CLÁUDIO ALVES: It’s over. RuPaul’s Drag Race has finished its fifteenth season, crowning one of its best winners yet while putting on a show full of musical interludes, political messaging, and gorgeous gowns. Though the excitement of lipsync tournaments à la season 9 is somewhat missed, the queens seem happy with a repeat of the season 14 format, where each finalist presents a solo number before Ru picks a top two to lipsync for the crown. Anyway, that’s a matter for later. First, dear Nick, tell me your general thoughts on the finale…
NICK TAYLOR: I had a pretty good time! There was basically no sense of anticipation for the final outcome, which I think a lip-sync finale format might have allowed for. Maybe someone would pull a Sasha Velour rose petal moment, maybe an Asia O’Hara butterfly disaster. Either way, surprises were not on the menu, though given the undeniable quality of our winner, I’m ultimately not too pressed about it, aside from some pangs of sympathy for the 3rd/4th place queens who deserved a “real” chance for the crown that the finale absolutely did not provide them.
Still, before we get into the finale’s many performances and interviews and musical tributes, we have one last runway to critique. Starting with…
Irene DuBois, first out of the season, reigning meme queen, and someone I 100% believe is coming back for season 16 until proven otherwise. Irene struts the runway as a green moth fairy, wearing antennae and wings that look so soft I can honestly imagine their texture. I can nitpick about the blonde hair behind the antennae, but the color and construction of her Tinkberbell felt chic really grew on me, and I enjoyed seeing her throw little paper moths to the audience once she got to the end of the stage.
CLÁUDIO: Asia O’Hara was triggered. I tend to agree with your critique of the wig, but everything else is pretty perfect, especially those wings devolving into a cascade of plumes. Mothra looks snatched!
Princess Poppy continues to be a reference queen after her Rebecca Glassockc cosplay at the reunion. Here, she’s embodying Regina George at prom, only the bitch ditched the boring frock Rachel McAdams rocked on screen for a Versace hommage. It’s the best thing she’s modeled all season, very finale appropriate.
NICK: Completely agree with all of that. If she had worn this for the Metallica challenge, would she have been spared lip-syncing?
Next comes Sugar, in what might also be her best look of the season (though I really enjoyed her reunion getup). Love the white and blue spirals coming out of her bust, which seemingly extend to the trains on her outfit when she swings her arms like she does in the second pic. She’s as much a DND elf as Irene’s ever been. She’s the Blue Eyes White Drag Queen!
CLÁUDIO: Seto Kaiba approves and so do I. That being said, the sweet twin looked oddly downbeat, from her serious face during this runway presentation to the way she didn’t even try to lip-sync the Wigloose song. If nothing else, it makes for an interesting contrast between a sour mood and angelic fashion.
Sadly, I can’t say I’m a fan of Amethyst’s sartorial choices. It looks like something the twins might wear when feeling particularly Nickelodeon-inclined, but there’s a missing finesse to this outfit. Where’s the padding? At least, her mug is right, better than what she presented during the season proper.
NICK: I like this a little more than you do but the missing padding is definitely a choice.
Robin Fierce, on the other hand, looks pretty striking to me. The proportions of her runway, from the beehive of her wig to the curves of padding to her mermaid tail finish, are fantastic, and I love her makeup. She looks so young, so ravishing, and the dip on her cleavage is just right. Another queen ending this season on a high note.
CLÁUDIO: The hair is right, the mug is right, the gown is fine. Not sure I love the Zac Posen-esque finagling going on where latex gives way to tulle. Still, how can you deny her elegance? Impossible.
Aura sports another black number for this finale runway, keeping the focus on the political message written over her giant fan. Love the conviction and that sculptural wig.
NICK: It’s giving “chic mob wife dressed for the police telling her that her husband’s body was found in the harbor” realness. Bless her political convictions.
Jax also looks hot as fuck, like a sleek, denim video game cyber ninja, suited and stamped for the final boss fight. Very fierce, and very different from a lot of her fashion during the show but still of the same spirit. Oh, how I missed seeing Jax on my TV.
