Welcome to my review and power rankings of the first episode of Drag Race France Season 1 – “Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour.”
This episode was about getting to know our cast of 10 French queens in multiple ways – via their entrance looks, a photography mini-challenge, a talent show, and a Jean Paul Gaultier-inspired runway in front of Jean Paul Gaultier himself!
If you’ve been reading my RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 7 All-Winners season episode recaps, this series of posts won’t be covering the show in such full detail.
That’s not only because those recaps take entire days to write!
If Drag Race France sounds intriguing to you I’d like to urge you to sign up for WowPresentsPlus so you can watch the actual episodes as well as the many other worldwide Drag Race franchises! It’s $4.99 a month or $50 a year, which is a very reasonable price to pay for access to all Drag Race, ever. (Note that if you’re in the US you will need to use a VPN to “visit” another country to see the US Franchise.)
When more English-speaking subscribers and viewers watch Drag Race France, it is a signal to Wow that we adore drag in every language and would love to see these queens invade their American content more often. (Also, perhaps they could increase their subtitling budget!)
Instead of a recap, first I’ll share my general impressions of the episode, and then I’ll present my Episode 1 Drag Race France Power Rankings. Will it turn out that my pre-season first impressions were totally en pointe or did I miss the mark?
Readers, start your engines. Et, que la meilleure Drag Queen gagne!
Reminders: I consistently refer to Drag Race artists with their drag names and with she/her pronouns even when they are not in drag, which is the convention of the show. Some performers may have different personal pronouns. Drag is inherently brave, political, and artistic, and all drag is valid. It’s also hard to do. I’m commenting on drag artistry in how it comes across on this specific television program, but the reason I’m commenting at all is because I celebrate all drag!
Drag Race France Season 1 – Episode 1, “Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour” Review
Drag Race France has a compelling cast of queens with a stark divide between the strongest competitors and their canon fodder.
Even the queens who don’t seem destined for a deep run on this season were personable, lovable characters. There was a noticeable amount of unity and support amongst the cast even though they traded predictable shade from their confessional chairs.
A few things stuck out to me in particular as being uniquely French about this episode and the drag it featured.
First, these Drag Race France queens don’t seem to do glitzy, pageant-influenced drag in the same way American queens do, nor were they about over-the-top shock-and-awe looks like some of the queens from España.
The looks on the show tended to fall into one of three categories: cabaret showgirl realness, avant garde camp oddness, or actual haute couture.
It wasn’t an exaggeration when Jean Paul Gaultier called out a few of the runway looks as being better than his own creations. I don’t know if it’s the taste-level of the queens or the calibre of designers they have access to in Paris, but there were some remarkably-constructed runway looks that set the bar high for the rest of the season.
Second, it’s clear that French drag has an expectation of being able to hold a stage.
Even the bottom queens had no problem conceiving of high-concept talent show presentations. Only one queen – the YouTube beauty influencer – truly struggled with holding space in a live setting. Also, the mini-challenge showed that many of these queens are quick-on-their-heels thinkers. I don’t think live performance challenges will be the biggest stumbling block for this cast.
Third, if this episode is anything to go by, French reality television is slightly less “glossy” than American reality TV.
That often made this feel more like a documentary than a typical US episode of Drag Race. Aside from one queen who directly addressed production several times (more on that in a moment), there were several instances of lo-fi sound, odd camera angles to catch a reaction.
I didn’t mind any of that! I never want the way RuPaul’s Drag Race is presented to homogenize the international editions of the show beyond the already-similar elements of the workroom and the runway. (It’s no mistake that Drag Race Thailand – the one franchise that deviates the farthest from this model – tends to be the most thrilling of them all.)
As a Francophile for nearly three quarters of my life, I comprehend an amount of French. And, as it turns out, that amount is just about the right amount to follow along with casual conversation on a reality TV show, where I don’t need to remember a bunch of specific nouns for kitchen utensils or furniture!
I may offer some occasional thoughts on how the French translates in this and future write-ups, but you have to remember I don’t speak French and I have no awareness of French idioms! A Reddit user named Plastexqt compiled a massive list of translations, idioms, and cultural references from the episode, which I highly suggest you keep handy if you view it on your own. I’m hoping they will continue their coverage for the rest of the season.
Drag Race France Season 1 – Episode 1 Power Rankings
Based on this episode, I think this 10-queen cast shakes out as four major contenders, a pair of possible spoilers, and and four early-outs.
