If ecstatic applause and gay drunken enthusiasm could win people awards, then Boston drag queen Katya Zamolodchikova would be $100,000 richer.
But despite her deafeningly apparent status as fan favorite—at least among the few thousand New York City gays and the people who love them gathered in Hell’s Kitchen to watch the finale of Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race—Katya wasn’t even a finalist for the crown. Instead, it was fashion queen Violet Chachki who was coronated as this year’s winner.
As is whispered about among Drag Race obsessives (and if you watch Drag Race, you’re an obsessive), the season finale of the show is taped in Los Angeles with three endings—one with each finalist being named the America’s Next Drag Superstar. The true winner isn’t revealed until the show airs on Logo eons later.
And so following a Meet and Greet with press and a finale screening hosting by last year’s winner, Bianca Del Rio, Season 7 finalists Violet Chachki, Pearl, and Ginger Minj huddled in a booth in a private room at Manhattan’s Stage 48, where they were being filmed by Logo.com to catch their general reaction to the naming of the real winner—rather than the charade that was filmed for the telecast.
Although the hoots and hollers paled in comparison to any time Katya’s name was uttered—and especially to when she was named the season’s Miss Congeniality—the crowd response to Violet’s win indicated that she was the audience favorite.
A shady fashionista at one point ruled a one-trick drag pony—look! She can cinch her waist crazy small!—Chachki eventually proved herself to be the season’s most polished contestant, if not always the most gregarious.
That honor went to runner-up Ginger Minj, who made a campaign for herself to be Drag Race’s first heavy winner—and she likely came very close. Watching reigning champ Bianca Del Rio ruthlessly and hilariously host the night’s party with professional ease (amid a laughable amount of janky production snafus), it’s clear why Ginger Minj could’ve been a necessary winner, too.
A seasoned vet who can roast with as much confidence as she can perform, she could’ve seamlessly handled the title’s duties as a consummate entertainer. She certainly would’ve done it with more aplomb than runway queen Violet, or the typically flaze-da Pearl.
Pearl, though she would’ve been a disaster as a winner, might actually be the most beloved of the three finalists by fans. On the one hand, it’s because her male alter ego, Matt James, is thought to be one of the most attractive contestants in Drag Race herstory. But it’s also because everyone loves an underdog, and watching Pearl’s stoned-out, who-cares energy that nearly drove him out of the competition altogether give way to a wily, deliciously bitchy end run in the season was one of the more interesting arcs of this year’s queens.
To wit, Pearl just about stole the show—and the crown—during Violet Chachki’s crowning ceremony, mugging hilariously for the audience and perfectly reacting to Bianca Del Rio’s throwaway “Take what they owe you” line by reaching for the crown off Violet’s head.
Following a few cutting barbs from Bianca Del Rio at the expense of this year’s finalists and especially winner Violet Chachki (a sex tape that leaked and made the rounds in the leadup to the finale was brought up more than once), the season’s top 8 queens performed for an increasingly drunk and increasingly weary of standing crowd.
But, as is her way, Katya gave everyone life. Performing a meticulously choreographed, perfectly campy Russian version of “All That Jazz,” she was so good everyone in the audience kept turning to each other mouthing “she’s so good” to each other. It’s weird praise. But it’s high praise.
The other highlight performance, expectedly, was Kennedy Davenport, whose lip-sync performance skills are so good that even RuPaul told all her viewers to see Kennedy’s show during the finale telecast—a rare endorsement from the Queen Mum. Kennedy high-kicked and death-dropped and split, spread-eagled, and strutted as if her ligaments were actually elastic, drowning the front rows in her sweat and delighting the rest of the audience with her frenetic energy.
When it came for the top 3 queens to perform, each first debuted a new music video that will appear on their respective first albums. Ginger’s “Ooh Lala Lala” is a brassy show tune, Pearl’s “Love Slave” is an EDM track, while Violet’s video for “Bettie” had her channeling Bettie Page for some S&M kink. (The finalists are nothing if not diverse.)
The surprise of the night was Violet taking to the skies for her final performance, performing an aerial routine on silks—a talent she alluded to having on the show, but that RuPaul never gave her the chance to show off. It’s confusing, too, given how impressive she is at it, bolstering her case for being the night’s deserved winner.
Well, deserved because of a caveat: Katya wasn’t in contention. Can I get an Amen?