Trixie Mattel (left), Kennedy Davenport, BeBe Zahara Benet, Shangela
Photo: VH1

What is an All Star? Is it someone who does well on a season of Drag Race but doesn’t win? Is it someone who struggles in the competition but goes on to greater things? And what’s the point of an All Star season? Does it exist to boost the profile of promising queens who need the exposure? To reward people who have learned how to play the game and win? To discover the most accomplished queen in a group of veterans? I shouldn’t be asking myself all of these questions at the end of this season. I should be celebrating the crowning of a new queen in the Drag Race hall of fame, but Drag Race All Stars season three has left me feeling totally underwhelmed and wondering, “What’s the point?”

BenDeLaCreme’s surprise self-elimination was a fantastic twist in the moment, but it ultimately damaged this season. When the person winning the most challenges decides that the show and its $100,000 prize aren’t worth finishing the game, the specialness of the competition is diminished. This wasn’t an Adore Delano scenario where a queen realizes early on that she doesn’t want to be back in the Drag Race mind-set. BenDeLa established her superiority in the competition and then decided she was done, leaving a hole that none of the other queens were able to completely fill.

Image: VH1

Trixie Mattel is the winner of All Stars season three, but that’s because BenDeLaCreme left the competition and Shangela Laquifa Wadley was robbed. Shangela had the most challenge wins (three) and won every lip sync, and she was in the bottom the same number of times as Trixie and two times less than Kennedy Davenport, the other queen in the top two. I don’t know if Drag Race should be a numbers game, but if this is a competition to determine who is the best at this game, then the winner should be the person who has the strongest overall performance.

Advertisement

This episode has the most intense, exciting maxi-challenge of the season with the queens performing an ambitious dance number that takes them through the entire World Of Wonder studio space. (It’s basically the Drag Race version of this awesome So You Think You Can Dance routine.) It’s not as musically memorable as “Read U Wrote U,” but there’s a wow factor that guarantees this will be played at many a gay bar for years to come.

Kennedy kicks it off, and while she’s a little shaky at the start, her strength builds over the course of her solo and she finishes on a high note. She’s the weakest contestant of the final four, having been in the bottom four times with only one win. She’s a fierce drag queen, but she hasn’t done well enough in this competition to earn a place in that final lip sync. I don’t think she would be there if the judges were deciding, but they’re not. Instead, RuPaul gives power to the eliminated queens, and they severely misuse it.

This season prioritized the drama over the drag, and the backstage deliberations ate up time that would have been better used to show the queens preparing and performing. This drama resurges when each of the final four has an interview with the eliminated contestants where they get one last chance to plead their case before the eliminated queens pick two lipsticks to determine who will be lip syncing for the crown, scepter, and $100,000. These interviews would be more tense if we didn’t already have the queens air their grievances in group therapy during “Handmaids To Kitty Girls,” and some of the eliminated girls have no interest in participating in this aspect of the competition. During these interviews, success becomes a liability. Shangela has had a huge career after Drag Race, and she doesn’t need the exposure and the money like Kennedy. And the other queens are considering who needs this the most, not just who deserves it.

Advertisement

With the eliminated contestants picking the final two queens, Bebe never stood a chance of making it to the final lip sync. Everyone already resents her for taking up a spot in All Stars in the first place, and she hasn’t done well enough to justify two crowns. She has the lowest energy, least challenging performance in the maxi-challenge, and her runway outfit is stale and tacky, far from the majesty we expect from Cameroon’s queen. It looks like she’s wearing something she’s been lugging around through clubs since before Drag Race existed, and that general mustiness ties into how the other queens view her. Trixie says that Bebe has basically stayed the same in 10 years, and if this is a competition about growth, then she shouldn’t win.

Advertisement

If it’s a competition about growth. Who knows what the criteria are when the eliminated queens are in charge. Bebe uses her immigrant status to set herself apart from the other queens, and I like that she’s using her time on this show to bring attention to the struggles faced by immigrants in this country. The problem is that she already won. The eliminated queens don’t really like Bebe’s attitude, but it all comes down to the fact that she has a drag race crown and they don’t want her to have another one.

When she’s giving her cutaway interviews, Kennedy is very frank about wanting the crown because she’s not as popular as her competitors, but that’s a lousy justification for winning this competition. That’s why she doesn’t say that to the other girls, but they already know about Kennedy’s insecurity regarding her fanbase. They know that Kennedy would benefit most significantly from an All Stars win, and most of the queens pick Kennedy while only one, Thorgy, picks Shangela. (You can see which lipsticks are picked in this video.)

