Welcome to my review, recap, and power rankings of the third episode of Drag Race Belgique Season 1 – “Festival Realness,” a combination ball and design challenge with just a pair of looks and a loosely-defined brief (and one of my all-time favorite songs as a lip sync).
It’s always fascinating to see the first design challenge of a season and that’s doubly true for the first design challenge for an entire franchise. Will the constructed looks trend haute couture or plaintive and practical?
I think the Festival Realness results fell somewhere in the middle of that range, partly because the brief was so vague. How exactly do you combine the pragmatism of a festival look with runway-ready fashion? I think the solution is likely something fantastical like you’d spot at Burning Man, but all of these looks are fairly conventional in form and function save for one (and it’s no coincidence it was the winner).
If the Festival Realness looks weren’t surprising, the outcome of the episode certainly was! From shocking top placements to an indecisive three-way lip sync, everything about the judging this episode was a little puzzling. What did that mean for my Power Ranking compared to last week’s comedy challenge? Honestly, it involved lot of guesswork on which way the judges would lean in the future after tonight’s unpredictable results.
I recently went on a diatribe in my write up of the US franchise’s lip sync Lalaparuza about how I find lip syncs to be a dull form of entertainment that I eschew both as a drag fan and as a potential drag performer. However, if there is ONE SONG that I have lip synced to more than ANY OTHER SONG in my life, it is Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam.” I’ve previously told the story of how I carried my boombox out to the curb of my grandparent’s house to choreograph my own performance in the middle of their tiny side street every evening after seeing the group open for Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour.
I think my nightly pre-teen dance routine probably could’ve beaten two of the queens in this lip sync, if not all three. “Pump Up the Jam” is all about its non-stop thumping beat and rocking your body the entire time. None of these three queens lived up to that for me.
(Want to watch Drag Race Belgique outside of Belgium? For most of the world, it’s available as part with a Wow Presents Plus subscription as soon as the episode is done airing.)
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 Belgique Season 1, Episode 3 – “Festival Realness” Power Ranking
Before we break down the 16 runway looks from the contestants, let’s take a moment to enjoy this fantastical purple empress look from Rita Baga. Once again, I think the best looks for Rita are ones that combine traditional gown elements with a heavy dose of whimsy, and this one fits the bill (although I don’t love the matching hair).
#1. Drag Couenne – 1 Win (was #1, 4, Pre-Season #7)
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Drag Couenne came back from her episode win to deliver a stunning runway from her suitcase and a whimsical runway from the design challenge. If there was a challenge where I expected her to get messy and not mind the details it was this one, but she defied my expectations. I still think she is the queen to beat.
Drag Couenne’s “Queens of the Stage” runway was a phenomenal reference to classic Cher with a little hint of Janice from The Muppets thrown in. While the dress could be reference any number of Bob Mackie moments from Cher’s long and lean 1970s, the glittering wig is most-certainly a nod to his styling for the cover shoot for Cher’s Prisoner album (seen bel0w). Mackie himself has named it as one of his favorite Cher looks of all time.
Leave it to the typically-punk Couenne to deliver a full-on glamour moment on a runway theme that gave her a perfect excuse to do a literal punk rock look! You can’t be fully punk if punk is what the judges would expect!
Drag Couenne’s Festival Realness look was a peculiar one, which I suspect is what got her stuck in the “safe” category. She started by affixing a pair of tap-lights to her bosom (which reminded me of Ben de la Creme’s classic “Lover Tits” routine). However, rather than pairing her literal headlights with a slinky look or something reflective, Couenne designed to echo their spiral shape with a dress comprised of giant, fuzzy circles. It erased her shape, it barely even read as a garment, and it fought mightily against her tall black boots since there was nothing else black in her outfit.
Even with my problems with the look, I don’t think it was bottom material. Part of the fun of design challenges is using unconventional material to actually look unconventional, and of everyone in this cast Couenne was always a queen who would take advantage of that opportunity. Paired with her slinky “Queen of the Stage” look, it made her the definition of safe.
My one pre-season concern with Drag Couenne was that she wouldn’t polish up well enough for the aesthetic of Drag Race. The last two weeks have shown that’s not going to be the challenge I thought it would be. Now the question becomes if she can keep her creative vision honed enough for the judges while still weird enough to stay true to herself. If she can continue to strike that balance, she may be unstoppable.
