Hey, Super Queens! And yes, I am talking to you, The Reader! (Note: If you identify as straight, that’s fine too. I actually have a cousin who is straight!) I am absolutely thrilled to be back recapping this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 4, which gets off to a positively gaggy start with this first episode. Queens with big things to prove metaphorically rise while others literally fall. We have a terrific group of memorable and dynamic girls, so let’s get reintroduced!
America, first up is the Ooh Ah Ah Sensation herself, the infectious Monique Heart, and it takes about two seconds to see that her primary issue from season ten has been resolved. Fans will recall that a serious lack of paper made it difficult for Monique to compete with the likes of Aquaria, Eureka, Asia & Co. on the runway, but the bitch is looking expensive now. She’s serving red rosy bandleader drag queen and it’s gorgeous. With all of her charisma, comedic talent, and watchability, Monique is a threat for the W. It’s also an obvious sign of confidence in her on the show’s part that Monique is the first in the werkroom (her predecessors in this position include Katya and Trixie) and her confessionals are already delivering. She could probably do them all herself this season and we’d be thoroughly entertained.
But then we have Trinity Taylor, popping out of a body bag with an exuberant, hilarious affirmation (“Yes!”) and we’re happy to spread the talking heads around. Her ensemble, made completely out of yellow zip-ties, is striking, as is the confidence she’s exuding. What was once a competent pageant and body queen has transformed into a comedy dynamo, and this recapper echoes Monique’s sentiment that she very well could have won season nine. We’re even getting a rebrand, honey! She’d now like to be referred to as Trinity the Tuck. Happy to oblige!
Shifting focus from Trinity’s tuck, let’s talk about Naomi Smalls’s legs. They are indeed the focus of Ms. Smalls’s intro, and it’s true that she somehow appears taller than she ever has. Did she get those things stretched? Can you do that surgically? One of the most formidable runway queens in the RuPaul’s Drag Race canon, Naomi rode those pins all the way to a spot in the Top Three of season eight alongside Bob the Drag Queen and Kim Chi. Stacked up against those two, it was probably a lack of the two P’s, performance and personality, that kept her from the crown, and I can’t help but make the same comparison right now. Naomi is special on the runway, but with Monique and Trinity in this room, her challenge this season is already super clear: Don’t just stand tall, stand out.
“Guess who’s black in the house, bitch!” Monét X Change is here, fresh off season ten, and she’s wearing some hair! She’s also wearing a basic black jumpsuit. But, focusing on the positive, we love the hair! The current reigning Miss Congeniality earned a place here by being one of season ten’s most fun characters and, like Naomi, it’s clear what she has to do. She’s got the two P’s in spades, but those runways need to improve. More than improve, they need to happen. Monét seems very aware of this fact, which makes the jumpsuit all the more of a question mark. But, again, the hair! Love this hair!
She is the boom boom gun and she has arrived. Looking gorgeous both in her confessional and entering the werkroom, Gia Gunn assumes her place in the competition. It’s hard to top the iconically huge circular purse from her season-six intro, so Gia opts for, dare I say, a more ready-to-wear moment with ornamented denim boots and an extra-ornamented couture top complete with a thorned crown for her beautiful-ass head. Gia’s participation in this season of Drag Race is in and of itself a gag, as she has been critical of RuPaul’s stance on trans participation in this very competition, but I couldn’t be more thrilled to see how Gia’s drag has developed, and for the takes we are surely going to get from her this season. Seconds in, she calls Trinity a “monster.” This season’s Bitch Goddess may have just arrived!
Farrah Moan coos her way into the werkroom and the montage of her time on season nine in comparison with her gorgeous entrance is Growth 101. Let this woman teach a college course in growth! She already appears more confident than the little girl we once knew, and maybe this year we’ll have a healthy amount of tears instead of a constant barrage of wailing. She is one of the most beautiful queens in the cut but, unfortunately for Miss Moan, Monique Heart comes and steals this moment away. Her comparison of Farrah’s ass to that of Mr. Rogers is one for the ages. If you don’t stan Monique, I don’t see you. I refuse to see you!
