Home Films, Theatre & TV RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 Premiere: A Night of Extravagance, Twists, and Sapphira Cristál’s Unforgettable Performance

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 Premiere: A Night of Extravagance, Twists, and Sapphira Cristál’s Unforgettable Performance

by Jonathan Currinn
13 minutes read Send a Virtual Coffee ☕

The highly anticipated Season 16 premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race exploded onto screens, offering viewers a night filled with glamour, surprises, and the undeniable charisma of the new queens. Hosted by the fabulous Derrick Barry, the MTV Spring Break-themed Variety Show set the stage for a dazzling display of talent, with seven queens presenting their performances with various original songs and comedic presentations showcasing a range of talent from R&B to puppets to opera as well as click-clacking heels.

The debut of this season brought a new era to RuPaul’s Drag Race, going on to become the series’ highest-rated premiere in six seasons amongst adults aged 18-47. According to Nielsen data, focusing on live-plus-three-day ratings, the premiere made herstory as it got the best TV share in the history of the franchise, and was up 4% compared to Season 15’s premiere.

Add that to the recent awards that have been announced that the show has won from the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards including RuPaul for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program who has consistently won it eight times in a row now, just goes to show the incredible impact RuPaul’s Drag Race is having on the world.

The official cast promo image for RuPaul's Drag Race Season 16 starring all 14 queens.

But, first, before we get into the episode itself, we have twist after twist after twist! Taking a leap out of Canada’s Drag Race Season 4 iconic twists that had us on the edge of our seats, the original American version is now twisting it up, too – we can’t cope! RuPaul RuVealed some iconic twistiness during this premiere.

First off, there will be a Rate-A-Queen twist which will see the queens rank each other. Then, RuPaul confirmed that immunity makes its big return – something we haven’t seen since Alyssa Edwards sailed through with her not-so-great Katy Perry impression on Snatch Game in Season 5. Finally, another twist was in store, as RuPaul announced that no one was going home this week.

As the queens were preparing for the night, in walked J’adore Dior model, Charlize Theron, who is also known for playing Queen Ravenna (AKA The Evil Queen) in Snow White and the Huntsman and the sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War. She gave the queens some advice which she expanded on during the incredible Untucked episode. She acted as the guest judge this season alongside mainstays RuPaul and Michelle Visage and alternating judge Carson Kressley.

While original songs have been a hit in previous seasons, the batch introduced in the first of the two premieres of Season 16 left room for critique. Some of the most promising songs didn’t quite align with the performances, and conversely, some exceptional on-stage acts needed a touch more refinement.

Cropped version of the official promo image of RuPaul for RuPaul's Drag Race Season 16 which sees her in a black dress and a huge blonde wig.

Original songs seem to have become over-saturated during the talent shows, and while many have gone on to win the episode many more have gone on to be safe. We’re so used to these original songs that we’re more invested in those that take a risk with something different. However, previous seasons have shown that risks including comedy skits and out-of-the-box performances have flopped, placing queens in the bottom two.

A standout moment from the evening came courtesy of Q, who brought a never-before-seen-on-Drag-Race Humanette act to the stage – a puppet with a human head. Q’s performance was a masterclass in humour and, most importantly, the art of standing out in a sea of fierce competition.

The queen who had been teasing a show-stopping performance throughout the episode, Sapphira Cristál, certainly delivered on her promises. Taking the stage, Sapphira presented an English, slightly dragged-up rendition of “O mio babbino caro” from Giacomo Puccini’s 1918 opera Gianni Schicchi. With translated lyrics unfolding a captivating narrative about RuPaul as her father, her penchant for beautiful men, and her desires which included her wish to be slayed, Sapphira combined operatic prowess with a showstopping split which she then turned into a floor-pounding split. A moment of perfection that left the judges and viewers in awe.

In the mix of the other performances, we got a Latin flamenco performance from Morphine Love Dion, an original song from Amanda Tori Meating which was full of energy and focused on trying to find her cat whilst dressed as a cat, a comedic original song from Dawn that showcased her eccentric drag, an R&B original rap-infused track from Xunami Muse, and an unforgettable heel-clacking dance lip-sync to an original song by Mirage that floored us – in more ways than one.

On top of that, the queens brought some iconic outfits for the “RuVeal Yourself” runway, with Q stunning us with her self-made dark moth-like look that RuVealed into colourful wings suggestive of a butterfly. Dawn brought a gorgeous Yeti-inspired costume, while Mirage took us to Vegas with a confident feather blue-orange number.

We also can’t forget about Amanda Tori Meating who started the runway off with a blunder where her wig fell off from her doll-inspired outfit as soon as she turned the corner leading her to re-do the runway. Morphine Love Dion took us to the beach with a towel-to-swimsuit outfit, Xunami Muse gave us a daywear-to-nightwear red latex look, and Sapphira Cristál brought a blue draping outfit that RuVealed into a bodysuit with removal chest piece.

The Rate-A-Queen twist injected a unique dynamic into the competition, drawing inspiration from Netflix’s The Circle. This twist, while maintaining interpersonal relationships, added tense survivor vibes as the queens themselves judged and ranked one another. The lasting impact of this twist on Season 16 remains uncertain, but its introduction brought an exciting element to the series – how long will it take until RuPaul decides she wants the control back? Let’s be honest, this is her show, and who wins and who sashays away is ultimately down to her.

Immunity’s return in Season 16 has already become a strategic game-changer. Queens now possess the power to strategically use immunity in a “future challenge”, offering flexibility and elevating the stakes, reminiscent of the power dynamics seen with immunity idols on Survivor.

Q posing for RuPaul's Drag Race Season 16 promo for Meet The Queens in a copper outfit.

The top-two lip sync, set to Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul”, was a crescendo of the night, with Sapphira Cristál stealing the spotlight once again. From the operatic heights of Puccini to the soulful depths of Beyoncé, Sapphira showcased unparalleled versatility this entire episode, leaving an indelible mark on the competition. While Q’s commendable performance couldn’t be overlooked, Sapphira’s unstoppable presence rightfully earned her the win.

As Season 16 unfolds, viewers can anticipate a rollercoaster of emotions, with range, shade, and unforeseen twists shaping the narrative. Armed with talent and determination, the queens are set to deliver a fierce competition, both on and off the stage. Buckle up for another thrilling lap of Drag Race as surprises and challenges await in the episodes to come.

Sapphira Cristál posing for RuPaul's Drag Race Season 16 promo for Meet The Queens in a green and black outfit.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 airs every Friday at 8 p.m. on MTV in the US and Latin America, while the rest of the world are able to watch on WOW Presents Plus. The second half of the double premiere is set to be shown on Friday, Jan 12, 2024, where Becky G will be the guest judge.

Airing straight after the main show is RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked – make sure you watch this show as well, otherwise, you’re only getting half the story.

You can easily and quickly follow all your favourite queens from this new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race across all social media by checking out our article here.

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