In fact, my Episode 1 power rankings include only one serious surprise from my pre-season list, and that’s because one queen delivered something I hoped she would deliver but couldn’t be sure of from her social media.
We have many standard Drag Race challenges ahead of us, which will surely include acting, comedy, lip syncing or singing, and some amount of choreography. I’m sure all of these queens can handle that, with only one or two exceptions. What will through a wrench into the mix are design challenges and personal branding, where the finely-honed cabaret skills of this cast won’t be as helpful.
1. Soa de Muse (was Pre-Season #3)
She entered saying (en anglais), “Hold on, hold on, hold on – let me tell you something. COUNIA MANMANW.” (That last bit is an insult that I will not translate for you here.)
Soa de Muse immediately stood out for how much English she was using, but also for how she broke the fourth wall to repeatedly address the crew behind the cameras. We don’t see that much on Drag Race outside of confessionals and it’s WEIRD. I can’t tell if it’s a good thing or something they’ll quietly advise her to tone down. For now, the hyper self-awareness makes her stick out as a character in this cast.
As for her talent… I had chills. It’s rare that a queen can make a more subtle, “draw them in” sort of ballad work on Drag Race, but Soa de Muse accomplished it by pairing a flawless performance with a constant uptick of emotion. It’s clear that she has honed these skills live on cabaret stages.
Her entrance look was editorial – an oversized masculine pinstripe suit with a bare chest beneath. Later, her runway look is the rare Drag Race look constructed out of hair that actually works on the runway – reinterpreting the classic Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra with intertwined braids of hair.
In both cases, her sense of fashion and her penchant for genderfvck worked perfectly for the show. So did her oddly comedic, mop-like wig in the talent show for what was otherwise a searing performance These were memorable looks rendered with big enough details that they rendered perfectly on camera.
Snagging the first after such a tour de force performance throughout the episode makes Soa de Muse the first queen to beat of Drag Race France.
2. Paloma (was Pre-Season #1)
Paloma entered with “En français, s’il vous plaît” (“In French, please.”), a perfect introduction to Drag Race France that makes an implicit nod to her familiarity with the entire Drag Race franchise.
Paloma’s pair of looks were flawless. The red-on-red entrance look went past lingerie to give actual fashion, in part due to her wig art. And, her stained glass runway dress managed to present subtle class despite having a pair of full-body winged sleeves. She also had what I thought was the winning mini-challenge photo
Even with flawless fashion, the most impressive part of Paloma’s first episode presentation may have been her decidedly odd talent show.
We’ve seen several queens on English-speaking franchises attempt to put on a character for a brief one-woman sketch show during talent shows and comedy challenges. The only two queens who have ever fully pulled it off may be Coco Montrese back on Season 5 and Raja during All-Winners just a few weeks ago.
I think Paloma went beyond what either of them achieved with her cutting parody of a real life woman who has found instant enlightenment… that also managed to repeatedly take the piss out of the judges. I really thought she would wind up in the top! I think they avoided her purely for story reasons, with the suspicion that this would not be the last time she would be a standout.
I dislike comparing queens to other queens unless it’s to explain something, but I think we would be remiss not to point out the absolutely striking resemblance Paloma bears to Alaska Thunderfuck both in and out of drag!
Between Paloma’s resemblance to Alaska and the similar level of intelligence she brings to her presentation, I think she will be a formidable contender. She seems to be the kind of brainy queen who conquers Drag Race rather than the kind who overthinks her choices.
3. La Big Bertha (was Pre-Season #4)
La Big Bertha (Instagram / TikTok / Twitter) was the main character of this episode, effortlessly broadcasting her personality in the workroom, in confessionals, and through her talent performance without ever seeming so loud that she was introducing on another queen’s moment.
She entered with the line, “Les dindes sont de sortie, alors, bon appétit.” (“The turkeys are out, so enjoy the meal!”)
I had to look up “dindes,” which is turkeys, and I assumed it was idiomatic and dindes stands for breasts, or queens, or whores, or something? French Word a Day suggests it can be related to being duped or tricked, and the Reddit post I linked above confirms it means an “airheaded” woman or gay man, which means this is a multiple-entrende play on words.
I love it
La Big Bertha’s entrance look was full camp, even if it didn’t make the most sense. She wore a red dress draped on one side with a picnic blanket and the other with what looked like rhinestoned dripping cheese. (She confirms it is indeed meant to be raclette, which is effectively melted cheese as its own standalone dish.)
