Law Roach, Jameela Jamil, Leiomy Maldonado, and Keke Palmer are on fire.
Law Roach adjusts himself in his seat. “Amazing grace…,” he begins to sing to a group of contestants onstage, fanning himself dramatically to the spiritual hymn. “...how sweet the sound.” The clip in description, which has since gone viral, then cuts to actor Jameela Jamil, who has sheepishly buried her head in her hands out of the awkwardness of the moment, and ballroom icon Leiomy Maldonado, who holds back laughter.
“I just sang at your funeral; it’s over for y’all,” Roach, the stylist and self-described “image architect” for stars like Zendaya, Tom Holland, Bella Hadid, and Halsey, says dryly. The surprise from the crowd is audible, with gasps and screams echoing in the audience and backstage. Fellow Season 3 judge Keke Palmer’s jaw drops, as does that of Issa Rae, an Episode 4 guest judge. One contestant from the House of Makaveli, whom Roach had been addressing, walks off stage seemingly in tears. “I don’t like Miss Thing,” another says.
This is Legendary.
There are few reality shows where a judge would sing at a mock funeral to show how much they didn’t like a contestant’s performance, but Legendary is certainly that show. Based on the ballroom scene, known most widely as the underground community started in the 1970s where the art of voguing was cultivated, the HBO Max series pits five-member “houses” against one another for the chance at winning a $100,000 grand prize. Four judges — Jamil, Maldonado, Roach, and Palmer — preside over the balls along with guest judges like Rae, Bob the Drag Queen, and Pose’s Dominique Jackson.
While the houses have their work cut out for them — large-scale voguing productions, group runway challenges, and a sex siren category that calls for sensuality — it’s the judges who have undoubtedly carried the show on their backs for Season 3. Indeed, this “House of Judges” of sorts has become the star of the show.
This is meant as no disrespect to the competing houses of Season 3, but the show doesn’t quite hit the same. Legendary Season 1 was filmed in New York before lockdown at the beginning of 2020. Viewers watched dramatic talents like Makayla Lanvin and Shorty Ebony run up walls and do back handsprings while a jam-packed crowd roared. While Season 2 had no crowd, the houses of Miyake-Mugler and Tisci served up some of the most perfectly conceptualized and expertly executed productions ballroom has ever seen. Among them? When the House of Miyake-Mugler turned the stage into a ski-lift, complete with an avalanche; when they schooled the judges on “how to be a queen” in a performance that gagged Adam Lambert; when the House of Tisci took the audience to the museum after hours — the list goes on.
While Season 3 has a few standout houses — Juicy Couture, Yamamoto, and Revlon, according to both fans and the judges — what the show has been missing is a true feeling of competition. Since the May 19 premiere, it’s felt like a waiting game for the House of Juicy Couture to take home the top prize given their level of talent, creativity, and perfectionism. The result takes a bit of the drama and anticipation out of the game as fans expect Juicy Couture to take home the Superior House trophy every episode — or maybe for Revlon to eke by with it. The other houses either seem not ready to be on the show, or good, but simply not on the level of the top three. In place of that drama, the judging panel has stepped up thanks to its artful game of shade and reading.
Since Season 1, Roach has helped the show go viral. He’s peppered the series with quotable one-liners and his fights with contestants and fellow judges are, in a word, legendary. He’s unafraid to say exactly what he thinks about anything happening on set and has found a knack for doing so in the most attention-grabbing way possible. When he got into it with Jackson, their scene was nominated for Best Fight at the 2021 MTV Movie & TV Awards. This season, he’s been serving up moments in spades, but the other members of the panel — both regular and guest judges — have also been working to earn their checks, unafraid to add their personalities to the mix. Each time they face off against one another, sparks truly fly.
When Bob the Drag Queen told the House of Revlon that its reference to the couture designs of the Parisian brand Schiaparelli was hard to understand in Episode 5, Roach tried to overrule her, saying he understood it.
“Well, yeah, but you're a f*cking stylist,” Bob hit back. “Not everyone’s a stylist. This may shock you, but most of us aren’t stylists.”
“Touché, b*tch,” Roach said, laughing. “Touché.”
In Episode 6, Jamil tried contesting Palmer giving the House of Makaveli a perfect score in an effort to boost its confidence. After a bit of seemingly condescending back and forth about how the scores should be doled out, Palmer cut Jamil off while reading her score cards.
“Oh, y’all still talking ’bout that?” She had clearly moved on.
It’s this panel banter that carries the viewers through particularly low or dull moments in the show. The judges have been giving a better performance than most of the houses every episode, either bickering with the contestants, reading one another, or delivering enthralling banter. With popcorn in hand, the audience watches them kiki in lust over the House of Alpha Omega (voicing many of my own feelings), listens to Maldonado getting Jamil together for questioning her judgment, and eats up the moment Roach gets the tables turned on him after going up against Palmer.
If you’re pulled into the show by the innate creativity of ballroom, the chatter is the perfect tool to sustain your interest. And if I’m being honest, the judges are reason enough for a Season 4 renewal. No matter what level of skill the competitors are set to bring, fans know which house will swing for a perfect score one episode after the next.
The Season 3 finale of Legendary hits HBO Max on Thursday, June 9.