'RuPaul's Drag U' series premiere recap: To judge or not to judge such tragic figures?

draguImage Credit: LogoTo open the series premiere of RuPaul’s Drag U, RuPaul described the little drag university she’d lovingly created. “Deep in the Titty-Caca Valley,” said the diva, “a school was formed to help biological women unleash their inner diva, and let the world have it!” The ladies, she continued, were “ready to change their lives through the miracle of drag.” Yes, girls and other girls, RuPaul has taken her glamorous lady-eye and turned it toward frumpy gals who need a little help from the other side. The other side, of course, being their lady-boy friends and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants, including Jujubee, Ongina, Raven, Nina Flowers, Tammie Brown, and so on. (Yes! So happy to see them all again on TV!)

In this premiere episode, Jujubee, Ongina, and Raven were on call as professors and were charged with one tomboy each. (Subsequent episodes are themed, too — look forward to “dateless diva” and “super sisters” weeks coming up!) The three ladies were as follows: Shaya, a bug-eyed, 27-year-old bus driver who wanted to become more sexy in an attempt to mend her crumbling marriage; Reyna, a 26-year-old who claimed she loses her power when she wears dresses; and Linda, a 47-year-old biker chick who said she hadn’t worn a dress or heels for 25 years. All, truly, they were all gals who could use a little TLC.

Before I go any further, I do have to point out my one little issue, if you can even call it that, with this show. It’s the fact that these ladies are even judged at all. Now don’t get me wrong — I already love this show, mostly because it’s got this gooey, inspiring element to it, where the rode-hard ladies who are getting makeovers are given a chance to feel beautiful and feminine and experience the power that lies within dressing fabulously.

But there’s an element to it that’s bitchy and judgy, too. (From the judges’ panel and the drag professors mostly.) In case you didn’t watch, each tomboy was paired with a Drag Race queen—Ongina took Shaya, Jujubee took Reyna, and Raven took Linda—for a complete makeover, after going through RuPaul’s patented (and wonderfully tragic) “Dragulator.” And then, after some wardrobe consulting and a lip-sync lesson from “Single Ladies” choreographer Frank Gatson Jr., the women were sent to the main stage for a runway walk and performance. After that, three judges—Gatson, drag superstar Lady Bunny, and Mia Tyler—judged them with letter grades.

I don’t know why, but it felt almost cruel to grade these particular ladies—mostly because, and if you watched you’ll understand, these gals were truly down on their luck, when it comes to even beginning to understand ladylike ways. So my question: Is it okay to judge these women, who are so far from knowing the ways of feminine wilds? Honestly, more than anything, they looked simply scared throughout lots of the show—I couldn’t help but feel a little terrified for them!

With Drag Race, for instance, ranking the queens and picking a winner and a loser each week always seemed totally fair—those lady-boys were asking for it, full of attitude and glamour and a knowledge of what they were doing. But these ladies? I felt a bit bad for them. At the same time, though, I just reasoned with myself—these women had chosen to put themselves in this particular situation, so I guess they knew what they were getting into, subjecting themselves to scrutiny from bitchy judges and queens. I suppose giving them grades isn’t the worst thing. I just couldn’t help but feel a little bit terrible when they were given a low-ish grade (but truly, none were given a grade below a C), after it’d already been such a giant leap for them to even put on a dress in the first place. Maybe it’s just me wanting to only celebrate these women for putting their best, albeit horrifically shoed, foot forward.

I realize that I just made this show sound kind of harsh—again, Drag U is truly an inspirational show. I loved that as the ladies were getting ready to hit the stage (where their friends and family would be in the audience watching), they said things like: “I am a beautiful woman.” Probably for the first time ever. And they believed it! How special. And afterward, they were saying things like, “When I walked out on that stage, I felt all diva.”

The winner, Shaya—who screwed up her performance of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” but rocked out the beauty portion to garner a 3.05 DPA or Drag Point Average—was adorable and tear-inducing when she said: “I didn’t want it to stop. I just wanted it to keep on going. I can’t remember the last time I felt this good.” All because she felt fab on the runway. Awwww!! This is a woman who needed a confidence boost! Kudos to RuPaul—and her professor, Ongina—for giving her that. And kudos to her family, and particularly her husband, for being there to support her as she took this giant leap.