CLÁUDIO: Denim is an interesting choice for a finale runway that’s usually dominated by grand gowns in arrays of satin and tulle extravagance. I commend the decision even as I wish for a pop of bright color in there, somewhere. Her mug is gorgeous.
Spice is the first of many ladies in red, serving Lucifer glamour with a tiny waist and legs for days. My main objection is that the pitchfork should have been longer. I would have also enjoyed a headdress of some sort, though the sleek wig also works. Rendering her usual face with Gottmik-style white foundation is a nice touch.
NICK: I agree about the pitchfork, but it’s a pretty strong look otherwise. I don’t mind it missing a headpiece – I’m glad the outfit doesn’t have too much symmetry with Sugar’s, even as they both could easily tip into fire/ice or angle/deevil dichotomies. It’s a strong look, and her stage presence wearing it is pretty commanding. Michelle should be happy about no prancing.
After her is Spice’s drag father Malaysia Babydoll Foxx. Another lady in red, Malaysia looks delicious in her velvet dress. The tendrils curling around her hips and chest make her look like Ursula the sea witch, with her loyal eels flowing down her sleeves, topped off with that stylish white-blonde updo. Gorgeous.
CLÁUDIO: Not you following Mistress’ example and calling the Babydoll a drag father – rude. In any case, I enjoyed this look, most of all for its movement. It’s very Luxx-coded in the way the sleeves’ kineticism is evoked by the stuffed tendrils, the wig’s swirl.
Marcia Marcia Marcia’s red woman realness isn’t as successful. The New Look silhouette is a good idea, but the fit is off, making it seem like the bodice is slipping, while the nude illusion is not selling the fantasy. Furthermore, the reds don’t match. Her dress is a cooler shade than the doll-like shoes and hat strap. I had high expectations after her Clueless look at the reunion and am fairly disappointed.
NICK: I would like a breastplate, please. I’m struggling to find much to say about it that you didn’t.
Salina, on the other hand, is a sugar-coated wonder, in her gigantic cake of a dress. So many roses and ribbons draped across the whole thing, yet the blocking and color coordination given it sartorial finesse along with so much visual delights. Her best look of the season, and one of the clear peaks of the sixteen queens, though I wish the crease line on her jaw wasn’t quite so severe.
CLÁUDIO: This is pure camp and I adore it. From Golden Boot winner to the Grand Finale’s best-dressed bitch, Salina EsTitties has the range. Props to the makers of this Quinceañera Barbie cake fantasy for acing the embiggened textures of the icing.
For once, I love Loosey. Moreover, I’ll have to disagree with Luxx’s dissertation and defend Miss LaDuca’s uniqueness. Though a lot of what she does might feel stale, the way this bitch switches between terminally bubbly bimbo and Dragula-ready horror is special, making her stand out from the crowd. Delightfully ugly, Loosey’s giving her fans the villainous vision the edit forced on her.
NICK: Look at you getting the Dragula reference in before me! Has Drag Race ever had a comedy ghoul? Would be funny to see Loosey come back for All-Stars and veer significantly down that route. The exposed brain is a gorgeously grotesque touch, plus it makes moments like her screaming “YES BITCH!!!!” at Sasha Colby genuinely funny. She and Salina are tied as my favorites of the non-final four queens.
Now for our top four, starting with Anetra. Six letters and three vowels, I am entranced with her mug. Her sculpted hair piece. The kimono flows so beautifully when she moves, and the black stripper boots look like they’ve grown up to her thighs. A solid statement piece, if not her very best look.
CLÁUDIO: My pedantic ass wants to nitpick the kimono that’s not really a kimono, but this functions perfectly as an Anetra-branded showstopper. I yearn for a more visually interesting fabric, maybe a less flimsy textile, though I have to admit it moves well. Also, those shoulder pieces are to die for. Fashion is not Anetra’s forte, so I’m happy that, at least, she’s not wearing another nude bodysuit with shit glued on top.
Luxx Noir London is the only one of the top 4 to opt for something other than red, preferring a ballet pink color story. She’s also the only gal to go the fashion-forward route, delivering a weird feather number that thrives by the queen’s assured walk. It’s far from Luxx’s best look of the season, however.
