RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Recap: Diva Behavior

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Photo: VH1
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars

Divas Lip Sync Live Season 3 Episode 2
Editor's Rating 4 stars

If there’s one sinister element to the otherwise magnanimous enterprise that is Drag Race, it’s that the show loves to key in on one particular queen each season and highlight her as the textbook “Inner Saboteur,” someone subsumed by self-doubt or paranoia, representing everything anathema to the Unified Theory of RuPaul. According to Ru, success is about silencing that Saboteur, and those who fail must be punished and serve as a cautionary tale to the wayward souls of man. If it’s not Nina inventing drama with Shea in season nine, it’s Katya having regular meltdowns over her self-worth in season seven. There’s a lesson to be learned from each of these girls’ inner turmoil, and the show’s only sin is getting didactic in driving out that perennial figure year after year.

Sadly, it falls on Thorgy to take that mantle this season, and it makes for a tough viewing if only because we’re rooting for her to pull through and break out of her holding pattern. But alas, alack; Inner Saboteurs never last.

Thorgy starts off the episode chipper enough, joking that Aja, who reveals she selected Chi Chi for elimination had she won the last lip sync, will be eliminated by Ms. DeVayne in the future. Meanwhile, Shangela plots her own win, declaring herself in confessional as the Daenerys Targaryen of the competition before (accurately) rattling off several Dany-related honorifics. (She does miss “Queen of the Andals and the First Men,” “The Unburnt,” and “Oh Wow I Look Like Emilia Clarke,” but we digress.) The queens huddle the next day to discuss the previous night’s variety show, and Chi Chi shades Milk’s performance as being subpar. Ooooooouuuu! The tension is thick, but nothing that a She-Done-Already-Done Siren can’t cut through.

Screen Ru and I.R.L. Ru inform the girls that this week’s maxi (and only) challenge is a lip-sync extravaganza set to a VH1 Divas Live tribute to RuPaul’s music. It’s a gay hat on another gay hat on a shake-and-go wig and we live for it, honey. We also learn the runway category for the episode: RuDemptions of the queens’ previous fashion fails. No other show on television can give you such paroxysms of queer joy.

The girls are assigned their divas, given the lip-sync track and, knock knock, who’s there? It’s Thorgy’s Inner Saboteur barging in with some patent falsehood about Stevie Nicks not being finger-wag-worthy enough to be a gay icon she can parody. First of all, we lovingly refer Thorgy to these incredible Stevie moments that are homosexually relevant. Second, almost none of the divas in question have had a throng of “Yaaaaas!”-ers at their performances, because that’s a behavior at drag shows, not concerts. Third, if we get assigned Stevie Nicks, we’re immediately preparing to blow cocaine up our own ass live onstage. And that’s drag. Are we alone out here? Anybody? Hello?

The queens clomp along to a demanding dance rehearsal led by Todrick Hall, consummate multi-hyphenate and triple threat (singing, dancing, being Taylor Swift’s handler at parties). Shangela goes full Method in embodying Mariah Carey, while Thorgy goes full thirst monster so she can get plugged into the other queens’ routines. Professionalism at its gayest and most histrionic, folks.

On the main stage Ru welcomes Todrick and the queen diva, Ebony Scrooge herself, Vanessa Williams, to the judging panel. Milk opens the performance as a raven-haired (?) Céline Dion wearing a giant peanut butter pendant, and it’s another example of the sartorial cul-de-sacs that Milk has been finding herself in since season six. Each element is off-kilter in a theoretically “fun” way, but altogether the ensemble makes no sense. She does a passable job lip syncing, but her broad comedic choices (singing into her shoe like it’s a … telephone? Classic Céline) are off the mark. It’s too many unusual things, and Milk’s opener sets a precarious tone for the number.

Kennedy as Janet Jackson wears an outfit that references no discernible Janet era we know of. She surprisingly botches not only the choreo but the lip sync, doesn’t nail a comic opportunity referencing Nipplegate, and barely gets through introducing Aja as Amy Winehouse, who gives us our first real diva resemblance in a serviceable beehive and an appropriately padded silhouette. Aja’s lip sync is strong, and it’s the first time we feel any sort of real commitment to bringing the spirit of the diva to the stage, but that bad taste from the weak openers is still lingering in our palates, honey.

Chi Chi’s performance as Patti LaBelle registers somewhere between exuberant/energetic and frantic/fraught, but the judges seem to enjoy it, which may have more to do with Patti than Chi Chi. A perfectly suited Trixie slays as Dolly Parton, a diva perfectly suited to her. She’s also shockingly adept at choreo throughout the number! Okay, hidden talents! C’mon, steps!

What then follows is an extended read on Mariah Carey’s infamous New Year’s Eve number courtesy of Shangela, who executes it perfectly. It’s easy to see why Thorgy was so convinced that Shang was being set up to win, because Mariah on New Year’s is never not going to be funny. If we had one gripe, it’s with that headpiece completing the ensemble, but it’s still a moment, dahling, and that Method acting surely paid off. The lambs will be pleased.

Thorgy’s turn as Stevie is fine. It’s fine! Her lip sync is tight, but where’s the fun? Blow some lines, girl. Cast a spell. Fall over whilst spinning. Something! We understand that Steve is, in Thorgy’s words, “all internal,” but this isn’t the grounded Stevie Nicks biopic of our dreams starring Reese Witherspoon. (OMG can you imagine?) Despite the allegedly vast Ru-wing conspiracy keeping Thorgy from succeeding, there are a dozen different ways around making this boring. It feels like Thorgy put more energy into fulfilling her own doomsday prophecy than capitalizing on an opportunity, which Ru might say is the most classic Inner Saboteur trap of all.

