The first episode sees Elizabeth Hurley join RuPaul, Michelle and Graham. (BBC)
We’ve seen the Drag Race UK season two opener and believe us – it couldn’t come at a better time.
You don’t need us to tell you 2021 has, so far, been every bit as horrific as the-year-that-shall-not-be-named. And, frankly, a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK isn’t going to cure the many ills of this world – but it’s a damn good distraction nonetheless.
Season two of Drag Race UK comes to BBC iPlayer Thursday (14 January) without any misjudged lip-sync extravaganzas twists or gimmicks. Like season one, it’s a leaner, more focused version of its American big sister – only this time, the stakes have been raised.
“I’m not being unkind, but the first season was a little bit rough around the edges – in the best possible way, in a very British way,” said guest judge and national treasure Lorraine Kelly at a recent Q&A.
And, it feels important to say, we all loved season one. Fears that the format wouldn’t work with the British sense of humour, or that it might not get our unique style of drag, were completely unfounded, with the 10 queens showcasing the incredible diversity (to an extent) the nation has to offer.
The new cast build on this legacy, broadening it while adding a little visual polish.
“There was more couture, there was more high-end, the glamour had been amped up,” said judge Alan Carr.
As ever, Michelle Visage was on hand to demystify why.
“As you all know, on the first series of any competition show it’s always like, we’ll take the best of who we get because people wait, they think they’re too good for a first series,” she explained.
“They’re like, ‘I’ll let those people go for it and see how they do. They can’t possibly compare to the US [queens].’”
“Not only did they compare, but we showed them all wrong. Like, you should have auditioned. And now, we’ve got thousands of auditions for series two and the standard is unbelievable.”
Michelle added: “There is no beating [season one], every series is different. But this one is an incredible lot of kids. I was blown away.”
Drag Race UK season two brings the goods.
Graham Norton referred specifically to the very first runway of the new season: “There are some really clever, clever looks, genius things you just wouldn’t have thought of.”
No spoilers, but conceptually (and on execution), one of them is up there with the very best. The challenge itself – a double hometown glory and gay UK icon runway – gives the queens free rein to bring their creativity to the main stage, celebrating British culture in some unexpected ways and sparking important werk room conversations in the way the best Drag Race challenges tend to do.
One other difference teased by Graham is the relationships between the queens. As judge, he isn’t privy to the goings-on of the werk room, but agreed that from watching the first episode, things feel a little “spikier”.
“Season one was such a lovefest,” he said, “I think they all got on back in that werk room, they had a great time, they really supported each other. I’m not sure that’s the storyline this time.” In other words, expect shade from the get-go.
The preview we were shown went dark before the bottom two lip-synced, but we’re expecting the new season to bring that goods in that arena.
There are a couple of self-professed dancing queens (with Asttina in particular boasting an impressive CV). One of our (we’ll say it) favourite queens, Tayce, teased in a recent Gay Times interview that “the lip-syncs are the gag” this season, with another of the newbies, A’Whora, adding: “I don’t think any lip-sync from the last season is on par with the worst of our lip-syncs of this season. Their best is our worst.”
The judges were tight-lipped when asked, but Michelle promised we “will not be let down”.
Alan Carr was slightly more forthcoming, teasing: “There is a slow song, by a British icon… the hairs on my arm stood up. It was one of the most amazing things. It was so powerful. We all love a fast one, we all love a boogie at the end, but this one was chilling. Mesmerising. Really, really powerful.”
As for the judges themselves, they’re on top form. RuPaul and Michelle are clearly energised by being in the UK (although we’d like a word with whoever taught Michelle a certain phrase that crops up in her comments); Graham is witty as ever (Alan doesn’t appear in the first episode, with him and Graham alternating thought the series) and Elizabeth Hurley will go down as one of the great guest judges.
All in all, it’s a solid opener – perhaps without the sheer ‘oh my god, is this actually happening’ feeling the season one premiere elicited, but a welcome relief from *gestures around wildly* that sets up what could be one of the best Drag Races yet.
At the same Q&A, Alan Carr revealed how shutting down the werk room because of COVID led to a few major changes mid-season.