RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars is back, henny!
Competing for the next available spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame are ten queens who failed to capture the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar from the first ten seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Season 5 of All Stars features a marked split between the old school and the new school of Drag Race girls: Ongina (a queen who RPDR fans perennially speculate is to return for an All Stars) is finally joining us from the very first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race; Season 2 second runner-up and All Stars 1 semi-finalist Jujubee is here to make a third bird for a crown; from Season 3, we’re about to see India Ferrah, Mariah Paris Balenciaga, and Alexis Mateo, the second runner-up of that season, a cast member of All Stars 1, and drag mother to Vanessa Vanjie Mateo of Season 10 and 11, and star of the internet-breaking “Miss Vanjie” memes.
Skipping over seasons 4 through 7, Britney Spears impersonator Derrick Barry is the sole queen to represent Season 8; Shea Couleé, a semi-finalist on Season 9 and record-holder of four Maxi Challenge wins (along with Season 4 winner Sharon Needles and Season 12 finalist Gigi Goode), is back to fight for the win that she was upset for in her first attempt; and from Season 10, Mayhem Miller, Blair St. Clair, and Miz Cracker round out the cast.
The Library is Open
Like in its last three seasons, once the dust has settled after the queens make their entrances back into the Werk Room, a first episode of All Stars ought to begin with a good old Reading Challenge (because Reading is what? FUNDAMENTAL!), and this time, it’s hosted by this episode’s guest judge Ricky Martin, who makes a joke about the Rainbow Pride flag being in black and white when RuPaul started drag.
Most of the queens seem prepared to read each other for filth mama the house down boots yas gawd (poor Ongina: aww, she really tried), and while good shade usually comes from a place of love, it’s clear that the bad blood between India Ferrah and Derrick Barry is, uh… Toxic. Derrick Barry even prefaces her read of India Ferrah with a disclaimer that “This shade is all real,” and proceeds to drag her for the congruency of her working at “a place called Piranha in Las Vegas, because with those teeth, [she’s] a walking billboard for them” (ooh, you know that they’re going to revisit this later). When it’s India’s turn to read Derrick, she’s begging Ru to send Derrick out the door, and #FreeBritney.
Jujubee won the first ever Reading Challenge back in Season 2 (we’re still grateful for the iconic “Tyra Sanchez, was your barbeque cancelled? Your grill is fucked!”), and she’s here to show that this was no fluke: read of the night has to be “Alexis Mateo, I don’t want to be shady, so I’m not going to bring up your weight, but when you work, do they pay you in Pounds?” But the biggest surprise of the night had to be Blair St. Clair, was also ready to read the others: when she jokes about how Derrick Barry is known for two things (being able to paint and serve Britney Spears), and you think she’s about to joke that she can only do Britney, she casts doubt on her ability to do that. Living! Also great is the pause before explaining that she’s given us time to Google who India Ferrah is, or when she reads back at Alexis Mateo’s joke about how she needs to eat a burger with “Girl, whatever weight I lost, you found!” A tie in a reading challenge might seem like a bit of a cop out, but both Jujubee and Blair really served it, and the win is shared by the two.
Season 1 of All Stars is infamous for its experiment in asking its twelve queens to pair up in their quest for the crown, which ultimately felt like a failure, so All Stars 2 introduced a format change, the “Lip Sync for Your Legacy,” where the Top Two queens of the week would battle each other for a $10,000 tip and the power to eliminate a Bottom queen (forcing the girls to get blood on their hands). With a few twists along the way (particularly a jury vote in All Stars 3 that effectively ended up robbing Season 2 and 3’s Shangela of her spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame), that format remained the same for All Stars 3 and All Stars 4. It’s about time for a good shake-up, and Ru explains to the All Stars 5 queens that this time, it won’t be just the Top All Stars of the Week that will have the power to eliminate one of the Bottom queens: this time, each of them will have to cast their vote to determine who gets the chop. You heard it: it’s a RuMocracy (where’s the hashtag that would appear on the screen in those early seasons of Drag Race?) At judging, they’ll eventually discover that in addition to this, only one queen will be the challenge winner that week, and she’ll have to battle a previous “Lip Sync Assassin” in order to claim the power to eliminate one of her competitors. If she loses to that week’s Lip Sync Assassin, the other queens’ vote for who will be sent home comes into effect. (Are you following all this? Don’t worry: it isn’t as complicated as it sounds.)
Ranking the All Star Variety Extravaganza
In case you had whiplash from these new rule changes, there’s the comfort of familiarity to be found in another edition of a talent show as the All Stars Maxi Challenge Season opener.
1. Mariah Paris Balenciaga
In case you only remember Mariah from her memorably terrible Joan Crawford impersonation in the Snatch Game, or for “A Pineapple Dress? Gimme my pocketbook: I’m leaving” quote, Mariah is showing that she is not here to play. She’s prepared a very original, thought-provoking spoken word tribute to the pain and “stains on the wall” of the experience of being a queer, visible minority. This immediately jumps out as one of the more effective moments in this show’s history to ponder intersectionality and struggle, and the importance of continuing to tell these stories until they no longer need to be told. Brava!
