It is a huge testament to the popularity and power of RuPaul that her “Battle of the Seasons” event at the 9:30 Club Tuesday night would sell out ahead of the show. What’s even more impressive is that the crowd bought tickets not even knowing what would happen at the show (would it be a drag act, a chat, simply video clips?). Even more impressive than that – RuPaul herself wasn’t even on the bill.
Even without RuPaul, a packed house of her admirers enthusiastically showed up. “No, I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one does, but no one seems to care,” one crowd member told us as DJ Ed Bailey from Town Danceboutique spun the pre-show.
What happened was surprisingly electric. In a completely dark house, host (and the most drag queen looking non-drag queen) Michelle Visage walked onto stage in a single spotlight singing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” from the Rocky Horror Show. The crowd went wild, and Visage delivered the most shocking number of the night — a drag show that actually started on time.
What followed was a mix of past drag queen heroes (Pandora Boxx) and villains (Phi Phi O’Hara) in a mix of talent. One of the most poignant (yes, poignant) moments of the night came during Carmen Carrera’s performance to Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts,” stripping down to only pasties. Following her popular appearance on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Carrera announced that she was a transgender woman and underwent gender reassignment surgery. Her popularity has skyrocketed, leading to a modeling career and a recent interview where host Katie Couric came under criticism for focusing heavily on Carrera’s genitals. So, when Carerra stripped down to the words “it’s the soul that needs the surgery” the audience was rapturous.
Many of the remaining performances were solid. Ivy Winters stunned the audience by dancing on stilts while flapping butterfly wings.
Alaska Thunderfuck gave winks to the audience letting them know how terrible she thought her own song was (so terrible, it actually worked). Pandora Boxx had the crowd laughing with her stand-up comedy. Manilla Luzon sang her terrible single, but no one cared because the joy of Luzon is watching her flawless, fishy look. Mimi Imfurst floundered a bit with her number setting up “Defying Gravity,” but Phi Phi O’Hare rescued her stale impression of Lady Gaga by turning it into a spot-on Gaga/Aguilera duet with Sharon Needles. Needles also went on to give a shout out to her past performance at the Brigthest Young Things/Capital Pride SPANDEX party last June. We loudly booed her for that (which, she actually prefers an audience to do rather than applause).
Honestly, we didn’t expect much of the show (obviously, we’re fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race as we do a weekly recap of each episode). Drag shows can be fun, but we’ve seen them to death. However, the “Battle of the Seasons” last night was silly and fun.
The hundreds of straight fans (and yes, there were straight men…and even straight couples on dates making out) cheering with the hundreds of gay fans was a bit touching. There were even dozens of audience members in drag themselves (actual drag queens like Heidi Glüm, as well as amatuer queens, and straight women with drag make-up and wigs). In a mainstream venue like the 9:30 Club, the show actually made drag feel like a transgressive act once more, while impressing that it was also now a part of the mainstream American culture. Yes, we found RuPaul’s Drag Race “Battle of the Seasons” touching. We were surprised at that. But as we were about to get a bit too emotional, an audience member leaned over and whispered “Eh, it’s great, but it could have used more anal.” Yes, yes. Couldn’t we all?
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 premiers on LOGO on Monday, February 24.
To find out more about DC’s queer nightlife scene, follow the @BYGays on Twitter.
Photos from the pre-show Meet and Greet