Metro Weekly

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 episode 8: The (other) Cher Musical

A Cher-inspired musical gave us one of Drag Race season ten's best episodes yet

Photo: VH1

It seems kind of crazy that we haven’t had a big Cher tribute on Drag Race yet (Chad Michaels throughout season four notwithstanding). RuPaul and co. are finally righting that wrong, however, with “Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical,” a live production making gentle fun of the ageless Queen of Pop’s storied and multiple award-winning career. It’s an even bigger travesty that it took until season ten, given just how much of a fan RuPaul is of Cher — something iterated countless times throughout this episode.

Things kicked off with a depressing reminder that season ten’s charisma queen, Monique Heart, sashayed away last week. We can’t help but wonder how she’d have fared as Cher, but oh well. The Vixen, faced with the realization that most of the other queens think she should go home, doubled down on her “fuck all of them” attitude, saying she had no reason to hold back any more. It seems we’ve had this same exchange for the last two weeks after she has been forced to lipsync for her life, but before there’s time to consider that we’re launched headfirst into another Vixen vs. Eureka O’Hara catfight.

Does anyone care about this any more? We’re kind of over this nonsense now. Eureka is loud, obnoxious, and over-the-top, but she brings it on the runway and in the challenges. Vixen seems to struggle with Eureka’s personality and success, and we as viewers are left with this constant back-and-forth as Vixen shows disdain for Eureka and Eureka seems appalled that someone couldn’t possible like her. Still, at least Vixen didn’t mince her words: “I just don’t like you. When you get asked who should go home, my least favorite person in the room is still you.” Damn.

On with this week’s mini-challenge, and it was easily the best this season, arguably one of the best ever. Inspired by Cher’s iconic slap in Moonstruck, RuPaul challenged the girls to deliver their best shady line, receiving an over-the-top fake slap in return, and turning out a scene-stealing reaction. There were some great lines, but nothing could touch Asia O’Hara, who didn’t quite get the “fake” part of the slap. “You hit like a girl, too bad you don’t look like one,” she told Mama Ru, who proceeded to actually slap her in the face.

This was one of Drag Race’s truly unscripted moments, as the other queens lost it, RuPaul looked genuinely horrified, and Asia fell about the workroom screaming “It’s about to be Asia O’Hara’s Drag Race! I’m about to own this whole building!” It was a show-stopping, laugh-out-loud moment, even though producers were likely scrambling behind the scenes to see if Asia had signed away her right to sue for physical assault. Asia won the challenge, and definitely not to appease her. Cough.

On with this week’s maxi-challenge, which was teased earlier by the one and only Chad Michaels, who delivered RuPaul’s video riddle in full Cher get-up. It seemed odd to not then have Chad appear in person — if VH1 couldn’t book the real Cher, surely the best impersonator out there could have offered some great tips for the queens?

As for the challenge itself, the seven remaining queens would each be assigned a different Cher — ’60s Cher (Kameron Michaels), two ’70s Variety Show Chers (Monét X Change and The Vixen), Disco Cher (Aquaria), Movie Star Cher (Asia), Rock Cher (Eureka), and Comeback ’90s Cher (Miz Cracker). They would then sing live on the main stage as they performed Cher: The Rusical, following the icon’s story from her Sonny and Cher days through to the “Believe” era.

The workroom preparation led to one of the funniest observations this season from Cracker, who watched the other queens miming, singing, trying out their Cher-isms, and generally trying to get ready for their rehearsal. “It sounds like an insane asylum in here,” she quipped, as the camera cut around the room, before adding, “American Horror Story: Cher Edition.” (If FX is reading this, we’d totally watch that.)

RuPaul then entered the room to dispense advice to the various queens. This was a surprisingly involved segment from RuPaul, a self-confessed Cher megafan. She clearly adores Cher, knows her catalogue well, and isn’t afraid to make fun of her, and that led to some genuinely useful critiques, such as coaching the queens to nail the voice, the mannerisms, and to consider the optics of their portrayals.

It was also nice to pull back the curtain and see RuPaul get genuinely enthusiastic about something for once. And while speaking to Monét, we had a glimpse at Ru’s attitudes towards the queens on Drag Race. After Monét said she trained in opera, but as a bass and thus couldn’t really apply it to Cher, RuPaul retorted, “I just don’t understand you kids today. It feels like when you come to the competition, you compartmentalize your talent. Whatever you excel at, fucking apply it to everything!” You tell them Ru.

It was then on to the main stage to rehearse with Toddrick Hall, who proceeded to take zero shit from the queens. Toddrick is notoriously honest, cutting through the crap and the excuses and basically telling the queens to get their shit together. There was editing foreshadowing galore — Kameron seemed to really struggle, Miz Cracker was given a lot to do, and Vixen had zero Cher in her impersonation — but it was Eureka who really came across horribly. Refusing to even sing her lyrics, she exemplified everything Vixen has been complaining about.

In drag, Eureka is one of the most accomplished queens this season, and clearly is using her season nine experience to her advantage. Out of drag? She’s obnoxious, overbearing, and often quite whiny. Despite Toddrick repeatedly telling her that everyone else had to sing during rehearsal, she refused, then tried to justify it by recounting a traumatic story from her childhood. We’re not minimizing Eureka’s experience, but many of the queens this season have had to work through issues — they all sang their lines, regardless of how dreadful they sounded.

