‘Drag Race’ recap: Atlanta queens play it safe

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The wigs flew, the clichés dripped and the shrieks were in HD. All that in the first episode as 12 drag queens started their fight to the finish on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

With two competitors from Atlanta, a host that got her start in Atlanta’s club scene, a “Gone With the Wind” inspired photo shoot and a challenge called “Gone With the Windows,” Monday’s Season 2 premiere could just as easily have been set at Blake’s. At least then we’d have a bartender and wouldn’t have to make our own drinks. (Watch the full episode above.)

RuPaul opens with a definitive, “I’m back.” Like we ever wondered? Logo needs all the original gay programming it can get to avoid the sloppy seconds of Liftetime’s best (or worst?) chick flicks, and RuPaul is nothing if not entertaining.

So here goes. “Are you ready for the ride of your life?”

imageFirst in the studio was Nicole Paige Brooks from Atlanta, Georgia (photo). Get used to it. The popular performer who headlines “Fantasy Girls” each Wednesday at Jungle insists that she’s referred to with the full title. RuPaul obliged. It helped NPBFAG stand out, but it’s going to get tiring pretty quickly. (Watch the bonus scene below.)

Sonique (second photo) hit the scene at No. 9, well past the point of remembering who’s who among the 12 queens. But she grabbed our attention again with a sweet story about her parents wanting to butch her up with a stint at a military academy and in return, getting a drag queen for a son. (Watch the bonus scene below.)

Jessica Wild, what with his cute smile and big ears, also caught our eye. The Puerto Rican native had us laughing after admitting “my biggest fear in the competition is my English. If I don’t understand, I will just smile.” We’ve always suspected that those cute Latin guys we hit on smiled for a reason, but we thought they were interested. Turns out they didn’t get our practiced and polished pickup lines. Me la clavaron.

imageShangela Laquifa Wadley left an impression, too. A newbie to the drag scene – she’s been tucking for just five months – her smile, good look and honesty about not being able to sew worth a damn had us convinced she’d be a quiet threat. Turns out, not so much.

You gotta love a Big Girl. And we do when it comes to Mystique Summers Madison. “Big girls are going to represent this year. It’s a Big Girl’s world,” she says early in the epsiode. It’s a Big Girl’s World until the judges see that your earth-rattling splits are all you’ve got. Her crash-landing split during presentation made us grab the goods and wince. It also kept her around for another week.

“Drag Race” doesn’t break new reality show ground. It’s a mixture of “Project Runway” and “Top Model,” among others. A quick challenge – a photo shoot while straddling a cannon with wind fans at full force — followed by a more detailed test – creating a runway outfit with curtains. RuPaul drops in on the contestants ala Tim Gunn and even has them gather ‘round.

imageThere are also celebrity judges, which this week included Kathy Griffin, celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz (photo) and Santino from “Project Runway.” Also on the panel: Merle Ginsberg. She’s the annoyingly arrogant fashion journalist who’s a finalist in Bravo’s awful “Launch My Line.” She sucks so badly on that Bravo show that we can’t look her in the face on “Drag Race.”

But RuPaul’s show packs more attitude, sass and sexual innuendo than anything else in the reality genre. It also offers a hunk factor not expected in a show with 12 drag queens running around. Thank you, Mike Ruiz, and your two muscled models standing on either side of a very large, very black cannon. The imagery is yummy.

“Drag Race” does suffer from too many clichés and too little sewing talent. Maybe we’re just spoiled by “Project Runway,” but we really expect more when it comes to the fashions each girl must make to work the runway.

Among the many, many, many quips and sexy banter, there were a few favorites:

“I didn’t know where the camera was at this point. I have never been blown like that before.” (Jujubee)

“I will never go hungry again.” (NPBFAG)

“War is hell, but you look gorgeous.” (RuPaul). That gets our vote as the tagline for the entire series.

“There were no ladies on that set today. There were men running to curtains.” (Shangela)

“I can get down with the skinny bitches and wear something short if I want.” (Mystique) Please don’t. That lampshade fruit basket on your head was plenty.

In the end, it was Shangela who got the boot. Sadly, she quit her job for the chance to work the “Drag Race” runway. But her energy didn’t make up for a lack of experience and that mess she called a dress with a corn cob hanging from her wrist. Corn.

“You have only just begun, but I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of you yet. Now sashay away.” RuPaul minces no words in dismissing Shangela.

Now there’s one less queen chasing the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Oh, yeah. The title comes with a lifetime supply of cosmetics – quite a prize for a drag queen – a PR contract, a Logo tour and $25,000.

NPBFAG and Sonique were neither at the top or the bottom, so they were safe–for now. If they want the cash and the title, those ladies have got to bring it. Tucking is a talent all drag queens must learn, but staying safely tucked in the middle of the pack does not a superstar make.

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