I was truly impressed by La Big Bertha’s talent show presentation. Much like Paloma’s, we’ve seen these sort of self-aware commentaries on identity totally fizzle in the past, but Bertha was smart enough to make it comedic and pair it with burlesque, which kept it lively. Plus, her beautiful runway showed that she’s not just going to deliver camp looks like her entrance.
As for her big hairy bear of a runway – it was genius! She clearly did her homework on a personal reference that would make Jean Paul Gaultier take note so she wasn’t just another cone bra look. I adore how she styled her fur suit. We’ve seen other queens try to present a full furry illusion, or present a scruffy monster without a figure. La Big Bertha played the proportions of her look, with wide sleeves and a scoop-neck in the back, plus she squeezed the waist with her corset. This is how how to present “teddy bear, but make it drag.”
I think it’s going to take a lot to shake La Big Bertha’s big confidence. She is beyond the need to apologize for her size or her facial hair, and she already knows how to use both in her favor for both comedy and sex appeal.
4. La Grande Dame (was Pre-Season #2)
She entered saying “Salut les gars!” (Simply, “hi guys,” which is certainly a bit of a read.)
Her outfit appeared to be made entirely out of individual glass beads. It may have been the most-striking of all the entrance looks! Later, she would present an absolutely gag-worthy all-belts take on Jean Paul Gaultier that he deemed better than his own version!
And her talent show… it was one of my favorite talent shows of all time!
The combination of the icy cold, robotic presentation, the ridiculous glass of champagne clearly affixed to her wig, and then the bellowing saxophone was 100% camp and 100% unique. No other queen could present this performance. It said everything about how La Grande Dame will use every tool at her disposal as a weapon in this fight for the crown.
I love that I was concerned that La Grande Dame might simply be a skinny fashion queen, and it turns out she is one of the most layered characters in the cast. Her “over it” vibe might get in her way at some point if she feels she’s too cool for whatever the show is requesting from her, but she’s not going to get tripped up on details. This queen is a perfectionist.
5. Lolita Banana (was Pre-Season #5)
Lolita Banana (Instagram / TikTok) had a great first episode as a dancing queen – winning the mini-challenge, stunning the judges with her talent, and presenting a strong runway. She put all of the other queens on notice that she came to play hard for the crown.
She entered with “Mesdames and messieurs, c’est showtime!” (“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s showtime!”)
Her entrance outfit was a yellow silk top and a banana-print skirt. It wasn’t anything over-the-top, but entrance outfits are about branding and I think she hit the mark. It also allowed her to flex her considerable showgirl skills to win the photography mini-challenge.
Lolita Banana also presented one of the best dance talents we’ve seen from the franchise. That’s largely because she’s trained in partnered dance and the show allowed her a partner. So often the American franchise is about withholding things from the queens to create drama and tension, but then we miss out on show-stopping moments like this one. There may have been a few minor missed handoffs between Lolita and her partner, but the overall presentation was strong.
I loved Lolita’s runway of turning the Gaultier cone bra into faucets, but it was ultimate just a bodysuit. Also, it may have been a sign that she’s going to overcomplicate some of her looks. Obviously several queens were going to go for variations on the cone bra, so it was smart to build in a reveal, but the reveal took us to such a different conceptual place that I think it left the judges befuddled and kept Lolita away from what could’ve been a mini/main clean sweep.
I don’t get the sense Lolita Banana is going to be weak at anything in particular, but I suspect at some point as the challenge difficulty ramps up she will get into her head and wind up in the bottom. How anyone is going to defeat her in a lip sync… that’s a different problem.
6. Elips (was Pre-Season #10)
Elips (Instagram / TikTok) proved me a little bit right and a little bit wrong in my pre-season rankings, and I was happy to see it. I was afraid she would be too reserved for the show in the way Lia Kahena proved to be. While she was reserved, she also brought the sort of “Sasha Velour breaks the rules, fucks with gender” vibe I was hoping for from her passionate take on drag.
Elips entered to the soundtrack of “Dance of the Sugerplum Fairy” and the line “Grand-mère, c’est moi – Anastasie.” (That’s a reference to an Anastasia impersonator in the eponymous cartoon film, but it didn’t have much to do with her look so I don’t get the reference.)
Elips’s all-blue glittering jumpsuit was chic, but the neckline as it transitions up to the hood was slightly awkward. All three of her looks had these moments of awkwardness to them, but they also had thrilling levels of detail. Her reimagining Jean Paul Gaultier’s cone bra as constructed from his line of ties was a stroke of brilliance. The way it moved was transfixing.
