Welcome to my review and power rankings of the third episode of Drag Race France Season 1 – “The French Ball”!
I can’t even begin to imagine how intimidating a ball challenge must be as a contestant on Drag Race. You have no control over which of the many looks in your suitcase will be worn back-to-back for your first pair of looks, and you have 12 hours or less to construct your third one! Plus, rumor has it that queens get less than one hour to make the change from each look to the next, which includes make-up alterations.
That’s a lot of stress, especially early in the season when queens are still getting used to the rhythm of TV production!
This French cast acquitted themselves well across three categories – Ma France et moi, French Clichés, and the Cannes Film Festival design challenge. It helped that the unusual material restrictions for this design challenge were actually quite loose – the queens were free to use fabric to construct their looks, as long as they had multiple beach elements incorporated.
The episode delivered looks, but it also made clear which character archetypes our queens are portraying. We have our clear front-runner, our bridesmaid-not-bride, our young queen with a growth arc, our reciprocal arcs of growing and shrinking confidence, and a queen who is unfairly maligned by the judges so she can later enjoy a comeback.
Does that mean this season is already becoming too formulaic? Or, was the casting so good that the queens are naturally snapping into familiar Drag Race tropes?
I think that’s the right question to be asking in the third week of a tight eight-episode run. With the season reaching the halfway point with Snatch Game next week, the queens who aren’t on the ascent either need to surprise us or prepare to sashay away.
Now that Drag Race France has settled into it’s regular release day, I’ve moved my recap up to Sunday so I don’t have to wait a full week after each episode to recap the next one! We’ll see how that schedule shakes out with Drag Race Canada in the mix starting next week, with Drag Race Philippines following soon thereafter.
If you want to watch Drag Race France you can sign up for WowPresentsPlus to watch the many worldwide Drag Race franchises for $4.99 a month or $50 a year. (Note that if you’re in the US you will need to use a VPN to “visit” another country to see the US Franchise.)
With my general impressions of the episode out of the way, let’s get to my Drag Race France Episode 3 Power Rankings for The French Ball! The middle layer of the rankings has had a shuffle from my week two power rankings – with last week’s bottom queens on very different trajectories!
Lecteurs, 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 3: French Ball Power Rankings
This episode saw our top two of Paloma and Lolita Banana sink their heels in ever harder to maintain their placements, while La Grande Dame bounced back and Kam Hugh made her case for pushing towards the top.
Before we get to the power rankings, let’s admire another gorgeous runway from our host Nicky Doll! I loved the deconstructed glittering bust on this layered deep purple ballgown.
1. Paloma, 1 win (was #1, 2, Pre-Season #1)
Paloma (Instagram / Twitter) continued to show dominance on the runway and proved that she could survive a design challenge with the best of the best. Now she is headed into Snatch Game – another comedy challenge where I’m sure she’ll do well.
Her Ma France et Moi regional cheese look could’ve been… well, cheesy, but she smartly kept le fromage on her headpiece. I loved the two-tone, deconstructed nature of her garment, which was chic without being overly-fussy.
Perhaps her French Cliché was a bit plain and off-the-rack. I’ve been to Montmartre (and adored it), so I understood her reference once she explained it… but she needed more. Even an empty frame hung around her or an element of canvas on her suit would’ve pushed the look further. However, online it’s clear that the suit wasn’t a flat white, but a textured corduroy – which to me lends it a little more veracity. Also, I loved her ramen noodle mop of tight goldenrod curls.
And, her constructed Cannes Film Festival look was successful, even if the waist and width of the skirt slightly swallowed her thin frame.
Paloma did receive one critique this week – a light read by the judges for her wigs. I couldn’t parse if that was purely for always presenting red hair, or because the wig she used for her constructed runway wasn’t her best. It will be interesting to see if this emerges as a consistent flaw in her presentation if she’s going to be holding off a professional wig model like Kam Hugh in the coming episodes.
2. Lolita Banana (was #2, 5, Pre-Season #5)
Lolita’s Ma France et Moi runway of chain link and padlocks was fashionable, but the judges were right to call out that her locks were far too small for the theme to read from the stage. I’m sure the dress was already plenty heavy, but if she had varied the size and shape of the padlocks and placed a bigger one over her heart the entire look would’ve popped so much more.
