Friday’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race opened with a somber message explaining that a contestant introduced in week two of the show’s two-part premiere, Sherry Pie, had been disqualified and will not appear in the finale. Sherry, whose real name is Joey Gugliemelli, has been accused by eight other performers from Gugliemelli’s time at SUNY Cortland in New York and another theater company he worked for in Nebraska of posing as a casting agent named Allison Mossey in order to solicit humiliating, sexual videos from colleagues and peers under the guise of auditioning for various roles. His co-host from a drag show in New York City has also accused him. After BuzzFeed first reported the allegations, Gugliemelli posted an apology to Facebook that explained he was “seeking help and receiving treatment” in light of the accusations.
Following the show’s initial jubilant premiere, New York magazine asked, “Can RuPaul’s Drag Race Save Us From Donald Trump?” But now, a week later, publications like the Advocate and Out are asking if simply disqualifying Sherry Pie is enough. The message at the beginning of week two’s episode said Vh1 would be airing the season as recorded out of “respect” for the other contestants, and likely because editing out Sherry, who placed in the top two last week, would be incredibly costly in a season that’s already underway.
Sherry’s character on the show, which seemed cartoonish and fun in the style of Nina West before the allegations surfaced, now seems like an actual dark cloud looming over the entire production. That’s fitting since Sherry’s runway look for the night was that of a giant tulle raincloud complete with sad clown makeup.
But even without Sherry casting a pall over the proceedings, week two was not nearly as ebullient as week one. The first round of queens introduced this season seemed multifaceted and dynamic, while round two simply seemed a bit lost. From the moment Rock M Sakura, the first queen to enter the room, bumbled confusedly up onto a work table, the entire episode seemed a bit directionless. The first challenge was the same as the previous week—to present spring and fall looks on the runway. However, while many of the looks were beautiful, notably the lovely hand-drawn characters printed on the fabric of Rock M. Sakura’s anime-inspired spring look, no one seemed to fully understand the assignment.
For fall, Jaida Essence Hall presented a beautifully tailored lilac pantsuit that seemed like a better fit for Easter, and Sherry seemed to interpret “fall” as “dress like a 1950s mistress standing off to the side in the rain at your elderly longtime lover’s funeral.” Aiden Zhane, who appeared a bit intimidated by the challenges and the more experienced queens, had the best understanding of autumnal drag, coming down the runway in grandma’s stolen Thanksgiving tablecloth impishly draped around ghoulish little shoulders.
In contrast to last week’s assertive “I’m That Bitch” rap challenge, week two seemingly asked the queens to clear up misconceptions about their characters with a Bob Fosse-inspired song and dance number called “You Don’t Know Me,” a decision that, again, made for very awkward viewing in light of the allegations involving Sherry. Additionally, many of the queens also did not know Bob Fosse, leading Jaida to assert that Sherry and Rock M’s insistence that everyone learn Fosse-reminiscent choreography was unfair to those who do not know how to dance. After a chaotic rehearsal where it seemed as if the only dance moves upon which everyone could agree involved each queen standing upright while slightly elevating their arms, Rock M. Sakura became the first contestant to cry in front of the makeup mirror, though she surely will not be the last. She told a heartbreaking story of being forced to navigate her mother’s verbal abuse and drug addiction from a very young age, to which Jaida answered that Rock M. should worry about herself (as opposed to listening to Jaida’s nonstop complaints about being instructed to dance).
But the routine ended up being fine, if not as exhilarating as last weeks’ generally outstanding raps. Despite her complaining, Jaida proved those golden shoulders aren’t just for show and displayed an elegant use of her long limbs along with a funny, engaging verse claiming her status as “Mother Dear” of the competition, though there was little room for doubt at that point. Aiden Zhane almost nailed it, exuding some real zombie Liza Minelli energy. Tightening up the last line of the verse, “I’ve got multiple personalities/Just imagine it,” would have made the whole performance much stronger. Jan (Just Jan, for copyright reasons) will be a strong contender this season because her musical theater background comes through very clearly. However, even her powerful singing voice got lost among powerhouse performances from Jaida and, unfortunately, Sherry. The only queen who seems to be in real trouble is Dahlia Sin, whose performance was shy and verse identifying Brooklyn as Sin City seemed to indicate she has never heard of Las Vegas in addition to her earlier admission that she was heretofore unaware of Bob Fosse. It’s always concerning when a look queen says that her talent is “talking shit,” and Dahlia, while beautiful, is no exception.
Despite the fact that Ru’s palm frond number appeared to have been left on the Golden Girls’ lanai during a hurricane, everyone’s runway tulle was pretty much flawless. Aiden swapped his grandma’s tablecloth for her neon nightgown and forced Michelle to admit an affinity for something green after guest judge Robyn said the look made her “body talk.” Ross and Michelle argued over whether Rock M. Sakura’s look “swallowed,” and I tend to agree with Michelle. If she’s cinched in the center, a Fruity Jet-Puffed Marshmallow ballet recital number is a perfectly acceptable runway choice. Sherry Pie dribbled rain cloud realness down the runway, and as previously stated, over the entire season. I want to look inside Jaida’s bag of earrings, as I imagine it glistens like a dragon’s horde.
Of all the beefs against Sherry, her criminally underenthused lip-synch for a cash tip of $5,000 to Robyn’s classic mean girl breakup anthem Call Your Girlfriend is probably the least of anyone’s concerns. However, it was such a snoozefest that Jaida stopped her long-limbed calisthenics at one point to simply (and correctly) point at how boring Sherry was being. Sherry’s sluggish electrocution moves near the finish did nothing to save her lip-synch and Jaida rightfully won the money.
All the queens finally met each other at the end of the episode and week two’s batch looked like a ragtag girl scout troop from an ’80s movie compared to the Dynasty sophistication week one was serving in the workroom. Nicky Doll said she wasn’t worried, and after this week’s merely adequate performances compared to last week’s energetic showcase, she’s probably right not to be too fussed just yet.
This week’s front-runner is either no one or Rock M. Sakura’s farts for lightening the mood.