Sasha Velour wasn't supposed to win her season of RuPaul's Drag Race.
The bald, fashionable, Brooklyn-based drag queen with a Vassar education was a favorite on the reality TV competition's ninth season, but the numbers were not on her side. When it came down to the finale, Sasha Velour—the stage name of Alexander "Sasha" Hedges Steinberg—had won two main challenges. Her principal competition, the Chicago-based drag queen Shea Couleé, had won four.
But drag isn't a sport and Drag Race doesn't come down to a scorecard. It comes down to a lip sync. And lip syncs, it turns out, are Sasha Velour's secret weapon.
A lip sync, in many ways, is like an actor's monologue. Both must cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. They must be interesting. They must change, in big ways or small ways or both. But the great monologues and lip syncs contain a reveal.
In acting, a reveal can be a sudden shift in emotion, like when Meryl Streep screams at the dinner table in Big Little Lies. In drag, a reveal can be accomplished with a costume piece: a wig being ripped off to reveal another wig, or an overcoat dropping to reveal a sequined skirt. These moments don't need to be big, but they should change everything, raise the stakes, and make the performer vulnerable.
Sasha Velour is the queen of reveals, and never was this more apparent than at her Drag Race finale lip sync, when she finally went up against her biggest competitor, Shea Couleé.
The two performed to Whitney Houston's "So Emotional." Dressed in a tight red dress with a floral print, Velour starts the lip sync by tearing petals off a rose, each tear timed to the music. Like the best performances, hers is full of juxtapositions: curious but wounded, tentative but wild.
Right before Houston sings, "I get so emotional, baby," Velour rips off one of her opera gloves and chucks a fistful of rose petals—they'd been hiding inside her glove—onto the stage. The first reveal. Entirely unexpected. The audience cheers.
Velour has more tricks up her sleeve—and in a few moments, she rips off her other glove, revealing another fistful of rose petals. There's the second reveal. The stage is littered with petals.
At this point, Houston ramps up to her big emotional break—"I GET SO EMOTIONAL, BABY! EVERY TIME I THINK OF YOU-U-U"—and Velour pulls off her entire wig. Hundreds of rose petals fall from underneath it.
She is literally revealed—her bald head showing—but she's also emotionally revealed as she appears to be screaming the final lines of the song. In less than three minutes, Velour has gone from controlled to ferocious. Few lip syncs, or monologues, outshine this performance.
Velour's new touring show, Smoke & Mirrors, contains 13 new lip syncs. It's a blend of magic, performance, and drag. I don't know much about it, but by the end of the night, she's rumored to transform into a tree.