However, she absolutely slayed her French Cliché! Everyone knows about the French and their many strikes and protests. I think I experienced at least two while staying there for just eight days! To take their iconic yellow high-viz vests and turn them into a ball gown was clever enough on its own, but she took things over the top with the comedy of having an endless supply of protest signs – each with their own vivid graphic design.
If I can pick out one small detail, I think her hair needed to be bigger given the volume of her dress. Despite the lovely swept-aside bang, it was missing both volume and height to balance her silhouette.
Luckily, she brought exactly that sort of dramatic big hair to the runway for her final Cannes Film Festival look! Lolita didn’t give up her showgirl aesthetic for this design challenge, but elevated it to “red carpet starlet.” Many queens would simply let a dress like this drape and flow behind them, but Lolita Banana was whipping it around like a flamenco costume! It shows a lot of confidence in a design challenge runway with this much ornamentation to move around so much.
I worry that Lolita is starting to cement an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” rhythm to her placements. If she doesn’t score a win in one of the next two weeks, that might start dragging her down mentally even if the judges still enjoy her.
3. La Grande Dame (was #6, 4, Pre-Season #2)
La Grande Dame (Instagram / TikTok / Twitter / YouTube) had a perfect bounce-back from her low point in last week’s acting challenge. Not only did she slay this design challenge and the accompanying runway, but she seems to be absorbing the judge’s notes.
Did La Grande Dame lose this week purely because of a floppy boot in her middle look? I don’t think she. She handled it with aplomb, and she delivered amazing runway presence in both her other looks. Her process of duck-walking onto the runway for her tall-hat Ma France et Moi look while maintaining its high drama and not veering into comedy was spellbinding. We’ve seen quite a few queens bring Carnivàle-themed looks of this breadth to the runway before, but I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a more runway-oriented version as sheer and delicate as this one.
(By the way, for those following my All Stars Season 7 recaps, this was the sort of look I was hoping that Jaida’s veiled look would open up to reveal!)
If La Grande Dame’s Ma France et Moi look was everything I was hoping for, her French Cliché look didn’t push the envelope enough for me. I think it was very much an actual runway fashion look, but it needed some form of excitement other than her tiny golden baguette to take it to Drag Race runway calibre. Also, the repeated peeks at black undergarments made it seem like it was meant to be a reveal. If you’re going to present one of these all-torso poof looks, you can’t have any elements that are distracting from it that hint that the poof itself might not be the full story.
And, her Cannes Film Festival look perfectly hit the mark. This slinky bath towel skirt and bandage wrap over her cleavage is as youthful as we’ve seen her look on the runway so far. Plus, somehow she maintained the same high, harsh blush she had in her Marie Antoinette look but changed the context so it suddenly seemed less severe.
I think missing the win this week was more about that classic Drag Race chestnut of wanting to see more of the real La Grande Dame. The judges want some of her humorous side to come through in her drag presentation. I agree with them. Seeing La Grande Dame smile back at them from the runway during critiques was like watching a supernova ignite. If she can translate her personal charm into her typically icy drag character, she might be unstoppable.
The immediate question is whether she will excel at Snatch Game. That’s hard to answer. We already saw her tank an acting challenge. However, the one thing that was consistent in her failure was how she clung to the specificity of her characterization. If she prepped for Snatch Game with even a fraction of the commitment she showed in inventing her agency-owner from whole cloth, she might pull out a surprising win next week.
4. Kam Hugh, 1 win (was #7, 8, Pre-Season #8)
Kam Hugh (Facebook / Instagram / TikTok / Twitter / YouTube) not only picked up a well-deserved win for this design challenge, but really seemed to come alive in a way we haven’t seen in the prior two episodes.
Even for a queen with plenty of on-camera experience via her own YouTube channel, the process of shooting Drag Race is going to be overwhelming. If you’ve never been involved in TV or film production, the constant start-and-stop nature of a shoot and the need to suddenly be on for the cameras can be draining. That’s on top of all of the other challenges of Drag Race, both in the workroom and in being separated from your normal life.