A few other things I loved from last night’s premiere:

++ The drag names that the “Dragulator” spewed—Saline Dijon, Candy Graham, and Paya La Renta. Genius! Just genius. I mentioned quickly before, but the flat-out jankiness of the “Dragulator” machine, too, was much too much—in the best way. It fabulously looked like some computing device or a microwave from the ’80s.

++ When RuPaul insisted that Ongina and Shaya call her “Mangina.” Yes!

++ Raven and Jujubee’s totally concocted battle. “We’re professors, and we should be setting an example,” Raven sniped at Jujubee, as the pair fought over a blonde wig. “So don’t get crazy!” Raven pretty much stole the show, with all her antics, from hiding Reyna’s wig to bobbing hilariously during the practice session for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

++ The fact that every time RuPaul walked through a door, she’d just scream “Door!” and the doors would magically fly open. Whaaaa? Why? Huh? But: Loves the ridiculousness of it.

++ The moments that Ru would get personal with the contestants before they hit the main stage. She’d say things like: “Just remember: A diva a day keeps the tomboy away.” And actually be really sincere and help the tomboys work through their issues. It reminded me of the touching, heart-to-heart chats she always has with the final three on the finale of Drag Race.

++ Lady Bunny, a doyenne of NYC drag nightlife, appearing as a judge. “The higher the hair, the closer to God,” she said, when she was introduced. “You know I’m a Christian.” Talk about a funny queen.

PopWatchers and Drag U fans, what’d you love about this series premiere? Will you tune in for episode two next week? Where do you sit in the debate over whether these dumpy ladies should actually be judged? Do you think the right contestant—that’d be Shaya—won?

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

More on RuPaul on EW.com:
‘RuPaul’s Drag U’ series premiere: Thankfully, gay television—and RuPaul—returns tonight!
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race': Q&A with America’s Next Drag Superstar Tyra Sanchez
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ season finale and reunion recap: And the winner is…
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ recap: Top moments from last night’s clip show
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ recap: ‘And then there were three…’
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ recap: Drag mamas, Cloris Leachman, and the season’s most controversial elimination!
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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race': Werq it out with the Dragulator!

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Comments (46 total) Add your comment
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  • jfiliault

    I was rooting for Reyna, but, honestly, it’s fulfilling to see any of them win. I too felt awkward watching the women receive C’s. I think part of it was that the highest GPA was received first, so we saw as the second and third contestant were disappointed. Also, I didn’t like that the choreographer gave Shaya “pretty points” for her dancing, whereas the other two were actually better at the choreography. You’d think he of all people would show more pride in his work and grade appropriately. I also wasn’t sure that I liked his suggestion, either, come to think of it. Shouldn’t all the girls get points for beauty and diva-tude.

  • Scott

    It’s great to see the Queens back on tv (especially Juju and Ongina – Juju absently shushing Raven during their little verbal spat last night made me lol). Don’t know if I’m looking forward to Morgan McMichaels next week though. Raven’s attitude can be considered mean AND funny sometimes… Morgan’s is usually just straight-up stank. I kind of feel sorry for the woman who gets paired with MM. :\

  • Nick

    I’m right there with you. I felt bad for them getting grades. When they gave Pay a C and they panned to her defeated look, I just wanted to die! It was a fun/hawt mess of a show though. :)

  • ger

    Feminine wilds? Was that on purpose?

    • Scooter

      sounds like a drag name for a future contestant.

      • NurseNoir

        TOO funny!!!

    • Emily

      THANK YOU! So glad someone spotted it. I’m not sure if I’m hoping whether it was intentional or not.

  • B

    While I thought the show was a campy delight, I felt a bit bad for the ladies. It can be fun to play dress up for a couple of hours but if they really wanted to help them why not give them permanent makeovers or tips on how to transform their drag looks into a toned down everyday look? It would have been nice if they gave them some hair and make-up tips since after all these women said they were lost and trying to find their femininity.

