‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 14 finale recap: Long may she reign

At long last, we’ve reached the end of the season

Four months, 16 episodes and a lot of non-eliminations later, RuPaul’s Drag Race has finally crowned its 14th champion. And what a ride it’s been to get here! Love or hate this elongated season—I’m ultimately landing on “love, but with caveats”it’s been a journey that we’ve all taken together. And that journey has taken us to … Las Vegas.

Yes, for the first time in Drag Race herstory (but I’m betting not the last!), the grand finale was filmed in the Flamingo Las Vegas, home to RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! I’m impressed that the live show has returned post-COVID—it had just gotten off the ground before the pandemic, as chronicled in RuPaul’s Drag Race Vegas Revue—but now the show is fully committed to promoting it. We even get a performance from the show’s current cast during this finale!

But the Vegas show is off for now, as we’ve got a winner to crown. Owing to Ru’s season-long aversion to eliminations, we’re still at a top five for this finale, necessitating a format change. I had hoped we’d see original, self-directed performances à la the Season 12 finale, but instead we get a hybrid of sorts between the Season 7 and 8 finale format and the Lip Sync for the Crown. Each queen gets a one-minute original number to perform, and the group is then cut down from five to two queens. Those two then lip sync for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.

This format is … not great! I appreciate the show not just lazily turning out another LSFTC tournament, particularly since we already had a lip sync tournament earlier this season with the LaLaPaRuZa. But the songs are, by and large, mediocre, and the performances leave a bit to be desired. After the show’s surprise licensing of existing songs for the talent show challenges at the start of the season, one might’ve hoped they’d allow the queens to pick others’ songs and perform them. Unfortunately, we get this instead, and it makes for a somewhat underwhelming finale.

Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté wins Miss Congeniality, as voted on by her Season 14 sisters.

Credit: Courtesy VH1

We start with Angeria Paris VanMicheals, who gives us a sense of what this format will look like in practice: a pre-taped hype video package for the queen, their performance and then a short interview with Ru. Angeria’s video is terrific—really demonstrating her comedic chops—and she’s very sweet in her interview with Ru. Unfortunately, she has by far the worst song of the lot: an ode to track records that feels completely inappropriate for Angeria. The self-declared park-and-bark queen gets an up-tempo number about stats in a competition? This isn’t the Angeria I know!

 

Bosco and Daya Betty both go with slower songs—“Devil” and “Fighter,” respectively—and while they’re visually cool, the songs just aren’t that of a future Drag Race champion. I also get the sense in both of their interviews that while Ru does really like them, his eye is not on them as potential winners. Ru even teases Daya about the Crystal Methyd connections shortly after Daya is shown in her video package throwing a picture of Crystal in the fountain behind her. I could see both queens doing well in an All Stars season one day, but it’s remarkable how much they feel like also-rans considering they were two of the biggest characters this season.

Lady Camden’s number is where this finale finally shifts gears. She gets a Queen-inspired number called “I Fell Down (And I Got Up),” which literally features the repeated lyric “I won!” That’s some manifestation energy right there! She’s self-assured and strong throughout the performance, and it cements her as the best lip-syncer of this lot. Camden also gets a cute segment during her Ru interview with her mom and drag mom, who are both in attendance and highly supportive of their daughter.

Finally, we have Willow Pill, who is coming into this finale with massive fan support. That’s not always the marker of who’s going to win—Jaida Essence Hall didn’t have the most likes or retweets before her finale—but it’s certainly clear from the applause in the room that Willow is a fave. Her “I Hate People” number is the best song of the set, both boppy and funny. It reminds me of something Lily Allen might perform. Willow’s actual performance isn’t my favourite, but she does a fun reveal of other mannequin heads, and the audience goes wild. Her interview with Ru is also the best by far, and as we’ve seen in other seasons, being able to banter with Mother is a major plus in your column if you want to win.

Season 13 winner and Miss Congeniality Symone and LaLa Ri reunite on the Flamingo Las Vegas stage.

Credit: Courtesy VH1

Indeed, when it comes time to announce the top two—via giant slot reels—it’s Camden and Willow. That makes complete sense relative to what we saw of the performances, and they’re also the two who have felt like the frontrunners for the back half of this competition. Yes, Willow only had one maxi-challenge win, and yes, queens like Bosco and Daya got a lot of screen-time. But in terms of fan support, overall narrative arc and simply who Ru seemed to vibe with the best, these two were out in front coming into this finale. And one of them is about to become America’s Next Drag Superstar.

Before that, though, we get the return of the reigning queen: Symone! She’s clad in the most impressive blue jeans you’ve ever seen, and generally looks like a goddamn superstar. She lists off just a few of the highlights of her absolutely excellent reign—“I got to attend the Met Gala, meet Queen Madonna, and I got interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! by RuPaul!”—before introducing her Season 13 sister and Miss Congeniality, LaLa Ri (looking gorgeous) to announce this year’s Miss C.

