BBC Three’s RuPaul’s Drag Race UK made a triumphant return last night as series two kicked off with a larger line-up, outrageous outfits and as many inappropriate puns as you’d expect from 12 campy queens.
While fans were enchanted with the season two debut, many were left aghast by the elimination of seasoned contestant Joe Black – the glamorous cabaret queen with over a decade’s worth of performances under her silhouette-enhancing belt.
Judging by the first 15-minutes of the episode alone, you’d have expected Joe Black to be the one to watch, with her confidently flamboyant swagger, her polished Maleficent-meets-Mae-West look and the gasps of adoration from her fellow queens as she waltzed into the workroom. “Yes, b***h!” Ginny Lemon cried as Lawrence Chaney announced: “The cabaret queen has arrived!”
In episode one, Black was immediately labelled as the “internationally renowned” queen, with an accomplished CV and a glimmering reputation as “the Gloria Swanson of drag” before strutting the runway dressed as her gay icon, David Bowie, and then in a hometown homage to the Brighton Pavilion.
But in a surprising turn of events, she landed herself in the bottom two with East London queen Bimini Bon Boulash and ultimately lost in the lip-sync to Frankie Goes to Hollwood’s Relax after the mankini-wearing contestant whipped out the splits at the last minute.
While Black being the first to go is a truly controversial decision on RuPaul’s part, it’s not unprecedented for more experienced queens to be sashaying away in the early stages of the competition.
Look at series one’s Vinegar Strokes: prior to entering Drag Race UK, Vinegar Strokes had half a decade’s worth of experience on the drag scene, landing roles in the West End and working alongside the iconic Michelle Visage – however, she was the third queen to be eliminated from the competition.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Vinegar said that, when it comes to Drag Race eliminations, previous experience no longer factors into the decision.
“I think it’s purely down to the moment and what they give in that lip-sync,” she said. “For the first episode, if you compare them looks-wise, just on what they wore on the runway, you would probably argue that Joe Black wore something that was way more extravagant and way more polished than Bimini.
“But if you take it just down to the lip-sync, who gave the better performance, that is down to RuPaul.
“So, I don’t think it’s a case of what someone’s experience is beforehand, I think it’s just a case of, in the moment, what they do in that performance, in that lip-sync, in terms of just saving themselves.
“As RuPaul says, ‘Lip-sync for their life’. Unfortunately, if they don’t lip-sync for their life and give it 100 per cent, that could be their downfall regardless of experience.”
Speaking about her own experience of being in the bottom two, Vinegar said that it can be a bit of a shock when you’re a more established queen.
“I know how that feels because, as someone who’s been doing it for a few years and performing and doing stuff, being like, ‘Oh, I’m in the bottom two on the first week’ – I would not have expected that at all.
“I literally was like, ‘I need to pull everything you of the bag because I don’t know what this young, thin person next to me that I’ve never met will pull out.’ If they pull out a split or a death drop, I could go home because I’m coming at it from a view of comedy.”
While queens with years of experience can sink to the bottom in week one, contestants who’ve only slipped heels on a handful of times can find themselves dominating the competition.
Across the pond, the show’s US counterpart RuPaul’s Drag Race is currently on its 13th season, with the likes of drag newbie Olivia Lux winning challenge after challenge. Despite doing drag for less than a year and being a self-professed “foetus” on the scene, Lux won her entrance lip-sync against seasoned queen Rosé in episode one, before landing in the top two alongside Symone following her performance in the lyric-writing task.
Clearly when it comes to Drag Race, previous accomplishments and years of practice don’t matter as much as you’d think. With wannabe champions being required to sing, dance, act, sew, do stand-up, lip-sync and write lyrics (among other skills), it can just take one disappointing week to find yourself scrawling a mirror message in a sad shade of lipstick.
But who knows – Drag Race is certainly full of surprises and this may not be the last we see of Joe Black…