Jasmine Masters’s entrance is the most gasp-worthy so far, not because of anything she is doing or wearing, but merely because she is here at all. Not that she isn’t memorable and doesn’t necessarily deserve a place in the competition, but she simply did not do well on season seven, and her social media presence has given the impression that the relationship between Masters and this show is touch and go. There is absolutely no denying that she’s an iconic drag queen, but there’s a difference between that and being a successful Drag Race contestant. We are talking about two entirely different worlds. But the girls are happy and gagged to see her, and so am I. It will, at the very least, be interesting to hear what the hell comes out of her mouth.
After some brief discussion of whether or not season nine was boring or memorable, the Fan Favorite enters. The infamous Valentina basically shuts down any discussion that season nine wasn’t fascinating to watch as, in true Celine Dion fashion, it All Comes Back to Us Now: the wedding-dress runway, the “Linda Evangelista,” the diva attitude and the mask. Oh, the mask. With nothing to hide behind, Valentina enters the competition in all her complexity. Is she the good Miss Congeniality so many idolize? Is she the bad-girl diva and should Gia Gunn just step aside? Is she both?! Love her or hate her, we’ve all waited to watch Valentina on Drag Race again, and she hints in her confessional that she is not above some, como se dice, shenanigans, bitch.
Suddenly, RuPaul enters. Could there be only eight queens? (No.) After some squealing and excitement, RuPaul announces a twist. (Duh.) Team Latrila stomps their way into the werkroom, and the girls we’ve already been introduced to are truly laid out. Season four’s Latrice Royale and season three’s Manila Luzon are two of the most revered queens in the RuPaul’s Drag Race family, and they famously had a rough, some might even say unfair, go of it during All Stars 1, in which the competitors were put into teams of two. They are back now to compete as individuals, and the other queens are justifiably shook. Things just got very real, as it’s quite frankly tough to see either of them doing badly. They are revered. They are seasoned. They are fully committing to this bit with the handcuffs. The game is afoot.
Like the last two seasons of All Stars, we begin with a lighthearted reading challenge. At least it’s supposed to be lighthearted until Gia Gunn comes for Farrah’s whole life and career by calling her “unoriginal and untalented.” If you’re waiting for a comedic punchline, you’re gonna stay waiting. Most everyone else lands fun little digs at their competition, while Farrah struggles, albeit with a laugh. Latrice Royale hands everyone their padded ass (and looks stunning, regal, and confident doing so) and wins the challenge easily.
As is custom, RuPaul announces the variety talent show as the first maxi challenge of the season. This one features a patriotic spin in that it involves LGBTQ+ veterans and active service members as the audience, a loving nod to those in our community who put their lives on the line so we can even have a show that births the catchphrase “Miss Vaaaaaaaaannjiiiieeee!” We are forever grateful.
The banter amongst the girls is good-natured for the most part, with Naomi shouting Manila out for being a legend and Trinity giving Farrah her props regarding her influence in the highlighter-using-and-abusing community. Good-natured until, again, we get shadiness deluxe from Gia Gunn, who comments that Monique’s “Brown Cow Stunning” routine may not be so stunning on the runway before laying into Farrah Moan yet again for being untalented. It’s one thing to say it to her face during the reading challenge, but to offer it as an aside to another queen? This is thick! It’s also odd to hear Gia question Farrah’s place in an All Stars competition based on merit when the former did not place as highly as the latter. Statistically, your girl is backwards. She also claims Trinity’s talent is, flat out, not a talent. Has Gia transcended Shady Queen and gone full on Villainess? Watch this space.
To the mainstage! RuPaul welcomes regulars Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, and Ross Matthews, along with special guest judge Jenifer Lewis, embracing “more is more” throughout her entire appearance on the episode. She’s Emmy-worthy here and the cuts to her throughout the variety show are rewind-worthy.