#2. Susan [from Grindr] – 1 Win (was #7, 5, Pre-Season #2)
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Susan made an unexpected comeback from a low placement with a copied Bowie look and an unexpected Festival Realness design. Finally, she got some positive notice from the judges in the form of a win. I’d have her in the top placement if the judges had been more enthusiastic about her efforts so far. It still feels like they could easily turn against her next week.
For her “Queen of the Runway” look, Susan delivered a straight-up copy of one of David Bowie’s Top 5 most-recognizable outfits, one of his KABUKI collaborations with designer Kansai Yamamoto (seen below).
Sure, Susan played with the patterns and colors, but it’s an identical garment with an identical cut.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Bowie fan than me, but I’m not sure I’d reward this effort. It would work for me on a “Night of 1,000 Bowies,” but in runway without a specific Bowie prompt it feels like cheating to copy it so exactly. It’s perfectly safe, but not a winner for me.
However, for me there was no denying that Susan had the best of all the Festival Realness concepts.
We often see queens who are given tents and sleeping bags as their unorthodox materials arrive on the runway wearing… tents and sleeping bags. What I mean is that they are materials and shapes that often don’t get deconstructed or transformed enough. We wind up with literal, recognizable tents as skirts with all of the poles still inserted in their proper places.
(Not everyone can be Utica.)
Susan turned that expectation on its ear in this outfit in two different ways. First, she created a well-tailored skirt out of the tent materials that didn’t read as “tent.” Then, she repurposed the tent materials to produce something recognizably tent-like for her exaggerated shoulders without simply wearing the top of a tent.
That’s the perfect way to use unconventional materials: by designing something that makes us all say, “it’s THING, but… it’s not actually THING!” Add to that the pure visual impact of the ultra-wide shoulders, and how their downward slope allowed Susan to craft her entire torso out of the piece while still implying a small waist.
It’s really damn smart.
This is the level of inventiveness I was expecting based on my pre-season glimpse of Susan’s drag aesthetic and I am happy the judges rewarded it. The question becomes if this was a one-time reward to help spread the wins around from Couenne and Athena, or if the judges will be open to more of Susan’s offbeat approach to drag as the season continues. I suspect she will have the eternal weirdo Rita Baga in her corner if she continues to deliver surprises like this one.
#3. Peach (was #3, 8, Pre-Season #8)
Peach delivered a pair of credible fashions and clearly had no trouble with the design aspect of this challenge. She missed picking up one of her potential challenge wins this week, but remains in the running as a queen who can seemingly do it all.
It seemed clear to me that Peach deserved the second top spot over Mademoiselle Boop, as she delivered a very similar performance to Susan across both categories.
I absolutely loved Peache’s “Queens of the Stage” look. It might have been my favorite over Couenne’s Cher-inspired look. This outfit strikes me as particularly inspired by pre-2010 Lady Gaga, although I couldn’t find an exact reference for it.
I’m a sucker for any kind of deconstructed mirror-ball garment like this one, especially with the high neck and the capped shoulders. The sleeves are a little odd (notice how they are plain pink underneath), but I don’t think they ruin the impact of the look.
What nearly does scuttle the impact of the look is the asymmetrical fuzzy hemline. I actually love love LOVE it as a design element! I just think it’s 3x too thick for how high on her body it is placed, which comes dangerously close to giving Peach a thick waist. If it began an inch lower and was half as thick I think it would’ve been more successful. What does work perfectly is that her absurdly high boots come all the way up to meet the hemline on both sides.
More than any of the other popstar runways, this felt like something I’d see a starlet wear on MTV or on stage at a show.
I could say almost all of the same things for Peach’s Festival Realness look as I did for Susan’s. Peach took her tent apart to create new shape while never completely erasing the idea of it being a tent. I feel as though she and Susan could’ve walked in the same fashion collection. Perhaps Susan’s version was a little more well-made, but I think Peach’s might have had more of a dramatic flair with its oddly-shaped breasts and long flowing skirt.
I’m starting to feel a potential “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” narrative for Peach after a pair of strong weeks for her on the show. She isn’t quite as avant garde as some of these other queens, so she’ll need to keep amplifying her goofy personality to keep pace with the remaining cast members. Hopefully this first runway look is a sign that some of the slinky femme looks in her suitcase are more dragged up than what we saw from her in the first two episodes.
#4. Athena Sorgelikis (was #2, 1, Pre-Season #3)
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Athena was called safe, but I suspect she was teetering on the edge of a low placement with a popstar look that didn’t pop and a Festival Realness look with some rough edges.
I think Athena Sorgelikis had a pleasing “Sporty Spice “quality to her motocross-adjacent “Queens of the Stage” look. I could even picture a newer electro-pop star in it.