Yeah, so Juju shit the bed in a singing challenge (where she was thought to be the frontrunner) back in Season 2, when she couldn’t remember her lyrics (but, hey, at least it gave us that iconic “Black Velvet” performance where she established herself as the show’s first Lip Sync Assassin (and the first queen to send home three girls en route to her advancement to the finale). Here, she’s serving the vocals that you’d expect from one of the show’s most talented singers, and it feels like a moment of validation and closure. #Justice4Juju!
3. Shea Couleé
How is it that Shea Couleé was the first queen to think of having a pole dance as her talent? It’s a welcome replacement for the perennial inclusion of burlesque numbers, and she looks amazing, is sexy as always, and shows that she knows how to work a pole.
4. India Ferrah
This is better than the average canned song and dance number that we typically see in these talent shows, because India has based it around the one thing that most of us remember her from: being picked up by Mimi Imfurst mid-lip sync back in Season 3. It has a funny self-awareness to it, and it seems that if we’re only going to remember that moment, she wants for us at least to remember her as a fierce-ass performer.
5. Blair St. Clair
Blair frequently referenced the Broadway Baby side of herself, but never got to show it back in Season 10. Her number boasts her admittedly strong vocals, but the mood and pace of the song are perhaps a bit too low-key for an event like this.
6. Alexis Mateo
Alexis serves her reliable Puerto Rican flair in a spirited dance number. Her technique is impressive, and while it ends with her trademark “Bam,” it isn’t really anything particularly noteworthy or original in the context of one of these talent shows.
7. Mayhem Miller
Sure, you miss a few of the words that she spits in her song, but oh my, Mayhem is having so much fun, and really feeling her Eyes meme fantasy, which alone is already enough to prevent this from being utterly bad.
8. Derrick Barry
One of the best qualities that Derrick brings to her seasons of drag race is her consistent delivery of unironic cringe content. Here, she’s determined to break out of her Britney Box by serving up impressions of other celebtrities, who she impersonates badly. The schadenfreude to be experienced while watching this is way too much fun to just simply hate!
Dancing to a mash-up of “Cover Girl (Put the Bass in Your Walk,” “Sissy that Walk,” and “Freaky Money” feels a bit too pandering to RuPaul, and while her sloppy RuVeals are also kind of fun, this is easily one of the least inspired numbers of the night.
10. Miz Cracker
Possibly nothing is more irksome than when the queens heavily rely on their past moments of glory if they weren’t even that funny to begin with. Cracker is back with her Dr. Dill (a guest in Season 10’s Bossy Rossy show) costume, and tears it away to dance to a song about how how, thin, white and salty she is (with a few Matzo Mama-type references to her Jewish heritage). We’ve already heard all of this before, girl. Next time, be surprising, please?
It seems that the judges felt differently: all of the girls who should have been in the Top were merely “safe” (ugh, Mariah was robbed, but at least she got a very sweet shout-out from Ricky Martin), and while Alexis and India Ferrah weren’t entirely undeserving, Cracker’s placement in the top is just inexplicable. At least the Bottom Three of Mayhem, Ongina, and Derrick makes some sense, even if Ongina’s eventual safe ruling should raise a few eyebrows. India Ferrah ultimately is the first Maxi Challenge winner, which makes sense given the show’s penchant for rewarding narrative: she says she’s overcome her dark, negative feelings that led her to quit drag for a period (even if a heated exchange between her and Derrick back in the Werk Room suggest otherwise).
The Lip Sync: Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca”
Poor India. She never stood a chance, because she’s up against none other than Yvie Oddly, winner of Season 11, and performer of two of the show’s most memorable lip syncs of Demi Lovato’s “Sorry, Not Sorry” and Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” against Season 11 runner-up Brooke Lynn Hytes. Yvie’s not messing around: she’s defending her legacy as a Lip Sync Assassin, murdering this one with RuVeal after RuVeal, and showing off her incomparable physical flexibility and elasticity. It’s no surprise when RuPaul declares that she’s the winner of this battle, but it’s a gag when she continues to announce that the $10,000 prize money at stake will roll into the next week. Yvie pulls a lip stick: the queens have chosen Derrick Barry to go home, which is profoundly disappointing when you imagine the potential drama we’ll subsequently be deprived of (remember how epic that tiff with Naomi Smalls was that they even extended that week’s episode by a half hour to make room for it? Yeah, it seems we won’t get to see more of that, which had so much possibility given the feelings that she and India Ferrah have for one another).
So. Many. Questions! One can only assume that the queen who doesn’t win the battle against the Lip Sync Assassin would be expected to reveal the lip stick with the name of the queen she planned to eliminate, right? If, as expected, India Ferrah had drawn Derrick Barry’s lip stick, and given that it was, indeed, Derrick who was sent home thanks to the other queens’ vote, it’s not likely that we’d have been deprived of any additional drama that would stoke the flames of the ongoing Derrick/India feud. But, does that mean that we’ll get to see the lip sticks of the queens that were dropped into a box (special shout-out to Mayhem Miller, for looking unbothered and at ease as she gleefully selects Derrick’s lip stick), or will the votes remains anonymous, and loom over the rest of the competition, leaving the girls on edge, and paranoid about who they can trust? Is anything going to come of a new alliance between India and Mayhem? This season feels like it has a lot of dramatic potential: let’s hope that this format shake-up gives us some fresh reality television moments that we haven’t already seen several times before!