Joe: Butch Queen,
First Time in Drags at a Ball 

Joe: Butch Queen,
            First Time in Drags at a Ball 

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
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

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
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
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: 

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.” 

project Runway Daniel and Kenely x395 x395 (Bravo) |

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

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. 

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

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

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

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,

Tim Gunn as Mommie Dearest x395 |    

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

Work work work.
Sew sew sew. Yawn yawn yawn. 

Project Runway Varla Jean Merman x395 x395 (Bravo) |

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

An oddly subdued
TreSemmé and L’Oréal 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. 

The clothes:

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

Suede, having
kissed and made up with Hedda, sends her down the runway in
the same lizard thing she hated not 15 minutes

dull gown makes an appearance and remains less than

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. 

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. 

shredded, raw, shapeless whatever thing is forgettable as
soon as it appears. 

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

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
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

Project Runway Anita Greenkard x395 x395 (Bravo) | Advocate.comAbove: Anita Greenkard: Deported?

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!!!” 

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