    • Micah

      There are already too many other shows that do that. Boring & Tired!
      This is RuPaul & Logo, it can’t be just the same as what you’d see on any other network. I think DragU definitely stands out on it’s own, giving just the right amount of camp & vamp.
      Didn’t feel sorry for the women on the show at all. As mentioned in the piece, they signed on knowing full well what was coming. No surprises there for them.

  • Al

    I didn’t like the “grades” either. I wish they would have gotten a drag makeover for the stage show and then a photoshoot and “normal” makeover plus some wardrobe choices to make it a life-changing and ongoing process for them. It’s always good to see Ongina! lol DOOR!!!

    • Ryan

      I agree you could see the ladies disappoinment when they did not get a good grade. These are not professional drag queens used to feedback like on Drag Race.

  • bluebonnetbelle

    It was an interesting show and a clever way to bring a bunch of the girls back without doing an All-Star season. My biggest issue with last night was no Pandora!!
    On a side note I have to say I would love a throw down with Raven and Shannel…it would be epic.

  • Bobby M

    I thought the grading was fun and not mean spirited. It’s good to give the ladies feedback, and everyone was a winner anyway. (was there even a prize) Did you want people to just walk out and have judges say “yay everyone!”? Americans are addicted to judging one another.

  • Adam

    I loved that they put the word ‘drag’ into EVERYTHING. “Condragulations, ladies!”

    • OMGq

      That sort annoyed me. It was fun the first 20 or so times and then it just got obnoxious.

  • Belle

    @ bluebonnetbelle: I have been saying the same thing between Raven & Shannel since the 3rd episode of season 2. They are both full of themselves but Shannel is alot nicer than Raven. Yet Raven’s critque’s of some of the girls (though mean) was spot on. Can’t wait for Nina Flowers! LOVE LOVE LOVE HER. I love Ongina’s unique look. Before I always thought drag queens should be in full makeup, wigs with false tatas but Nina & Ongina changed that perception. Ongina is beautiful without the hair. And of course Miss Nina Flowers has killer cheekbones!

  • strickens_girl

    I loved it. I felt bad that they were graded. They were all amazing. I thought Linda’s transformation was the most dramatic and when she said, “I am a beautiful woman.” with so much conviction, I actually teared up. Raven and Juju and Ongina in one episode is a dream come true. Now I just need Pandora Boxx and Nina Flowers in the mix and my life will be complete…although I was a little bummed that Ru didn’t drag it up. I think she’s so beautiful!!

  • Brenda

    Love the show but Shortfriendfinder was better

  • Dave from East Texas

    With Season 2 of DR being as good as it was, the anticipation for the this was boderline overwhelming for me! Unfortunately, this first episode was hugely lackluster! It was great to see the “ladyboys” again but other than that, impressive this was not! Lady Bunny is a nice addition but she’s only in the last 10 minutes of a 45 minute episode. If anyone ever watched Charm School on VH1, doing a layout such as that, where all the queens get featured every episode, and a girl and ladyboy get booted every week would have gone over much better! As a supporter of Shannel, Pandorra, JuJu, and of course RuPaul, I’ll continue to tune in.

    And what was up with the lack of interior design inside the workroom and the cheesy graphics portraying the exterior of the “university”!

  • Ryan

    I watched it today online. I like it alot. I just would prefer they cut back on the Dragulator and add more time with the makeup application. That is something they speed over that real women could take note of and learn from. I also would love to see Viacom/Logo invest in some upgraded sets for RuPaul. His shows are bringing in big ratings for them but it appears to be the Drag Race set with a coat of paint and a touch like “cardboard”.

  • doug deiter

    RuPauls Drag U is boring and not as expected. RuPaul does not even bother dressing. I and my friends followed Drag Race but refuse to support Drag U. It is way off the mark.

    • Ryan

      “RuPaul does not even bother dressing,” Incorrect. RuPaul did an interview where he said THE BUDGET Logo gave them did not cover his drag, which is very expensive. He wanted to, they wouldn’t pay for it. Sad, but true.

      • Jeannie

        RuPaul WAS dressed… in his male drag!

        And I for one think he looked FABULOUS!! (And cute!)

      • Brandon

        Pamela September 20, 2011 yay! carongts Kristen! and I hope I win your headband..bangs make it kinda hard to run..the hair always ends up slipping from my berette :0(

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