Monique Heart is first, debuting her single “Brown Cow Stunning” based on her season-ten catchphrase. This performance would already be a win for us all because we are now able to ask each other the question, “Are you brown cow stunning?” at events, happenings, get-togethers, etc. but it is also performed confidently and ferociously by Heart, who could have an entire album based entirely on her many catchphrases. (“Pay the Designer” is one she created on this episode that could work. Just an idea!) She sings, she dances, she captivates the audience. How now, Brown Cow! How now.
Next up is Naomi Smalls, who offers a lip-synch performance to a track we can probably guess is titled “Fashion” based on how many times we hear that word. For the duration of the performance, I’m reminded of Milk’s talent-show performance last year, probably because that was also about fashion, except Smalls’s is missing any humor. That is, until the end of the song when Naomi removes her wig to reveal a hilarious, cartoonishly bald head with tufts of hair poking out at the back. At the very last second, Smalls gives us comedy! Almost as if to ask, “Oh, bitch, but did you think I wasn’t going to give you comedy!?” It’s almost as if she is asking that. I love the reveal, as does RuPaul, and she looks stunning.
Gia Gunn has studied the art of kabuki for many years, and it shows in her beautiful performance. Gunn doesn’t try to subvert this or make this funny because we’re on Drag Race. She instead earnestly and, to be honest, refreshingly shows us that this is an art form she cares deeply about. Look at this bitch containing multitudes! Owwwkay.
Putting an immediate stop to the beauty is Trinity the Tuck with a “tucking tutorial” set to music (I love this show) that is so simultaneously educational and hilarious that you can call her John Oliver, henny! Some of the lyrics in the song are truly laugh-out-loud (the non-rhyming “a little airbrush spray to hide the razor burn and welts” really got me, gal) and her Steel Magnolias–esque ensemble would be at home in any sick, deranged Southern elementary school. A final reveal of Trinity’s absolutely insane tuck caps off a perfect performance and has me absolutely demanding to know where her penis is. I’m serious. Where the fuck is her penis? Good Lord.
This is when the fun stops. Farrah, popping out of a highlighter compact to perform a burlesque number, begins strongly enough but slips on the gown she has torn away toward the end of her performance. And she goes down hard. She is unable or unwilling to play it off comedically and appears truly shaken and distracted for the rest of her performance. It also pales in comparison to burlesque numbers we’ve seen before, such as Roxxxy’s during this very challenge on All Stars 2. Our first bottom-two contender. Backstage, we can imagine there’s a lot of whimpering.
Monét X Change, someone who has studied classical voice, comes out singing and her falsetto is pretty shaky. When she dips into her lower register, she seems in complete control. It’s odd that, given the opportunity to show her talent, she wouldn’t use the vocal register in which she is clearly more comfortable but, girl, we are clearly going hard with this sponge thing and I guess she really wanted to perform her single “Soak It Up,” which requires falsetto. For some reason it’s just not working as well as Monique’s “Brown Cow Stunning.” Personally, I’ve always felt that the whole sponge thing was a reach in terms of narrative moments to cling to, and it feels like a been there, done that to me. She is certainly energetic, thrilling, and spirited in her performance, but we’ve probably seen enough sponge content. Right?
Manila Luzon’s race-against-the-clock painting performance is a truly edge-of-your-seat experience. It’s completely unclear what she is trying to do until the very end of the number, when she flips over the bizarre painting she has created to reveal that she has executed a perfect picture of a vase of flowers, upside-down. She then reveals that the smock she is wearing turns into a dress that matches that very picture. It’s singular, it’s a huge risk, and we’ve never seen anything like it on the show before. Manila is a no-joke contender for the crown.
Jasmine Masters. Okay. So! She does make a good point during her (completely admittedly) unprepared stand-up comedy routine that it is annoying when people have bad breath. She is also right that, often, when someone has performed analingus on another person that their breath will smell bad. This is all true and the best comedy does lie in truth. However, this performance does not register as “good,” per se, because it is not funny. But it is a great reminder to keep up with our oral hygiene and to communicate with our partners who may have just eaten ass that they should take necessary stops to ensure that their mouth does not smell like the ass they just ate. So, this was useful, in a way, for the culture.
