‘Canada’s Drag Race’ Season 4, Episode 6 recap: Syncing up

The queens of the north face off in this franchise’s first lip sync battle royale

Until now, I would argue that Drag Race has failed to find an actually effective format for an all-lip sync episode. The various LaLaPaRuZa and other assorted editions have either rendered their elevated stakes irrelevant by not eliminating anyone (All Stars 4, Season 13) or were structured in a way that kept less impressive lip syncers performing over and over again (Season 14, Canada’s Drag Race’s Season 2 reunion). Season 15 probably got the closest among the regular seasons to cracking the code thanks to some strategic opponent selection on the queens’ part, but like in Season 14 before it, the show contorted itself to somehow justify sending home one of the best performers of the lot: Jasmine Kennedie in Season 14 and Jax in Season 15.

The actual best format we’ve seen was All Stars 6’s Lip Sync Rudemption Smackdown gauntlet, but it would be difficult to capture that lightning in a bottle again. Silky Nutmeg Ganache’s improbable, thrilling run made it a “can you believe this?” TV event, and the fact that it was a surprise meant the queens could only do so much to prepare. You know every queen walking into All Stars these days has all sorts of props and reveals ready to go in the event that the Smackdown returns one day.

So I tip my hat to Canada’s Drag Race Season 4 for figuring out a very smart, ambitious new format for their Lip Sync Slay-Off Extravaganza. Once again, Canada’s producers are proving themselves to be smart game designers, rethinking not what Drag Race is as a whole, but how to achieve the most interesting, dynamic results within the existing format. In this new format, we see the winners of the lip sync advance in the tournament, with one champion crowned at the end. And by making this a double elimination for the lip sync losers, there’s all the more reason for these queens to fight for their lives.

The result is a terrific episode of TV, one that features dynamite lip syncs, some clever strategy, continuations of existing story arcs and a double elimination that shockingly takes out a frontrunner. It is, in my view, the new gold standard for an all-lip sync episode of Drag Race, and the other franchises—particularly the American series—should take note.

 

Brooke Lynn Hytes announces the rules of Canada’s Drag Race’s first-ever episode-long lip sync tournament Credit: Courtesy Bell Media

Brooke Lynn Hytes kindly explains our format at the start of the challenge: the queens’ names will be drawn from a bowl, with each getting to choose one of four songs: “That Don’t Impress Me Much” by Shania Twain, “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” by Sam Smith, Jessie Reyez and Calvin Harris; “Uninvited” by Alanis Morisette; and “Fever Dreamer” by SG Lewis, Charlotte Day Wilson and Channel Tres. One by one, they will walk to the front of the stage and choose—although notably, the first four don’t all have to choose a different song. If a queen is already on one, and another queen also wants to perform it, they can also choose it, locking them into a battle with the queen already on that song. 

The pairs will then perform against each other, with all four losers immediately landing in the bottom. The winners then continue to battle in a tournament-style format until one is declared the winner. That winner will then, like any other week, earn the power of the Golden Beaver, and will be able to save one of the bottom four. The remaining three queens will then lip sync one more time, with one queen saving herself, and two going home.

Denim chooses first, and goes with “I’m Not Here to Make Friends.” She thinks it’s the best fit for her performance style. Melinda Verga goes with “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” while Venus, not wanting to strain herself immediately, goes with “Uninvited.” (AKA one of my favourite Alanis songs. Venus continues to be a queen.) That brings us to Aurora Matrix—who, I’ll remind you, has her Love Bugs alliance with her former girl group members, a tight duo deal with Denim within that, and just absolutely smashed her lip sync against Luna DuBois last week. So naturally, with a dance-heavy song still available to her (“Fever Dreamer,”) and with a chance to get all four Love Bugs on different songs for the first round, she’ll go with that, right? Right?

“I am friends with all of these girls, but … ‘I’m Not Here to Make Friends,’” Aurora says as she chooses to face off against Denim. I gotta say, I love Aurora for this. She’s not emerged as much of an independent player so far, instead working closely within her alliances. But like when she didn’t save The Girlfriend Experience in Episode 3, Aurora is putting the competition above her relationships. She knows she will smash the Sam Smith track, and doesn’t let dooming Denim to the bottom four stand in her way.