If Kam seemed slightly cowed by all of that the past two weeks, tonight she showed a certain joie de vivre in each of her terrific garments. We saw hints of that in her performance last week, but now it really feels like she is having fun – and that’s a major requirement to do well on Drag Race!
Her La France et Moi grey pigeon tuxedo was pure brilliance. Kam showed off that you can wear pants on the runway and still deliver a beautiful, feminine silhouette with the right tailoring and detailing. The draped shoulders, the pleated waist, the cane, the orange pigeon-foot pumps – the entire thing was fantastical and gorgeous.
Also, the judges responded positively the unique styling on her paper-wrapped corsetry on her French Cliché baker look. If she continues to vary the construction and styling on further corsets (and I’m sure we’ll see at least one more), hopefully she won’t get any comments about bringing the same thing every week. Plus, this is a queen who understands that wigs need to bring height and drama! It helps that her wig stylist is her partner, who also makes wigs for Blu Hydrangea.
Finally, Kam Hugh’s Cannes Film Festival look is truly why she won the week. She is the queen who embraced unusual materials the most and who took them to the clearest level of high fashion. It wouldn’t require much clean-up to take this look from Drag Race runway to an actual red carpet, even with one shoulder topped with an inflatable
Kam Hugh seems to have broken through this week, proving she has the charisma and nerve to reach the top half of this competition. However, her next challenge is “talent,” because next week is Snatch Game. On one hand, Kam surely knew this was coming and she strikes me as a well-prepared queen. On the other hand, the same was true for her talent show… and we all saw how that turned out.
5. La Big Bertha (was #4, 3, Pre-Season #4)
La Big Bertha (Instagram / TikTok / Twitter) just barely avoided a lip sync this week, and it feels like the judges are thoroughly unimpressed with her entire range of runway presentations. Even heading into what should be one of her strongest challenges, it feels like she is losing the mental game of Drag Race.
La Big Bertha’s La France et Moi look was meant to be a show-stopper, but even as it spurted water I couldn’t help but think that it seemed a bit small despite being physically massive and an impressive feat of engineering. Wig aside, the outfit was quite plain, and the dark denim-blue didn’t look great with wet spots all over. As it became clear that the look would only become more sodden without any other change, it felt as though La Big Bertha had begun to tell a story and then never finished it.
This is the challenge inherent to bringing drag that works on your home stage to the Drag Race runway (and its cameras). Perhaps in her revue Bertha would get even wetter, or frolic in the audience, or reveal down to another outfit. Here, she just looked soggy.
I enjoyed her French Cliché accordion look more, but she walked it awkwardly. It was as if she was in a hurry and had no time to coordinate the movements of her body. She was pulling and jamming her accordion wings so hard I was afraid they would tear off! I’m not sure if that was a character choice or just down to the hurry-up nature of the ball, but I think with a slower and more-dramatic presentation her garment could’ve worked much better.
And, there’s not much to say for her Cannes Film Festival garment. Many queens have relied on a hastily constructed Grecian Goddess look with unfinished edges to get them through a challenge, but coming off of a pair of other runways that didn’t quite meet the mark it was an unfortunate choice.
That’s a shame, because La Big Bertha really has it all when it comes to the charisma, uniqueness, and talent it takes to go far in Drag Race. It’s just hard to maintain the “nerve” portion when it’s clear that your suitcases are packed with outfits that probably won’t impress the judges. I hold out a hope that she could score a surprising win in Snatch Game next week purely through the force of her performance. If she doesn’t, I suspect her time is already up even if she isn’t the next queen to sashay.
6. Soa de Muse, 1 win (was #3, 1, Pre-Season #3)
Soa de Muse (Facebook / Instagram / TikTok) had a questionable trip to the bottom two this week when it felt like either Elips or La Big Bertha deserved the placement more. It suggests that the judges simply aren’t living for her drag.
(I also detect an undercurrent of micro-aggressions in some of their comments, but I’m not the right author to expand on that.)
[Soa de Muse did not post any of her looks to social media this week.]
