sync? They’re still in a closed theater!
Worst of all, her choice deprived us of the Aquaria vs. Asia battle we deserved. Aquaria may have won, but she did so against fairly weak competition in a chaotic three-way lip sync. The finale, just like the butterflies, never quite took flight.