Darlings, we’ve got a LOT of Drag Race to catch up on after our little book tour and travel extravaganza, so if you’ll bear with us, we’re going to spend the holiday barreling through three full hours of Drag Race on two different continents. We’re just going to ramble our way through, spewing thoughts and observations as we go. All-Stars is the easier one — and we say that not just because we get all the references – so it goes first.
All-Stars is the easier one because, say what you will about the collective All-Star quality of this season’s group, they’ve all been through the Drag Race wringer and they come back with an informed queen’s sense of what to do. We know all of these queens and there are very few surprises to be found among them. That’s not a read. All of the commercials were smoothly professional and most of the queens delivered what was expected of them. At this point, there’s not that much difference in how hard each of them are hitting the competition. They’re filling the All-Stars slots that each have them have shoved themselves into. Put a pin in that; we’ll explain later. We’re jumping ahead to the runway portion, which makes a good entry point to the main theme of this episode, if not this whole season: “What have you learned since you left?”
In other words, it was a Ru-Demption runway, where each queen was tasked in redoing and improving an outfit from their previous season. In some of the queens’ cases, you can look at how they interpreted the challenge and see where they are in the competition.
Kylie’s looks is fun and kinetic and far more polished than her previous drag. It’s not our favorite look, but like every look here, it’s a nice piece of high-end an no-doubt pricey costume design that shows her to be a much-improved queen. Scarlett took a look that was already pretty great and turned the dials up as far as they could go, remaining true to the original look but underlining just how good she can be when asked to show it. Eureka’s look similarly didn’t veer too far away from the original. It just looks more expensive because she’s a working queen and she knows who she is.
Ra’Jah’s look screamed “I stepped my pussy up, bitch.” It looks expensive, but it’s also cohesive and well-executed. Pandora served up a more expensive-looking version of herself, but dear God, that’s a dowdy gown. Yara similarly served up the Yara you’d expect, just with a slightly higher level of flair (if she’s even capable of going any higher). Trinity has literally never looked better. She wants Ru to know she’s changed and she managed it.
Jan is serving us … Jan. No changes. It’s cute enough. It seems like Ginger feels free enough to take some risks with her costume. We know she likes to blend glamour and comedy in her drag, but this is just an odd design from the waist down. Silky looks amazing but there’s no ignoring the fact that she didn’t update or improve anything from her previous look. She’s just wearing a much more expensive outfit that looks great on her. That’s kind of a metaphor for her whole return. And A’Keria gave us … A’Keria, slightly heightened. Good, but not notable. They’ve all slotted themselves into their roles.
See, in any reality competition all-stars season, returning competitors fall into three categories: the “Mama, Can You Hear Me?” Queens, i.e., the ones who’ve changed, are unsure of how to act about it, but would love it if Ru noticed (Trinity, Kylie Sonique, and to a much lesser extent, Pandora); the “I’m Pretty, Mama!” Queens, i.e., the ones who are determined to show that they’ve changed and it informs every single thing they do or say (Ra’Jah, Silky); and the “You’re Not My Mama” Queens; i.e., the ones who haven’t really changed at all, for good or for ill (Eureka, Jan, Scarlett, Yara, Ginger). We’re going to focus on one queen from each group this week, since they’re the ones delivering the drama.
The “Mama, Can You Hear Me?” queens almost never win. It’s usually less about lack of talent as it is about lack of direction. You’ve got to prove that you deserve to be there and these queens tend to have a shaky game plan in that regard. Trinity is so determined to show how much she’s matured and grown as a performer – and the thing is, it’s pretty clear to see, if she’d stop fretting about it so much. But it looks to us like she still walks around weighed down with some heavy self-consciousness and insecurity. Even when she wins, she can’t allow herself to enjoy the moment without focusing on what everyone else thinks of her.
With the “I’m Pretty, Mama!” and “You’re Not My Mama” queens, the likelihood of winning comes down to the exact same factor: who you are at that moment. It will matter less that you changed or didn’t change. What will matter is whether you’re smart and good enough to give the judges what they want (which is, admittedly, arbitrary and capricious) and sail through the competition. The final group tends to be the most fun to watch, because they bear less of that anxiety about proving themselves. Eureka and Ginger, for instance, have absolutely no reason to be hanging all their hopes and dreams on a Drag Race crown and it shows.
Jan, on the other hand, is unchanged and on track to get her heart broken a second time. We wish she’d do a better job of concealing it on her sleeve, if you know what we mean. She is delivering exactly the same drag she showed the judges the first time around (which may be an argument that queens need a little time to bake before returning to the Drag Race fold). That girl wants to be loved and Mama Ru, she is a stern and harsh mother. She also, it needs to be said, is a mother who has a clear bias against drag queens with theatrical performer training. We get the sense she has that old-school queen bias of seeing the theater queens as well-trained performers who utilize drag rather than a true drag queen. “You didn’t give me any humanity” is a hilariously pointless critique to be giving someone tasked with making a drag queen escort commercial. If we had any advice to give Jan at this point, we’d urge her to try to be unpredictable and even a little sloppy.
Silky’s fate is a prime argument against using an all-stars season to rehabilitate your image. She made the fatal mistake of course-correcting so hard from her previous appearance that she forgot to bring a personality with her. We’ve been recapping reality TV long enough to know that it’s quite easy for first-timers not to see where the line is and to come across a lot harsher or even crazier than they are in real life. We also know that the Drag Race fandom can be racist as fuck and it also doesn’t have a great track record for being kind about big girls in the competition. All of that should be taken into account when you consider how chastened Silky came across and why it bothered her so much that she felt that way. But again, if we were somehow the little drag Jiminy Crickets, bouncing from shoulder to shoulder and giving unasked-for advice, we’d have told her to own who she is, make apologies or amends where she thinks she has to, and get on with the business of being Silky Nutmeg Ganache. Like her or not, Silky has a knack for making an impression, which is an extremely important and essential tool in the drag toolbelt. She never should have stopped being who she is.
And finally, it must be said and recognized…
Miss Laganja Estranja made her triumphant return to the Drag Race main stage and she damn near set it on fire. There’s a time and place for the kind of dipping and splitting kinetic lip sync she excels at and she definitely made her case that she was in the right place. No tea no shade against Trinity, but Laganja ate this one up.
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]