(All images in this post by Matthew Rettenmund, unless otherwise noted)
I've watched every season of RuPaul's Drag Race, I've done drag as Samantha Fox and I just co-wrote a book with none other than Alaska, so count me in when another RuPaul's Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons event hits NYC.
(Image via Producer Entertainment Group)
This past week's extravaganza was a blast! I was able to do the VIP meet-and-greet hour, where I shot all the girls—Manila Luzon, Miss Fame, Sharon Needles, Katya, Jinkx Monsoon, Violet Chachki, Adore Delano, Ginger Minj and Alaska herself—and then even managed to work my way backstage for some quality time with the low-lifes in high heels.
The merch available was incredible.
The Ru queens attract more female than male fans. Discuss.
Alaska's necklace really got into the groove.
Bettie Page-ing Violet Chachki! Bettie Page-ing Violet Chachki!
She skipped her hometown (Atlanta) show because Katya wasn't in it, instead hopping on a plane to NYC!
BeatenFaceTime with Courtney Act
America knows good drag queens when they see them. Here, actual girls give drag a woman's touch.
Who killed Marilyn Monroe? Ask her! Sharon Needles serves old-time glamour.
Ginger Minj goes blonde. Does the carpet match the drapes? Honey, what about that curtain rod?
It takes two, it takes two ... Michelle Visage and friends
With so much feminine beauty around, I still couldn't help noticing the boy of anyone's dreams.
This one also would not have to sashay away.
Even Bianca was “there.” I could only think of this book cover. (Book cover via Simon & Schuster)
Backstage was a hoot. Or a hooter.
Sharon was friendly as could be, and embracing a far less Goth look, one of which Eve Arden would approve.
I love when female stars dare to pose with no makeup.
After Sharon posed with Jinkx, Ms. Monsoon tore off her wig and loudly declared she had cookies in her pocket to distract the other girls milling about. It worked.
She had a new look (and varying expressions) just during the brief time I was backstage!
Jinkx told us a great story of how she'd smoked a joint of celebration before doing a small bar gig, where she talked to an acquaintance briefly. Later, the acquaintance texted their mutual friend to express concern for Jinkx, who he said seemed really drunk. Jinkx texted back, asking why he thought that, and the guy replied, “Well, I was really drunk when I wrote that.” We all agreed the most troubling aspect was the acquaintance's inability to distinguish “drunk” from “high.”
She had also told someone she is for Hillary over Bernie, but doesn't want anyone attacking her for it: “I've made up my mind!”
When people think you're engaged because your ring is on the right finger—and covers several others as well.
Manila looked drop-dead in her pale green showgirl ensemble, telling me it was something she'd worn before, which is drag-ese for, “This old thing?”
Katya was hysterical. I'm beginning to understand her immense appeal as the Andy Kaufman of men in dresses. For her photos, she turned away from our cameras and pulled a Batman! wall-scaling pose before turning and giving us the mile-wide smile of a kid in her first school pic.
Congratulations, you're coming from Hollywood!
Miss Fame is already beautiful in person, but the camera makes her even more exquisite—she popped against the dingy walls, where I would wager past entertainers may have pooped, elegantly whipping through several poses as if she were shooting the cover for Vogue Italia. She had nixed standing against a blue wall with overhead light, asserting control like any diva would.
Adore is a very low-maintance presence, although I know for a fact she doesn't just go with the flow; she picks her battles and asserts her opinion when it's important. But for quickie snaps against a wall, she couldn't have been cooler.
Sadly, I didn't encounter the others backstage, but I did get to ogle the superhot male dancers. Unfortunately, they didn't change in front of me or anything fun like that.
When the press was done back there (sounds like the beginning of the story of how a young actress shot to fame), I made my way to the heart of the venue. It's now called the PlayStation Theatre (ugh), but was once the Nokia (also ugh); I'm much more comfortable with theaters named after, like, people.
Which bathroom to use was decided on a case-by-case basis via coin toss.
I always complain about bitches who push their way to the fronts of concerts, so I'm telling on myself: This time, I was that bitch. My buddy had saved me a spot at the front and center of the raised platform midway back, so I found myself politely asking people to excuse me so I could, y'know, wedge myself in front of them. Carrying a honkin'-big, real-looking camera works wonders.
The three-hour (!) show was not only a riot, it was filled with some moments showcasing the serious talent some of the girls possess. Interesting, I felt like hostess Michelle Visage had the juiciest showcase, because she got to be hilarious in her monologue (during which she favored us with a brief snippet of “Two to Make It Right” (1989) by her old girl group Seduction) and came out to sing several times, including closing the show with an ahhhh-mahhhzing, uncanny impersonation of Madonna singing “Take a Bow” (1994). Michelle has a bigger voice than Madonna, but she calibrated her delivery to the point where it was pure, pure homage.
Once upon a time, I mildly criticized the amazing Willam in an exhaustive and fair review I did of a Ru show, and she came for me on Facebook (I was sad because I love her), so rather than analyze each and every element of the show, let me just tell you what stood out for me:
Sharon's set was an Aladdin Sane asylum.
Adore is an actual rock star with an actual-rock star dress sense; Ginger's send-up of Adele's “Hello” (2015) is old-school bar drag at its finest; Sharon Needles made David Bowie proud; Miss Fame is scarily stunning; Jinkx and Michelle duetting on “Class” (1975) made me wonder why neither has been approached to appear in one of those prime-time live musicals; Violet is both gorgeous and has a real appreciation for retro cheesecake; Katya is someone I'd pay to see do a full stand-up set; Alaska is the missing link between punk and pudenda (pre-show, she wore a lifelike vagina necklace); Courtney Act is a total pro; Manila is the most likable of them all; and Jinkx is equipped to close absolutely any performance of absolutely any show—anywhere, anytime.
Manila must've carefully tucked her space mod-u-la-tor.
Down the rabbit hole: Alaska's Lady Bunny was flawless.
Many of the girls also participated in a Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) tribute that was strictly legit, dammit (Sharon should've been cast in the upcoming TV version), but it was the live Snatch Game that provided the entire evening's two best-of-the-best moments:
(1) Phi Phi O'Hara, sooo shady on the show, came out in boy clothes and surprised his boyfriend with a marriage proposal. It was darling:
(2) Sharon Needles's impression of Caitlyn Jenner was so spot-on it made me re-assess my entire opinion of her. It was effortlessly funny and so well-observed, from the stiff movements to the odd drawl to the inability to walk in heels. Died.
If you get a chance, you shouldn't be shy to check out this tour—see it!—which is a much less glossy take on drag than what you get from the equally-but-differently entertaining series.