I’m worried about the future of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Last week, VH1 announced that the 10th season of the series would debut the week after the All Stars finale. Each episode will be 90 minutes, followed by a half hour of Untucked. Normally I would be excited by so much more Drag Race content, but this lackluster season of All Stars has me concerned about what happens when you push too much of a good thing. All Stars 3 feels like a rush job, something thrown together so VH1 could capitalize on the popularity of the show’s past contestants, but not given enough thought to feel like a big event. All Stars 2 was fucking phenomenal, and the memory of that season is still fresh for a lot of viewers. If there’s going to be another season of All Stars so soon, it needs to be monumental if it’s going to break out of the shadow of what came before, and this season isn’t delivering.
With the exception of “The Bitchelor,” nearly every challenge this season is a repeat or reinterpretation of a previous challenge: A variety show, The Snatch Game, a lip sync song-and-dance performance. This week we get a Pop Art Ball, but it’s the most disappointing ball challenge in Drag Race herstory. The queens only do two looks instead of the usual three, and one of those looks is a soup can. The other is a disco garment that the queens need to construct themselves, and drag queens doing disco doesn’t seem difficult enough for All Star talent. The minimal amount of time this episode spends with the creative aspect of the challenge indicates how weak this overall concept is, and the judges can’t give Shangela shit for covering her disco garment in records when everyone is hiding their body underneath a soup can for half of the runway.
The soup can challenge has the queens creating a can that embodies their drag personality, which means coming up with the product inside the can, naming it, designing the label, and writing copy that is read during the runway. All of the cans are underwhelming, and unlike the parade floats of season 4, the uniformity and flatness of the cans keeps them from being visually exciting in any way. There are some graphics and taglines that stick out—Trixie’s glowing eyes, Bendela’s “winner of literally everything” ribbon—but it’s such a waste of a ball look that it’s hard to get excited.
There are so many better ways to do a pop art-inspired look, and while it’s nice to have two new winning queens in Bebe and Trixie, this challenge isn’t much of a testament to their talent. After a harrowing experience last episode, Trixie bounces back this week with the best disco look, a skin-tight pink jumpsuit that fits her body perfectly. She looks fabulous and has an effervescent personality that tells the judges she’s back on track, but her “always a bridesmaid” storyline continues this week as she’s fails to beat Bebe in the lip sync.
The deliberation scenes aren’t creating enough drama to justify taking up so much of the running time, but there are some good moments backstage this week. While listening to Bendela talk about the stress of the competition and how hard it is to win so often, Kennedy makes a very good point that if Bendela doesn’t want to win, she shouldn’t play to win. This episode finally breaks Bendela’s winning streak, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bendela purposefully phoned in this challenge so that she wouldn’t have the responsibility of potentially eliminating another contestant. Even if Bendela ended up in the bottom, four wins means that she’s safe if the other queens are deciding based on overall performance, and any queen bold enough to eliminate the frontrunner would be facing some serious fan backlash. If she was a really smart player, she’d also recognize that her winning over and over again is boring for the viewers at home, and while its a risk to try less than your best, it can prove beneficial in the right circumstances.
The most telling moment during deliberations is when Bebe refuses to let Aja defend herself during their chat, instead giving a pep talk that tells Aja everything she needs to know. Bebe talks to her like she’s about to be sent home, and Aja sees the writing on the wall. This is shady as hell because Aja helped Bebe sew the dress that the judges loved so much, and without Aja’s help, Bebe may not have won. Shangela has both the track record and the personal connection with Bebe to keep her safe, but it’s cruel that Aja doesn’t get an opportunity to argue the case for why she should stay.
Diana Ross is right in Bebe’s wheelhouse, and she does what she did for her Diana Ross impression in the Divas Live challenge. She doesn’t move much beyond swaying, bouncing, and the occasional twirl, but she gives good face and embodies that Diana spirit. Trixie’s performance is much more active, and while it may read as desperate, it actually fits the story of the lyrics much better. “The Boss” is a song about how love has taken total control of a person’s emotions, and Trixie lets loose with an ecstatic performance while Bebe stays pretty subdued. Trixie gives us an interpretation while Bebe just does another impersonation, and it’s a let down when Bebe is named the winner. As expected, she sends Aja home, removing a contestant who has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises. Aja made good use of her time on All Stars, and while her value was a big question mark at the start, she showed the world that her talent is much bigger than what she displayed in season 9.
The top 5 episode of All Stars 2 brought back the eliminated queens, so I expected some sort of payoff with the Chad and Alaska bits that have ended every episode. That payoff arrives when the two of them ambush Aja and appear before Ru with the three queens they successfully captured, and while their faces are covered, Chi Chi and Aja are definitely two of the three. My guess for the third is Morgan, because it’s easy to see Milk and Thorgy not agreeing to stay on the show after being eliminated. It’s a very promising note to end a bland episode on, but the teases don’t end there. Next week’s episode is a Spice Girls challenge with guest judges Emma Bunton and Adam Lambert, which makes the ’90s kid inside of me very happy, and we also get our first look at the contestants of Drag Race season 10. Those peeks at the future of the series aren’t technically part of this week’s episode, but they do ease my worries a bit. There are new twists and new queens to come, and there’s still time for All Stars season 3 to kick into high gear and deliver the thrills we expect from this competition.
- Having voiceovers from the queens during the runway means that we get less commentary from the judges, robbing us of Tituss Burgess one-liners.
- There’s an endearing dorkiness to Trixie’s lip sync performance, especially those kicks!
- It was nice to see a minichallenge at the start of this episode. Quick drag is always terrifying, but that rougher look works for the Polaroid portrait challenge.
- I cannot wait to hear a bar erupt in laughter when Aja’s prize of a year of free hamburgers from Hamburger Mary’s is announced.
- Respect to Kennedy for being real about how she’ll be handling eliminations. She’ll do whatever the hell she wants, track record be damned.
- “Don’t look like I’m going to hurt you.”
- “This isn’t The Chew. We’re not making food.”
- Ru: “Have you had any good pinot noir lately?” Titus: “For breakfast!” Ru: “And by pinot noir I mean black cock.” Titus: “For breakfast!”
- “Well, ‘Francis Jolie’ was flattered, wherever she is.”
- Trixie: “There’s not enough money in the world for me to put tape on my dick.” Ru: “You have a dick?”