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When I'm recapping American Idol for this website and I wind up in Texas to visit my mom in the nursing home she lives in, I can count on the rest of my family joining me for watching the show during my stay and giving me a fresh perspective on karaoke. Not so with Project Runway. They just don't care. Just today I explained Anna Wintour to my younger brother. Guess how much of a shit he gave? By morning he will probably not even remember we had a conversation containing the word "vogue."
This means I'm on my own for Runway this week. Just me, a DVR I find confusing because it's some off-brand the cable company gives you and not a TiVo, and nieces and a nephew (combined ages of all three of them = 21) who wouldn't understand the concept of "drag queen" at all or have any fresh takes on the career trajectory of Varla Jean Merman. That's this week's challenge, by the way, men in womany clothes. It took them this long to make that a theme? Because Jerell did it just last week all by himself without being asked. So someone's really been asleep at the wheel.
So I had this big idea I was going to bring a DVD copy of Paris Is Burning with me to Texas to give myself a refresher course in realness, mopping at Roy Rogers, shade, OP-YOO-LENCE, and what it means to be a butch-queen-first-time-in-drags-at-a-ball. Yeah, they say "drags" in that movie. I don't know why. But sometimes life is mysterious. And then I went off and forgot to bring the DVD. And Rowlett, Texas? Not a place where video stores just have copies of Paris Is Burning clogging the shelves. Adding to that is the way my mother has been a persistent taker-upper of a lot of my time. I mean, she is the reason I fly home and all, to be her chaperone to movies, shopping, hair salons, and wherever else she wants to go, since the nursing home can get a little boredom-intensive, but it's cutting into my research time. I'm all about research, you know. And our trip to Lane Bryant the other day wasn't really insightful enough to count. All I gleaned from that one was that for plus-size ladies this is the summer of SHOW THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE YOUR MONSTER JUGS. Seriously, every top she pulled off the rack was cut down to Sharon Stone and back. Not that the larger ladies shouldn't show 'em off. But my 66-year-old mom is somewhat more modest than all you young BBWs out there.
So the episode starts. And I'm alone -- my sister-in-law was here on the couch but said, "I don't think I can handle this show" and walked out of the room -- and I'm also triple-tasking by watching the show and leafing through the enormous September Vogue at the same time and getting instant messages from the husband/partner/whatever and a prize-winning e-mail from model friend Elyse. She's currently stationed over in Shenzhen, China, lady-posing all over the place to the delight of the Asian nations. I already asked her what she thinks of this week's challenge. Her response:
Dave, Unlike your garden-variety transsexual, the female persona of the drag queen ceases to exist when she's not performing, right? The clock strikes midnight and she goes back to being my 10th-grade math teacher, Mr. Van Der Geest. With that in mind, words such as "impeccable tailoring," "modern," "wearability," "clean lines," and "tapered" do not factor in to my axis of drag queen admiration. That bitch better be FESTOONED. I need to see 18 to 20 pounds of wig alone. The face needs to be dripping with frosting and glitter, and every square inch of her clothing must be exploding with feathers, fur, and fascinators (there's your fashion vocabulary word for the week). She needs to stir up Taz-grade rhinestone siroccos every time she takes a step. I want to panic when I first see her: Oh, god! Shaq is picking his teeth with Charo! The pope is amok in full papal regalia and date-raping the Arlington prom queen! If I'm not getting double-plus Carmen Miranda overkill from my DQs, then, like, what the hell am I doing at a drag show? If I just wanted to see some dudes in some spandex with some bronzer on, the Abbey is right down the street.
Message from the husband/partner/whatever: "Oh, this'll be good. As we've seen in the past, the designers can not only not design for men, they also can't design for plus-size women."
The day begins at Atlas with Korto foreshadowing tonight's chopee (that would be Daniel) by telling the camera that he thinks he's smart for playing it so safely but that he'll think twice soon enough. She's no dummy, that Korto. She's really grown on me. The other person growing on me is Joe, because he's so exactly the opposite of the goomba I assumed he was. I mean, he is one. But he's also acting like a total gay and openly criticizes Keith for all of his "swatches and strips." Wants to know if the judges are "blind." Way to be, Joe. Outbitch all the fags.
Heidi meets everyone on the runway to explain the challenge. She's in head-to-toe black, intentionally going neutral to emphasize what's about to happen next. I wish instead that she'd be the way she is in the September Vogue in this ad for some fashiony thing in a bathtub, soaked in full clothes and heels, covered in bubbles. They could have wheeled her out in that.
