Review: 'Queen of the Universe' Stays Fresh in Season 2
Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 3 MIN.
Paramount+ has brought back its surprisingly entertaining live vocal pageant series "Queen of the Universe" for a second season. It's more of the same concept – 10 queens vie to be crowned the titular prize – but this show is better than most other cash grabs on niche pop culture trends
Ten queens from around the world must disconnect from their pre-recorded tracks and do it live. Along with the crown, the winner will also be awarded a $250,000 cash prize. The casual viewer might not realize how much these prizes mean to a blue-collar drag queen.
On the judging table sit Vanessa Williams, Michelle Visage, Trixie Mattel, and Mel B. Graham Norton has hosting duties.
Drag is all about self-expression. One could argue that these artists' voices sound just as good (or bad) without the costumes. But put them on a well-lit stage in front of a live audience and their spirits seem to fly. It's Pageantry: The Musical.
The queens do some interesting takes on pop songs. One particular song, a cover of Pink's "Get the Party Started" by Aussie queen Trevor Ashley, has been reworked to sound like a disco James Bond theme à la Dame Shirley Bassey. Although not the best crossover choice for such an energetic song, these fresh surprises are what keep "Queen of the Universe" interesting.
The set designs by Joshua Grace are soaked in eye-popping grandiosity enhanced by a sky-high digital background screen. The designer costumes range from bejeweled leotards to full glam. Along with the songs, the artists must also exude their personality, and there are some really endearing ones this year.
Aside from the performers, there are the judges who can make or break a series like this one. Thankfully, it's a mostly positive panel, offering advice instead of criticism.
Michelle Visage still looks amazing at 54, while touting her motherly advice. She's so good at this by now that you can barely detect the backhanded compliments.
Trixie Mattel is full of adulation, while Mel B can be a bit harsh. Vanessa Williams sits somewhere between them both as far as criticisms; however, she leans more toward the positive. One problem with judges not being regularly involved in drag culture is that their critiques can be misguided. Criticizing one's hair and make-up is an unqualified assessment, leaving needless negativity to fester in a performer's spirit.
Viewers will get a few jaw-dropping moments in the first two episodes. One, in particular, involves a cover of Todrick Hall's "Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels."
One thing these types of shows should incorporate more of is the non-elimination approach: Rank and rate the performers with a score based on the criteria. Instead of sending them home, allow them to stay to redeem themselves. This way you are elevating someone who probably has been judged and dismissed their whole life.
No spoilers here, but there is one tactic at the end of episode one that is not only mean, but unnecessary. Executive producer Ru Paul should forgo his famous franchise broadsides and, instead of shaking confidence, build up the queen's esteem, much like what he proselytizes drag to be. That being said, the "twist" at the end of episode two with the surviving queens is entertaining.
"Queen of the Universe" will get your feet tapping and your body moving; turn on your soundbar and prove me wrong.
Frankly, we have seen this kind of spectacle on vocal competition reality shows before with "The Voice," or even "America's Got Talent." While the drag aspect of "Queen of the Universe" is unique, the delivery is not. Maybe Visage sums up why "Queen of the Universe" upstages all of them: "That was like a Eurovision dream on Molly," she says after one queen's particularly colorful performance.
"Queen of the Universe" is now streaming on Paramount+ with new episodes every week.