It’s worth noting that Symone … just fully hosts the show for this part. Ru is nowhere to be seen; unlike in previous seasons, where Ru would banter with Violet Chachki, or Sasha Velour or Aquaria, etc. Symone is the show during this segment, and it almost feels like an audition for her. I don’t think Mama Ru is anywhere near retirement, but considering his clear love for Symone, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s eventually tapped to take over the empire. And judging by how she does here, Symone would be a natural, excellent successor.

LaLa announces that Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté has won this season’s Miss Congeniality prize, as voted on by the queens. She is visibly shocked by this—​“What the fuck is wrong with y’all?” she asks of her cast—and paraphrases Jasmine Kennedie’s entrance line for her acceptance. It’s a very cute moment, made even cuter when Miss C sponsor Olay gives all the queens an extra $2,000. That’s right, pay the dolls!

Willow Pill accepts the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, becoming the flagship series’ 14th champion.

Credit: Courtesy VH1

That’s not the only financial boost in this finale, though: Cash App is boosting the grand prize to $150,000, plus awarding the runner-up $50,000. Camden and Willow look delighted by this, and it gives them an extra boost going into the final lip sync to Cher’s cover of ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).” The lip sync starts slow, and both queens are clearly disguising reveals. But as it ramps up and both reveal into dancewear, it gets pretty great! You could see either one winning based on this.

But in the end, it’s Willow Pill who takes the crown. And deservedly so, I say! I personally was pulling for Camden, but Willow had the key trifecta of a strong narrative, Ru’s favour and the most audience support. She feels as close to a consensus victor as we can get after this season, and she makes for a fitting new member of the winners’ circle. She immediately demonstrates what a cool, hilarious reigning queen she’ll be by thanking Kornbread’s ankle for her victory. Condragulations to America’s Next Drag Superstar, Willow Pill!

All in all, Season 14 has been a remarkable installment of the franchise. At its worst, it was memorable, with one of the best casts the show has ever assembled. At best, it was thrilling TV that often took us by surprise. That’s kind of all you can hope for, right? RuPaul’s Drag Race’s 14th season was damn good drag. And for all the complaints about length—and I do think the show needs to figure out a new structure for 16 episodes next season—it was a good time. I am fully ready to move on, though, I must admit.

If you’re already jonesing for more Drag Race, why not check out the excellent second season of Drag Race España? And before you know it, All Stars will be back on streaming in May. The Drag Race engine never truly comes to a halt—it just shifts course. And despite everything, I’m still loving the ride.

Untucking our final thoughts

There are an absolutely uncanny number of comparisons between Season 11 and Season 14’s top two. The winner was a member of Yvie Oddly’s drag family—Yvie then, Willow now—who earned one maxi-challenge win way back in her second competitive episode of the season. She defeated a foreign-born ballerina—Camden in her case; Brooke Lynn Hytes in Yvie’s—with a home base in the U.S. who took home three challenge wins. Herstory sometimes repeats, huh?

During one transition, the show plays the absolutely horrendous slowed-down version of “Super Queen” from the All Stars 4 finale. My grudge against that song continues unabated!

My personal MVP of the episode is the random fan in Camden’s video package who says, apropos of nothing, “I hope she kicks Daya Betty’s ass!”

Among the RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! queens who return to perform “Losing Is the New Winning” is Season 12’s champion and upcoming All Stars 7 queen Jaida Essence Hall. She, as always, looks absolutely stunning. And it’s great that she gets a chance to appear, since her own finale was digital (albeit great), and her return to crown Symone last season was not in front of a live studio audience.

Most of the first act of the finale is camp. Ru descending on a fan of chocolate bars? Camp. Him saying “It’s chocolate”? Camp. Michelle Visage storming in to the sound of sirens and “I’m That Bitch,” dancing with the Pit Crew and interrupting Ru to give him the key to Las Vegas and declare April 22—otherwise known as Earth Day—to be RuPaul Day in Vegas? Deeply camp.

Among the best looks in the introductory runway: Kornbread doing a stunning Beauty and the Beast mashup look; Angeria wearing all the feathers she could find and Kerri Colby making herself the trans Thanos, as befitting how the fandom has named her. (Though I admittedly liked Kerri’s look more with the cape on the red carpet.)

RUPAUL: “How are you doing?” 

WILLOW: “Um, I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“I love H&M, by the way.” He may love it, but Ru sure doesn’t want to see it!

Thank you all so much for joining us on this delightful-yet-seemingly unending ride that was Season 14! I’m going to take the next few weeks to rest and recharge, but will be back to recap my 15th(!) season of Drag Race with Xtra for All Stars 7. Suffice it to say that fandom enthusiasm for this all-winners edition is sky-high; here’s hoping the show keeps All Stars 6’s momentum going and really does produce one of the best seasons ever.

The first two episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 7 will stream Friday, May 20, at 3 a.m. EST on Paramount+ in the U.S. We’ll be publishing recaps and power rankings all season long, starting with our first two recaps on premiere night. In the meantime, subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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TV & Film, Culture, Drag Race, Analysis, Drag

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