Behind a scrim we see a big Viking/opera lady/mass of human. It's Chris March with horns and glitter disco balls for boobs. The challenge: Make these drag queens even more like themselves. In other words, go nuts and be tacky and ignore everything you ever knew about taste. I recognize a few of them: Sherri Vine, Hedda Lettuce, Sharon Needles, and the most famous of the bunch, Varla Jean Merman, star of the drag comedy Girls Will Be Girls. The rest I don't know: Farrah Moans, Miss Understood, Sweetie, Luisa Verde, LeMay, Annida Greenkard, and Acid Betty. I could try describing all of them, but there are only so many euphemisms for "clownishly large man in neon- green lipstick."
And not to disparage these fine showgirls, but outside of New York club life and possibly Wigstock, who are these dudes? Where's Amanda Lepore? (I know, she's not a drag queen, she's trans, but still she's awesome.) Where's Jackie Beat? Lipsynka? Coco Peru? Evie Harris? Joey Arias? Alexis Arquette (who, I guess, maybe, is also considered trans at this point, right?)? The Lady Bunny? The Goddess Bunny? Vaginal Davis? Whoever else I'm forgetting? The corpse of Leigh Bowery? It's like the producers just walked down the block to some nightclub and said, "OK, you, you, you, you and you."
Above: Daniel getting ready to lose. Kenley watches.
It's up to the designers to pick a queen. Kenley takes Farrah Moans, Blayne goes with Miss Understood, Korto takes Sweetie, Stella chooses Luisa Verde, Suede takes Hedda because "Suede has a head of ocean, [so] he needs Hedda Lettuce." This makes as much sense as anything that comes out of Suede's mouth, so I'll just go with it. Leanne, with a sly look, chooses, "the lovely Sharon Needles," which seems to be a fine match. Leanne is one of the better designers in the batch this season, I think, and her dark, angular style could fit this gothish queen's style well. Jerell picks LeMay, Daniel chooses Annida Greenkard because they both love, according to Daniel, "aristocratic Spanish style," Keith goes with Sherri Vine, Terri wisely chooses the extreme-looking Acid Betty. (A.B. is described by Terri as a "hybrid" drag queen, a term I've never heard before but that I believe means she's partially composed of hydrogen or runs on several D batteries.) Joe wisely picks Varla Jean Merman, who is the most accomplished and charming of all of them and can sell the shit out of an outfit while spraying an entire can of Cheez Whiz into her mouth. I've seen her do this. Joe describes the challenge as the equivalent of making his daughters a Halloween costume. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to hear that.
Instant message from the husband/partner/whatever: "Oh, yeah, and fuck Rachel Zoe!" I have no idea what he's on about or how it relates to this episode, but in general this is a sentiment I agree with, so I'm going to leave it here. After model-choosing, Heidi and Chris March stomp off the runway together and Heidi asks him what they should go do now. Chris says he wants German food and Heidi suggests pretzels and beer. The suggestion that comes in the form of the next instant message from the husband/partner/whatever is one that I guarantee came from our friend and housemate Xtreem Aaron. He's the one who usually pipes up with things that I can't in good conscience lay down in print here because they don't just cross the boundaries of decency, multicultural sensitivity, scatology, and pure, blackly metallic evil, they leap across those boundaries, then backtrack to urinate on them and douse them with gasoline before throwing a match and pushing the nearest sweet grandmother into the flames. Your imagination will have to suffice here.
Client consultation time. It's boring. The only not-boring thing is that Tim Gunn shows up to announce that the outfits will be auctioned off to benefit Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS. This is good. And someone will buy these clothes for their next Halloween costume. Maybe Joe's daughters, even. Then it's off to Mood. More boringness happens there. The designers are like, "Get me feathers and sequins antennae and fake animals and 30 yards of aluminum foil and something to smash down a penis." So that's what they get. Meanwhile Jessica Alba has replaced Mary-Kate as the Elle cover vixen of the moment. Because it's not an episode without an Elle mag establishing shot. I'm a bit disappointed at the blip in narrative continuity because, while cuter, J.A. has way less to offer the world than M.K. Unless you saw whatever that diving-for-treasure movie was where she's in nothing but a tiny bikini the whole time. Or Honey.Honey was awesome. OK, I guess I just changed my own mind. Team Alba!
Back in the workroom Terri is working on some kind of kimono. I totally trust her to turn it out. I fully expect it to feature a working jet pack that finally allows for individual human flight. And then Blayne says "neonlicious" about his own design. This prompts mass moaning about the suffix "licious." They all want to clobber him. Korto, in particular, says "I'm annoyedlicious."
