Herstorically speaking, All Stars doesn’t always get it right the first time. So while an air of excitement surrounds this all-winners season, some (including me) approach it with trepidation. What gimmicks might backfire? Which beloved queen will be sent home prematurely? Having now seen the first two episodes, let me put all your fears to rest: This All Stars season is already one of the best we’ve seen from the franchise, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
Let’s start by discussing the caliber of the cast. As the name would imply, All Stars: All Winners boasts some of the most talented and successful queens the Drag Race empire has ever produced. We have Shea Couleé, the universally beloved Chicago queen who has been treated as a winner since before her season of All Stars was ever announced. There’s Jinkx Monsoon, whom RuPaul herself calls a “genius” and who reinvented the way we conceive of Snatch Game. And of course Raja, the undisputed fashion icon and tastemaker who embodies the very concept of drag royalty. Rounding out the cast, there’s Monét X Change (powerhouse performer and certified New York darling), Trinity (one of the most well-rounded pageant queens of the franchise), the gregarious jack of all trades Jaida Essence Hall (who famously sewed and designed all her own runways), the Vivienne (who’s as quick-witted as she is polished), and Yvie Oddly (who’s produced arguably three of Drag Race’s top-ten most-iconic lip syncs). Overwhelmed yet? I sure am. Notably, it’s not just the fact that these queens are world-class talents in the art of drag that makes this season so damn good. As winners, they’re all uniquely good at the art of Drag Race. Any challenge format RuPaul can think to throw at them? Baby, they’ve already done it twice. And four of them probably won. (If you don’t believe me, look no further than the reading challenge and the main challenge on this very episode. But more on that in a minute.)
First, we gotta talk about the twist. “This season,” RuPaul announces. “No one will be going home.” The queens gasp, gripping one another in faux shock. Now I’m willing to accept a lot, but let’s be real: If you don’t think each and every one of these girls painstakingly negotiated their guaranteed appearance on every episode of this season, I have a bridge to sell you. After all, these aren’t just winners. These are savvy business women who’ve spent their careers navigating (and thriving!) in an industry that didn’t exist a decade ago. Additionally, judging from the first two runways, there is the dollar equivalent of a NATO country’s GDP in designer garments sitting in the Werkroom. And these queens will be showing off every last goddamn yard of fabric. But make no mistake, I’m heavily in favor of this twist. These queens each have a diverse set of strengths, and I want them all to get the chance to show off. This episode, that honor is Shea’s.
I imagine if Shea were to design a fantasy episode of Drag Race to parade her many talents, this week would come pretty close. After her very solid showing in the reading challenge (though ultimately outshined by the incomparable Jinkx) the queens are ushered to the main stage to have their runway walks critiqued by Naomi Campbell. Campbell, in all her stunning glory, pulls no punches: “Relax your hands,” she calls to Raja. “Beautiful … but I wish you didn’t do that thing with your feet,” she advises Monét. But when it comes to Shea, it’s a different story. After Shea is given a moment to explain all that Naomi has meant to her over the course of her life, Naomi tells Shea she’s “exquisite … perfection.” Shea, always a wordsmith, is at a loss. It’s deeply moving to watch a queen we’ve loved and watched grow over the past five years receive the highest praise from her idol of idols. Shea Couleé, you will always be famous.
Next stop on the Shea fantasy train, a choreography and verse-writing challenge (which Shea did to great success back on season nine and again on All Stars). Not only that, but all her fellow competitors defer to her for the group choreography, rightfully recognizing her expertise. Needless to say, Shea slays. Her choreo and performance prowess are as sharp as ever, and her verse is yet another iconic addition to the Shea musical canon. But she’s not alone: Monét is also impressive, mixing vocals, rap, and onomatopoeia, and Jaida makes me crack up with her energetic verse and exaggerated autotune. On the runway, Raja proves why she’s still to this day considered the preeminent fashion artist of the franchise with her Louis XIV inspired look. It’s breathtaking, innovative, mind-boggling … so basically exactly what you’d expect from Raja. Jinkx and Shea are equally impressive, however, bringing stunning and elevated garments to the first runway of this season.
With the return of the All Stars top-two format, it seems as if it could be anyone’s game. Shea’s domination is foreshadowed from the second she enters the Werkroom, but the second spot is up for grabs. There’s talk of Trinity and Yvie, but at the end of the day, the judges just can’t resist Monét’s charisma, still as captivating even in a room full of winners. For their first showdown, Shea and Monét lip-sync to Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Old MacDonald,” a campy (yet vocally mesmerizing) rendition of the childhood nursery rhyme. The performance is … masterful. I know: My praise has already been profuse this episode, but it’s well earned! Shea and Monét make sharp, specific choices that are as joyous and funny as they are reverent to Fitzgerald’s brilliance. A perfect cap to a spectacular premiere episode. Either choice would have been justified, but the judges are head over heels for Shea. (As am I!) So it becomes her responsibility to bequeath the rhinestoned plunger unto a competitor, potentially “blocking” her from receiving a Legend Star next week. Shea chooses … Trinity! An interesting opening gambit that perplexes me at first but (spoiler alert) is quite savvy.
And with that, this premiere episode comes to a close, but one final musing before we go: After her entrance, Monét remarks that the Werkroom layout has changed. “They made it bigger for us,” she says looking around. “For our egos,” chorus Shea and Trinity in harmony. It’s an offhand witticism, but something tells me it may prove prophetic. An interesting meta-game is already afoot. Namely, the audition for “breakout social-media star.” While the primary competition is occurring on the main stage, the Werkroom is a battleground for who will have the most scintillating final word or the most memeable confessional one-liner, even more than in seasons past. Half of these girls are bonafide fan favorites, and they’re fighting veneered tooth and manicured nail to hold on to that title.
Next “week” (or, rather, next on your Paramount+ queue) is Snatch Game! No spoilers here, but suffice it to say you won’t be disappointed. Until then!