Atlanta's fiercest drag competition, Dragnificent, is back for another cycle and the competition is stronger than ever.
This cycle, our host is Celeste Holmes, and the proceedings are judged by Edie Cheezburger, Stasha Sanchez, and Phoenix (the creator of the event). Tonight, Edie’s a brunette in purple; Stasha, in a purple wig, blank tank, and a plaid sash, is “straight up Azaelia Banks” as someone next to me remarked; and Phoenix looks great in a shimmering sequin dress with braids.The theme for the evening is Broadway, and the queens picked numbers from all walks and types of shows, with various degrees of success.
Scarlet Vixen kicked the show off with “He Had it Coming,” an ensemble number from Chicago. While the subject matter (retribution, justice, salacious tabloid murder) was ripe for a drag makeover, Vixen’s choice to go it alone (with a male backup as the hapless stooge) hampered the performance a bit. Still, it was one of the better numbers on the night.
Next was Brigitte Bidet, bedecked in black New Orleans satin and blonde curls, performing a raucous, jazzy number from Victor/Victoria with a stellar backing troupe (Nicholas Goody, Corian Ellisor, Michael Robinson). The crowd ate it up (as evidenced by Brigitte’s win at the end of the night), but two of the judges seemed a little flummoxed that the backups were wearing coordinated outfits, which was a strange critique, especially since the concept was Broadway, and that’s pretty classic Broadway. Check out a video here.
Delerea Dae followed in a Waldo striped red top and bell bottoms, performing “You’re the Top” from Anything Goes. Of course, I’ll leave the entendre there. It was a bit short, but well enjoyed.
Beatrix Kiddo came after with a Grease number with an ensemble, but the judges reacted unfavorably (with one suggesting Beatrix looked “femininely challenged”) and the backups might have outshadowed the performance. These are as good of reasons as I can guess why Beatrix exited the competition at the end of the night.
Next up: Chelsea Daggers, as a cleaning lady, performing “It’s The Hard Knock Life.” Here again, another ensemble performance that suffered as a solo number. She had a great costume change, into a floral print dress, for the segue into “Tomorrow,” and the crowd particularly loved it. Celeste quipped following a mixed judge critique, we were “expecting orphan Annie red but we got East Atlanta shit brown.”
Biqtch Puddin’ (with guest Evah Destruction) put on a wonderful show with a number from Legally Blonde, wearing acid wash jeans and a great wig, complete with a back-up blocking robe transition.
After that, we had Mychelle LaCroix Dupree with a song from Funny Girl; expertly synced, she had one of the better performances on the night. Besides, if we’re talking Broadway, I’m glad at least one contestant showed up with Barbara.
Chyna White followed with an “I hate men!” sort of number, but I have to apologize that I lost track a little here. The judges critiques were mostly favorable.
In Riding Hood Red fishnets and cape, Mo'Dest Volgare is back in the competition for the third year in a row. She performed one of the most provocative numbers on the night in a song from Into the Woods, as she got plowed by a backup in an impressive, hand-made wolf mask before strewing flower petals all over the front of the stage. Some of the judges were taken aback by her decision to sex up the performance, but who are we kidding here? This is the time and place.
Taylor Van Pelt finished the evening with an Ariel and Ursula number from The Little Mermaid; the costuming here was excellent, but Taylor put her back to the crowd one too many times, and the syncing seemed off. Still, it was an exciting number to close on.
So what impression was I left with, entertainment and alcohol aside? What sort of enterprise do we have on our hands here? While the $1,000 prize is certainly quite a coup for the queen who pulls out the show, how does it represent the Atlanta drag scene?
I should note my disappointment that, despite tryouts from POC queens such as Dynasty St. James, this cycle features a nearly all-white set of queens. And for full disclosure, I should also mention that I came in with the expectation of rude and negative critiques from one of the judges, based on discussions I had with previous attendees; while I couldn’t catch much of this particular judge’s thoughts on many contestants as a result of a poor mic and/or an inability to speak up, what I did hear did not seem so bad.
Do these judges have any responsibility to the way they carry out their critiques? I can’t speak to that. An honest dialogue doesn’t require the nails to be clipped, after all. But critique does require a more varied representation of perspectives; comedy queens shouldn’t be blasted by an all-pageant panel, especially if this is their first time performing. In opinion and in performance, Dragnificent could stand a little more diversity.
But these are minor shortcomings for a great night of drag, one casting a spotlight on upcoming and established queens alike. And these reservations on the judging format are outweighed by giving the vote over to the audience, who were vocal and participatory throughout the night.
Catch the contestants compete every Tuesday night at Jungle.