I’ve been hard on Shangela because she can be obnoxious as hell, but there’s no doubt she deserves to be in the top two of this season, if not have her picture in the hall of fame. She continues to give in to her most annoying impulses in the finale—Game Of Thrones references and callbacks to her previous time on Drag Race—but there’s no denying that she kills this week’s challenge. She’s used to this kind of big production number; after all, she was in Glee’s glorious “Let’s Have A Kiki”/”Turkey Lurkey Time” mashup, an unforgettable moment in gay television history.

Advertisement

Shangela doesn’t miss a beat in this entire number, hitting all of her dance moves with precision and ease while never letting go of her drag personality. And on the runway, she sticks out by pairing an elegant gown with a demure disposition, giving Awards Show Red Carpet realness while the other queens deliver more exaggerated looks. Shangela comes across as uncharacteristically genuine in her interview with the queens when she talks about how hard she’s worked and how far she’s come since seasons two and three, and so much of her identity is wrapped up in Drag Race that she gets emotional thinking about potentially being a winner.

In terms of the challenges, Trixie didn’t perform as well as Shangela. Trixie’s first win was for the shittiest challenge of the season—Why soup cans, WHY?—and when she had to lip sync against Shangela last week, she lost. Trixie came into the competition with huge expectations because of her success outside of Drag Race, and her narrative this season has been about meeting those expectations rather than exceeding them. I never felt like Trixie was doing badly enough to merit this notion that she had a huge turning point in the competition, and she didn’t blossom into an incredible Drag Race contestant. She was pretty good when she was in drag, but where she really shone was in the out-of-drag cutaway interviews, which are the closest thing to what she does in her YouTube videos. She had the best reactions and one-liners, which is also a very important part of playing the Drag Race game.

Advertisement

Trixie does well in the maxi-challenge, and you can feel the enthusiasm radiating off of her. She’s so excited to be working on such a big number, and the theater geek inside of Trixie really shines through here. In the lip sync, Trixie makes a stronger emotional connection to the material than Kennedy, who performs some impressive physical feats that often clash with the song. You get the sense that Kennedy would have done these moves no matter what the song was, because she’s going to throw down every trick she has when $100,000 is on the line. There’s a point where Trixie is shaking on the ground and it feels like a genuine moment of catharsis after years of Drag Race anxiety, and it makes me think about Drag Race as the wrecking ball that crashes into Trixie’s life and tests her resolve. This time she overcame and conquered.

The optics of Trixie’s win aren’t great for the series. There are three black queens in the final four, one of them the clear frontrunner of the competition, but yet another blond, white queen wins the competition. (Trixie Mattel is half Ojibwe, but her drag persona projects as white.) Shangela, a black queen who has worked her ass off to establish a strong footing in both the television industry and live drag circuit, doesn’t even make it to the final lip sync. I’m a big fan of Trixie Mattel, I think she’s hilarious and an exceptionally talented makeup artist, but she did not perform better than Shangela this season. Trixie overcame her anxiety to become a confident performer, whereas Shangela came in showing the world she was way better than she was before and then continued to up her game each week. Shangela should have been in that lip sync, and if she had been, I suspect this season would have ended with a different winner.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • Who are the queens that come out of All Stars 3 looking the best? I’d say Aja, Chi Chi, and Shangela. Aja seriously upped her game in terms of both fashion and onscreen personality, Chi Chi was the lovable loser who didn’t want to overstay her welcome, and Shangela performed so well that even the haters had to admit she was a formidable player.
  • Trixie’s crush on the backup dancer is so adorable.
  • Shangela’s outfit in the “Kitty Girl” number is very similar to what Katya wore in “Read U Wrote U.”
  • Did Shangela’s Game Of Thrones references cost her the crown? No, but I still hate them.
  • Bebe’s clumsy dip in the group number got a big laugh from the bar I was watching at. Good editing in that sequence.
  • Bebe is in a leopard-print bodysuit with a leopard face on top of her head, and Carson says it has “a pinch of camp.” JUST A PINCH??
  • “Out of respect for Morgan…”
  • “Hate.”
  • “Hi, Brayden. I’m a really nice person who has a lot to offer.”

Advertisement