RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE ALL STARS: The Fame Games | “It’s RDR Live!”

Posted on May 15, 2023

And we’re off! Like a dress on prom night! Pardon us for the rusty old joke, but we kinda figured it fit right in with some of the material handed to these poor queens to interpret. Sorry for the late posting, but Paramount + has seen fit to adhere to the absolute worst release schedule possible and we had a busy weekend. We’ll have future recaps up in a more timely manner. Anyway, we’ve got a ton of ground to cover, so let’s jump into it.


EPISODE 1: The Fame Games

Drag Race, in all its iterations, is an extremely well-oiled machine at this point, but none of the shows are as coolly efficient as an All-Stars season. There are very few surprises in the production anymore, including the fact that surprise twists are built into it. Every queen shows up with an improved wardrobe, if not improved teeth, skin, hair, facial features or even butts. And that’s not even getting into the queens who struggled with their trans identities the first time on this merry go round coming back in their full glory, completely themselves. Our point: Any season of All-Stars is the equivalent of reality TV comfort food. We just want to see the queens again and check the ways they’ve improved in the years since they first became Ru girls. To be fair, and more than a little shady, this season is more like RuPaul’s Drag Race Alumnae Association than it is a collection of All-Stars, but we don’t mind seeing any of the old gals again, even if they weren’t particularly impressive the first time around.

The challenges were similarly rote and somewhat easily judged: 1) Wear something pretty, 2) Wear something else that’s pretty, 3) Do a little song and dance, and 4) Wear a third thing that’s pretty. You can’t really argue that the show doesn’t understand drag. For the mini-challenge, the queens were asked to model two looks; one based on fame in the past and one based on fame in the present day. The editing made it near impossible to get screencaps and besides, there’s no way we’re highlighting and assessing 36 separate looks when the judges only commented on about a third of them, but thankfully, we have the very good Drag Race social media team to help us out.


We’ll say this: Alexis Michelle and Mrs. Kasha Davis serve old-school drag with near perfection, but they both have a tendency to go for costumes and silhouettes that don’t flatter them. Kahanna is quite clearly the most improved. We have no idea what Heidi was doing with this one. Naysha’s drag is often “man in a dress.” We don’t mean she’s not femme enough, but the Chanel look was simply ladyclothes with no real drag element and her drag face looks exactly like her “real” face except with more eyeliner. Kandy’s kissing Ru’s ass. Monica’s costume was amazing. So was Jessica’s, but Monica’s take on ancient Egypt had a more theatrical vibe. Jimbo’s was funny but strange, largely because you can’t really clown up a classic Marilyn look. The dress design was impressive, though.


Kahanna’s Lil Nas X look was gorgeous. Heidi clearly has a much larger costume budget now. Kasha’s matron drag is going to be the death of her in this competition. Credit where it’s due: Naysha’s second look was fierce. We give Darienne a lot of credit for thinking outside the box, but Billie Eilish is one pop princess who just doesn’t take well to a drag interpretation. Jaymes’ JoJo Siwa was a really cute way of interpreting her camp drag in a modern way. LaLa’s craftsy and half-assed second look was a major letdown from her Diahann Carroll drag.


The main challenge tasked the girls with creating updated versions of the “club classic” (not really) Money, Success, Fame, Glamour, which was originally performed by Drag Race executive producers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey back in their Club Kid days. They were split into teams, with the “Fame Tarts” producing a glam rock version and the Glitter Chicks delivering a disco take. We got the usual “I’m going to show everyone how fierce I am” lyrics-writing scenes as well as the “This choreography is a disaster and we’re in trouble” scenes. We tend to zip right past them unless a fight breaks out because they’re nothing but filler at this point.


We’ll give the Fame Tarts a lot of credit for the consistency of their costumes. The performance was only so-so, with some truly raggedy-ass choreo. Alexis stood out with major theater kid energy, but we couldn’t take our eyes off of Kahanna, who’s clearly learned how to work a stage from her Vegas gig.

Collectively, the Glitter Chicks were a little bit better, although their whole performance came off strangely low-energy. Monica was completely lost up there and Mrs. Kasha Davis covered for her bad dancing by playing it off as comedy, which was smart. The standouts for us were LaLa, Jimbo and, to our complete surprise, Jaymes (although Jessica did well for herself).


The runway category was “Fame Forever,” which was an extremely vague way of just asking them to put on their best drag. Then again, aren’t they supposed to do that every week? Quick thoughts on the safe girls. Heidi’s costumes are insanely improved, Naysha’s was forgettable, Jessica’s was hot (but also forgettable), Jimbo’s was completely insane, but the best summation of her drag aesthetic and Mrs. Kasha Davis looked like she wandered in from a drag revue in the 1980s.

