Doing live-action musicals isn't an easy prospect. Most Broadway performers have experience dancing, singing, and acting at the same time. But for those who are famous for being singers, or former Disney stars, or former reality show divas, chances are there's only one or two out of the three that comes naturally. This leads to some unfortunate choices having to be made. Does one lip-sync to get the vocal on point? Or does one struggle through and get credit for doing it live? Was Valentina lip-syncing during "Contact"? Audiences are convinced the answer is yes.
This has been a problem since NBC first kicked off a revival of the genre with The Sound of Music Live. Carrie Underwood was known for her singing, and as one of the most successful Idol alums to ever come out of the show. But her acting was only slightly more wooden than her dancing. One of the reasons Grease Live was such a hit for Fox was the decision to cast Broadway talent, even if they weren't the biggest household names.
Rent: Live was a mishmash of different talents. Vanessa Hudgens, who played Maureen, is a Disney star. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Tom, is a Broadway talent. And Valentina, who played the critical role of Angel Dumott Schunard, is from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9.
As one would expect, her dancing and acting was over the top and riveting. But fans were pretty sure some of her singing had help.
For those who don't watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, the joke here is Valentina wasn't the winner of her season. She was eliminated in episode 9 for failing to remember the words in the Lip-Sync For Your Life competition. Despite her inability to lip-sync well, she wound up with the Miss Congeniality consolation prize, which is awarded to the season's fan favorite.
Therefore, it makes sense that the producers of Rent: Live would want to cast her in the role of Angel, the famous drag queen from the show. But then to have her lip-sync during one of the most famous sequences, "Contact," which is when Angel dies, was just a little questionable.
Perhaps the hope was to impress Rentheads who might not have watched RuPaul's Drag Race. After all, the staging of "Contact" was actually one of the most traditional of the entire show so far, sheets and all. (It is also one of the most famous pieces of staging from the original show, since it's the scene where Angel dies from AIDS.) And to be fair, it's not the easiest of vocals.
But the point of a show like Rent: Live is that it's live, from the acting to the dancing to the vocals. That's why, when NBC started the trend, The Sound of Music casted someone who could sing, even if she, according to fans, couldn't act or dance as well. The singing was the most critical part.
Fox clearly sees it differently. But the unfortunate side effect was that some of the "live singing" wasn't.