We’re Here doesn’t get enough credit for its casting. I’m not talking about Bob, Shangela, and Eureka, even though they are the perfect hosts. Instead, I’m referring to the participant casting, which makes or breaks the show.
Take this week’s episode, “Jackson, MS,” for example. All three of this week’s participants approach their drag experiences from different angles and degrees of success. Chris is your typical “straight but not narrow” bro who is on the show because he’s open to all experiences and wants to show other piranha-possessing, CBD-loving bros like himself that you can wear a wig and still be, like, totally into girls. Mark, a Ph.D.-seeking opera singer trying to integrate Jackson’s gay scene, is clearly onboard from the get, even squealing when Shangela shows up at his front door.
And then you have De’Bronski, the standout of the episode. Raised rough in a Pentecostal and Apostolic household, De’Bronski tells Bob almost out of the gate that he doesn’t know how he identifies, saying it’s nobody’s “business how I feel or I don’t.” When Bob presses him a little, he admits to being “MSM,” or “men who sleep with men,” telling Bob, “We don’t use gay or lesbian.” De’Bronski also tells Bob about how his family tried to exorcise him when they found out he was gay, that he left home when he was 17, and that he’s only seen his family once since, and it went pretty poorly, with his grandpa threatening to shoot him if he didn’t leave his house. As a Black child, Bob says, you’re raised to believe that it should be “family above everything, blood no matter what,” and that’s not a message that serves many people well as they grow into adulthood.
That sensitive interaction sets the tone for De’Bronski’s arc in the show, which is akin to a straight-up personal and emotional transformation captured on film. Whoever cast De’Bronski on the show had to truly believe that they could crack his shell and open him up with the proper look, care, number, and conversations with his family and fiancé. And honestly, they were right. What happens with De’Bronski is one of the most transcendent moments the series has had.
Let’s touch on Mark’s arc quickly because it’s well worth covering. Marc grew up in Louisiana and went to college there at some liberal-arts school but moved to Jackson for graduate school, where he studied vocal performance. He’s become involved with Capital City Pride, and he’s made it his pet project to take a serious look at why there’s such a separation between Jackson’s white gay scene and the scene for people of color. One of the places he takes Shangela is City Lights, a Black-owned-and-run gay bar that’s been operating for over 30 years. It was once the only game in town, the owner tells Shangie, but once a few other gay bars opened in town, somehow City Lights became solely the Black gay bar, which she finds a little befuddling. While We’re Here certainly can’t hope to solve Jackson’s race issues in one episode — Mississippi has a history of racism and oppression — here’s hoping that the show shines a light on the segregation within the LGBTQ+ scene and inspires locals to change it however they can.
Chris and Eureka stumble into an illuminating discussion about allyship after casually referring to his drag mom as “bro.” Eureka chastises him kindly but says that pronouns are important to them, and Chris takes the note, saying, “Thanks for pointing that out because I want to be more empathetic to everyone.” This is a true ally statement, according to Eureka, and the whole thing is like something you’d see in an HR training video but real and believable.
De’Bronski generally looks like he came straight from a shift at Chase Bank, but we see him come out of his shell a little mid-episode when he finally introduces his fiancé James (who does drag!) to his family. When he tells his cousins he’s going to do drag, one says, “Racin’?” After De’Bronski explains it involves wigs and heels, that same cousin hands his cigarette to another cousin and races inside. We’re all left wondering what the hell is happening, but then the cousin comes tearing out with a gift-wrapped bottle of Champagne, which he hands to De’Bronski, saying, “Do what you have to do, because no matter what the fuck you have going on, cuz, we’ve been your family, we’re still going to be your family, we’re still here, and we’re not going nowhere.” (Cue intense viewer sobbing.)
The cousins also embrace James, which is heartwarming. The whole exchange seems to make De’Bronski crack open just a bit as he starts telling his family that they have no idea the things he went through as a child before beginning to sob and taking off to hide in the house, saying, “I don’t want to do this. I can’t.” Yet another cousin tracks him down and we hear her tell De’Bronski, “This is making you strong. You have to tell it to make you better.” (Second round of audience sobbing commences.)
On to the show, which is held in one of the bigger capacity rooms I’ve seen on We’re Here. The whole thing opens with Shangela doing a sort of Egyptian-themed version of “Break My Soul,” which, knowing Shangie’s love for Beyoncé, feels correct. Also, shout-out to Shangela’s steadfast commitment to a fringed dance costume and a thigh-high boot. She must have hundreds of both, and to loosely quote RuPaul, why reinvent the wheel? If it works, it works.
The story line of Chris’s performance is a little muddled, though I like how they integrate Iggy Azalea’s “Work,” a low-rider bike, stripper vibes, and the way Chris dedicated the performance to his and Eureka’s late mothers.
Mark takes on Lizzo’s “2 Be Loved (I Am Ready),” albeit with a little opera to open the number. Again, the story line is a touch confusing because it somehow involves a Grease-style pajama party and a robe going off and on. Still, Miss Athena Ferrero Rocher Wadley is a beautiful queen, a great performer, and is fully committed to her whole thing. She jumps into a goddamn split, for crying out loud.
Finally, De’Bronski. Bob isn’t even involved in his number, choosing instead to sit in the audience wearing his Nina Simone homage look from season two. De’Bronski is doing a solo park and bark version of “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,” which he delivers with such power that the lip sync has been physically ripped from his body. His fiancé is crying. His cousins are crying. I’m crying. He sells the shit out of the track, and when his gown becomes a backdrop for the whole stage, the entire room loses it. His “You’re gonna love me” run is so good you could honestly believe he was actually singing it. Honestly, has De’Bronski thought about becoming an actor? Because what he summons up onstage is incredibly powerful and real. Bob quips, “That’s how you shut down a motherfuckin’ show.” De’Bronski tells the crowd, “I’ve allowed others to make me invisible, and I wouldn’t be invisible anymore. I’m my own person, and I won’t let society put me in a box.”
Backstage, Bob seems genuinely moved by his protege’s outpouring of emotion, telling De’Bronski. In an interview later, De’Bronski says he feels almost like a “free bird” who’s “gotten my voice back.” That’s the kind of transformative journey you want on a reality-TV show and one that anyone with half a heart would wish for De’Bronski. I hope he’s doing well now, but if what we saw in this episode is any indication, I know he is.
• This week’s opening queen look is a tribute to Elvis, and I was really living for the “Jailhouse Rock” look Eureka was delivering. She had tiny handcuff jewels stuck to her face, for crying out loud!
• “Put your purse down to establish dominance.”
• I’m not going to give air to Bob’s run-in with that Westfield Baptist–like asshole. He was there because he knew the show would be there, and like Bob said, “If they really wanted to talk, I would talk to them, but they don’t want to talk. They just want to insult people, and I’m going to get ice cream.”