One of the highlights of my 2016 was watching all 8 regular seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and both seasons of All Stars. So, while I can’t say I’m a long-time fan of searches for drag superstars, I think my current enthusiasm for the sashaying and shantaying television extravaganza makes up for being tardy to the party. Learning I’d be able to watch the drama of a ninth season unfold as it aired sopped me right up like Biscuit Jesus. And the first episode of the new season (which I, in Canada, was able to stream on the very night of its airing via OUTtvGo – Halleloo!) did. Not. Disappoint.

I’m thrilled to now be familiar enough with the show to appreciate its familiar elements in each season. Watching the queens enter the work room for the first time and making their first impressions on the audience and each other really impressed me. Somehow, the producers manage to keep raising the bar with this competition. And unlike another one of my favourite reality competitions, Hell’s Kitchen, each season’s competitors’ uniqueness is kinda mind-boggling. Instances of “Season 9’s X reminds me a lot of Season 6’s Y” are so rare. It’s hard not to have buckets of respect for this art form. But I digress. The 13 queens entered, some sass occurred as they introduced themselves, some light reading took place via out-of-drag confessional moments. And then the world turned upside down.

Lady Gaga entered, pretending to be the 14th competitor. Now, her involvement in episode one was no secret to the television audience – that’s just the nature of promoting a television show – but, for all of the cattiness that may occur on this television series, I don’t think there is a competitive area of expertise where “game recognizes game” more than in the realm of drag. When that fearsome thirteen-some thought a legendary Gaga impersonator had entered the arena, the waves of respect coming off them were palpable. As was the euphoria when her identity was revealed.

Two runway looks were ordered up tout de suite – hometown-inspired frocks and favourite Lady Gaga drag. I have to admit I was kinda anticipating them plunging into a season-starting photoshoot (though not as literally as Season 5), but perhaps the emphasis is, appropriately, shifting more towards personality and individual style. With rare exceptions, the bar was set very high and it was fantastic to get a glimpse into what we can expect to see from each of the queens in the coming weeks.

It was a little surprising that RuPaul wasn’t in drag at all during the first episode, but based on the episode’s cliffhanger ending, this may all just be an incredible build-up to the first time we see Ru on the runway. If anyone knows how to pick their moment, it’s RuPaul, right?

An added benefit to streaming the show was watching the incredible footage of Lady Gaga giving all of the queens what were essentially director’s notes after both runway walks in the season’s first episode of Untucked. I already had a lot of respect for Gaga’s musical and business prowess, but seeing her articulate and share her directorial brilliance was incredible. And the overall good feelings resulting from the queens talking at length with her and each other solidified my impression of the camaraderie among these entertainers. Truly inspiring.