NICK: Did Willow Pill inadvertently one-up Luxx with her outfit? Definitely not my favorite look of hers, but I do love the soft pink of it all. Especially the headpiece.
Mistress Isabelle Brooks keeps up the red theme, and holy hell do I love that color of hair on her head. The satin combined with all those gold accents makes her look expensive and tawdry, utterly in character with her persona. Let her lead a production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas right the fuck now. I can’t say with complete certainty this is her best look of the season, but if someone else said it, I’d support them wholeheartedly. What a woman.
CLÁUDIO: Thank you for your support, for I am that someone. She looks incredible in a gown that must have cost a fortune just on materials ($150 a yard!), but it’s the proportionizing that elevates it to the highest Pantheon of Drag Race fashion.
NICK: I mean, what words are there to say about Sasha Colby? Could this also inspire a Best Little Whorehouse revival? She looks like if Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady was also Shangela’s post-modern pimp character. Is that line too Ross Mathews? To put that quote in real terms, I love how her sensuality also conveys such authority and control, from both the garment and the way she carries herself while wearing it. Extravagantly beautiful, and oh so sinful in red.
CLÁUDIO: Time for another one of my Sasha Colby thesis statements.
You evoke some lovely camp cinema, and you’re right when pointing to My Fair Lady. Sasha’s wearing a version of an outfit originally modeled by Erin O’Connor at the Christian Dior Fall 2005 Couture show. John Galliano, that hideously problematic designer genius, took inspiration from the brand’s founder, evoking his early 1900s childhood through an appeal to Edwardian style. Some of his reference points were, indeed, Cecil Beaton’s costumes for films like My Fair Lady and Gigi. However, the palette of greys and mauves that mark the show’s beginning is closer to the Piero Tosi-costumed Death in Venice, which would come to inspire future Galliano collections. That’s catnip for us cinephiles, but it doesn’t quite explain why this is such a brilliant choice for Sasha.
Well, as the first look in the collection, the gown was envisioned as an apparition of Madame Dior herself, Christian’s mother stepping out of a carriage. She is, in essence, the Mother of Fashion as a perpetual entity, a gorgeous spirit that’s both muse-like and maternal, something almost primordial. I can’t say that Sasha intended to embody all that history when she chose this design, though it feels somewhat deliberate. Moreover, rendering it in red makes it her own, as does the peek of nakedness underneath the sheer skirt. And yet, this is Sasha Colby covered up, almost prim, providing a needed contrast to the politically-charged nudity she’ll bring later in the finale.
Of the final four, Sasha Colby wins the runway portion of this episode, even if that’s not considered by the judges.
I wish I could be as complimentary to Mama Ru, who soon walks out in a citrusy confection of Zaldy’s making that, sadly, looks a bit deflated. Not one of her best finale looks, though the musical introduction and shout-out to local bars was a lovely way to start the evening.
NICK: The clips to so many bars were really sweet! It’s a great display of community, much better than the one we get in between the four individual performances from our top queens.
RuPaul then starts the talent portion of the evening, as the queens lip sync to original songs with their own choreography and backup dancers. We get short interview clips and photoshoots of the top 4 describing their experiences on the show, their anticipation for the finale, and the meaning of the songs they wrote, interspersed with them doing photoshoots holding increasingly random objects. Luxx with a king chess piece? Makes sense! Sasha with a giant ice cream cone? I dunno about symbolism, but she looks good!
The lineup is presented in alphabetical order, meaning Anetra goes first. Her song, “Lotus”, indulges in some of those poetic impulses she gets when describing her runways you are not especially fond of, Cláudio. I could feel your expectations about her fashion sense improving after she got her coin diminish when we saw her outfit: yet another nude illusion bodysuit, this one covered with lotus flowers and green roots, plus some asymmetric white pieces. I like Anetra’s song, and the performance is fairly solid, yet it doesn’t feel super specific to her in some way. I’m not asking for it to be a “walk that fucking duck” meme show, but Anetra flaunted her dance skills more impressively multiple times in the show, and I think the ideas of the song could connect as much to Mistress as to her. In general, I think the quality of the numbers improves as the show continues.
