So, she’s finally here. After 140 contestants, 11 seasons and a decade on air in the US, drag’s most shameless capitalist RuPaul has packed up his wigs, left the keys to the Werk Room with a neighbour and sashayed all the way to the UK in search of fresh formats, novelty accents, bigger audiences, new scenes to monetise and an entire series worth of easy puns about who the real Queen of England is.
The first ever series (Americans, that’s the British word for ‘season’) of Drag Race UK is still only in its infancy – so far, we're two episodes deep. But already the show has inspired a thousand memes and a 10000 percent increase in the number of stateside Google searches for ‘who is Kim Woodburn?'.
Many within the UK drag community were initially hesitant but the show has thus far received largely positive views from audiences. By that I mean that the first couple of episodes have largely assuaged fears about the show’s ability to capture British drag in all its smutty, unpolished glory. Case in point: viewers so far have been treated to trumpet tits, a Winehouse tribute, 'Ru Peter' badges, a triple-boobed Bond girl, various references to Baga Chipz’s ‘tuppence’ and a frankly stunning impression of Britain’s favourite celebrity cleaner.
But what do our cousins across the pond think of the UK reboot? Is it very different to US drag? Do they get any of the jokes? Who are their fave queens so far? And, crucially, can they actually understand a word anyone is saying? We asked some American queens for their takes to find out.
Lola Von Sweets: “Understanding all the jokes was a bit of a hard one”
Drag Race UK was a bit of an experience. As someone who watches Drag Race every season I was hoping for something completely different. It was different, but not the way I wanted it to be. Understanding all the jokes was a bit of a hard one. I’ve always watched the BBC and I loved Celebrity Juice, so I got some – Cheryl Hole is an amazing drag name – but understanding the regional references was a little challenging. I love the rich culture of the UK, but I’m not too familiar with different regions and what they are known for. My favourite so far are Blue Hydrangea and Cheryl Hole. I think Sum Ting Wong, The Vivian, and Baga Chipz come out a bit strong. But I think I’m going to continue watching to see how things pan out!
The Lady of Majora: “I genuinely thought the name Cheryl Hole was a play on words for 'share a hole'"
I really loved the first episode! Its mini challenge had me cackling and the episode in general had a light-hearted feel. Other than that, it felt a little less produced. I didn’t notice any major differences between this and the US version, but since I’m an uncultured ass, I had no clue about most references; I genuinely thought the name Cheryl Hole was a play on words for "share a hole". It was still funny, though. I love Alan Carr; I think he’s dumb funny and his humour and critiques are going to play into the show perfectly. I also liked the incorporation of camp. I've seen a lot of queens in the US lose themselves in being glamorous, whereas I've noticed a lot of successful UK drag takes camp inspiration, and I can appreciate any queen who can take pride in looking stupid. I'm looking forward to seeing what these queens turn out over the rest of the season.
Celia Light: “I have no idea who Kim Woodburn is, but that didn’t make The Vivienne any less funny”
I really liked the show and how different it is to the American one. There are similarities – the challenges, runways, and drama in the Werk Room are all pretty similarly formatted – but also big differences, particularly how the show looks, aesthetically, and the humour in all of the jokes. In the early days of US Drag Race the girls weren’t afraid to go for a joke runway, or to camp it up. So seeing that again and showing that not everything has to be picture perfect but can be funny, have character and convey a story is really nice.
There was a lot that went over my head but I loved their energy and it made me want to know more about the UK. To me Cheryl Hole just sounds like ‘share a hole’ and I have no idea who Kim Woodburn is, but that didn’t make The Vivienne any less funny. The more mainstream British references I understood but there were some I had to look up or try to figure out. I'll definitely be watching the rest of the series. I hope I can start hosting watch parties for them too!
Spacebabe: “I kind of expected the UK version of the show to be a little edgier”
The show was obviously made by an American for Americans! I’m actually curious to know if it was in any way consumable to people who live in the UK, because if it was the other way round I don't think I would be able to watch something that just was like ‘American flag! American stuff! America!’ I don't know who Kim Woodburn is, so I was Googling a bit to keep up. Cheryl Hole must be a reference to some sort of sexual act I assume? I did understand the “bitch from Shoreditch” joke Ru made because I'm a hipster asshole and stayed there a few times to visit friends, shop at Expectations and hit Sink The Pink (can you tell this was years ago?).
I kind of expected the UK version of the show to be a little edgier, based on the drag I am familiar with from London, but it wasn't at all. I think the casting sticks to types in both shows. To be honest I probably won’t watch the rest of the series. I'm more the type to read about it the day after, and catch highlights on YouTube.
Miss Toto: “The main difference was that it seemed less staged”
I thought that the first episode was super cool! I was glad they kept the format of the entrances, mini challenge, and runways. It's familiar to people who have been fans of Drag Race, and consistency is key. The main difference was that it seemed less staged; with American Drag Race, a lot of what they say seems forced or even like pushed conversation topics. I miss the more realistic workroom chats from the earlier seasons and it seems like the UK show has that.
I definitely watched with subtitles and would assume that most of the UK-specific references went over my head, so I was glad the queens got a chance to explain the references in their runway looks. I also had absolutely no idea who Alan Carr was but that’s completely fine, I think it's important to have people as judges that are important to the UK culture. I’ll definitely be watching the rest of the season and supporting Blue Hydrangea. I’ve been a fan for a very long time, simply from her online presence. She's so creative and I am excited to see what she brings to the show. She is my winner but my favourite doesn’t always win so we’ll see!
Madame Vivien V: “I found the queens more polite and at the same time sharper-tongued”
I liked the UK one so far! I mean, it’s a bunch of cross-dressers with funny accents cackling – what’s not to enjoy? I found the queens more polite and at the same time sharper-tongued. These English gals aren’t afraid of being funny, but I wonder why they have an aversion to blending? I laughed a lot (to be fair I was also stoned) and I especially love Alan Carr. What you see is what you get with him and he’s such a twinkly fairy. I’ve watched clips of him on YouTube and my mother who lives in Southport by Liverpool is a fan. He’s a fantastic symbol for feminine queers – how just by staying true to yourself you can carve out a place in this world and be celebrated for it!
Overall the UK version, and UK drag in general doesn’t seem to take itself as seriously which is refreshing. In the US it seems every girl who attempts to tuck is just doing it to get on the show. Drag needs more than that. A person has to feel it, live it, breathe it. Drag ain’t for the faint at heart, but an artist needs to love it and themselves enough to comfortably approach it with a sense of humour. Also… #TeamCrystal.