‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16 finale recap: I hear it and I know

America’s Next Drag Superstar XVI is crowned!

“I can tell you how this ends: I’ll be in your head all weekend.”

Those are, of course, lyrics in Kylie Minogue’s “Padam Padam,” the final Lip Sync for the Crown song in the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 finale. But they also encapsulate the experience of watching a Drag Race finale, don’t they? No matter whether your favourite queen wins or loses, you’re in for a couple of days of discourse about the result. Over time, feelings will fade—outrage from a runner-up’s fans dissipates as the winner demonstrates why she’s America’s Next Drag Superstar—and we get distracted by All Stars, international seasons, or just other pop culture finding its way into our hearts.

But still, faintly, you can hear the pulse of the feelings you felt all season long that culminated in the finale. Padam, padam. You hear it, and you know: what feels like resolved business still has a lingering sting. Yeah, she turned out to be a great winner … but my fave should’ve won her first round of the Lip Sync for the Crown! Sure, she went on to win All Stars … but she deserved to win the first time! That’s the sticking power of this cultural phenomenon. There may be more Drag Race than ever, and it may be easy to move on to the next thing. But those previous passions still linger.

So what’s been in my head all weekend? Well, excitement for our winner, naturally. This top three of Nymphia Wind, Plane Jane and Sapphira Cristál is one of the strongest ever, and any one of them would make for a deserving champion. But of course, we all have our favourites—and as happy as one can be for the winner, it can be tough to rationalize why yours didn’t win it all. What more could she have done? What was lacking from her presentation this season?

The truth is that, as we know all too well, only one queen can be America’s Next Drag Superstar every year. (As we know from All Stars 4, the Drag Race Hall of Fame is comparatively a lawless place.) So while all three may deserve it, who will actually snatch the crown?

Plane Jane’s “Bodysuit” performance is valiant, but she was given the least impressive original song of the finalists Credit: Courtesy MTV

We’re sticking with the Seasons 14 and 15 format for the finale: solo numbers for each queen, narrowing to a final two for a Lip Sync for the Crown. I like that we’ve now seen this format with three different numbers of finalists (five, then four, now three), as it shows we can never guarantee how many queens will make it to the finale. I don’t love the original solo numbers—why not just let them pick real songs, like in the Season 12 finale?—but I imagine we’re stuck with them. And at least two of the three this year are quite good!

 

The odd one out is Plane’s “Bodysuit,” which, like Angeria Paris VanMicheals’ “Check My Track Record” before it, fixates on a particular element of a queen’s run on the show as the basis of a whole song. In this case, it’s that Plane wore a lot of bodysuits! Why not Plane’s shady streak, her dominant character trait from the season? Instead, we’re left with a repetitive chorus of the word “bodysuit,” and while Plane gives it her all, you can tell she only has so much to do with it.

Moreover, while Ru’s chat with Plane’s mom is super cute (she seems so fun!), the “video message” from Lazi Susan, aka Nick from RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, is just a scripted advertisement for the Las Vegas show. In general, it just feels like the show is counting out Plane from the start, so it’s not surprising when she’s ultimately eliminated before the final lip sync.

The good news for Plane: Cash App is feeling generous this season, and gave both non-winning finalists a $25,000 cash tip. Combined with the $2,000 that OLAY later gives all the queens during the Miss Congeniality presentation, as well as her winnings all season, she’s walking away with a cool $45,100—and a surefire invite for a future All Stars season. Not half bad, sister.

Malaysia Babydoll Foxx joins the cast of Season 16 to declare our two Miss Congeniality winners Credit: Courtesy MTV

That means our top two are Nymphia and Sapphira, and both more than live up to their finalist placement with their solo performances. Nymphia gives us full pop star power on “Queen of Wind,” complete with an elaborate costume reveal into an incredibly cute performance look. Her mom and best friend are in from Taiwan for the finale, and Mother Wind is a total sweetheart. You can tell Ru loves bantering with her.

Sapphira’s mom is also a hoot, and Ru builds good banter with her. They chat after Sapphira’s performance of “Dance!”, which has a cool-as-hell opera intro that transitions into a disco breakdown. Sapphira smashes the performance, as she has in nearly every performance challenge this season, and still manages to make it feel fresh. It’s the best of the night in my book. Heading into this Lip Sync for the Crown, we really are looking at two performance titans—which makes it all the wilder to consider that one won’t be walking away with the crown.

Before we can figure out this year’s winner, though, we get to catch up with our current reigning queen, Sasha Colby! Sasha performs a lip sync to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Her,” and indeed, she is her. She’s as captivating a performer as ever. But the performance honestly pales in comparison to what comes next, as she steps out in a jaw-dropper of a step-down look. She’s resplendent in silver, with a headpiece that is also a breastpiece? To say she looks expensive is an understatement; she looks like a priceless work of art. She gets to chat with Ru a bit about what she’s been up to and tease some upcoming projects—including a branded hair line! Incredibly smart thinking on her part.

