Now, I’ve got to be honest, when I saw a couple of months ago on Facebook all the hype over the Drag Race franchise creating a UK version of the show, I was more than a little sceptical. The US show is high budget glitz and glamour, full of sponsored prizes and has, in the past, featured well known American A-List guest judges such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.
To my mind, the glossy aesthetic of the original US Drag Race seemed as though it would be undoubtedly misplaced amidst the sheer simplicity of Gogglebox and Bake Off’s homeliness. Could British humour even work on such an American format?
At least, that was my concern until the first contestant walked through the door in the premiere episode.
‘I’m Baga Chipz MBE. I love gin and tonic and Coronation Street’.
Well, I was hooked. Never has Drag Race US featured a queen quite like this – she’s glamorous, full of character yet her ‘pub queen’ style of drag contrasts so dramatically with the more edgy and polished looks on the US version. She claims one of her greatest strengths to be her Deirdre Barlow impression – I’ve never looked forward to the impersonation challenges more.
And the rest of the cast certainly didn’t disappoint – Essex queen Cheryl Hole describes herself as the ‘Gemma Collins of Drag’ whilst The Vivienne explains ‘My style is like a Scouse wife who has come into money, she moved to L.A. and blew it all and then she’s had to move back to Liverpool’.
There were many highlights in the first episode – There was the uncanny Kim Woodburn impression which required some explanation for bewildered Californian host RuPaul. The ‘TV Gold’ moment when judge Michelle Visage praised a contestant’s prosthetic nose – which turned out, in fact, to be her real nose. And, my personal favourite, contestant Sum Ting Wong’s first class stamp costume when challenged to recreate one of Queen Elizabeth II’s iconic looks.
Yes, the UK version is clearly on a much tighter budget than the US original. Pieces of Sellotape can be seen hanging from some of the costumes, some of the wigs are more than a little unconvincing and the $100,000 cash prize is noticeably lacking.
Yet, I disagree with the critics who have poured scorn on the low budget. I’d much rather watch a queen attempt to serve ‘London Realness’ by safety-pinning a cardboard cutout of the River Thames to her dress (which she has coloured in by hand with felt-tip) than watch yet another queen walking the runway in the same-old, uninspiring, diamante jewelled dress.
And I think this what makes the UK version such a success. Yes, the studio is a carbon copy of the US original, but the queens’ British style of drag, blended with British cultural references, is what makes this UK version works so well.
As host RuPaul himself would say, ‘Drag Race UK – Shantay, you stay!’
(Featured Image from The Standard BBC/Leigh Kelly. Link to original article can be found here)