We have a winner – and it’s a gamechanger. Sam Brooks power-ranks the last episode of House of Drag, and assesses the season in general.
It’s over, ladies and gentlemen, and we have a winner. But before we get to that history-making winner, a few thoughts!
House of Drag has had a rocky first season, to put it bluntly.
Any televised competition exists in the shadow of Drag Race, whether or not its intentional, and House of Drag has felt throughout these seven like it hasn’t quite nailed down whether it wants to follow that show’s format closely or to break out into it’s own thing. Legally speaking the latter is probably the better, if not the only, route to follow, but there’s no question an audience is going to be comparing it to a show with a larger pool of talent, more money, and ten seasons of figuring out what it is.
Reality television is made up of two essential components: The production and the talent. If you have one without the other, the ships becomes unbalanced and tips over entirely. Production without talent is worthless – there’s only so much editing and nudging and crafting you can do around dough that is incapable of being moulded. And vice versa, talent without production is just as dire; diamonds without the hard work are just useless carbon. Drag Race is one of the rare reality shows that balances both equally – and does both excellent.
House of Drag had the talent, but the production wasn’t the best showcase for that talent. Twenty-two minutes isn’t sufficient for a reality show, as I’ve whined about weekly for the past month and a bit. You can’t build a narrative for ten people in twenty-two minutes over seven episodes in drama television, and you sure as hell can’t do it in reality television. It’s not enough time, especially when you have to cover a competition, a judging panel and a result.
On the editing side of the equation, results were telegraphed simply and easily. Anybody with the most base literacy in reality television could predict the winners and losers of each episode based on who was given ‘story’ at the start of the episode. This trend runs right up until the winner.
There’s no question House of Drag had the talent – I can guarantee we’re going to be hearing the names Medulla Oblongata and Hugo Grrrl at the very least for the next while – but the production never gave them the best showcase. Shooting people outside, during the day, under natural light, is never going to turn out well for anybody, but especially not for people in full drag makeup. The challenges were strange, both ill-suited to the talents of the contestants of that current week (the all-rap challenge) or to the competition in general.
This week was the killer, where that’s concerned. For some reason, it’s taken us seven episodes to get to a lip-sync. So not only do the contestants have to lip-sync to an odd choice of a song, a lovely Sal Valentine ditty that works great for your office party but less so for your finale lip-sync, but they all have to lip-sync to the same song.
Not only is it bad for us as an audience, listening to the same song three times in a row (and it’s here that the janky editing rears its head once more, because not only do we not get a great sense of how any of the contestant’s full performances look, they’re interrupted by constant voice-over and to-camera interviews) but it’s strange for the contestants, who sit and watch the other two complete lip-syncs to the same song as them. There’s limits to the budget of this kind of show, and APRA knows licensing music ain’t cheap, but it’s the cap on a season of misjudged challenges.
In saying all this, largely critical stuff, House of Drag has huge potential. It’s a chance to get insight into the New Zealand drag scene, and exploring the dynamics within that. It’s a chance for us to see New Zealand artists and performers showcased. It’s a chance for local drag to be appreciated somewhere outside the clubs, and in a more mainstream place. That’s not to be sniffed at, and if House of Drag can buff out the dents in its vehicle, then it’ll be around for a long time to come, and I will happily welcome it, toast it, have a kiki with it, and throw some genuine, heartfelt shade with it.
However, we have our final power-rankings, and our winner to attend to in the meantime:
3. Leidy Lei
I said it last week, but Leidy Lei should be incredibly stoked with top three.
This episode warmed me a bit on the queen: she seemed like the least mature of the contestants coming into the competition, combusting entirely in the first two episodes and barely scraping by, but this week and last week there appears to be a centre to the queen. If the insecurities haven’t quite wormed their way out, they’ve at least found constructive ways to manifest themselves.
House of Drag might’ve come around too early to be truly transformative or career-boosting for Leidy Lei. There’s scores of reality show contestants whose promising careers have been derailed by a reality show coming around too early, cashing in on them for a few weeks of work, and leaving them in their wake, unable to shake a brand that is now attached to their persona and their craft. I’m thinking of your Rachel Crows, your Diana Vickers, your Melanie Amaros – huge talents that could potentially have been huger if not for the reality show that intervened.
I’m not saying Leidy Lei is going down this path – and it’s inarguable that House of Drag will be a huge boost for the queen – and I hope the lessons learned on the show lead to a better, more beautiful, more confident Leidy Lei.
2. Lola Blades
In some ways, Lola Blades would’ve been a good winner for House of Drag. Lola represents a classic, experienced, and talented queen – she never messed up on the show, she managed to stay solidly on brand while also showing us a softer and more vulnerable side of herself. Also, she talked about the technical aspects of lip-syncing, so I’m basically sold anyway!
In many ways, Lola is a winner. The show gives her a huge boost, she’s showcased herself as a versatile and professional queen who is up for a challenge, and basically gets shit done. Continue to get shit done, Lola.
WINNER: Hugo Grrrl
Congratulations, Hugo! You are, by my estimation, the first drag king to win a televised drag competition. That’s a big deal – and a savvy choice for House of Drag, who will surely be banking on international headlines as a result of this.
You could’ve picked Hugo as the winner from the start. His brand was secure, his persona was strong, and he came off as both a good drag king and a good reality show contestant. There were no reasons to root against him, and every reason to root for him.
The shade has left me, my tea has run cold, I have nothing left but sincere congratulations. You did that, Hugo. You did that.
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