I think there was a risk to Elips presenting what was effectively just a fashion-reveal lip sync as her talent when so many of these other queens are cabaret stars. Yet, she managed to convey a story in the performance as she stripped from camouflage to fiery red. It was surprisingly effective.
It’s clear that Elips is a little to the left of what some of these other glamorous cabaret queens are expecting from a French drag queen, which might cast her as the underdog who can achieve an expected upset as the season progresses. I wouldn’t be altogether shocked if she knocks off one of the queens I’ve ranked above her.
7. La Briochée (was Pre-Season #9)
La Briochée entered saying, “Je sens que cette premiére saison va être transcendante.” (“I feel this first season will be transcendent.” I don’t think there’s any hidden meaning there, but it might be a TV catchphrase for cookies or something given how much she intertwines it with eating. [Ed Note: A commenter pointed out that this is a likely a play on trans / transgender, which now seems so obvious!])
I adored La Briochée’s charm and positivity, and there is no denying her vocal prowess. However, there was something askew about each one of her make-up looks. It’s not just that she paints hugely for the back of a room. There were symmetry issues with each of her mugs, and I’m not convinced that the high pencil-thin brows are perfect for her face.
If La Briochée lands a string of performance challenges, she could easily make it to the top half of the cast. However, after a questionable entrance look and a series of somewhat confusing make-up applications, I feel like she will hit the bottom two for styling reasons and be sent packing by a better lip syncer.
8. Kam Hugh (was Pre-Season #8)
Kam Hugh (Facebook / Instagram / TikTok / Twitter / YouTube) had the misfortune of kicking off the season by informing everyone she doesn’t have what it takes to be France’s next drag superstar. Now it’s just a waiting game until this charming young queen is picked off in a lip sync by one of the sharks in the cast.
Kam Hugh entered with the line “Chic, chic, chic… oh! Chic.” (I don’t know if there’s something particularly idiomatic about her repeating it that much, but to me that read as her basically saying, “I am so very stylish.”)
Her entrance look was on the basic side – just a little pink dress, but her eye-makeup is transfixing. Instead of a massive Trixie-wing, or the popular style of a large top wing with a slim line of color riding above an extended lid, Kam draws a thick black outline of a wing but then sketches inside of it with color. I love it!
Later, her corsetry was stunning both in her talent show performance and in her runway. These weren’t just fashion corsets that hook up in the rear, but actual tied and laced corsets that are artful in both form and function. I also loved all of the rising ribbon tendrils on her runway!
Sadly, every aspect of Kam Hugh’s talent show misfired, from peeling her own banana to keeping time with the music. There is a way for a non-singer to present a silly moment like this and make it charming, but to do that you have to sing badly with incredible confidence. Kam didn’t have that.
Even if Kam Hugh has one or two solid lip syncs performances in her, at some point she is going to be left swimming among the sharks in this cast and won’t be able to keep going.
9. Lova Ladiva (was Pre-Season #6)
Lova Ladiva entered saying, “Ne soyez pas trop fragiles les filles, je viens juste d’arriver.” (Literally, that’s “Don’t be too fragile, girls, I’ve just arrived.” However, in context I think it’s more like if an English-speaking queen said, “Try to keep it together, ladies” or “Don’t quit yet, girls.”)
When it comes to her face, Lova Ladiva looks exactly like her photos on the internet in all three looks in this episode. It’s clear she has a particular STAMP of make-up, which I love! I suspect she is a successful queen who can get any small cabaret on their feet, but she’s not thinking big enough for what will read on the stage of Drag Race.
I have no questions about her talent as a queen, but after her talent show misfire and one of the more basic Jean Paul Gaultier looks I feel like she won’t have much defense against the rest of this cast.
Eliminated: La Kahena (was Pre-Season #7)
La Kahena (Instagram / TikTok / Twitter) is a queen with a unique perspective and many talents, but it seemed clear from her entrance onward that she was the least prepared to show that off in front of the cameras.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t have any good moments on the episode. She entered wordlessly while setting her hand on fire, then adding, “Maman m’a toujours di, on ne joue pas avec le feu… mais maman, je suis le feu.” (“Mama always told me, “we shouldn’t play with fire.” But, mama, I am the fire.”)
We’d never see WOW let a queen get away with a stunt like this in the workroom in the states! And, her ridiculous talent show presentation of her arguing with a sexually suggestive anthropomorphic flame was hilarious until it transformed into her simply walking around.
Hopefully the exposure and confidence that comes from being cast on the show brings her happiness and success!