The other choices go about how you’d expect: Aimee Yonce Shennel takes the last open spot by picking “Fever Dreamer,” Nearah Nuff does the same to give us a rematch of the “Come Through” battle from two weeks ago, Kitten chooses “That Don’t Impress Me Much” because she loves Shania and Kiki Coe gets placed against Venus by default.

Dynamic graphics announce our various matchups, with Venus and Kiki Coe facing off to Alanis Morisette’s “Uninvited” Credit: Courtesy Bell Media

You can probably predict most of the first-round results. The Shania battle is pretty weak generally, but Melinda pulls out enough stunts to grab attention. Kitten, by contrast, seems hesitant, although she does eat the delivery on “Okay, so what do you think, you’re Elvis or something?” Melinda advances, as does Aurora after another dominant performance. I feel for Denim here, because she’s quite good in this battle! However, while both queens pull out flashy moves and stunts, Aurora also gives strong emotional interpretation and comedy. Denim gets sent to the bottom four for a much stronger performance than what Melinda wins for—but them’s the breaks in a challenge like this.

Nearah and Aimee’s rematch is actually a tighter battle than their double shantay was, with Aimee having much greater control over her performance. (Plus, you know, she’s not flipping Nearah off every few lines.) That said, Nearah is just such a watchable and dynamic performer. She wins, sending Aimee into the bottom for her second time. 

Venus and Kiki is a funny final matchup, considering they’re both drag relatives of Canada’s Drag Race Season 2 finalists (Kendall Gender and Icesis Couture, respectively). This is an intense lip sync, with the judges noting that Venus gives the Alanis song the rock star treatment, while Kiki goes more theatrical. I think that’s a bit generous to say of Kiki, who comes off almost a bit insincere in her emotional moments here. It feels like she’s performing them more than feeling them. Venus, on the other hand, just tears into it, and earns an easy pass into Round 2.

Before the second-round battles begin, the queens get a chance to change into new outfits! Venus is giving cheerleader, while the others are all in the kind of performance looks that you’d expect of a lip sync tournament. Melinda and Aurora both bring a ferocity to Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her,” with Melinda significantly improving from her Shania performance. This is probably the best single lip sync of the episode, with Melinda head-banging with the best of them, Aurora putting pedal to the metal and tearing up the stage and Melinda even pulling out a post-song final dip. It’s fun, and both smashed it, but Aurora’s confidence and pacing makes her the victor. Melinda gets her proper kudos from Brooke Lynn before she’s sent to safety.

Nearah Nuff celebrates one of her three lip sync victories in this episode, the last making her the maxi-challenge winner Credit: Courtesy Bell Media

Nearah vs. Venus is not quite as close a battle. The song is “Pull Up” by Keys N Krates and Haviah Mighty, and as Brooke Lynn notes, it’s a hard song. The matchup is interesting because they have similar approaches to the song, but Nearah’s fluidity really stands out. As Brooke Lynn notes in a particularly good critique, Nearah knows how to use moments of stillness to her advantage. Venus can pull out similar stunts, but Nearah has a level of command that wins the day.

Finally, Nearah and Aurora face off to Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet.” Drag Race fans know this song for giving us Jujubee’s best lip sync, meaning these two have big shoes to fill. Aimee calls this “The Battle of the Twirling Girls,” which is actually what makes the song choice so interesting. They theoretically can’t rely on their dancing abilities—the late Sahara Davenport proved once upon a time that twirls and splits are a bad fit for this ballad. That said, Nearah does lean into her dancing skills a bit more than I’d advise, going for her same level of fluidity on a song in which she should be anguished. Aurora taps into the emotion in a much stronger way, in my opinion, and I’d assume she’d be our winner. But no, the judges actually go with Nearah, giving the queen her first maxi-challenge win. Ultimately, they’re both great throughout this episode—I just think Aurora edged her out here.

Nearah must then decide which of the first round’s losers she’ll save with the Golden Beaver, and it is interesting to consider whether she’ll go for the jugular. If she saves Aimee—a truly wild possibility considering their relationship—she’ll force both challenge winners as well as Denim, who has done well all season long, into the lip sync. Considering her stated preference for eliminating competition, you might think Nearah capable of doing this! But at the end of the day, Nearah’s a smart player. She knows that not saving the Love Bug in danger would not only piss off Denim (dangerous if Denim wins the lip sync), but it would also likely break Aurora and Venus’ allegiance to her. Sticking with the alliance is the smarter play, so she saves Denim.

