Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars tackles everyone’s favorite sport: the halftime show

The queens turn out uniformly solid performances, but the judging is less of a slam dunk. Er, home run. Wait wait wait: Gooooooooooal!

Ra'Jah O'Hara and Scarlet Envy in the werkroom of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars. Scarlet is dressed like Katy Perry's Left Shark.
Ra’Jah O’Hara, Scarlet Envy
Screenshot: Paramount+

With a strong cast and no clear frontrunner, what happens to All Stars when everyone does a good job? Rigga Morris, that’s what. Arriving as it does in the wake of one of the best All Stars episodes in years, “Halftime Headliners” was always likely to be a bit of a letdown. Thus, it’s not a total surprise that despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that no one bombs, this season’s ersatz Rusical episode falls flat. It’s the why that’s surprising. It’s not because the queens aren’t serving, but because the judging and critiques seem so arbitrary. Ru, Michelle, Carson, Jamal: y’all, were we watching the same halftime show?

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In “Halftime Headliners,” the queens are tasked with impersonating a legendary Super Bowl Halftime MVP. But once they’ve chosen their fighter and prepared a look, as they all did prior to arriving, there’s only so much left that’s under their control. As is often the case with scripted and/or choreo challenges, much depends on the material they’re given. Is Ginger’s performance worthy of being placed in the bottom, or did she just get the most boring cover? Is Eureka’s Madonna excellent, or is it just that the recording artist’s vocal impression is so spot-on? And when all the performances are good, how much should the material be taken into account?

The storylines are no help, either*. Jan’s desire to not be Jan safe and A’keria’s drive to prove herself after a rough week are textbook, not just for this show, but all reality shows. There are one or two points of interest: Kylie’s choice to make her debut as a drag king, for example, might have been fascinating, had we heard more about her experience. The exception is Trinity K. Bonet’s arc, at least for the first half of the episode. She’s a) out to break the Beyoncé curse, and b) here to make friends**. Both good. And of course, there’s Yara being Yara. But other than that? Not a lot of there there.

When that’s the case, we have to hope that the performances make up for it. And they do, sort of. There are no disasters, and severak highlights. Scarlet’s left shark drag! A’keria’s ass! Ra’Jah glowing while serving classic Motown! The list goes on. But winning a Drag Race challenge (or being robbed of a Drag Race win) is rarely just the result of being good. Winning is about the gay gasp (or bi breathlessness, in my case). And I gay-gasped/bi-breathed rarely. Such reactions are of course highly subjective, but for me:

  • A’keria’s runway.
  • Trinity’s performance.
  • End of list.

That’s not to say the others weren’t great. But to my eyes, there was one obvious top (TKB) and one obvious bottom (Yara, honey, frills, not mills.) Put almost anyone in the top with Trinity and it could be justified fairly easily. Trinity, Jan, Eureka? Sure. Trinity, Pandora, Kylie? Sure. Trinity, Ra’Jah, A’keria? Absolutely. The same with Yara and the bottom three. Ginger and Jan? Sure. Eureka and Scarlet? Sure. You get the idea. But A’keria in the bottom? What?

The justifications just don’t make sense. “Fergie doesn’t have a signature” isn’t a critique of anyone except maybe Fergie and/or whoever ru-mixed “Geronimo.” “Your Prince wasn’t big enough” only makes sense in a world in which the choreographer, also a judge, didn’t use the rehearsal to tell the person playing Prince to dial it back. “And I love Michelle, but “Madonna is my queen” is also not a critique, nor is it a reason to put someone in the top.

Before the critiques, Ru takes a moment to praise the entire group. Normally, that happens when everyone was great, and it’s Ru’s way of saying that nitpicky things will separate top from safe and safe from bottom But here, it reads like Ru’s saying, “well, we just said fuck it and picked at random, so, have fun.” How else can you explain the presence of A’keria—whose Prince was at least as good as Eureka’s Madonna, Kylie’s Steven Tyler, and Scarlet’s Katy Perry—in the bottom three? After that runway?

