The dolls serve up a timely reminder that you don’t get to be an All-Star if you can’t perform on a professional level and, in perfect Drag Race fashion, a song-and-dance challenge winds up putting the most experienced and one of the most polished queens in the bottom, in one of the more dramatic eliminations of the season.
In other words, it was a good episode of Drag Race All-Stars, you guys!
It’s an irony of blogging that the two of us, who have been recapping every single Drag Race, All-Stars, and 90% of the international versions for 12 years, rarely ever get to sit down and watch an episode with other people, let alone other gay men. But we’re vacationing on Fire Island and we had the pleasure of catching this episode with some friends, which means we’re going to happily let their commentary and impressions influence ours, just to add some more opinions to the mix. But if you hate our assessments here, feel free to blame Mark and David, whose personal information and social media accounts we’ll gladly publish in order to take the heat off us.
Anyway, all the queens on Fire Island agreed that all the queens on Drag Race All-Stars served up a really entertaining episode with just the right mix of professionalism, stunning lewks, and drama. It’s comforting to know that, even when the franchise gets stretched to its limits and spits out too much product in too short a time, the Drag Race format can still be fun when all the right ingredients are in place.
The ingredients this week included an increasingly competitive group with very few (if any) cannon fodder queens left, a (mostly) fun song, some of the best costumes we’ve seen this season, judging decisions that (mostly) made sense, and an elimination and lip sync that truly could have gone either way. All that plus a wig malfunction costing a queen $10,000 results in an hour of television that says “Yes, bitches. We really do deserve all those Emmys.”
Not that we’re trying to oversell this as some sort of epic, best-ever episode of Drag Race, mind you. But if you’ve been reading all of our recapping of the franchise in the last year, we’ve been fairly adamant that the show is approaching burnout and overexposure, so it’s nice to have an hour of the show that was fun and uncomplicated. Sometimes, that’s all you want.
Since we had co-stars on the couch with us, we’re going to give you our group’s impressions of the remaining queens before we get into the details of the challenge. Eureka and Ginger are polished and professional at a level noticeably above the other girls. They never get flustered and each of them routinely serve the most transformatively glamorous drag of the season. You just can’t touch those bitches when they’re on their game. Pandora is the most experienced queen in the group and should be considered much more of a threat, but while she hasn’t necessarily let the competition wear her down like it has in the past, she’s way too quiet and reserved. There’s a mile-thick wall around her and since Ru loves to challenge that sort of thing, we’re surprised she’s had so little to say to Pandora this season. Kylie has turned out to be way more of a threat than we would have predicted. Her head’s in the game and she seems to be improving with each challenge but her makeup skills are the weakest of the group.
Jan is … Jan. No filters, no changes, very little self-awareness. She is, of course, extremely talented. She also can’t stop reminding everyone of that fact and celebrating just how much she loves herself. Of all the queens this season, she is the one most in need of getting out in the world and getting her drag knocked around a little. When you’re gleefully recounting how your grandma wrote an angry letter to RuPaul to defend your drag, the only thing we can think is, “Girl, you need to play a few clubs where the crowd is rough or too busy giving each other blow jobs to applaud you.” She’s just too… clean, somehow. She’s talented but clearly untested. Ra’Jah has ascended quickly to become one of our faves of the season. She’s funny, she’s got a great look in and out of drag (the couch group agreed last night that she looks like an ’80s sitcom character when she’s got her Urkel glasses on and she’s whipping her head around while she reads someone), and like Kylie, she keeps stepping her pussy up, over and over. Trinity would win a “Most Improved” trophy if Mama Ru gave such things out, which may explain why she’s getting such favorable treatment from the judges. Not that she’s not good, but it feels like some obvious critiques are not being made. Like Pandora, Trinity’s being handled with kid gloves by the judges.