Back in the workroom, we had another emotional reveal, this time from Miz Cracker, who detailed her extremely poor upbringing. We’ve had queens complain about money issues before, but Cracker’s story really seems like one of the most extreme examples. Denied access to most pop culture and forced to make their own toys, Cracker’s family also had to buy “the shiners” — cans from the grocery store whose labels had fallen off. “It could be any fucking thing,” she said, “and you’re like, we’re gonna find out today if dinner is food or dinner is a condiment.” In another heartbreaking revelation, Cracker noted that she and her sister would go to school with empty lunchboxes (prompting a horrified “What?” from Asia). The reason? They were too poor to always fill them, but her mother didn’t want her children to look different to the other kids. Still, Cracker noted that her upbringing was part of what inspired her creativity, ending an otherwise bleak tale on a positive note.

We also had another insightful moment when Asia took Vixen aside to talk about, as Asia put it, her “Angry Black Woman Syndrome.” We’ve said it before, but the fact that there are more queens of color on this season has led to some truly great moments of discussion around diversity and tensions in the drag world. Asia asked Vixen if Eureka was in some way a representation of the privilege Vixen has been fighting against as an African-American queen in Chicago, and as such was directing her anger at having to take a back seat to someone of greater privilege at Eureka. It was an astute observation, one Vixen seemed to prove when she accused Eureka of “sliding through” the competition. Eureka may be annoying and talk far too much, but she’s hardly coasted her way to episode eight — Vixen’s anger is seriously clouding her own judgement, and distracting her from the competition.

On with the main challenge, and it was… good? Okay, this was nowhere near as iconic as something like Shade: The Rusical from season six, but it wasn’t offensively bad, either. There were some great lyrics making fun of Cher, her lengthy career, her ageless appearance, and her lengthy and varied career. Let’s break down the queens:

Kameron Michaels — Kameron was the biggest surprise of this episode. After coasting near the middle or top of the pack, she stepped out as ’60s Cher and owned the stage. Decked out as Sonny-era Cher, Kameron’s make-up, mannerisms, and performance were a delight, and her singing was pretty good too, even after the editing suggested she may struggle. If there was ever a time for Kameron to step into the spotlight, this was it — particularly given she opened the show — and she set the bar impossibly high.

Monét X Change — Monét nailed her ’70s variety Cher. Brilliantly tackling issues of cultural appropriation in both the lyrics and costuming — “My daddy’s people were Armenian/And I would dress up like an Indian” — Monét served the comedy and the singing, as well as the over-the-top mannerisms of her Carol Burnett-inspired take on Cher.

The Vixen — Oh dear. Taking inspiration from Cher when she performed with The Jackson 5 was a great idea, but Vixen failed to do anything with it. She performed the choreography well, but was rightfully read by the judges for having no Cher in the performance whatsoever. It was Vixen in a costume.

Aquaria — Only two years old when Cher mounted her “Believe” comeback, Aquaria was tasked with Disco Cher. Though she had an inspired Cher moment, casting off her overbearing cape and shouting “God I gotta stop wearing all this cheap crap,” much like Vixen Aquaria struggled to really give Cher in her performance. Still, the costume change was added during rehearsal, because Toddrick liked Aquaria’s ad-lib so much, so she gets props for that.

Asia O’Hara — Another oh dear moment. Asia was “Snap out of it!” Moonstruck-era Cher, but she struggled to convey the character, struggled with the choreography, and then forgot her lyrics. That’s three for three on bad performing from Asia, and a sober reminder of her dreadful attempt at Beyoncé last week in Snatch Game.

Eureka — Eureka’s make-up and costume were on point as “Turn Back Time” Cher, but her live-singing worries meant that the first half of this performance was… meh. Still, she eventually got into the swing of things and busted out some comedy moments — even straddling a fake artillery gun inspired by Cher’s performance on the USS Missouri.

Miz Cracker — Serving “Believe” Cher complete with vocoder autotune, Miz Cracker had one of the trickier routines, but performed well. Though she didn’t look much like Cher, save for a platinum blonde wig and rounded eye make-up, she landed the jokes, including an inspired lyric, “And I know the gays will buy this!” — we did, we’ll continue to do so. While she wasn’t the strongest of the night, Cracker was a good closer to this bizarre yet fun Rusical.

The main runway theme was Glitterific, and we’d normally do tops and bottoms of the week, but really with the exception of Monét’s taped disaster, everyone was pretty much on point. Kameron was the most beautiful, Eureka the most dramatic, Cracker the most creative, but this was a strong runway.

Down to the critiques, and it was clear there was only one winner this week. Monét might have scraped her first win if she hadn’t turned out such a shoddy runway look, so it was Kameron who took the crown this time. It was a deserved win, as she truly rose to the challenge and exceeded all our expectations. Here’s hoping she doesn’t slide back to being safe next week. However, the judges seemed unfairly critical of Cracker’s number — the vocoder bit received a number of complaints, but that’s not exactly Cracker’s fault, and she delivered it well regardless.

Asia O’Hara and The Vixen — Photo: VH1

Less strong were Aquaria, Asia and Vixen. Aquaria slipped through to safe likely due to her prior performances and Catholic Saint-inspired runway look. Asia’s glittery clown runway was beautifully executed, but nothing could excuse her dreadful Cher — ditto Vixen and her handmade, cutout glitter gown. It seems bizarre that they didn’t lipsync to a Cher song — maybe VH1 didn’t want to pay for the rights — but rather Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart.” It was a fun, energetic battle, and Vixen danced around the stage, but Asia was the clear winner here. Her lipsync was polished, referenced her opponent, and threw in some comic touches to boot. And so, after her third lipsync, it was Vixen who ultimately sashayed away.

An emotional moment to camera showed a vulnerability that Vixen has lacked this season, but her fire, her politics, her willingness to discuss racial tension and privilege brought some much needed frank discussions to Drag Race. Vixen may not be a winner, but she was definitely memorable.

And that was episode seven. What did you think? Did you gag over any moments we missed? Will Cher ever appear as a judge on Drag Race? Let us know in the comments!

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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