How much you enjoy this week’s episode of Canada’s Drag Race comes down to how much you can buy into the emotion of it all. For this season’s makeover challenge, the queens are reunited with loved ones—mothers, partners, even a best friend—and asked to dress them up for a “A Star Is Born” runway category. Looks must be made from scratch for their partners, while the queens can wear existing garments to become “plus-ones” for their newly dragged-out loved ones.
The reason I bring up buying into the emotion is because, to be blunt, this is not an unexpected challenge. The exact specifics of the makeover request may be different, but we’ve seen loved ones in plenty of makeovers before. All Stars 2 had a notable one; UK Season 1 featured one as well. It’s a reliable challenge type because it inherently wrings big feelings out of the queens, who are usually near the end of their season and are very excited to see familiar faces.
That might explain, then, why the queens’ reactions to their loved ones this time are so big. I mean, Nearah Nuff starts tearing up before she even knows what’s happening. One by one, each of the queens gets introduced to their loved one, and the waterworks begin in earnest. Each has an extended scene with their makeover partner during the introductions, with Melinda Verga’s (introducing her partner, Scott, whom we know was just recovering from a mini-stroke) drawing some tears out of me, too.
It’s actually a bit overwhelming, to the point where I wish the show had introduced all the loved ones at once, gotten the emotion out in one big swing and then let us get to know the partners. This may sound like a quibble, but I do think the intensity of it all winds up leading to some underwhelming results in the challenge itself. Like Manila Luzon in All Stars 4 once upon a time, some of the queens seem to have lost focus at the worst possible time, though one queen comes into this challenge more galvanized than ever.
That queen is Denim, who still has no maxi-challenge win at the start of the week and is calling herself the “wild card” of the group. Denim tends to do well in look challenges, so she’s got a leg up here. Especially helpful for her, however, is that she’s got one hell of a champion in her mom, Cheryl. Throughout the episode, but especially when getting ready for the runway, Cheryl makes clear that not only is she a fierce advocate for her son both during his transition and beyond, she’s also ready to smash this challenge.
Things do look a bit rough, though, when Denim wants to spray paint velvet. (She names her mom “Velvet,” to pair with her being named after a fabric.) During the judges’ walkthrough, she is warded off that idea, but still incorporates the spray paint in a smart way. The end result is nothing short of marvelous, with the judges actually questioning if Velvet is Denim. The makeover is that good, and the outfits are stunning together. Honestly, this is one of the most dominant wins of the season, and I’m thrilled for Denim that she gets a confidence boost going into the finale.
The other queens do less well, and the show has to do a bit of a dance to try and sell the idea that Denim has any competition. Venus scores high for her look for her mother Joanne, and the newly dubbed Uranus (ha) does indeed look resplendent in gold. But the relationship between them, with Joanne as a golden award and Venus as the red carpet, is a bit vague. I definitely wouldn’t have realized it had Venus not introduced it as such beforehand. And while the cowl detail on the front of the dress is cool, there’s no real comparison between her and Denim’s looks on a design scale.
Both Denim and Venus advance to the finale, and they’ll be joined by two others, all of whom land lower scores this week. Aurora Matrix’s partner Trinity, her best friend whom she dubs “Supernova Matrix,” presents an interesting challenge for the current competition frontrunner. Trinity is naturally gorgeous—literally a model—and so there’s a fairly easy way to just dress her up and watch her go. And that’s basically what Aurora does, even whipping up a pretty simple purple dress to wear. But this is, of course, a trap: Aurora’s makeup on her partner is not nearly draggy enough, and the two look far more like twins than a star and a plus-one.
Not considering track record, I likely would’ve put Aurora in the bottom two alongside Nearah. Nearah is the prime example I’m referring to when I say some of the queens seem distracted by having their loved ones there. (A fair distraction: as Nearah and nearly everyone else notes in this episode, her fiancé Jakob is hot.) The dress she puts together for “Buffy Nuff” is unflattering, unfinished and completely the wrong design for this challenge. When Brooke Lynn Hytes notes that Nearah missed an opportunity to play with Jakob’s silhouette with draggier proportions, it’s instantly obvious just how much this missed the mark.
I feel for Nearah in this episode, because it’s clear how much Jakob means to her. Hearing Jakob talk about how much he loves Nearah, and how he considers her his hero, is really touching. But this is why I have some issues with this challenge type: because Nearah can’t really see her partner anywhere close to objectively, she misses a major opportunity to do something interesting. She really falters at the last hurdle, and she’s going to have to rely on her lip syncing skills to save her once again.
