RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 finally came to a close Friday, nearly five months after its premiere, crowning Symone as the winner and LaLa Ri as Miss Congeniality.
The finale took place at the Ace Hotel Theater in Downtown Los Angeles and was also played in front of a drive-in crowd.
After last season’s Zoom finale, the live performances symbolized the end of an era of quarantine for drag entertainers who were hit the hardest with bars shutting down across the country.
This season was filled with the usual Drag Race challenges in acting, singing, dancing, fashion design and more with the addition of various themes. There were mentions of the effect of COVID-19 on a drag queen’s career, even more discussion around transgender rights with the casting of Gottmik—the show’s first transgender male drag queen—and lip-syncs galore.
The finale began with a choreographed performance from RuPaul herself, a welcomed change as fans have not seen the 60-year-old drag queen dance like that in a long time. Sure, her performance was a little stiff and perhaps out shadowed by the muscled, shirtless background dancers, but it was entertaining nevertheless.
Then, it was time for the top four to battle it out in pairs in three different lip-sync performances to determine the winner. This season, all three songs were by Britney Spears, known for her iconic and highly entertaining performances.
All in all, the lip sync performances and the outfits were up to standard, but, as someone who has watched every season and spin-off of Drag Race, it felt a little repetitive. Sure, it was good, but it is what viewers come to expect from the show and did not feel surprising or innovative.
At this point, the queens understand all the tips and tricks to get to the top. There are no elements of surprise other than tired reality show gimmicks, like the faux elimination of half of the queens at the beginning of the season.
Anyone who watches Drag Race knows that a dramatic reveal is almost a requirement now to a successful finale lip-sync.
These signature “Ru-veals” took hold in season eight when Sasha Velour secured her win by cascading streams of rose petals from her gloves and wig during an emotional lip-sync performance to “So Emotional” by Whitney Houston. The reveal was simple, yet highly effective in both communicating the power of the song as well as showcasing Velour’s identity as a bald queen defying gender norms.
Now, however, all viewers get are queens in lumpy outfits obviously hiding a reveal underneath. It takes away from the performance, almost cheapening it.
In the end, it was a mediocre end to an incredibly long season. For those who love the formula of Drag Race and its signature challenges, they will enjoy the incredible showcase of talent brought on by each drag queen. However, after 13 seasons, five all-stars seasons, and six international spin-offs, the drag race formula gets old.
That is not to say that this season did not have its moments.
Tributes to black excellence a-la Symone made it a point to feature Black hairstyles and fashion in nearly every runway she presented. In episode nine, she wore a white gown with two bullet holes in the back and a hat that read “Say Their Names” in memory of the Black lives lost against police brutality.
Also, for the very first time, a transgender man competed on Drag Race. However, many viewers raised questions about RuPaul’s history of trans exclusion on the show. Season four contestant Jiggly Caliente had her farewell message censored because she revealed that she would be able to resume her hormone treatments after the show.
She was not the only queen who had to forgo parts of their transition in order to compete on the show. The first openly transgender contestant, Peppermint on season nine did not get her breast implants until after the show.
“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” RuPaul said in a 2018 interview with The Guardian. “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”
Nevertheless, the show still tries to make a point to educate viewers on important LGBTQ+ issues.
Season 13 contestant, Kandy Muse, told their emotional story about getting “gay-bashed” or an attack directed at someone perceived to be part of that community, in seventh grade. Their story was just one of many personal tales of discrimination and alienation told throughout the course of the season.
Ironically, the show often forgets the key role transgender individuals played in the history of drag. The instigator of the seminal 1969 Stonewall Riots, Sylvia Rivera, was a transwoman and drag queen.
This is not to diminish the significance of RuPaul’s Drag Race in bringing drag to a mainstream audience. However, there are better ways to support the art form.
The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula on Netflix showcases a diverse array of drag performers since its inception in 2016. However, the best way to support drag is to simply go out and see them live once the country reopens.
After 13 seasons of Drag Race, it might be time for viewers to move on from supporting drag from afar and explore the diverse array of the drag world off-screen.