CLÁUDIO: I would agree with that last point. While it’s hard not to feel a smidge of disappointment when reflecting on Anetra’s performance, that’s simply because she raised the bar so high during the season. Overall, it’s a fine number that mustn’t have been easy to perform, considering an unshown mishap. According to the queens and other people who were there that night, one of the dancers suffered an injury during Anetra’s number. Not only did they have to redo it, but the choreography of all queens had to be altered, on the spot, to accommodate the dancer’s absence. That Anetra, the girl most affected by the accident, still delivered solid entertainment is a feat worth applauding.
After her, comes Luxx Noir London, who the fandom has been mistreating a great deal on online spaces. Because she’s a diva, the bitch not only refuses to apologize for her cockiness, but she makes a whole joke out of her supposed big-headedness. Serving Julie Taymor papier-mâché realness, Luxx sports a giant head during her intro video, posing for the camera like the brilliant brat she is. I love her so much.
The performance isn’t nearly as iconic, but still good. “It’s Giving Fashion” sounds like the love child of Milk’s AS3 Talent Show and Willow Pill’s “I Hate People,” blessing Luxx with ample opportunity to slink her way across the stage in a sexy red lewk. She’s full of energy, giving off a sense of effervescence that will force a smile on your face. My one quibble is that the outfit reveal is too little to make an impact, feeling like a superfluous affectation in an otherwise fun showstopper.
NICK: I agree about the reveal, though it still functioned okay as a gag. Luxx’s sheer joy and confidence during the show is so fun to behold – even if it’s not a top 2 performance, it’s a solid distillation of who she is and what she’s brought to this season. Also, it would be much nicer to compare it to Naomi Smalls’ AS4 Talent Show – let a bitch own the best parts of her lineage!
After Luxx’s performance, RuPaul presents a tribute to legendary costume designer Bob Mackie.
CLÁUDIO: It’s a deserved tribute to a genius of spangled glamour whose career spans decades, countless icons, three Oscar nominations, nine Emmy wins, and more. He was also, of course, Drag Race’s very first special guest judge, making this honor feel all the more justified. Hopefully, this will become a tradition so next year we’ll see Elvira get the same treatment, or perhaps Lady Bunny. Fingers crossed.
The third queen to make a case for herself was our Texas darling Mistress Isabelle Brooks. She performs “Drag Delusion,” referencing her diagnosis of the whole cast while strutting her stuff in fetish nurse drag. Though her choreography isn’t especially complex, the big bitch commands the stage, from her rap verses to the split she does when held up by all those muscled menses. It’s the funniest of the four songs, ending on a perfect note that reminds us of Mistress’ meme potential. I was gagged. Were you?
NICK: It’s a great fucking time. I love her Elle Driver jacket and the exposed asscheeks on her jumpsuit. She’s been giving Detox in the best way the past few episodes, so showing her fishnet-clad ass and doing a rap about how she’s the baddest bitch in the competition fits with my fantasy in the best possible way. I also really enjoyed the varied pitches on her vocals, which helped give the song narrative and attitude. Fits perfectly to her strengths.
Last but most certainly not least is Sasha Colby, who absolutely blows the other three queens out of the water. Her song is called “Goddess”, a rap about a Medusa-style figure, an unstoppable force who, like Bugs Bunny, starts no fights but knows how to fucking finish them. She starts off carried onto the stage by her backup dancers while wearing a snake tail bottom with a long train, and it just never stops being an event. The rattlesnake accents at the end of the chorus at the beginning, the hair play with her insanely long braids, the snarl on her face during a deep inhale over the soundtrack, all of it is just perfection. Her physicality is so precise, and her dance moves are so goddamn fresh. Hands down the best of the night. (Also, did her singer kinda sound like Alaska?)
CLÁUDIO: There’s nothing left to say, for Sasha Colby is that bitch. She is a G-O-D-D-E-SS, and we all know it. She even slays the intro, serving primetime realness in a white suit for the interview portion. What a woman!
So great is she that there’s no suspense after Ru announces Anetra as one of the two finalists. Sasha is obviously the best, so I wish they had named her first. In any case, I’m sorry to say that I don’t agree with the producers’ pick even if it’s understandable in the big picture. Please, be assured I’m not dissing Mother Colby. Instead, I believe Mistress should have been in Anetra’s place. Even Luxx felt like she outperformed her duck-walking sister and, for what’s worth, both Miss London and the Texas queen looked miffed at the result.
