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Monday, April 25, 2016

RuPaul's Battle of the Season Pit Stops in San Francisco

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 8:34 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO: ZACK RUSKIN
  • Photo: Zack Ruskin

This wasn’t supposed to be about Prince.

On Thursday night, people of all shapes and sizes crowded into San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom, united by their fandom for the television phenomenon known as RuPaul’s Drag Race. Eight seasons on, the show is an elimination contest to crown “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” hosted by RuPaul, an iconic trailblazer of the art form. Over the years, many queens have become fan favorites, thus the touring production known as “Battle of the Seasons,” which this year featured Adore Delano, Courtney Act, Alaska Thunderfuck, Phi Phi O’Hara, Ginger Minj, Miss Fame, Violet Chachki, and regular judge-slash-RuPaul bestie Michelle Visage.

That the evening unfolded on a day when the world was deep in mourning over the news of Prince’s untimely passing could have been disastrous. After all, there is certainly overlap in fans of the drag community and the work of His Purpleness. A campy but enjoyable opening number featuring the entire cast kicked off the evening, but it was what followed that truly left an impact.

click to enlarge Adore Delano performs "Purple Rain" - PHOTO: ZACK RUSKIN
  • Photo: Zack Ruskin
  • Adore Delano performs "Purple Rain"
Adore Delano, who once also competed on American Idol, was the first queen to offer a solo performance, and she took the opportunity to perform a rousing and cathartic rendition of “Purple Rain.” With City Hall bathed in purple light several blocks away, it was a gift to be able to hear one of Prince’s most seminal songs the way it is meant to be heard: live, in a mass of sweaty body. While Adore’s tribute would be the only reference to Prince during the evening, it set scene and did the work of letting everyone press pause on their grief to take in the night’s spectacles.

Over the course of two hours, each queen on the bill had a chance to go solo. Some cuts, like Ginger Minj’s lip-sync of Adele’s “Hello” — Ginger parodied the singer to perfection during her season on Drag Race — were immediate highlights. As the song progressed, Ginger’s phone would incessantly ring, and each time she answered a new song would cut in, from Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” to Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”

Other numbers fell flatter. Miss Fame, who many could guess from her Season 7 run has the looks but not the performance, felt like an add-on to replace a more notable queen who backed-out at the last minute. In one segment, she spent an inordinate amount of time sketching a self-portrait while hot jazz played through the P.A., a handful of minutes the crowd would likely love to have back … not that they deserved it.

San Francisco is a drag mecca, a city that has long been ahead of the curve in terms of the culture and opportunities available to bewigged hopefuls. We have regular programming from all-stars like Peaches Christ and Heklina, and other notable queens often visit for special engagements. So why was it then that so many in the crowd on Thursday night acted like they were in the overflow room of a generic club for the duration of the evening? There were moments were it felt like slow ticket sales had forced the "Battle of the Seasons" promoters to offer Google engineers a group rate, so tepid and uninterested-seeming was the crowd’s engagement.

click to enlarge Courtney Act shows off her angel wings. - PHOTO: ZACK RUSKIN
  • Photo: Zack Ruskin
  • Courtney Act shows off her angel wings.

One of the great parts of seeing drag is the inclusive nature of the community. All are welcome, and none are turned away. Still, there is an unspoken expectation that everyone in attendance actually wants to be there, and on Thursday night, it felt as though that pact was not being honored.

Not all was lost however. Michelle Visage was an unexpected highlight. Known to many as a harsh judge on Drag Race who pulls no punches in reading queens to filth on the regular, she was convivial, energetic, and gracious. She also sang with gusto, most notably during one of the night’s final numbers, an ensemble tribute to the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watching Courtney Act as the naïve Janet Weiss, and Alaska Thunderfuck slay the challenge of taking up the mantle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter was a joy to behold. If not every moment worked, many were truly fantastic, an impressive production that highlighted just how many talents there are in the field.

As Season 8 approaches the finish line, there will soon be a new crop of beloved queens to join their ranks. Standouts like Kim Chi, Naomi Smalls, Thorgy Thor, and Bob the Drag Queen will all be on the wishlist for the next installment of the "Battle of the Seasons." Let’s just hope next time there isn’t a new angel for Adore to salute. Too many have already sashayed away.

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About The Author

Zack Ruskin

Zack Ruskin

Zack was born in San Francisco and never found a reason to leave. He has written for Consequence of Sound, The Believer, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is still in search of a Bort license plate.

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