NO MORE PIE
VH1’s Emmy Award-winning reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race has been a powerhouse of LGBT media since it’s conception in 2009. But while the search for America’s Next Drag Superstar has always focused its spotlight on drama and “shade,” that drama has always remained somewhat superficial and has not affected the show’s ability to move forward. Season twelve, however, proved that there is no day like today to start setting fires.
On March 6, the day the second episode of the show’s newest season aired, contestant Sherry Pie was disqualified after allegations surfaced that accused her of catfishing several young men, often into sending her sexual material.
In a report from Buzzfeed News, five young men accused Sherry Pie, also known by her “boy name” Joey Gugliemelli, of posing as a casting director named Alison Mossie in order to scout talent for a film (or Broadway play, depending on the acting interests of the victim) that did not actually exist. Victims were told to film “audition tapes,” which in actuality were fetish videos, for a fake production that centered around a character becoming addicted to steroids and having his muscles grow to freakish sizes because of said addiction. Victims were told that their audition tapes would “stand out” if they were sexually explicit.
Actor Ben Shimkus said in a statement on Facebook, “Allison and I went through an email thread that lasted over 150 emails in about three weeks. We covered topics of pay, living situations in the city, when I would have to leave school for rehearsals, and conversations about acting choices for the character. I had to film scenes that felt particularly sexual and awkward, but the opportunity seemed too good to let the overt sexual nature or my inhibitions get in the way. I simply told myself that my parents wouldn’t be allowed to see the show, but I wanted the professional experience and the bright and shiny object on my resume. [ . . . ] I was considering dropping out of school for the opportunity.”
Exactly one minute before Buzzfeed broke the story, Gugliemelli took to Facebook to apologize for his behavior. Gugliemelli largely blamed his acts of sexual harassment on an apparent inability to “love [him]self,” and claimed he was going to therapy and seeking help for his behavior.
The show announced that Gugliemelli was disqualified from the show after his admittance and he would not be present for the filming of the finale in June.
However, filming for the show ceased back in 2019, and Sherry Pie unfortunately made it all the way to the top four before she was disqualified. Sherry Pie’s contributions in later episodes were severely edited down, and her presence in the lineup did not have an effect on the brilliance of the other girls. As RuPaul himself commented multiple times throughout the season, the Queens of Season 12 were the most talented group the show had ever seen. But the sight of Sherry Pie in the workroom, with the knowledge of the monstrous acts she committed, leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
The problems went on past Sherry Pie. After the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent worldwide quarantine, another message reminding the audience that the show was filmed in 2019 was tacked on before the beginning of every episode right along with the PSA about Sherry Pie’s elimination.
While filming for the season ended a while ago, concern for two of the show’s traditions rose: the Reunion and the Finale, both of which are always filmed only after the show’s pre-filmed episodes have aired in their entirety. The Reunion involves all of the contestants, eliminated or otherwise, gathering together to discuss the events of the season and who they think is going to win. The Finale is the official crowning of America’s Next Drag Superstar and is always filmed in front of a live audience. Neither was possible to do as normal while following social distancing guidelines.
The Reunion aired as a “virtual slumber party,” hosted as always by RuPaul, and without Sherry Pie. VH1announced that the Finale would also be virtual, using “innovative technology that highlights the creativity of the queens.” Both aired on VH1, with the Reunion airing on May 12 while the Finale aired on May 29.
The overwhelming reaction to both the virtual Reunion and the virtual Finale has been that fans were disappointed, to say the least.
Lip Syncs are a cornerstone of drag and meant to be seen as a spectacle. While fans on Twitter often joked that the Finale would look like a Zoom call, it’s hard to call the aesthetic of the Finale anything other than a Zoom call in the end. The three remaining Queens were made to stand in front of silver tassel backgrounds taken straight out of a high school prom’s photoshoot, lip-syncing along to Destiny’s Child’s Survivor in a confined space whilst not being able to interact or even make eye contact with each other.
Even RuPaul seemed less of himself. He did not appear in drag for either of the final events of the season, which is especially weird when you remember that Fortune called RuPual “easily the world’s most famous drag queen” in 2019. Instead, he appeared in the Reunion wearing a luchador mask, and at the Finale dressed as a literal human eye.
Some have blamed his outfits on RuPaul’s apparent unwillingness to get in drag, while others have pointed out that RuPaul hasn’t done his own hair and makeup in years (RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnae Raven and Delta Work have both been parts of his makeup team since the show’s third season). Regardless of the reason, a bare-faced RuPaul combined with the separation of the Queens’ performances made this feel like half of a Finale if anything else.
But no one can say that the remaining Queens did not deserve their spots within the final three, and absolutely no one can say that the crowning of Jaida Essence Hall was undeserved. With only one time in the bottom two, never ranking low, and three challenge wins, Jaida’s report card stands out as the deserving winner. As a confident, beautiful, fashionable black woman who shines every time she steps foot on the stage, it’s clear that Jaida is not only the Queen who deserved the crown the most but the most perfect Drag Race Superstar for the turbulent times we are in.
As a true long time fan would attest, season 12 was the best season the show has seen in years. I can only hope that the ending doesn’t paint the rest of the season with a bad coat of paint. At least, by the Finale, we didn’t have to worry about any more pie.