Giving Shangela a run for her money for Best in Show are BenDeLaCreme as Julie Andrews and Bebe Zahara Benet as RuPaul’s No. 1 diva of all time, Diana Ross. Serving an amazing drag caricature and a flawless lip sync to “Call Me Mother” with well-executed choreo that makes Todrick visibly proud, Ben is a gag and a half. It’s like her Hollywood counterpart Anne Hathaway’s performance in Brokeback Mountain in that it makes you go, “Okay, bitch!” The hills are alive! Bebe wraps it all up and simply is the divine Ms. Ross: a bouncy-haired, sleepy-eyed sponge for public adoration. We are so here for this bitch.

Next, the RuDemption runway is a mixed bag. Milk serves glamour, but misses the opportunity to heighten a familiar fashion faux pas and represent her uniqueness. It’s merely solid drag with no frame of reference. Aja, on the other hand, reminds us of her disastrous “Disastah” princess look from season nine with a runway that nails the assignment. Chi Chi’s improved neon look prompts an exceptional quip from Ru (“Why it gotta be black light?”) and Trixie’s ugly couture is laugh-out-loud hideous and therefore exactly right.

Had Kennedy stepped on that runway without a fully realized long-night-of-hooking-rooster-crystallization story, she’d have been eliminated on the spot, and luckily we are served a hilarious Death Becomes Her look. Doing her best Acid Betty is Thorgy in a Neon Realness look that we like, but are not sure will be enough for Michelle. Ben, who has never really had a bad runway moment, serves jewelry-soaked elegance, followed by Bebe giving cultivated female executive. And then Shangela rolls in.

Literally! She’s a beautiful ornament encased in a gorgeous Zorb bubble as a do-over of her Christmas Eleganza from season three. Ru is gagged, and so are we. Shangela sews up the week’s win here and officially eats this episode alive, serving All Star runway the way we remember it from last season. Halleloo, indeed.

Shangie, Bebe, and Ben earn deserved spots in the top three, and when RuPaul calls Thorgy, Chi Chi, and Kennedy forward, you almost assume they’re safe because surely Milk has to be in the bottom, right? Wrong. Milk is sent instead to the back of the stage alongside Aja and Trixie, and she makes an immediate point of pitching a fit over her safety, calling it “fucking stupid.” K, Zaddy!

The critiques are what you’d expect. The judges unfairly gloss over Kennedy’s runway, but rightly clock her messy performance. Chi Chi’s critique rests almost entirely on her runway presentation, which, while mostly appreciated by Michelle, is “basic” according to Carson. Shangela, Bebe, and Ben receive the praise you’d expect, and Thorgy … sigh.

Certainly the editor isn’t an innocent when it comes to Thorgy appearing to talk over Vanessa Williams, despite her earlier claims that she is constantly talked over in yet another woe is me moment for the fashion clown. She receives her negative feedback with poise, yet we as the viewer know this will not put her in an emotionally sturdy place. She lands in the bottom two alongside Kennedy, her fate in the hands of Shangela and Ben.

Genuinely confused, Thorgy holds back tears in the workroom. She’s unable to see what we and the other contestants do: that she is her own worst enemy! Left without many options, she entertains Shangela’s idea that she “have her back” in the future, and the word “alliances” is desperately mumbled. But if you think about it, Shangela’s options here are weighted: forge a shaky partnership with Thorgy that relies entirely on the precise scenario that, in the relatively few weeks to go in the competition, Thorgy lands in the top and wins the lip sync while Shangela falls to the bottom so she can get out of jail free; or maintain a long, loving friendship with Kennedy.

Before we get to the lip sync, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the strangest moment in an episode full of strange behavior: Milk’s breakdown over her safety and perceived lack of praise. This is baffling considering Milk dodged a huge bullet by not landing in the bottom. Trixie’s confessional reads of Milk are dead on: The Céline wasn’t very Céline and the runway, while passably glamorous, wasn’t very Milk. It’s a bad look and a sore-loser moment that may start an unfortunate trend. Across the room, Thorgy explains to Ben that, while she loves her, she “can’t predict how she’ll react” if eliminated, which feels oddly threatening. Are the producers feeding lines to these queens? Because their behavior is — what? — maddening.

The lip sync to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” is fun, and victory is Shangela’s once she takes out a jump rope and — you guessed it, bitch — jumps. Ben does well, but abandons a strong Wealthy White Woman character midway through to resort to some typical fun-but-we’ve-seen-it shtick. Shangela stays consistent throughout, just as she has all episode long. We’re looking at a top-three contender, people!

And with Thorgy’s embittered departure, the narrative is complete. Yet another Inner Saboteur has been taken as a blood offering to Ru’s worldview, and gay bars across the world mourn over lost potential. Some may decry Thorgy’s downfall by way of the show’s she-brought-this-on-herself narrative, but it’s also one that seasoned queens should know well enough to see coming. In any event, it’s sad to see Thorgy go, even with an off-puttingly salty lipstick message that reeks of pettiness and sore-loserdom. She’s still our hometown hero through and through, but it would have been tough to see her continue down a self-destructive path. We fell in love with the Thorgy you can see tear it up in Brooklyn all the goddamn time. This Thorgy. And this Thorgy. But the Thorgy on this season of All Stars? Perhaps one legendary diva said it best: We don’t know her.

Said the Bitch: A Weekly Quote Spotlight

Trixie Mattel: “Milk, your talent can’t be Velcro.”

… SAID THE BITCH! We live for this read, as well as all of Trixie’s reads this season. She is serving All Stars 2–era Alaska in that she appears to see all, quite clearly, and hasn’t missed a beat. Watch this big-titted space, henny.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Recap: Diva Behavior