But mostly we hear endless variations on the idea of how wacky it is to design for drag queens. Because this show's audience had no idea that drag queens dress flamboyantly, so it's up to the show to tell us. With some (meaning an insulting ton) frequency we're treated to designers marveling at the combustible clothing being created and announcing, "We are no doubt designing for drag queens." Or "We sure are making garments for drag queens. Doesn't that beat all?" Or "Look at all this drag queenery material!" Or "Wow, big drag queen clothes!" Also? Designers? I hear that most of those drag queens are gay. I know, it's madness.
We get a little bit of Jerell backstory next. He grew up poor. And that's about all we learn. Then we hear about Suede's grandfather, who came to him in a dream and sprinkled seeds all over a dress. Or something like that. I was distracted by this Oscar de la Renta ad in Vogue. Great checkerboard coat in this ad. Made me think about Oscar de la Renta for the first time in years. Sometimes old-school turns your head and you remember that they're old-school for a good reason.
More sewing and bitching. Everyone's cracking on Keith for "doing his swatches again." Then Hedda Lettuce comes in and doesn't like the lizardy green thing that Suede's making for her. Asks Suede if he's too lazy to make sleeves. Suede is insulted, but so what? Eff Suede and his dumb clothes. And it's worth it because Korto and Terri are scene in a corner busting up over this.
Tim Gunn visitation time. Chris March is with him to inspect the drag queenliness of the proceedings. Tim tells Blayne that his garment looks like a "pterodactyl out of a gay Jurassic Park" and Blayne takes this as a compliment. As well he should. It ain't bad as far as ridiculously color-damaged outfits with pointy wings on them go. Joe's sparkly pink pantsuit for Varla looks amazing. So does Korto's curly-fries neck treatment thing in bright red and orange sequins. And Tim Gunn gives Suede some fatherly-faggerly advice: When in a conflict with a drag queen such as the demanding Hedda Lettuce, you say that "you've been to a different rodeo and don't 'you-know-what' with me, sister."
Here's why this is awesome:
1. Tim Gunn is quoting Mommie Dearest. 2. Tim Gunn is quoting Mommie Dearest minus the bad swears, so it's kind of like if your mom was quoting Mommie Dearest. 3. Tim Gunn is so internally powerful that even drag queens don't intimidate him.
And then Tim Gunn encounters Daniel's evening gown. It's... I don't know... tacky but well-cut? Ugly but boring? Tim Gunn explains to Daniel that the piece has to be exuberant. Daniel doesn't care. Maybe Daniel should mention to Tim Gunn that he, Daniel, has a very high taste level. Maybe Tim Gunn doesn't know that yet about Daniel. Also, maybe the boarding school thing. Maybe Daniel should bring that up to help remind Tim Gunn that no one can tell Daniel anything about taste because his own level of it is so high up in the sky that no one's even seen that level of high taste yet. It hasn't been invented for human eyes to witness. Only Daniel has seen it. So he's like the Moses of taste. He's got these tablets in his hands with secret messages about high taste only futuristic spacemen can comprehend and they've been braided into an indecipherable code by that 87-year-old French lady I saw on Signe Chanel (coolest fashion documentary/miniseries ever, by the way, so check it out) who weaves everything for Karl Lagerfeld's haute couture collections, the lady who, when she dies, will take the craft with her because no one else has ever been able to learn it properly.
Work work work. Sew sew sew. Yawn yawn yawn.
Above: Varla Jean Merman: Pretty in Pink
We see Stella refusing to get out of bed. This is now a weekly occurrence and is commemorated by an instant message from the husband/partner/whatever: "Stella has OD'd again."
An oddly subdued TreSemme and L'Oreal Paris sequence comes and goes. In fact, for a show about drag queens, there's been precious little explosiony stuff happening. No Taz-level siroccos for Elyse. And then it's time for the runway show. If you didn't see it, try to picture how a real model would walk. Then picture that model glomping down the runway while twirling a flaming baton, grabbing her crotch, shaking her ass in your face, and tweaking her own nipples before yelling, "COCK!" and then ripping off her three-foot-high pink wig with the mechanical toy helicopters circling it and wiping her butt with it.
If only something like that had actually happened. Instead they all just sashayed and shantayed a lot, which must have pleased the grand dame herself, RuPaul, who showed up to guest-judge in what I believe to be sort of a busted-up, blond, split-endy kinda wig.
Kenley delivers old-fashioned queen glamour with a shiny silver floor-length ball gownishness and big black and white feathers around the neck.
Blayne sends down the dress equivalent of the Partridge Family bus. With droopy wings on the back.
Joe makes a skin-tight pink pantsuit for Varla, who galloped down the runway grinning and showing off her admittedly really hot ass. In fact, of all the men on this runway, Varla as a guy is pretty strapping and fairly easy on the eyes. Just an observation.
Stella brings a punk-rock prom dress, all shiny black and red tartan.