Queen Latrice Royale absolutely pummels the competition with a dazzling, flag-wielding performance of her song “Excuse the Beauty,” which is, for me, the new “Shallow” by Lady Gaga in that it is all I will listen to for the next six months. Gaga, we had a good run, babe. This shit will have you on your dumb gay feet. Valentina’s talent is lip-synching which doesn’t feel like it should work because literally it’s something every single queen must be able to do on this show but, her narrative on this series being what it is, I suppose it feels exciting and triumphant to watch her execute the bare minimum. To give credit where it’s due, she looks like a full-on supermodel pop-star combination. Absolutely staggeringly beautiful. Her smile is out of control. It’s not talent but it … feels like it is? You know what? She does some dance steps. Ten out of ten.
The judges reveal that Valentina, Latrice, Manila, and Gia are all safe. You could make an argument that the latter three could all be in the top, but they’ve already been given big chunks of the narrative so far and you get the sense that the show wants time with the current girls on stage. Monique and Trinity are rightfully praised, Naomi is noted critically but ultimately told she nailed it, and Monét gets clocked by Michelle for the shaky vocals and the rote sponge fashion. However, when it’s announced that Farrah and Jasmine are the bottom two, no one is surprised. It will be up to Monique and Trinity to decide who goes home after a Lip-synch for Their Legacy, true to All Stars form.
It’s interesting to see the girls dive right into the elimination format this year, the element of surprise completely gone. Monique and Trinity both seem to have no qualms about eliminating one of their own, and it appears we are sticking to the rule of “weakest link leaves,” at least for now. Farrah cries and cries but appears to want desperately to remain in the competition, whereas Jasmine’s need to stay is less clear. Monique, queen, immediately tells Farrah she hates her tears and expresses confusion about Jasmine’s relaxed attitude toward the competition. Trinity, flat out, wants to eliminate the weakest people, as she does not feel she can say she’s The Best if The Best doesn’t stay to fight.
At this moment, we must hit pause on recounting the narrative to point out a truly historic moment in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory. The second I heard the lip-synch number begin, I rocketed up from my chair, threw up my hands, and smiled up to God and thanked That Bitch. Mariah Carey’s “Emotions” is the song that hoards of Drag Race fans have wanted to see performed on this program for years, and it must be Christmas, henny, because we got it. From RuPaul’s own mouth we know that the elusive chanteuse, true to her name, has declined to allow Drag Race the use of her storied catalogue, and so this represents a massive change. Not only can we potentially look forward to more Mariah on Drag Race but, if you’ll allow me to show my li’l fandom, this is a great sign that Mariah is in a good emotional zone. Caution is absolute fire, she seems “with it” in interviews, and she’s letting loose enough to let drag queens slam their crotches on the ground to her music? The Re-Emancipation of Mimi, bitch. Gag City, population: me.
The lip-synch is fun, perhaps not exactly living up to the material provided, but it does provide us with an image of Monique’s deserted wig caught on the rafters in the sky. This wig desertion, something characteristic of Monique at this point, probably loses it for her, and Trinity’s emotional “Emotions” wins out. She tearfully announces that she has decided to eliminate Jasmine out of fairness, and Ms. Masters sashays away. I’m sure she’ll be back in, what, 15 minutes?
We have what appears to be a very fun season on our hands, people! All of these personalities are fun as hell, and the talent show could run Off Broadway, which is, of course, the bar we’re trying to meet.
… SAID THE BITCH! A Weekly Quote Roundup
Monique Heart: “Miss Farrah is gorgeous, let’s tell facts. But, America, if you gon’ have your ass out, it’s supposed to look like J. Lo. Not like Mr. Rogers.”
My name is Matt Rogers and I have nothing more to say.