RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars
Hiiiiieeee sugar-children honey-children! RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars is back after a tectonic shift of a second season that seems impossible to live up to, given the circumstances. A legendary contestant was finally crowned. Drama crossed over from our screens into real life. Alyssa Edwards was in it. So the bar? Not low. But we’re happy to report that this premiere of All Stars 3 has us gagged. Sufficiently.
A Handmaid’s Tale–inspired sketch sees Hall of Famers Alaska and Chad muttering about All Stars 3 and confirming that the format is the same as All Stars 2, with eliminated queens likely to return at some point for their poetic “RuVenge.” For a show that loves to shake up its own rules, this is an uncharacteristically early telegraph that portends certain catastrophe later, but for now, let’s clock these entrances, okrrr?!
We’re immediately off to the drag races once Trixie Mattel Rollerblades into the werkroom. She’s a self-anointed “crownless drag superstar,” and she’s right. She has conquered television, touring, and branding, which means anything less than a win would be an upset.
Next up, #ZaddysHome! (Figured we’d get ahead of this hashtag.) Milk is back, and an interesting choice for AS3. She didn’t make it far in season six, but her subversive style is certainly memorable one way or the other. Not as memorable as how handsome she is out of drag, though, and while her post-show accomplishments register mostly in the world of male modeling, to dismiss Milk’s place in this competition is to wade in delusion, sweetie!
Fan favorite Chi Chi DeVayne enters wearing a highlighter-yellow riff on the trash bag look she rocked when she sashayed into season eight. A quick Chi Chi retrospective includes Michelle Visage wagging her finger and saying, “You don’t need money” to compete at a high drag level (which is, you know, not true). As we remember a Chi Chi who was restricted not only by her means but by her lack of confidence, it will be exciting to see what she does with what we assume is a lot more of both.
Thorgy Thor’s intro is very fun until it entirely becomes a retread of her season-eight arc: There’s lint stuck in her glasses, she’s surly, and Bob the Drag Queen is mentioned three times in less than 70 seconds. We really do love Thorgy, but we hope her edit becomes less Bob-centric soon or this won’t bode well for her. Will she find a new rival to distract her from the prize? Or will she let herself be the winner we know she can be?
We then have this season’s requisite “deep cut” queen in Morgan McMichaels, coming hard for the title of the capital-b bitch. While it might behoove a villainous queen to learn from Phi Phi’s mistakes in AS2 and have some self-awareness, will it be as fun to watch? After Milk makes a perfectly benign comment, for some reason Morgan says that she has no tolerance for “divadom” — on a drag-queen reality-competition show, no less. Okay, ho!
Next, Aja scooters in looking elevated in neon, but it definitely feels too soon for us to see her here. How much could she have grown in the months between season nine and AS3? Her clip package makes you wonder why the hell Valentina, a surefire All Star, isn’t in this roster, but alas we have Aja, who may or may not benefit from our underestimation.
Following Aja is the Anne Hathaway of drag, BenDeLaCreme. Despite being named Miss Congeniality on her season, she hasn’t remained very popular with fans. Respected, to be sure! But not beloved. Morgan reads her for being dated and out of touch, but Ben, like Anne, is here for a reason. We all loved when she came out as that bug on the runway during season six, just like we all loved Love & Other Drugs (an example we’re confident in using).
A note for future recaps: When we say something is “stupid,” that means it’s good, and Kennedy Davenport’s entrance is so fucking stupid. She is a Bob Mackie fever dream, and it’s dangerous. Also, let’s take stock: We have in Kennedy a cultivated pageant queen with real performance talent who has grown to embrace drag as fun and frivolous. Ringing a big Texan bell? Trixie shades Kennedy’s ensemble for its ugliness, but coming from the patron saint of ugly drag, this is actually quite revealing. Trixie sees a threat in Kennedy, who ultimately outpaced her in season seven.
Shangela Laquifa Wadley pops out of a literal box, officially taking the mantle as the Omarosa, or Nick Viall, or Shangela, of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She just keeps coming back! Unpolished on her seasons, she has since worked her way into becoming a household name if you have a really gay-ass house. Plus, we don’t mind the “Halleloos” ourselves, so she’ll be fun to watch.
A familiar siren blares with only nine queens present. Hmm. RuPaul enters in a cherry-colored suit and warmly welcomes the queens, but before too much celebrating happens, Ru gags the kids with a reveal: a tenth queen, of course!
From the double doors saunters in the majestic, Oscar-nominated actress Ms. Angela Bassett. Actually, no, it’s season one Drag Race winner BeBe Zahara Benet, whose presence is immediately controversial. Not only has BeBe already won a crown, but her association with the show back when it had a $46 budget has reflected badly on her, perhaps unjustly so. But a quick journey through BeBe’s music videos reveals a singular talent who deserves the newfound reach that the show enjoys now. “Another day, another slay. Who’s first?” she asks in her airy timbre, turning her head toward the other All Stars. Her delivery is chilling and the other girls are shook.
With that surprise out of the way, RuPaul states that “All Star Rules are in effect,” which means the top two queens of the week, as decided by Ru, will lip-sync for a $10,000 tip and the opportunity to send one of the bottom two queens home. We now know this process to be a Lip Sync for Your Legacy; that AS2 rulebook wasn’t just stunts, it was a biblical, world-changing dictum.
For the mini-challenge, the queens are tasked with reading each other, and BenDeLaCreme wins with some excellent zingers on Thorgy’s Pennywise fish and BeBe’s dental work. Though she may be a Miss Congeniality, the other queens could be underestimating her when it comes to the full range of her skills, she says in confessional. This feels similar to when Hathaway raps. You have to remind yourself of Les Mis. That’s Ben right now.
