Drag Race tends to want to reinvent the wheel. On a regular season, innovation is not only warranted, but needed. With fourteen seasons under their belt, innovation is necessary to prevent the franchise from stagnating and keep their fanbase engaged. And while I would never begrudge Drag Race its creativity, even on All Stars, I don’t think this all-winners season demands it. Of course, these queens are some of the best across the entire franchise and theoretically can handle any curveball RuPaul throws at them, but is that what we really want?
An all-winners season is, at its core, fan service. It’s long been the Very Online gay equivalent of comic-book nerds arguing over whether Batman or Superman would win in a fight. It’s what made the first few episodes of this season so successful. In the second episode, we watched Snatch game juggernauts like Jinkx Monsoon, The Vivienne, Monét, Trinity, and Shea battle it out side by side to see who would really triumph in a battle of supremes. And two weeks ago, we saw some of the franchise’s top fashion icons like Shea, Jaida, and Raja push each other to new heights in a classic ball. No extraneous twists. No gimmicks. Just raw talent competing in keystone franchise challenges. After all, isn’t the very premise of this season enough innovation in and of itself? Why pilot untested challenge ideas like, well … writing a graduation speech as opposed to a classic roast or stand-up comedy challenge?
As with all middling Drag Race challenge ideas, the parameters of this one are (perhaps purposefully) unclear. Write a graduation speech that strikes some balance of entertaining and inspirational and deliver it on the main stage in front of the judges and your fellow competitors. The presence of Nikki Glaser seems to imply this is indeed a comedy challenge (if not a straight-up roast), but the feedback from Ru indicates it might be more free form. On the plus side, the vague rubric allows the winners to play to their strengths. While all queens weave in some form of comedy, The Vivienne is probably the most successful in creating what’s essentially a full roast set. She adopts the persona of the graduating class’s resident drunk that provides some fun physical gags and causes her to “accidentally” spill some of her classmates’ secrets. The whole set is strong, and her jokes are both the most consistent and some of my favorites. But the highlight for me comes at the end of her set when The Vivienne stumbles, falls, and passes out on the ground for the duration of the applause. I always stan commitment to a bit, and this is a good bit to commit to.
Other queens, like Yvie or Shea, opt to skew their speeches towards the more inspirational side of the spectrum. Yvie’s message, to never shy away from (and even run toward) failure, in particular hits all the right notes: “I would have never learned how good I am at lip-syncing if I didn’t first learn how bad I was at Whoopi Goldberg,” she tells us. It’s a bold game Yvie is playing, constantly referencing her most notable failures on a season determining who’s the best winner, but to some degree, it seems to be paying off. Well, at least in RuPaul’s opinion, indicated by the fact that Yvie’s speech is literally the only one with inspirational underscoring. Favoritism? Probably. But seeing as she doesn’t take home the win, it hardly seems to be doing Yvie any favors.
However, the most successful queens make us laugh, structure their speech well, and give us some philosophizing to chew on. Both in the Werkroom and during her workshop with Carson and Nikki Glaser, Jinkx is utterly unfazed. She has two ideas for possible speech themes and is equally convinced that both could carry her to another victory. Raja also seems confident, but Carson and Nikki are thoroughly unconvinced in her ability to pull off this semi-ironic spiritual/astrological cult leader persona. As it turns out, they both slay. Jinkx is unsurprisingly engaging: weaving solid jokes (“Happy graduation year of whenever you’re watching this on YouTube!”) with a deft performance style, great comedic callbacks, and structure. Raja is a sleeper hit: her kooky, Marianne Williamson-esque guru/cult leader character ascends from the gimmicky to the funny and profound in a way that we couldn’t have predicted early in the episode. This challenge was a moving target, but Jinkx (comedic legend and performer extraordinaire) and Raja (a seasoned queen adept at scrying RuPaul’s swirling thought patterns) both manage to hit bullseyes. Jinkx claims her third win and second star, and Raja snags her first. After weeks of breathtaking runways, out-of-the-box Snatch Game characters, and generally just being an icon, it’s hard to believe that this is the challenge for which Raja finally receives her first legendary legends star, but hey! That’s Drag Race for you. Let’s all agree to retcon this star as a delayed acknowledgment of her incredible work in the ball challenge, shall we? Yes? Great.
Finally, after being treated to another excellent runway (Shea in luxurious, chic-as-hell Issey Miyake–inspired pleats, Trinity sporting yet another lavish train, Jinkx in a delightful lavender gown) we’re subjected to a lip sync. I say “subjected” because this song represents what I assume to be the season low in terms of lip-sync performances. At least I hope it’s the season low. (Oh God, please don’t tell me there’s something worse.) We joylessly watch on as the two legendary queens bounce geriatrically to Lizzo’s “Better in Color.” Raja, in particular, seems wholly disinterested in imbuing the performance with any degree of energy (or rhythm for that matter), whereas Jinkx at least, well … tries! However, it’s arguably worth it to see the reactions of their fellow all-stars at the very end. I beg of you to pause the frame and zoom in on each queen individually: Jaida attempting to disguise a grimace, Shea and Monét unable to disguise theirs, Trinity refusing to even applaud, the Vivienne averting her eyes from the disaster in front of her, and Yvie dissociating in the corner. A veritable renaissance painting.
Jinkx wins the lip sync (I guess) and blocks … the Vivienne. Much like in All Stars 2, the queens have found a neat way of sidestepping accountability for blocking their competitors. Back in AS2, the girls claimed to be “doing what the judges would do.” This time around, they seem to solely be blocking the last person to receive a star. This did little to avoid conflict back then, but let’s see if these winners will have better luck. I sure hope not.
See you next week!