Alexis’ dress was a little underwhelming, but there’s no denying she looked gorgeous. Darienne has always delivered world class drag and this look is fantastic.

The breastplate is a bit much, but Kahanna’s costume was jaw-dropping. She’s clearly back to win it.

The problem with Jaymes’ retro drag is that there’s a very fine line separating it from stale and old-fashioned. It’s not a terrible idea to do a Mae West homage, but you need to make it more fabulous than this. Her makeup skills (including the boob contouring) aren’t great. Lala looked amazing.

Monica was probably the most gorgeous she’s ever looked on that stage, but you could see her wilting with each passing minute.


Kahanna was the clear winner this week. To our delighted surprise, we actually got a judging session with real critiques. Granted, no one said anything too mean to any of the girls, but it was nice to see the judges offer their thoughts on what worked and what didn’t.


They brought back Aja for the lip sync and she won it, but we really thought Kahanna did as good or better a job than her.


Some of these queens come back after a long time away and they have to compete against queens who are only a year or two past their own seasons. It’s not necessarily unfair, but the older/earlier queens are always going to have a rougher time of it in an All-Stars season. We’ll have to see how things will play out with the “Fame Games” twist that will allow the eliminated queens to compete. It feels a little too distracting from the main competition, but we suppose it’s hard to get these girls to come back unless you give them some guarantees.


EPISODE 2: “It’s RDR Live!”

Ru dispensed with any mini-challenge and immediately plunged the queens into a comedy sketch challenge, prompting the usual jockeying for plum roles. Drag Race being the … um, well-established format it is, it was more than obvious that Naysha, the only queen who didn’t get the part she wanted, was going to be on the chopping block by the end of the episode.

To be fair, the point to poorly written or less interesting or hard to convey characters in these challenges is to give the actor playing them a chance to shine by turning crap into gold. Many a queen with a shitty part wound up winning the sketch comedy challenge, although in recent seasons, it really does feel like a death sentence when a queen winds up with a part she doesn’t want.


Granted, pretty much nobody got a particularly well-written character for this one. The hook for the challenge was that the sketches would be shot “live,” which is to say that they got one chance to play it through and that would be the final product. We have absolutely no idea if the production stuck to these rules, of course. And given the nature of reality TV, we also have no reason to believe that they did.

Once again, some of the worst performances here were only a little worse than some of the best ones and the material simply wasn’t funny. The addition of a laugh track only made the attempt seem even more feeble. Having said that, Jaymes was a standout here. She really knows how to handle a character. Heidi was also among the better performances. Naysha was completely lost.

But Jimbo was freaking HILARIOUS. We’re sorry, but so far, Mrs. Kasha Davis is not as campy or as funny as she seems to think. LaLa did well for herself, as did Jessica.

Kahanna also seemed a little lost, but Heidi managed to keep this whole segment on track singlehandedly. We think Heidi and Jimbo are the frontrunners at the moment. They seem the least unsure of themselves. Alexis puts on a good show of confidence, but her hilariously self-serving meltdown in the previous Untucked didn’t exactly sell the idea.

And while we thought Darienne and Alexis were given pretty stale caricatures to play, they both came off smooth and confident in their deliveries.

The runway category was net-based and the girls interpreted it pretty widely, with results that ranged from sickening to half-assed. Naysha’s was forgettable, Jaymes’ was hilarious, Kandy’s was impressive, Mrs. Kasha Davis’ was utterly terrible, Jimbo’s was INSANE, Jessica’s was surprisingly pretty, Heidi’s was cute, but awkward, LaLa’s gave her Barbie crotch, Kahanna’s was stunning, Darienne’s was surprisingly disappointing, and Alexis’ was pretty, but a little standard.

We thought Jimbo’s win was pretty much inarguable, but it sure was convenient that they just happened to have Pangina on tap, who was the the queen who sent her home last time. Pangina’s clearly the better lip sync-er but we thought Jimbo was more connected to the song than she was.

And just like that, the hottest trade of the season was sent packing. She’s a polished queen for sure, but like we said, there’s almost no sense of transformation in her drag and a lot of her costumes are pretty, but not quite as jaw-dropping as you’d expect from an All-Star. Combine that with a pretty awful comedy performance and it seems like the girls are sending home the worst efforts of the week instead of voting strategically. We’ll see how long that lasts.


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]

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