By Mike Fleming
Project Q Atlanta

After 13 weeks of doll faces, dresses and drag drama, the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” finale gives us America’s Next Drag Superstar, but not before the Final Three are put through their paces.

Raja, Manila and Alexis dominated the competition all season, so finding them as the last queens standing comes as little surprise. But the fun is in getting here, and what a ride it was: cliques, twists and “Hallaloos” to the Nth, topped by tragic and triumphant Lip Syncs For Your Life. Far from the frenetic multi-challenges and backstabbing remarks of recent weeks, the finale almost feels like a victory lap, with all three finalists complimenting each other more than sniping.

Fans of the first two seasons know the formula, and “Drag Race” follows it to a “T” again this season: Learn a routine; appear in a RuPaul music video; have a one-on-one, heart-to-heart “lunch” (a tic-tac and water) with Ru; and bring a “breathtaking” look to the main stage for a final walk-off to the crown.

Although the episode calls the video “RuPaul’s new hit ‘Champion’” twice, longtime viewers know that the song is from her 2009 album of the same name: Ru has pimped it on almost every episode of the show since its inception. Whatever. The girls learn their choreography from the ever-scary Ryan Heffington, this year wearing a drop-crotch onesy, before donning Grecian-themed looks for the shoot.

Avante garde supermodel Raja is no dancer, and her blonde Greek goddess doesn’t read well. Quirky and gorgeous Manila has trouble with the steps, and pageant princess Alexis picks it up fast and does the best. In their individual shoots to be edited in later, Alexis also shines, including her turn at groping, er, dancing with a member of RuPaul’s sexy male Pit Crew.

But come on. Even newbies to the show can tell that all of that is smoke and mirrors. The video shoot and the quick clips that editors choose to show us have little to do with deciding the results and serve as little more than filler before the girls hit the final runway.

On the main stage, Ru pares down the panel to the judges that know the contestants best. Only Michele and Santino  are up to joining her for the final critique. Neither of them dares say anything about Ru’s Big Bird look.

In what can only be described as a walk of shame, Alexis disappoints in a Vegas-style showgirl costume that we say seals her fate. We love your personality, Alexis, but clearly that’s not what this competition is all about.

Sadly, after a season of some amazing and diverse looks, Manila serves Cruella DeVille hair and an ugly chartreuse glitter number. These are their last-gasp attempts to show off their best? Apparently.

As usual, Raja kicks out her walk in something fabulous and surprising. All in black, she serves “Cabaret” for the 21st Century in a bowler hat and tricked-out leotard. A sexy feather puff jacket shows off her long legs, and she works it like a pro. Love her or hate her, Raja gives great runway. Stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens.

Trying not to give anything away, the judges critique and deliberate based on the pros and cons of each contestant. We hear more good about Alexis than any of them have ever voiced until now, so it’s pretty clear her fate is sealed. When the queens return for the decision, Alexis is roundly dismissed. Chosen Ones from the beginning, Raja and Manila must Lip Sync For Your Life before Ru doles out the news.

The Sync-off is a snooze, but of course we’ve gotten used to meltdowns, fisticuffs, showdowns and stripteases, so anything less just feels like another Sunday night at your favorite gay bar. With baited breath, the girls compose themselves as Ru drags out the announcement.

“And the winner… of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’… America’s Next Drag Superstar… is… (pause for effect, potty break, hit the fridge for a snack)… Raja! Crying with not one single tear, the newest winner accepts her crown, and we finish off another season of this guilty pleasure.

For more guilty pleasures and in one change from seasons past, “Drag Race Reunion” does not immediately follow the finale this week. That’s saved for next week, so reserve one more Monday for the fallout when the contestants return to dish on the season and each other on May 2.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.