Dragnificent: Week 1 Recap – “Express Yourself”

Good afternoon, and welcome to David Atlanta’s weekly recap of Dragnificent: Season 1. If you haven’t heard it yet, Jungle’s previous drag competition, Dragnique, is as long-gone as Mitt Romney’s ability to control his mouth. In its place is the newer, fresher Dragnificent, presented for the next few months by Fantasy Girls. Each week’s show will feature Nicole Paige Brooks as the evening’s emcee, while Phoenix will serve as head judge this season, with special guests filling the other two judging seats each week.

Week 1′s special guests/judges were RuPaul’s Drag Race icon Nina Flowers and Dragnique: Season 3 winner Edie Cheezburger. Along with Brooks, the two guests produced special numbers for the evening’s show.

But enough about that. I’m sure you’re far more curious about this season’s panel of 11 (!!!) contestants. How did they do? Who’s the frontrunner? Who’s wig will I be snatching this week? Let’s find out…

The Good

Before I comment on them separately, I do want to state that I think it’s a little unfair to the other contestants that two contestants from Dragnique: Season 3 were brought back for Dragnificent. Different shows, technically, I know, but let’s be real…they’re not.

That being said, Dragnique: Season 3 runner-up Evah Destruction and fellow Dragnique alum Prima Alexandra were two of the night’s best contestants. I’ll go so far as to say that Evah is the frontrunner to win this whole thing. Her performances of “Reflection” from Mulan and “Pop Drop & Roll” by Chonique Sneed on point, and exhibited the skills she showed towards the end of her Dragnique run: flawless lip-syncing and dead-perfect timing.

As for Prima, I was impressed. I was not her biggest fan during her Dragnique run, but I think that she’s stepped up a bit this time around. Mixing three or more songs into a single performance is tricky (I’ll get into more detail later), but her mix of Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl,” the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons” and Remy Ma’s “Conceited” went smoothly. Her makeup is much better now, and her lip-syncing, while not perfect, definitely appeared more precise this time.

Two other queens also showed a lot of promise last night. First, Aliya Sexton gave a ferocious performance of Ke$ha’s “Cannibal,” complete with a giant light blonde Afro wig that can only be described as “fucking fierce.” Later, Arrianna Paris gave the night’s most…physical performance with a take on Chelley’s “Took the Night” that was so involved, her fake breasts started moving around all over her body. I’d normally knock some points off for that sort of mishap, but I can’t deny the power of her stage presence. And when she finally threw them out of her outfit, everything worked.

The Decent

As a drag competition, one component of Dragnificent regards contestants as baby drag queens. These are performers who want to establish themselves in the Atlanta drag community. Some have performed enough to have their shit together. At the beginning, at least, a lot of the contestants will have significant room to grow. That applies to all of the contestants, of course, but especially to the ones in this category and the next one (which you should be able to guess, based on the names of this section and the last one).

Fortunately, multiple contestants gave performances that, while not exactly perfect, weren’t train wrecks either. Among them is Zaria Bonet Valentino, who performed a mix of Nicki Minaj’s verse from Kanye West’s “Monster” and Ida Corr & Fedde Le Grand’s “Let Me Think About It.” The performance could’ve used some work, but the unhinged concept was great (and fitting, particularly for the Nicki portion of the performance). Also worth noting, and this applies to a lot of the performers I’ll be mentioning: work on the lip-syncing, dears.

Another performer who could use a little work is Peyton Elizabeth. The girl does stand out in the competition, though – look for Peyton to be the comic queen of this competition. This week’s performance of “I Touch Myself” included a schoolgirl outfit and what can only be described as a hideously large bush. Peyton did manage to get one of the best reactions from a judge when Edie Cheezburger cracked a fat joke. Personally, though, I see Peyton as the drag equivalent of Rebel Wilson (side note: go watch Pitch Perfect when it comes out, or enter David Atlanta‘s contest. It’s the most hilarious film of the year, I swear).

Daniella Vess is another performer who had a good concept, but needed to work on it more. Her take on Kelly Clarkson’s “Dark Side” included a performance that went dramatic at times, but there were problems with her lip-syncing, as well as her connection to the lyrics. Ladies, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: knowing your lyrics goes beyond just knowing the words. Get the emotion connected to the lyrics right too.

The Bad

And now…things get ugly.

Opening up the competitive portion of the show was Princess Vanessa with “My Pumps” by Erickatoure. I’ll give Princess some credit for performing with a stage that was fogged up far more than necessary, but still…there’s a lot of work to be done here. The stage movements were messy, her crowd interactions were random, and her lip-syncing was off. I’ll give her props for her energy and outfit, though.

Also in need of work is Jai’Ne Devereaux. I will say this first: Jai’Ne has a lot of energy, and she’s got a lot of potential. That doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where she needs some improving, though. Seriously. For starters, her mix illustrates the importance of choosing songs that connect well together. Her mix included four songs that spanned genres, singers, tempos…you name it. Other than being great female singers, I don’t know that a mix that includes Kelly Clarkson (“Haunted”), Lady Gaga (“Monster”), Beyoncé (“Sweet Dreams”) and Jennifer Holliday (“Woman’s Got the Strength”) will ever work. On top of that, Jai’Ne has a particular issue with lip-syncing that I found distracting – her mouth opens far too wide to make the vocals seem like they’re coming from her. It didn’t help that there was no emotional connection on the more dramatic songs. Finally, the sound effects in the songs that were added for things like hair snaps were maybe a bit too…plentiful.

I don’t have as much to say about Tanyla Cassadine, who took on Beyoncé’s “End of Time.” She was energetic, but to the point where her performance was messy. Tanyla was probably the worst when it came to lip-syncing, though. This particular mix of the song was sped up, to the point where Tanyla seemed to get lost in the words. In the future, I’d recommend doing something a little slower.

And finally, there was Alexandra Knowles, taking on another Knowles’ song – Beyoncé’s “I Was Here.” Alexandra’s performance was just bad. I don’t know if it was stage fright, a language barrier issue, or what, but Alexandra froze so much, I’m surprised she was still out “performing” at the end of the song. Maybe she couldn’t move off stage. Who knows. In any case, Alexandra needs to loosen up next week, or she needs to drop out. Plain and simple.

Results

The results of Dragnificent differ slightly from previous forms in Dragnique. Two winners of the night were announced. Audience votes and collected money for charity (benefitting Lost n Found Youth this week) were given various point values – ten points for votes and one point per dollar. Winning the financial prize was Aliya Sexton, who was given first choice of performance for next week’s show, which will revolve around various musical genres. Winning the voting portion of the competition was, to no surprise, Evah Destruction, who will be immune from elimination next week. Since the show is a competition, of course, someone had to be eliminated this week. The lowest vote-getter this week was Tanyla Cassadine, which was a slight surprise given that at least one performer was significantly worse.

Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Leave your comments on this piece at DavidAtlanta.com, or on Facebook. If you didn’t attend this week’s show, make sure to turn out for next week’s show on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 10pm at Jungle. And come back every Thursday for more catty commentary on Atlanta’s hottest new drag competition!

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