Suede, having kissed and made up with Hedda, sends her down the runway in the same lizard thing she hated not 15 minutes earlier.
Daniel's dull gown makes an appearance and remains less than interesting.
Jerell, who I once believed to possibly be a child of House of LaBeija, is not delivering and is instead repping for House of LaBore-ya. The stand-up neck thing is nice. But the rest is shapeless.
Korto's red sequined thing is pretty awesome, and she's got the biggest, fattest guy and she's made him into a Marilyn Monroe Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Like she's even given him a figure. Kind of amazing.
Keith's shredded, raw, shapeless whatever thing is forgettable as soon as it appears.
Leanne's makes me pretty happy. It appears to be some kind of folded origami thing. It blurs by too quickly to really catch all the cool verticals and horizontals and crazy angles, but I'm digging her quite a bit lately, especially when she's not saddled with a partner.
And Terri. Totally fucking beautiful rocking Terri and her samurai lunatic Romulan with floor-length sleeves. If Acid Betty hadn't already shown up with that name, that's what she'd have to change it to after putting on this whatever-it-is. Terri should just be crowned the actual queen of this show and we can all be done with it until next season. The judges even reference Kiss and call her "metal." You know Stella seethes inside over that. If she's even listening to anything with all that creeping tinnitus. And you know she's got it. I do. I have a tiny low-level hum in my ears at almost all times thanks to seeing Black Flag in a cinder-block squat in 1984 and hundreds of other shows of that ilk. I wear earplugs to see bands now. You have to or you're doomed. Something tells me Stella doesn't want the little telltale "I am seriously old now" orange foam blips protruding from her ears and ruining her cred. I, having no cred, do not care.
Naturally Terri doesn't win, but she gets a pretty high compliment from RuPaul when he compares it to the freaked-out line of clothes Diana Ross designed for Mahogany in the '70s. The win, in this case, falls to Joe. Now, in Joe's defense, his Varla outfit was pretty tight. And I like that bitchy hetero Joe won the drag queen challenge. There's a modicum of frictiony satisfaction in that. But I just need to say that TERRI KEEPS GETTING FUCKING ROBBED ON THESE CHALLENGES. Shit. Terri doesn't seem all that amused by her "you're in" status, either. She gives Joe a snarly glance.
As for the rest, RuPaul pounces on Keith's fringy nothing of a garment and also for making what she terms "excuses." Then she asks if a dingo ate his baby too. Good one, Mr. Ru. Nina, or maybe Kors, I forget, calls it a "molting gray chicken." Ouch. They scold Jerell for his blandness. Kors calls it a bar mitzvah dress. Heidi says it's a "yawn." And you've heard "don't bore Nina" plenty, but the truth is that you'd better fuckin' not bore Heidi or she'll use not one 10th of Nina's tact in telling you how she feels. They love Korto and call her big-girl blast of blinding red "exuberant."
Blayne, Kenley, Suede, Stella, Leanne are all safe. And then the judges all gang up on Daniel. And really, it's about frigging time. He does what he wants and then is permanently peeved and annoyed when he's called on it. And then he's gone. Keith gives him a too-long hug, which Daniel doesn't seem to enjoy. And then we see Keith backstage crying about it. What's that about? Again, Daniel's like, "Get away from me, Rat Tail." Tim Gunn comes in and is all "Beat it, Taste Boy. My hug is implied."
Above: Anita Greenkard: Deported?
Daniel's parting shot: "I'm extremely talented." Then he cries some sweaty tears.
And next week's preview? Something about a rooftop. Cut to Stella, who thinks there will be bikers on that rooftop. Now, I've been in Texas all week. And I've been doing a lot of my work in this Starbucks up in a far north suburb in a fancy new strip mall. And all around me, every morning, are people from megachurches like the one my family goes to -- seriously they have like 10,000 members or something and my niece just got back from church camp where they had 800 kids in attendance -- and every table in this place is filled with folks conducting Bible studies. I know what this is about. I used to live here. And from time to time I'd meet some hard-core loons who were the kind who'd see Satan everywhere they went. Satan was infecting all walks of life: film, TV, product packaging, too many books to count, food, trees, you name it. I used to love those kinds of folks. And that's Stella. Only she sees bikers everywhere she goes. Under every upside-down teacup a Hell's Angel, waiting to bless her and ask her to hammer out some new studded leather cuffs. So I hope the show puts some bikers on a roof for her.
Then a shot of season 3's Glamour Mom Laura Bennett as, I assume, a guest judge. The husband/partner/whatever feels the same kind of electric thrill for her as I do for Heidi. And like clockwork, the final instant message from him just reads: "LAURA!!!"