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A'Keria dressed like a flower blooming. Not an overwrought simile—she literally bloomed her skirt open.
Screenshot: Paramount+

Were I a producer/judge on Drag Race, my top three would probably have been Trinity, Pandora, and Ra’Jah, with a possible swap of A’keria in the “mixed-but-we-wanted-to-talk-about-it” slot, taking the place of one of the latter two. The bottom is a tougher call, aside from Yara. But as I stated before, almost any combo could work, were it justified by the judges in a way that makes sense.

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It’s all the more frustrating because that muddiness deflates a long overdue win for Jan, an excellent performer and savvy contestant whose victory here seems like less of a “Yes!” and more of a “really? Okay, why not.” It’s not a win that comes from her love for Gaga; it’s not due to her approach to playing the game; it’s not her runway, which was lovely but not a showstopper. It’s because she’s very good at what she does—but she’s always good, and this isn’t any better or worse than an average week for our Jan. It’s a win, but not a triumph. And while that’s much better than Jan safe, it’s not a particularly satisfying story.

So Jan wins. Long overdue. But her most interesting moment isn’t her performance, nor her lip-sync. It’s the lipstick tease. Jan tells us in a confessional that she’s picking a person not based on what her heart tells her, but what she thinks the group consensus will be, presumably to avoid tension with another queen who may be in a position to choose Jan’s lipstick soon. But we don’t see who it is. It’s not the first time someone has chosen a lipstick based on strategy rather than performance or drive, but it’s also not about weeding out stronger competitors (or at least, she says it’s not). And that’s an interesting wrinkle in an episode that could use some crow’s feet.

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Hey, at least we get the triumphant return of another lip-sync assassin. The chicken enter fierce, indeed. It’s not a lip-sync for the ages, but it’s an entertaining one, with Jessica Wild swiping a potential $20,000 tip from under Jan’s nose with the power of her hairflips. That win, at least, is totally legit. Let’s hope Jan’s next triumph—and there should be another triumph—is every bit as justified and satisfying as Jessica’s.

* – Sometimes the best storyline leads to a satisfying win when things are close. See: Tatianna winning for her Britney over Pandora’s Carol Channing in the first Snatch Game, any number of comedy challenges, anytime someone who doesn’t really sew wins a construction challenge. Pandora’s Carol was better than Tati’s Britney, but Tati winning was the better story.

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** – That scene with Ra’Jah, A’keria, and Trinity with a cameo from Eureka was a highlight of the season and one of my favorite werkroom moments in recent memory. More! Please!

Stray observations

  • Kate’s corner: “While I was disappointed the queens didn’t record their own vocals, they all turned it out, further positioning season six as one of the very best in the series. I wanted to revel in Jan’s win, but this challenge belonged to TKB. She slayed as Beyonce and deserved her second win. Regardless, it’s great to see the Gaga and Beyonce curses lifted, or at least overcome. And let us not overlook the runway! These queens are not kidding with their lewks. I raise a highly skeptical eyebrow over most of the judging, but I agree with the elimination and the lip-sync outcome, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
  • The rehearsal was a delight, thanks to Ginger’s absurd facial expressions and the group’s reaction to TKB. Buttholes pinching seats!
  • Props to Yara for not only slipping in the fact that she does Shakira in her show, but also naming the bar and the nights she performs at said bar. Next-level.
  • “Well, she’s dead, so no.”
  • “Your hips are moderately honest.”
  • Cheers to whoever in the comments predicted the imminent return of the Golden Child when I said “Jessica Wild on All Stars when?” in my premiere review. Either you’ve got terrific instincts or you’re a Reddit Nancy Drew. Regardless, well played.
  • Speaking of Nancy Drewing it: Jessica takes the lipstick out and it’s in a little beige sleeve, but when we see her putting the lipstick inside her costume in Untucked, there’s no sleeve. So did she know it was Yara or not?
  • My gif-t to you for the week: I have no idea why Kinja turns my perfectly serviceable GIFs into blurry messes, so here’s this week’s, via Tweet:
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