For me, it was the textures that were displeasing. Every element of it was a bit rumpled and droopy. That wasn’t a mistake – it was all intentionally styled that way. I just don’t think a rail-thin pop starlet would wear something quite so heavy-looking in most contexts. Athena could’ve gotten away with it on the gloves (which I think were cool and unique) if she hadn’t echoed the motif everywhere else on her garment.
I’m still not sure what to make of Athena’s Festival Realness look, other than it looks like she struggled with the unconventional materials. It actually strikes me as more of a popstar look than her first runway! However, where the first runway was too rumpled for her slim figure, this one is too slight to do anything for her proportions. The halter top doesn’t show off much in the way of construction skills, and tiny skirt leaves no room for any padding.
Pair that with Athena’s chunky rubber boots and the overall story of the look is just “awkward.” A long skirt, a sleeve element, or even bigger hair could’ve helped the proportions on this one.
Athena Sorgelikis came out of the gates strong with a week one win, but has now been safe two weeks in a row. If she doesn’t surge back with a top placement next week she’s in danger of sputtering out while the queens above her surge. I suspect she’ll outrank most of her competitors in an acting challenge next week, but until she does it feels fair to leave her stuck in the middle of the pack.
#5. Mademoiselle Boop (was #8, 7, Pre-Season #1)
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Mademoiselle Boop scored an inexplicable high placement this episode. It was hard to tell if Rita Baga genuinely thought these looks were good or if it was simply a way to include Boop in critiques since she was the one queen not to receive one so far.
Mademoiselle Boop’s first look felt more like Festival Realness than a “Queen of the Stage.”
Where are we seeing this woman perform? Where is the drama? I’m not getting the story of any particular stage setting from this look. I’d buy it as something on a dancer deep in an ensemble, but it’s not meant for center stage.
Mademoiselle Boop’s festival look was rotten and I don’t understand how it merited critiques over Peach, or even Drag Couenne. Yes, Boop took Rita’s advice to dirty things up with some rips and tears, but they’re rips and tears in an awkward and unflattering garment. It has no visual pop to it and does nothing for her figure.
I got the sense that Boop got a critique for taking Rita’s advice and for slightly dirtying up her typically bland aesthetic more than for any particular winning quality of either of her looks. This is a thing that all of the franchises have learned to do over time – to find a way to spread around critiques by the third or fourth episode so everyone gets a comment before their dismissal, even if the comment is faint praise.
I think Mademoiselle Boop presents an interesting case on this season. She is a local legend and respected business owner who the show may have had to court in order to get her to compete. But, thus far it seems clear that she doesn’t have the aesthetic or the hunger of several of the other queens in the cast. I’d believe that she can handily dispense with the acting challenge next week, possibly earning another top placement. However with four legitimately exciting queens above her in the ranking, I’m simply not getting Belgium’s Next Drag Superstar from Boop at the moment. It truly feels like she’s hewing closely to Xilhouete’s run on Drag Race Philippines, as I suspected she might in the pre-season
#6. Mocca Bonè – 1 Lip Sync (was #5, 6, Pre-Season #6)
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Mocca Bonè was excited for a design challenge, but her more-is-more aesthetic lead to a pair od too-busy looks that merited her negative critiques and a bottom placement.
Both of Mocca Bonè’s looks in this episode were a mess. She’s a queen who can deliver long, flowing lines with her body, but her more-is-more aesthetic means those lines often get lost in piles of fabric and fringe.
The idea of Mocca’s “Queens of the Stage” runway being a 3D printed fabric was super cool, but its positive qualities ended there.
This look had barely any shape and it badly needed a contrasting color to split it up. There were so many inexplicable elements, from the fringe off the sleeves to the cutout legs. I think Mocca Bonè could have worn half of this look on top of something else and it would have been more impactful. Did it need the legs or the gloves? I think the deep V of the skirt could’ve been so much more effective if she was simply serving long, lithe legs beneath it.
Mocca Bonè’s Festival Realnesss look also missed the mark. I actually think the idea of a simply frock tied at the waist had the potential to be flattering on her figure. However, I don’t think Mocca had the right material or enough time to create the sort of electro-shock body outline she was going for with this translucent blue material. This sort of tulle-rimmed silhouette keeps recurring in fashion, but even the best execution of it tends to struggle to do anything but make the wearer look puffy.
Also, the outline of blue continues up to her hair is just as puzzling as the purse that’s knotted onto the middle of her skirt.