And our last bit of business before the final lip sync: Miss Congeniality. Reigning MC Malaysia Babydoll Foxx comes out to present, looking gorgeous, and announces that, surprise, we have a tie! For the first time, we will have two official Miss Congenialities. The first winner is Xunami Muse (“I may not have won the crown, but I won the crowd!” she announces), while the other, in a bit of a shock, is Sapphira! It’s incredibly rare we see finalists win Miss Congeniality; the last was Nina Flowers way back in Season 1! She actually runs out from backstage still in a dressing gown and head wrap, since she’s still in the process of getting ready. “It pays to be nice!” she cheers, and indeed it does: both queens win $10,000.

Congratulations to America’s Next Drag Superstar XVI, Nymphia Wind! Credit: Courtesy MTV

All right, folks—no more stalling. It’s time for the Lip Sync for the Crown! The song is indeed “Padam Padam,” and our finalists are equipped with ornate outfits and reveals. Sapphira reveals early that she’s doing the song with vampire teeth (…why?), while Nymphia reveals balloons floating out of her coat on the word “butterflies.” Somewhere, Asia O’Hara just felt a gust of wind.

The lip sync only gets wilder from there: both queens whip off their reveals, Nymphia doing so in a cartwheel. There are flips, splits, breast-jiggles, butt-shakes, high-kicks, wig reveals, splits—it is a battle, y’all. One of the best final lip syncs ever. Both Nymphia and Sapphira really leave it all on the floor, and no matter who wins, you can’t argue that either could’ve done more.

Ru announces our winner: it’s Nymphia Wind! The fan favourite fashion queen has taken home the crown, both for her home of Taiwan and her current home base of New York City. She put on one hell of a show this season, makes history as the first East Asian winner of the flagship series and proves that it pays off to, as she said in both her verses this season, “Vote Yellow!”

Season 16 has been a refreshing experience after some frustrating American seasons. I’d definitively call it the best main series installment since Season 12, and might even extend that back to Season 9? Regardless of where it lands on the ranking, this is the season that has me the most excited about the MTV Era. If World of Wonder can continue to produce seasons of this calibre, with casts like this, I think we’ve got an exciting future ahead for this franchise.

Untucking our final thoughts

It’s so funny to me that Ru now consistently gives us main stage performances, after being shy to perform in person for so long. “Pink Limousine” starts with a music video-like intro before transitioning into the studio, and it’s fun! I hope he continues to give us a serve a season.

The grand finale eleganza runway is pretty strong across the board, but I’ll give top marks to Nymphia’s banana reveal, Sapphira’s warrior queen look and Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige’s dripping-in-silver gown. Though it’s simple by comparison, our third finalist Plane’s red gown with skirt reveal is gorgeous. Among the non-finalists, Hershii LiqCuor-Jeté and Q both look great in Sapphira Blue, Xunami’s sculptural look is a stunner and I appreciate the sleek elegance of Morphine Love Dion’s look. Overall, it’s just fun to see everyone one last time—this really was a cast for the ages.

Could’ve done without the speeches to the younger selves—I thought we had successfully avoided them after they weren’t featured in the top four episode—but I do think our top three all did a great job. And weren’t they all the cutest kids?

The cut to a dead-faced Amanda Tori Meating during Plane’s interview segment is a pretty bonkers editing choice, I gotta say!

Speaking of Plane, congratulations on the marketing degree, sister! Kudos for doing that, for graduating.

Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is our second Giving Us Lifetime Achievement Award recipient! (Bob Mackie was the initial recipient last year.) She seems in great spirits, and I love that she’s dressed vaguely witchy without explicitly doing Elvira. Congrats, queen!

We get a voting reminder (of course) during the show, which transitions into a group performance—more of a pose-off, really?—of Rumix anthem “Power” by the eliminated queens, dressed in red, white and blue looks. It’s not quite as effective as Orville Peck’s rendition of “Wigloose!” from last season, but I like the idea of bringing something back from the season.

Thank you all so much for joining us this season! This has been a very fun run of episodes, and this is the first regular season I can recall in a while where I’m actively disappointed that it’s ending. We’re going to take this brief time off before All Stars on May 17, but we’ll be back to cover the ninth edition of that spin-off soon. Until then, thanks for reading!

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 is over, which means we’re off-duty until All Stars. If you want your drag fix until then, subscribe to our newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox monthly.

Read More About:
Culture, Drag Race, Analysis, Drag

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