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RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 12, Netflix review - 13 queens up the game | reviews, news & interviews

RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 12, Netflix review - 13 queens up the game

RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 12, Netflix review - 13 queens up the game

Shantay, they all stay, for now, but who'll win the crown is anyone's guess

Gay America for ever: the line-up for Season 12

As RuPaul's best squirrel friend Michelle Visage, co-doyenne of the amused and amusing judges, put it, "that was some next-level shit". She was referring to a high point in the contest's weekly lip sync-ing finales, right at the end of the new season's first entertainment (on Netflix), but it's true of the majority of the 13 queens presented over two episodes to compete for the crown. Usually you detect a weak link or two, and they're gone in the first weeks; you never got to know who they were. But this time no-one was sent home, and the quality looked like the best ever - a return to form after the lower-level repartee and pantomime-dame ethos of the first UK version. So much for a tired old formula.

It's the mark of success for a talent show like this, which has risen from humble beginnings and low budgets, that so much stays the same while new tweaks and twists keep it fresh. But it's only as good as its competitors, and in choosing whom to back to win the crown, a year's supply of Beverly Hills Cosmetics and 100,000 doe-llars, we were spoilt for choice.

Comedy queens? Try the plus-size Rock M Sakura, Widow Von 'Du and Sherry Pie - since disqualified for "catfishing," though we'll probably follow her through as far as the finale, is my hunch - or Persian princess Jackie Cox and the big-eyed, gat-toothed Heidi N Closet (though the judges agree that may be the worst drag name ever). Couture? French-born Nicky Doll will offer Gautier, Lagerfeld and Chanel all at once on the runway where others go for "oil-spill realness," Freddie Kruger or a lesbian-biker look for Easter at the trailer park - but that was Gigi Goode, who's also going for the Cinderella wow effect and can flip Vogue style around for comedy. The weirdos who've been obligatory ever since Sharon Needles and Alaska changed the game? Try Crystal Methyd, the dancing clown with top make-up skills, or Aiden Zhane, winningly odd in looks but possibly a bit fragile, time will tell. Judges for RuPaul's Drag RaceThe format to showcase first seven and then six competitors before the ubiquitous and always revelatory main runway looks and lip-sync was simple: a fashion show catwalk of spring and autumn wear _ all stops pulled out _ and a group lip-sync to self-created lyrics allowing the queens solo spots to tell us who they are. "Who's That Bitch?" in Episode One was a rap number; "You Don't Know Me" allowed the next six to channel their inner Fosses. As often, rehearsals were edited to threaten disaster, plagued by disagreement, disorder and resentment, but surprise, surprise, each number pulled it out of the bag, with Heidi going into spectacular Death Becomes Her overdrive while lip-syncing.

That was nothing compared to the first finale, this time with the top rather than the bottom two in competition and no-one to "sashay away". It was "chantay, you stay" to both Gigi and Widow, though clearly the big lady, turning out double-jointed, splits-along-the-runway excess to the jaws-dropping amazement of all, was the winner, and one of the best of all time (my favourite remains Jinkx Monsoon, Season 5's winner, syncing to Yma Sumac). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on RuPaul's Drag RaceThe numbers to be learned were by guest judges Nicki Menaj in Week One (in group photo on the right with Michelle Visage, RuPaul and Carlton Kressley) and Swede Robyn in Week Two. Robyn was endearing but looked a bit anxious, while Ms Menaj was all big-eyed charm and vivacity. We're promised an episode, presumably politically themed, featuring the wonderful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (pictured above). As judge, she'll be more fully present than Nancy Pelosi, who just dropped in to show support, but the imprimatur of both is important: the anything-goes-except-meanness ethos ("be kind" is Ru's motto, and she sticks to it) shows young people they can be whoever or whatever they want, and to hell with the far-righters who talk of corruption and depravity. But above all, it's done with panache, style and hilarity (plus, of course, Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent). I'm hooked for the series.

The anything-goes-except-meanness ethos shows young people they can be whoever or whatever they want

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