But she can take some comfort that her opponent won’t be Aurora, who gets a pass from the judges and is waved through to the finale. Instead, it’s Melinda, who gets knocked for her runway presentation not being easily understandable. Honestly, I don’t get this: the story doesn’t really matter, but I will say that Melinda’s look for Scott (aka Conchita Verga) is pretty basic. And, of course, as anyone could have expected, their mugs are both not up to par. But I do think Melinda looks the best she has this whole competition, and she does more drag on Scott than Aurora does on Trinity. Based both on this week and how much I want her to be in the finale, I’d have called Melinda safe instead of Aurora. (That said, based on track record, I can’t make the same argument.)
The lip sync is to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance,” off her eternal album E•MO•TION. Both queens pull out all the stops, but Nearah’s raw skill as a lip sync artist really comes through here. While it’s fun to watch Melinda pull out all sorts of stunts, Nearah’s sheer connection to the song makes her a far more compelling performer—even in a dress that slightly hampers her movement. Moreover, she’s a cunning one: when Melinda prepares for a split, she goes into one at the same time, robbing Melinda of a major moment. (We call that the Joslyn Fox.)
Nearah joins her fellow Love Bugs in the finale, while Melinda must sashay away. The episode starts with the queens admitting that, when Melinda walked in with her rainbow jumpsuit, they had her pegged as a first-out. But through force of personality, charm and sheer will, Melinda has made it just shy of the finale. Her looks never quite got to where they needed to be on the runway, but Melinda was so magnetic in the challenges that you couldn’t be bothered to care. Her Snatch Game win is up there with Denim’s this week in terms of most deserving challenge wins of the season.
More than that, Melinda has become the breakout star of the season. She has brought a whole new audience to Canada’s Drag Race, and I have to imagine she’ll have plenty of people clamoring for her to return to Drag Race soon. She may not have made the finale—and honestly, the finale will be just a bit less interesting because of her absence—but she’s a superstar nonetheless.
And with that, we have an all-Love Bug final four! They’re the most successful Drag Race alliance since Rolaskatox, and one of them is about to become Canada’s Next Drag Superstar. Who will it be? The smart money is on Aurora or Venus, but which one it will be—that’s a question for the power rankings.
Untucking our final thoughts
✨ In one of the most genuinely touching moments of the episode, Trinity brings Aurora a letter from her parents. Apparently their relationship has previously been difficult, and the letter seems to be a major step forward for them. In an episode with a lot of overwhelmingly emotional moments, the kind of quiet force of this letter stands out.
✨ “There could be 69 people in a room, and 68 don’t believe in you …” Okay, Ru, giving us a 2018 reference in 2024!
✨ My pick for best reaction to a family member from a queen comes from Melinda, who, through tears, asks Scott, “Who’s looking after the dog?”
✨ Very fun to have the loved ones participate in the mini-challenge, too! They have to paint and dress the queens in quick drag (incredible concept), with the queen then modeling for a headshot and not seeing their mug until after. Trinity definitely wins best mug for Aurora, but thanks to Melinda’s personality in the shoot, she and Scott take the win.
✨ It’s a great idea to give the loved ones confessionals—if anything, I wish we’d get more! Jakob saying Nearah was not into his personality while flexing is hilarious.
✨ Sarain Fox is back! The recurring CDR guest judge has become a beloved fixture for fans (she and Hollywood Jade feel as integral as our regular judges at this point), and she makes good on her reputation by offering up warmth, positivity and honest critique in equal measure. I really wouldn’t mind if she got added to the rotation of judges with Brad Goreski and Traci Melchor.
✨ There’s a nice moment with Sarain and Venus in the werk room in which the two connect over the pressure to represent their community, with Venus noting she’s the Indigenous queen who’s made it farthest in her season of CDR so far. It is notable that, for how diverse the Canada’s winners’ circle is, there hasn’t been an Indigenous champion yet. Perhaps Venus will be the first?
✨ Not sure why the loved ones have to leave before Mini-Untucked. That’s not the typical structure in these episodes, and without the Golden Beaver to debate over, the segment is light on content. We could’ve used more time with their partners!
✨ Denim’s prize for winning is a cool $5,000 for herself, but also a $5,000 donation in her name to PFLAG Canada from Neutrogena. A very nice touch, and I like that CDR continues to include this kind of charitable prize for the makeovers.
✨ If you’re reading this on Friday, get excited: a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race is about to begin! We’ll have coverage of Season 16 going up early next week—recaps and rankings of the US series are published the weekend after each episode airs. If you never want to miss a post, I recommend subscribing to Wig!, our weekly drag newsletter. That way, you’ll have all our recaps and rankings in your inbox every Tuesday, plus a little extra essay from me. And that includes the recap and ranking for next week’s Canada’s Drag Race finale! It’s hard to believe this season is already coming to an end; it’s been such a fun one.
The finale of Canada’s Drag Race will be available to stream on Thursday, Jan. 11 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.