There are still three musical numbers to contend with before the final lipsync, but tell me – would you have paired Sasha with someone other than Anetra for the season’s top two?
NICK: Much like the makeover challenge, I would have definitely picked Mistress over Anetra. Unlike the makeover challenge, I would likely have also picked Luxx over Anetra, though I don’t feel too strongly about that one. More than that, I wish it felt like Luxx and Mistress got an actual chance to fight for the crown, instead of giving perfunctory performances before the producer-approved duet ascended to their inevitable status. They seemed rightfully sour, and I look forward to them dominating future All-Stars seasons.
After this RuPaul steps out to deliver a political message about the encroaching dangers of drag bans in America. The unnamed American town in Wigloose! has become a living, breathing reality across the country. A video message plays, featuring all sorts of proud queer or queer-allied Americans reminding us about the value of unity in the face of hateful divisions imposed across lines of gender and sexuality.
It’s an earnest message, and though I probably should not be complaining about some details of this video when queers need as many allies as we can get, I think they bear mentioning. One, I get why reducing everyone to Americans as the point of unity, but it’s a plea destined to fall on deaf ears. Two, including cops and priests, two institutions with wildly oppressive designs against queer people, is a bit wild to me. Every queer person has their own relationship with those institutions, I get it, but that is an act of allyship I found very strange.
Following the video comes a Wigloose! medley, performed by the musical’s scribe Leland, queer country star Orville Peck, and the entire cast of season 15. The crowd goes wild, the singers give it their all, Sugar still can’t lipsync to save anybody’s life. As utterly depressing as the situation many queer Americans are currently facing is to think about for more than ten seconds, I will not deny myself the simple joy of drag queens celebrating themselves.
CLÁUDIO: Sugar doesn’t even try, keeping her mouth shut all the way through this performance. Bless her stubborn ass.
While the eliminated queens are still on stage, we get the return of last year’s winner and Miss Congeniality – Willow Pill and Kornbread Jeté, respectively. The fandom has been vicious to the former, criticizing her reign for its apparent inaction, coming for a victor who has nothing left to prove. And yet, Willow’s appearance in the finale should be enough to shut all those haters, such is the grandiosity of her presence. After walking the pink carpet in impossibly big boots, Yvie Oddly’s drag sister donned a gown inspired by weeping willows, serving tree realness in bedazzled mesh and waves of satin. Forgive the hyperbole, but this has to be one of the top three looks of any returning champion, right there with Violet Chachki’s decaying glamour and Sasha Velour’s alien Genesis.
As for Kornbread, she’s decided to continue her beastly drag from last season’s finale. Before, she was the feline-faced daughter of Beauty and the Beast, but now she’s a whole damn glamazon lion. She walked the pink carpet in a collage of season 14 moments which included her fried chicken pendant and June Jambalaya’s tropical wedding dress but picked something more traditional for the main stage. More importantly, it allows the bitch to move, for she’s not like any other Miss Congenialities. If she’s coming to the finale, she’s going to give Ariana DeBose a run for her money and rap the presentation. Next stop, BAFTAS?
NICK: It’s a fair question! Bless whoever sculpted Kornbread’s lion face for allowing her to lipsync so flawlessly while wearing it. Imagine what season 15 would have been like if she came back. Kornbread announces Malaysia Babydoll Foxx has won Miss Congeniality, and will receive a $10,000 prize from Olay Body as this year’s loot. I fucking called Malaysia as Miss Congeniality from episode one, so someone send me my own prize money. Based on what we see on the show, I think she’s a fair call, and since the queens themselves now vote on it, I’m happy to co-sign their choice.
For her part, Malaysia looks delighted, accepting the award with a gigantic pageant-winner smile and stating she’s finally in her congenial era. For her part, Mistress looks even more sour. Kornbread also announces Olay Body has given every queen their own $2,000 prize as a hat-tip for an excellent season, and since almost none of them won money on the show, I can’t begin to imagine how thrilled they all were.