I think Soa de Muse’s Ma France et Moi drag of traditional fabrics was beautiful and still exaggerated enough to hold space on the Drag Race runway. And, her French Cliché may have been close to off-the-rack from the front, but it was as much about the character study as it was the outfit… and then there was the back! Backless garments have lost their shock value over the past few seasons of Drag Race, but I admired that this wasn’t just a small cutout – it was the entire rear of Soa’s outfit as a massive keyhole! That takes engineering.
Maybe the engineering was slightly lacking in her Cannes Film Festival dress, but even with the rear riding up to show her rear it was a look we’ve see on Valentina or Naomi Smalls. The draping was more than just desperate glue-gunning – it clearly had consistent structure.
I’m not sure what about that trio of looks merited a bottom two placement. It felt unearned to me.
Something that came through to me in my pre-season review of Soa de Muse’s social media is that her drag is often a bit plain. Not that it isn’t beautiful or detailed! More that it feels like Soa keeps the focus on her face, her body, and her movements.
That works when you control every aspect of your performance, but it doesn’t always translate onto the Drag Race runway. Soa de Muse will need to have packed more looks on par with her week one Gaultier Cone Bra reinterpretation if she wants to stay alive in this slim field of queens. Also, considering the note she has been getting is “don’t just be yourself” (the opposite of La Grande Dame’s note), Snatch Game could be yet another rough spot for her if she picked a character too near to her own personality.
7. Elips (was #5, 6, Pre-Season #10)
Elips (Instagram / TikTok) appeared visibly shaken to have disappointed the judges in the design challenge. If it was a challenge she came in expecting to win, missing out on a top placement may have seriously rattled her.
I think this is an instance where Elips’s reserve and streamlined aesthetic failed her. That’s not just true for her plain constructed look. Both of her initial runways were beautiful designs that were missing the level of panache required for Drag Race.
Her Ma France et Moi was a wonderful declaration of pride with beautiful stitching, but rainbow-on-rainbow rendered entirely in shiny satin didn’t pop as much as it could have on the runway. I think the coat should’ve been reversed, with the traditional rainbow on the outside and the trans-flag colored pantsuit on the inside backed with a solid color. As it was, it was too many things to look at, and satins and silks can look flimsy under Drag Race stage lights.
Her French Cliché was too close to a “realness” look when the ball did not demand one. Yes, the head piece of wine glasses was a fun party trick, but there was nothing particularly dragged up about her outfit.
I tend to think the problem with Elips’s Cannes Film Festival look wasn’t as much the look but her presentation. Her structured green kimono-style top gave some interesting lines and angles, and her wide-leg pants were well-constructed. However, she didn’t walk it in a way that suggested it (or she) could stand up to red carpet scrutiny. Even if the outfit didn’t wind up with the amount of detail she hoped for, the failure here wasn’t in construction – it was in a distinct lack of nerve. You can see it in how she slinks off the runway at the end of her presentation.
While I think Elips has a lot to offer this season, it’s worrying to see her so rattled as we head into Snatch Game. Unless Elips has brought a perfectly-studied character with her, I think she runs the risk of winding up in the bottom two against another queen who has more momentum.
Eliminated: La Briochée (was #8, 7, Pre-Season #9)
We’ve all seen enough Drag Race at this point to know that a hastily torn slit with unfinished edges in a design challenge is going to be received with harsh comments on the runway, as is a wrinkled satin. The worst part is that La Briochée’s choice of fabric wasn’t even tied to the challenge – it wasn’t one of her chosen beach details!
As for her prior looks, both her Ma France et Moi Charentes outfit and her Bridget Baguette French Cliché were too literal and not drag enough. The Charentes look was lovely, but it was a slightly awkward length for her height, and in searching for examples I am seeing longer skirts and more contrasting colors.
She was the worst of the week, but the choice of an unfairly-placed Soa de Muse as her lip sync opponent was an interesting bit of production. I suspect that La Briochée could’ve handily defeated Elips and perhaps even La Big Bertha. The producers saw a chance to cut her before Snatch Game and whatever comes after it (a singing challenge, perhaps?) and they struck.
I think La Briochée is one of those queens who is filled with natural charisma, true uniqueness, nervy self-confidence, and pure talent, but who isn’t a natural on the Drag Race runway. I’d love to see World of Wonder bring her back on their Queen of the Universe singing competition, where I’m sure she could make a deep run.