RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
We’re back, baby! I guess. Early Thursday morning, the double premiere of All Stars arrived with little fanfare at 3 a.m. ET. Hopefully by now you’ve subscribed to Paramount+, streamed both episodes, watched their accompanying Untuckeds, and muted (and then unmuted!) the veritable catalogue of terms the Drag Race social-media manager has so thoughtfully compiled for us. Let’s hear it for the streaming era, y’all!!! Unfortunately, given the laundry list of tasks given as a prerequisite to enjoying this pair of eps, watching Drag Race this week felt more like a chore than a delightful bit of gay escapism. But enough shop talk, let’s dive into what we’ve all been waiting for: this supersized episode drop.
I must admit that this first episode left me feeling quite … uneasy. While of course there’s no shortage of talented queens we love, precious few of them manage to use the talent show as an opportunity to successfully remind us why we love them. By my count, nine of 13 queens perform lip syncs to some sort of overproduced, DMCA-friendly megamix whipped up for the express purpose of this very challenge. Each track features a generic beat and one to three lyrical catchphrases (that are no doubt already emblazoned across T-shirts for sale on MyBestJudyMerch.com). The whole challenge feels perfunctory: less an opportunity for the queens to demonstrate their actual talents, and more a buy-in to prove that they understand their fiduciary duties as a Drag Race: All Stars contestants.
However, the monotony of megamix after megamix makes it all the more thrilling when a queen chooses to break that mold. (Ra’Jah O’Hara sewing AND changing into a sleeveless midi dress in under 60 seconds? Now that is talent, bitch.) But the crown jewel of the Variety Extravaganza has got to be Yara Sofia. Yes, I know it’s a megamix, and yes, I know I just spent a full paragraph dragging to hell the very concept of the megamix, but there’s an exception to every rule, and Yara proves it. It’s mesmerizing to watch Yara lip-sync to her Spanglish house mix, clad in neon-yellow fringe, sporting a G-cup breastplate filled with some miraculous non-Newtonian fluid yet to be categorized by physicists. The judges live, I live, Ginger Minj is confused. What more could you want? Yara Sofia is the saving grace of this talent show, and thus far the best reason to shell out for a Paramount+ subscription.
With the Extravaganza complete, it’s time for some judges’ critiques. They make mostly correct assessments, the most important being Ra’Jah and Yara in the top placements, and call the vast majority of the megamix girlies “safe.” (Hopefully this encourages future All Stars to take a risk.) This leaves Serena ChaCha and Trinity K. Bonet in the bottom to vie for the approval of our first winner, Yara Sofia. You have to feel bad for Trinity. She comes into this season self-possessed and confident, a welcome evolution from her insecure season-six persona. But in trying to capture the spontaneity and magic of her original stand-up set, she falls drastically short, and lands herself squarely in the bottom two.
When it comes to the lip-sync assassin, I’m thrilled to see Coco Montrese appear from behind the scrim. While it’s by no means the best performance that we’ve ever seen from her, any episode of television where Coco Montrese cashes a check is a worthwhile one in my book. The queens lip-sync to “Uptown Funk” for whatever reason, and Ru declares Coco the winner. Why not! If nothing else, it allows for an entertaining bit of reality-TV symmetry, in which Coco sends home her season-five sister, Serena ChaCha.
Post-episode one, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. An overly produced, paint-by-numbers talent show left me with a sour taste in my mouth. However, as I dove into the second installment, I was pleased to see this season begin to find its footing. While many of the queens’ narratives seem to be falling to the wayside (a distinct disadvantage in such a large cast), a few exciting stories begin to develop.
Episode two is the Blue Ball, and the queens must serve up three looks: Blue Betta Werk (working-girl realness), Blue Jean Baby (a denim fantasy), and Blue Ball Bonanza (a blue monochrome, high-fashion look crafted from unconventional materials.) Early in the episode, we establish that Jiggly will once again be in deep trouble. The past seven years may have been filled with tremendous personal growth, but they have distinctly not been filled with sewing lessons. While Jiggly seems fated to repeat past mistakes, however, Ra’Jah is determined to learn from hers. With an upbeat attitude and a mind full of psychiatric wisdom, she fires up her sewing machine for the second time in as many episodes and gets to work. This season seems to be deeply invested in Ra’Jah’s redemption narrative, and I’m not mad about it! Even at her shadiest on season 11, she was consistently the best confessional-chair quipper, and gave us some outstanding lip-sync moments (more on that later…).
On the runway, the caliber of looks is HIGH. Kylie Sonique Love eats up every single category (I’m particularly obsessed with her interpretation of “carpenter” workwear), and Eureka, Scarlett, and Silky create some “wow” moments as well. But the undisputed grand prize of the night has got to go to Ra’Jah. The queen of pants successfully executes all three categories, with her denim jumpsuit and Judy Jetson minidress being the top toots. The judges eat her up, and it’s heartwarming to watch the maligned season 11 villainess step into her own. On the other end of the spectrum, we unfortunately have two wonderful queens: Jiggly Caliente and Yara Sofia. They correctly clock Jiggly for her shoddy construction and lack of creative vision, but when it comes to Yara, I have to disagree with the judging panel. I thought each of Yara’s looks were fun, and I thought her couture was a step above both Ginger’s and Pandora’s. But, alas, the judges disagree, and Yara and Jiggly find their fates in the hands of Ra’Jah “Main Character” O’Hara.
After they plead their cases, Ra’Jah must go up against the lip-sync assassin to end all lip-sync assassins: Brooke Lynn Hytes. And, BOY, does she hold her own. The lip-sync legends perform a gag-worthy rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much,” constantly one-upping each other and finding new and ingenious ways to flip their hair and smash their pelvic floors into the ground. Ru has no choice but to call a tie, awarding Ra’Jah a neat $20,000 and earning Brooke yet another regency as Queen of the North. Luckily for Yara, both the queens and Ra’Jah have chosen Jiggly as the bottom queen of the week, making this a straightforward single elimination. It’s a huge bummer to see Jiggly go this early, but that’s the nature of the game on All Stars. (Not to mention, the endless first few episodes of season 13 has renewed my gratitude for the art of the elimination.)
So, what do we make of this season of All Stars? So far, it’s a big “?”. All Stars is at its best when it’s showcasing the talents of queens we already stan (Katya, Shea, Yara) and enabling triumphant redemptions of queens who never reached their full potential (Tatianna, Aja, Ra’Jah). In two episodes, we’ve seen the potential for both categories of queens to thrive, but a network change and a chaotic release schedule seems determined to sabotage the queens and viewers alike. As I’m writing this recap, both episodes have been up for almost 24 full hours, and they’ve made nary a blip on the social-media radar. Not good, besties. As the times change, and network execs seem to make decisions based on vibes, let’s hope that our beloved Drag Race can weather the storm. Until next time!