If one can wonder about Kornbread at the BAFTAs, it’s also worth wondering if Jinkx Monsoon could win a Tony. The queen of all queens comes fresh off her box office smash run on Broadway to give an abridged performance of “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago.
She’s sensational, of course, and she looks better than she did when she won the crown for AS7. Jinkx and Ru have a quick conversation about the former’s upcoming tour dates and reminisce on their tic tac conversation from season 5, where Jinkx says she’d love to be in drag on Broadway someday. Look at her now!! Look at how successful and fulfilled and brimming with joy she is. It’s so goddamn wonderful.
CLÁUDIO: I’m so happy for Malaysia and Jinkx. They deserve this.
At long last, it’s time for the final showdown between Anetra and Sasha Colby, a clash of the titans in lip-sync form. As they walk behind Ru, the Las Vegas queen is in another of her many bodysuits, though this one has an anatomical theme that reminds me of Albert Wolsky’s Oscar-winning designs for All That Jazz. Mother, on the other hand, looks like some luxurious piece of furniture in plush puffs made for a reveal. Love the cobra-like collar and how it’ll later become a fur carpet for Sasha to recline like a 70s Playmate.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before that, we must consider the song. It’s Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood,” which previously graced Drag Race way back in season three, when Alexis sent Tracy Layne Matthews home. While it’s a fun tune, I confess myself confused by the choice. It certainly precludes Anetra from doing some of her usual tricks and complicates Sasha’s sultry floorshow. They deliver good work, though I wonder what heights both queens could have reached with a better song selection. The bad editing doesn’t help.
NICK: A friend of ours said after the AS7 finale that he suspects the finale song choices are spirited-but-underwhelming enough to allow the show to edit for whatever ending it wants, and whatever its strengths outside this context, “Knock on Wood” feels like it fits that pattern. This doesn’t match the heights of their previous duel in the LaLaPaRuZa, but the result is still the same. Sasha’s reveals are entertaining and smoothly executed (the ponytail especially), each outfit is striking in its own right, and she modulates how much sexuality and choreography she’s putting out with deft control. Her subsequent interviews about using her near-naked body as a political statement are quite thoughtful, and don’t feel like a retroactive grafting of importance onto her routine.
You’re right that this doesn’t seem like the best song for Anetra, and I’m not sure she finds a way to sell it the way Sasha does. More than that, I’m a bit surprised she doesn’t have something else up her sleeve, given Sasha’s already out-danced her in a lip-sync. The heart gag is fun, but it seems like she doesn’t quite know what to do with it once it’s completely unraveled. I’ll go to bat for Mistress one last time – I truly think she’d have some strategy for upstaging Sasha built around the fact that she could never beat the bitch at choreography.
The song ends. RuPaul returns to the stage and announces Sasha Colby as the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15. It’s inevitable, sure, but it’s so earned, and so tremendously satisfying. You seem poised to close us out, so before I pass the baton, thank you for being such a fun and intelligent conversation partner all season Cláudio. Can’t imagine it being so fun without you.
CLÁUDIO: All hail Sasha Colby, the obvious winner of Season 15 and future champion of another All-Winners season. Hail Nick Taylor, brilliant writer and even better friend, the best partner a bitch like me could ask for such a project. Thank you, my dear, and thank you, readers. As a last treat, we’ll leave video of the final four reacting to the finale live – it’s hilarious and moving in equal measure. So let’s end the season with a laugh, maybe some tears. Love you all, guys and dolls.
Episodes 1 & 2: “One Night Only”
Episode 3: “All Queens Go to Heaven”
Episode 4: “Snatch Game”
Episode 5: “House of Fashion”
Episode 6: “Old Friends Gold”
Episode 7: “The Daytona Wind 2”
Episode 8: “LipSync LaLaPaRUza Smackdown”
Episode 9: “The Crystal Ball”
Episode 10: “50/50 Most Gagworthy Stars”
Episode 11: “Two Queens, One Joke”
Episode 12: “Wigloose: The Rusical!”
Episode 13: “Teacher Makeovers”
Episode 14: “Blame It On the Edit”
Episode 15: “Reunited”