RuPaul reveals the first challenge is a variety show, and in a field of such dynamic performers, this is very promising. Morgan mentions she’ll be performing to a new track she recorded, though she has “never done it before.” Genius! She also takes this opportunity to boldly declare that, should she win any challenges, she’ll be eliminating the strongest contestants. It’s a foolhardy announcement that assumes a lot: (a) That she’ll win challenges, and (b) that despite knowing this to be Morgan’s M.O., other queens will choose to keep her around. Showing her hand this early is sloppy in a version of Drag Race where it’s not enough to be “good.” You have to be a fierce queen and a cunning reality-show contestant.
RuPaul takes the runway in Elmo furball/loofah eleganza to greet the judging panel we know and love, along with special guest judge Vanessa Hudgens, who will later lip-sync for her life against a literal pork chop, winning her breakup with our nation’s preeminent masc-drag performer Zac Efron once and for all. That’s how you Rewrite the Stars (a joke we’re confident in making).
Shangela goes first, and it’s easy to visualize her telling everyone how okay she is with opening the show, because she is a professional, mama. She would prefer to go first, baby. She slays her lip-sync dance mix, like she do, and slams herself to the ground with a death-drop that Vanessa will later call a “shablam!” Go easy on her for this. She is new to being a Significant Gay Icon.
BeBe performs a mix based on her earworm single “Cameroon.” She is a majestic, powerful lioness and serves an aesthetic we haven’t seen on this show in the ten seasons since she competed. It’s proud. It’s high drag. It’s Beyoncé’s vision board for her album 4.
Thorgy flaunts her skills as an incredibly gifted violinist, and it’s nice to see something different. And that one-handed cartwheel! It should be enough to keep Thorgy safe, despite a clumsy mix that seemed to end when it was only half over. We’ll blame it on the edit.
Aja’s newfound affinity for anime drag lewks suits her well in this challenge, but best of all she shows off talents she never got to display on season nine. She is phenomenal performing an original number with surgically precise dance moves and a stunning death drop off a raised platform. The performance is an revelation. Aja has improved — markedly — and came to compete.
Continuing the gag-fest and the use of a raised platform is dancing diva Kennedy, who gives us the brilliance we’d expect. She’s one of the best queens in the world from a performance standpoint. Ben offers a comedic burlesque number so realized and refined that even her critics will be impressed. Her pasty-centric number imagines her as a hapless Dita Von Teese type. Delightful.
Not everyone is great, though. Chi Chi DeVayne clomping down that runway, baton in hand, is an inevitable, unfortunate GIF. A flat wig, literal flat shoes, and a flat performance combine to create something … bad. And also flat. Thorgy remarks that she should know better, but maybe she just doesn’t! Also, when Thorgy takes a break from making jabs at (an absent) Bob to question your decision-making, seek guidance.
Next, Morgan comes out and is a drag queen, in that she performs exactly as a drag queen should to a song a drag queen would make. One of the lyrics is about how drag queens actually have dicks. Did you know? Her wig falls apart and we feel as bad for her as you can for someone who says she wants to deliberately eliminate fan favorites so she can have a clearer path to victory. Bless!
Trixie takes a big risk by not leaning in on her comedy skills and instead performs an original autoharp (!) song. It is quite lovely, and available to stream and purchase now! Plus, she has enough goodwill going into the competition to take a risk like this. Milk uses cutouts of various outfits and skips around moaning about “fashion, dahling” over an electronic beat. It’s not so much an example of talent as much as it is an example of Milk, but it works for us. Kennedy and Chi Chi are both vocal in their distaste for Milk’s act, but it’s outside their vocabulary as queens. Milk can’t flip into a split, so instead she traipses to an ironically cheesy track that devolves into performance art.
The judges deem Trixie, Bebe, Kennedy, and Milk as safe. Shangela, Aja, and Ben earn high marks, while Thorgy lands toward the bottom with Chi Chi and Morgan, who receive some negative feedback. They are the bottom two and will have their fate decided by the winner of a lip sync between Aja and Ben, two girls whom Morgan has explicitly told her plan to eliminate strong contestants if given the chance.
All Stars 2 showed how difficult it can be for queens to get on the same page regarding eliminations. Chi Chi’s critiques were worse than Morgan’s, so she’d be headed home if the judges’ consensus was Bible. The queens, however, have conflicting ideas, best exemplified by Ben and Morgan’s one-on-one: Morgan, the girl cutting class to smoke weed, and Ben, studying extra hard for AP Bio, couldn’t be more different in their approaches. With the power potentially in Ben’s hands, it’s unclear how this will go, as Morgan threatens the integrity-based Drag Race Ben dreams of winning.
We finally arrive at an instant-classic lip sync to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” and we are BLESSED, honey. Aja leans into Nicki while Ben leans into Ben and wins. She gets that “Anaconda” is funny before it is sexy, and slays as a result. That being said, Aja looks like a bag of money, possesses a tuck worthy of Trinity Taylor, and turns it out. The fact that she executes what she does during the song’s first chorus and still loses is a huge testament to Ben, who is to this lip sync what Anne Hathaway is to Rachel Getting Married: its Oscar-worthy (or Hall of Fame–worthy) star. But watch out for Aja, because this time she really is “100 percent that bitch.”
Ben eliminates Morgan, which gorgeously closes the arc on Morgan revealing a strategy that was sure to blow up in her face. It’s a shame, since it would have been interesting to watch how she’s evolved since season two. But the fact of the matter is we are in an All Stars season, and nothing can be taken for granted. And a message from Ru, complete with a ghostly appearance by Alaska and Chad, confirms Morgan’s run at the crown may not be over just yet.
This episode proves it: We’re dealing with a more exciting gaggle of queens than meets the eye, and this season surely will not disappoint. Until next week, hookers!