We rarely love the compositions given the queens for the girl group challenges (it still stuns us that the insipid “UK Hun?” actually managed to top some charts briefly), so take it with a grain of salt when we say that “Show Up Queen,” while not exactly painful to sit through, was still a fairly bland song, even with the queens’ verses added.
As we noted, the professionalism and polish is fairly high at this point, which means the differences between the worst performances and the best ones were sometimes fairly minor. Personally, while we thought Trinity’s verses, look and dancing were all some of the best of the group, we felt like Ra’Jah or Ginger could have just as easily been considered the winner. Eureka and Kylie delivered pure middle-of-the-road work (and Eureka really needs to do better than that at this stage in the game).
Pandora had a great look, but she was so reserved through the number that she came off embarrassed by it. It’s hard to quantify why Jan just doesn’t connect with the judges, but we tend to agree with their criticisms every time, even if they’re stupidly vague like “You had no soul” and “You didn’t find the humanity.” What those very “new age GuRu” comments are dancing around is the idea that for all her talent, Jan doesn’t really know how to form a bond with the audience; how to play to a room. She’s a queen who needs way more seasoning before she can call herself an All-Star, talented though she is.
The category was “Hot Tropics” and we’re kind of impressed by how widely that was interpreted by the queens (even if there were two J Lo’s and two Carnivale looks).
Jan’s J Lo take was cute and tacky. We loved how the accessories all matched but we weren’t crazy about the fabric, which looked cheap, and the wig, which didn’t seem to go with the look. We think that when a drag queen starts getting up in years, the vintage looks start making more sense than trying to chase, say an Ariana Grande style down. Pandora’s great at this style of drag, but as soon as she walked out, we all voiced some concern that, given her performance, this wasn’t a good time to come out looking like someone’s grandmother.
We loved Ra’Jah’s look for being the only one that looked like a drag take on how someone might actually dress for the tropics. Perhaps a little too basic compared to the other looks, but the blonde wig really makes it. We know we should love Trinity’s look, but it felt… we don’t know… obvious somehow? We’re starting to sound like we really have it in for her, but we swear we don’t. The backpiece and headpiece are impressive, but the body suit is weirdly shaped, especially in the bust.
Absolutely LOVED Eureka’s look, which demonstrated that good drag doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be witty and well-rendered. Done and done. Love the wig. Ginger’s “J Lo Deveraux,” while a cute concept, left us a little disappointed. Like Jan’s take, we didn’t love the fabric and we thought the wig was oddly shaped.
That is the best drag Kylie has served yet, hands down. She’s really won us over this season, but we’ve long felt that her wig and makeup work weren’t quite up to drag standards. In Ru’s parlance, Kylie’s styling can sometimes come off too “lady,” meaning her hair and makeup are traditionally femme without the kind of baking, contouring and elaborate wig work that the other queens tend to routinely utilize. But this? Flawless. We’re not always the biggest fans of showgirl drag, but she really does it well.
We thought Trinity had the lip sync locked down from the jump, but handing Alexis Mateo a J Lo song is an invitation to failure for any queen who goes up against her. Even so, it looked like Trinity might actually have taken this one home if she hadn’t suffered a fatal wig malfunction. Sometimes you can ride something like that out and play it for drama, but 90% of Trinity’s performance was pure haireography and once she lost her best weapon, she didn’t recover. We wanted that $10,000 for her, but we can see why Ru snapped her purse shut.
We’re already seeing the “Justice for Jan” response among the show’s fandom, but so far as we can see, there’s no injustice here. Jan wasn’t always given the most precise and perfectly articulated critiques from the judges (there’s only so much a performer can do with vague aphorisms about souls and humanity), but she knew from the beginning of the season that she needed to change her approach and she just … didn’t. She really seemed to believe if she just kept turning the dials up to eleven on her Jan-ness (despite being told to tone it down repeatedly), she’d eventually win the judges over. Welp. She didn’t.
Our book, Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR, is on sale wherever fine books are sold!
[Photo Credit: Paramount Plus via Tom and Lorenzo]