Mocca Bonè is perfectly filling the brief as the talented, sensitive queen who can’t figure out how to translate her looks to the Drag Race formula who gets tearfully dismissed mid-season. Now that we’ve already seen one over-the-top, trick-filled lip sync from her, a second won’t be nearly as compelling – so, I don’t think she will be a long-term lip sync assassin. I don’t currently see a path for her to finale unless we get a shocking fall-from-grace from another pair of queens. Or, perhaps she lucks into a dance challenge. Otherwise, she is doomed to be filler in the story of this season.
#7. Valenciaga – 2 Lip Syncs (was #6, 3, Pre-Season #5)
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Valenciaga delivered a pair of confusing looks that landed her in the bottom for the second week in a row. She’s the one queen who seemed to be set to stunt on the rest of the cast with her fashion, and without that element she is lacking for a major piece of plot armor to carry her deeper into the season.
This week Valenciaga ran into a comparatively rare Drag Race conundrum where she wore a pair of looks with recognizable high-fashion elements, but they simply didn’t feel like high drag or fit the brief of the week.
Valenciaga’s leather jacket jumpsuit look was spectacular, but it lacked the brassy, presentational element to take it all the way to a “Queens of the Stage” moment. Her royal purple cape just didn’t cut it. A pop star would wear something that glammed the look up, like an edgy, bright hair style. Or, they might play with color or proportions more – as The Vivienne did with a similar-but-highly-exaggerated red leather look on All Stars Season 7.
It was absolutely high fashion, but it lacked in Drag Race runway impact.
The same is true for Valenciaga’s Festival Realness look. The cowl-necked reflective white top of this dress is delightful, as are the baggy opposite-color sleeves. After that… it’s just a skirt, really. The skirt has a pleasant fullness to it that yields a strong fashion runway walk, but where’s the drag? Valenciaga should have brought her reflective, fully-branded cape around to the front or used it as panels for her skirt. It needed another pop of color or another exaggerated detail to lift to high-glamour.
Despite these critiques, I don’t think Valenciaga truly deserved to be in a three-way lip sync with Mocca Bonè and Edna Sorgelsen tonight. Her looks were both solid and looked good on her figure. If anything, it felt as though Rita and the judges wanted to send a clear message that she needed to DRAG THINGS UP more after a similar showing last week. Also, she might have been tossed into the bottom as a ready-made sacrifice to give Edna a chance of survival, but that backfired.
What we’re left with is a fashionable queen who the judges have already shown they are willing to discard (whether that’s fair or not). While Valenciaga can claw her way back from that with a strong acting performance next week, knowing that her runway package is already ready and waiting on her hangers means she’s likely limited in how far she can press on in this competition.
Eliminated in 8th Place: Edna Sorgelsen (was #4, 2, Pre-Season #4)
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Edna Sorgelsen finally earned her first critique from the judges at the worst possible moment. Was she sent home just for this week’s stumble, or for being one of the least remarkable queens for three weeks running?
I’ve been bullish on Edna’s chances over the past two weeks despite her being called safe. That’s partly because she seemed like a staple on the scene, and partly because she so ably played the role of season narrator in her confessionals.
If Edna and Boop are a redux of the Kita Mean and Anita Wigl’it dynamic from Drag Race Down Under Season 1, I really thought Edna would prove to be the Kita Mean who would figure out how to adapt to the show’s many challenges.
As it turns out, she was the Anita Wigl’it – pleasant, talented, but never quite clicking with what the show demanded. That’s not entirely shocking to me, since my main read on her pre-season drag was that it was quite plaintive in its femme realness. While I do think she heightened that quality for the show, it didn’t come with enough of a perspective to make her mark.
There’s no question Edna had the worst pair of runways of the night, even if both had some positive qualities. Her Boop impersonation was spot-on, but impersonating another queen with a rocky track record isn’t exactly a fashion win. And, her festival look might be the only one that read as “attending a festival” to me, but it was far too casual and the pants fit badly.
Had she brought some more aggression to “Pump Up the Jam” she could’ve easily outlasted Mocca’s sloppy stunts and Valenciaga’s strutting, but she looked vaguely lost throughout the song.
I feel that Edna Sorgelsen was cut far too soon, but I agree that she lost the evening fair and square. It’s obvious she is a capable and comedic queen who has earned her place in the Belgian drag scene. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate to success on the show.
[…] does this cerebral episode mean for my Power Rankings compared to last week’s “Festival Realness” design challenge? One queen descended precipitously due to factors out of her control, while a pair of winless queens […]