Aimee, Kiki and Kitten face off to Lara Fabian’s “I Will Love Again,” and this is basically over from the very start. Kiki’s got a command of the lyrics and performs far better than she did in the first round, while Aimee struggles with the words and Kitten once again feels hesitant in her performance style. Kiki stays, while we lose the other two in a double elimination. It’s sad to lose a big character like Aimee, but it’s particularly shocking to lose Kitten here. She’s been a real frontrunner this season, and the show actually under-edits how surprising her departure is. With her gone, it feels like a spot in the final four has opened up.

Who will take it? We’ve got a couple challenges to go before we find out, starting with next week’s Rusical. I’m interested to see who succeeds, but in the meantime, I’m happy just marinating in this episode. Canada’s Drag Race truly cracked the lip sync episode code, putting another feather in this season’s already quite impressive cap. If the show can land the plane in these next few episodes, I think we can safely call this the best CDR season yet.

Untucking our final thoughts

Melinda says in the cold open that there was no situation in last week’s episode in which she could not save Kiki and feel good about her decision. Nearah, naturally, calls this loyalty a “tacky thing.” Never change, Nearah.

Aurora challenges the other queens as to how they’ll do in the smackdown. “Who can emote? Who can shed a tear?” Kitten fires back: “I don’t know, Aurora. Who can tell a joke?” It’s a funny moment, but I also think it underlines some of Kitten’s frustrations in the competition. She’s good at a lot of the challenges Drag Race offers in a way that most of this cast is not (see: QV-She), and she wants to stick around to see them. Unfortunately, as bears out in her pitch to Nearah, her other strengths just make her more of a threat. Nearah is right to want her out while she has the chance.

Though this episode gets to the heart of the matter quickly, there is still some time for a mirror moment, as the queens discuss body image. Venus opens up about her previous fixation on being skinny, and her disordered eating that accompanied that. It’s something we’ve heard discussed on Drag Race before (remember Sasha Velour and Eureka!’s fight about it in Season 9?), but it’s a perennial topic in this world.

Model Winnie Harlow is our guest judge this week … and that’s funny, right? it’s a lip sync tournament, why do we have a guest judge? Granted, we do get some judging, but it’s all so positive that it’s largely not worth thinking about. Winnie seems to have fun, though! And wow, Venus really loses her mind over her being there. A fan!

Few things in this episode make me laugh harder than Melinda choosing the Shania Twain song because, as an Edmonton native, she wants to represent country music—only for it to be the dance pop remix of “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Maybe next time, Melinda.

Winnie jokes about wanting Nearah to teach her the splits. Nearah says, “I’ll teach you and Aimee at the same time!” A clever follow-up to her “Can you even do the splits?” taunt from two weeks ago.

I love that the final Lip Sync for the Win is framed as a chance to “prove you’re the Lip Sync Assassin of the season.” That term has become over- and misused thanks to All Stars, and thrown around too liberally on the show itself (remember when Ru called DeJa Skye a Lip Sync Assassin after one performance?), when it really should be something you have to battle to demonstrate. Nearah more than earns the title here, as would Aurora had she won the last match.

In one of the funniest attempts to get out of making a decision that I can remember seeing on reality television, Nearah asks if any of the bottom four want to fight for their spot. To no one’s surprise, none of them volunteer.

Do you guys think we’re heading to an all-Love Bugs final four? It’s certainly seeming more plausible, with Nearah (who I previously interpreted as the weakest of the crew) picking up a win and two non-Love Bugs going home together. I think Kiki’s going to run into trouble with the Rusical next week, which means it might be all on Melinda to break up the monopoly. If Aurora and Venus are looking like locks for the finale, she would need to beat Denim or Nearah—which I think is very plausible. We’ll have to see how these last two challenges shake out!

Can you believe we have just three weeks left of this season? I admire that Canada’s Drag Race doesn’t want to overstay its welcome, but I’m so sad to be two-thirds of the way done with this season already. I’d happily spend another three more weeks with them.

The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race will be available to stream on Thursday, Dec. 27, at 9 p.m. EST on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. You can subscribe to our drag newsletter, Wig!, for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

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