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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ ode to celebrity crushes needs a remix

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars/i’ ode to celebrity crushes needs a remix
Photo: VH1
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The queens of All Stars season five are a talented group, and RuPaul and the producers have made some canny tweaks to the format that should deliver plenty of drama and excitement. In the premiere, the twists and turns were enough to paper over the underwhelming talent show. Not so in “I’m In Love!”, which shows the limitations of this All Stars format. With so much time spent on deliberations and the lip-sync, not to mention interpersonal drama, there isn’t much time left for the actual challenges. Drag Race is at its best when amidst all the drama, creativity, and invention, the queens put on one hell of a show. Saddled with a forgettable song, the queens deliver their second disappointing main stage performance. This season will need to amp things up quickly if it wants to get back on track.

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The episode begins with the queens reacting to the reveal that each episode’s $10,000 cash tip rolls over, should the lip-sync assassin win. As the possibilities of an accumulating tip jar settle in, the conversation switches over to the elimination, and here’s where the tension ratchets up. Ongina promises to up her game, which Cracker clearly has thoughts on, and Mayhem thanks the queens for saving her and voting out Derrick. Jujubee weighs her options, then decides to come clean, telling Mayhem that she voted for her to go home. Mayhem is surprised and hurt, and feels the vote was personal, rather than objective. Cracker comes to Jujubee’s defense, but Jujubee hears Mayhem out and apologizes for hurting her feelings, though not for her vote.

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The next day, the queens strut their way into the workroom, read Derrick’s lipstick message, and settle in for some pre-challenge banter. Cracker gets the pot bubbling with a surprise announcement that she thinks she voted incorrectly and should have tried to pull a BenDeLaCreme and white-out voted for Ongina, who doesn’t have her head in the game. This is a surprise move from Cracker, who wasn’t known in her original season for whipping up drama. Whether she’s making a play for screentime or trying to get in Ongina’s head, this is not a good look for Cracker. It does give the other queens a lot to react to, and their glances and micro-expressions are a blast.

RuMail pops up, and Ru heads into the workroom to announce the next maxi challenge. The queens will be writing lyrics to go with Ru’s latest song, “I’m In Love!”, celebrating their male celebrity crushes. They’ll be in three teams, with the team captains responsible for choreographing each section of the song. As the winner of the previous challenge, India will be one of the captains, and Ru asks her which two queens she considers her biggest competition. India names Shea and Blair, and Ru makes them the other captains. They choose teams and get to work right away, with India picking Jujubee and Alexis, while Blair gets Cracker and Mayhem, and Shea gets Mariah and Ongina.

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Right off the bat, some of the queens have clear concepts for what they’ll do. Others are completely lost. India wants to write her verse about her fiancé and needs to be coaxed by her teammates into picking an actual celebrity. Team Blair has good celebrity picks, but there’s immediate tension between Cracker and Mayhem, who feels micromanaged by Cracker. Over on Team Shea, Mariah and Shea do their best to get Ongina focused on the challenge, but she’s still spinning from Cracker’s comment that morning.

It’s time to record with Leland and Freddy Scott, and Blair’s team is up first. After some early nerves, Blair pulls together her verse about Hannibal Lecter, while Cracker sails through her Sylvester Stallone verse. Mayhem does alright with her Mr. Rogers verse, but Cracker pipes in with a lyric rewrite that Mayhem does not appreciate. India’s team fares better. Alexis’ Daddy Yankee and Jujubee’s John Stamos verses are good, but India struggles to match them with her Justin Timberlake lyrics. As for Shea’s team, Shea crushes her Chadwick Boseman verse, but Mariah calls Jason Momoa Superman instead of Aquaman and Ongina’s voice is just gone, making her pick of Henry Cavill hard for her to even say, let alone rhapsodize about. They’re in trouble.

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The dance rehearsals are a similarly mixed bag. Shea, Mariah, and Ongina are immediately in sync and confident. India’s group is rocky out of a lack of leadership from India, who delegates the choreography to Alexis, and a lack of confidence with choreography in general. Then there’s Team Blair, which continues to battle tension as Cracker keeps micromanaging her teammates. She’s not wrong in her suggestions, but that doesn’t make her continual interruptions any less frustrating. This friction continues as the queens paint for the challenge. Rather than listening to what Blair and the other queens are saying about how her actions affect them, Cracker deflects and dismisses them, then wonders why she has trouble making friends. She clearly has a ways to go working on her interpersonal skills. Given how essential the social game is to this new version of All Stars, she’ll need to open her eyes and quick if she wants to stay.

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars/i’ ode to celebrity crushes needs a remix
Photo: VH1
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On the main stage, Ru comes out in a somewhat puzzling blue, hot pink, black, and red gown and welcomes guest judges Madison Beer and Tessa Thompson. The queens are set up in three sections of the stage, with India’s group center stage. The song gets off to a slow start with bland, though on-theme choreography for the bubblegum pop introduction and interludes, and it only improves slightly for each group’s verses. Alexis and Jujubee do well, their lyrics and performances charming and sweet, but India’s verse wanders and for some reason includes a Laganja quote. Team Blair is up next, their choreography confusingly pillow-centric. Fortunately, Cracker’s verse is solid and Mayhem and Blair have fun with Mr. Rogers and Hannibal Lecter, two excellent choices for this challenge. Last is Shea’s team, and while Shea’s verse has energy, rhythm, and creativity, both Ongina and Mariah’s fall flat. Their choreography is more interesting than their counterparts’, but given the creativity of the picks from Blair’s team and the charisma of India’s team, theirs is the weakest section of the song. The performance overall has its moments, but compared with the double premiere and Rusical performances in season 12, “I’m In Love!” is disappointing.

For the runway, category is: Love The Skin You’re In. First out is India, who looks lovely in a beige dress with accents in many other skin tones, all of which meet and drape at her hip. Next is Jujubee, who glows in a champagne halter dress with a mermaid skirt. Alexis’ look seems completely different than the others, a plunging cinnamon leather gown, until Blair comes out in a chic hot pink latex ensemble, with pink paint and a neon yellow wig. Cracker is next, in a comparably drab, though delicate bodice and tulle skirt, followed by Mayhem, her dress covered in strands of beads that accentuate her movement. Shea makes a statement with her look, a stoned body suit with a skin tone and golden nude illusion and plenty of sparkle. She describes herself as a Nubian goddess and she looks amazing, the clear winner of this runway. Ongina also looks great in a Filipino-inspired feathered gown, and Mariah is glamourous and beautiful in her more traditional gown. Team Shea may have run into trouble in the challenge, but they slayed the runway.

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Once the queens are assembled on the main stage, Ru declares Alexis, Cracker, and Mayhem safe and sends them off. That leaves Jujubee, Blair, and Shea in the top, and India, Ongina, and Mariah in the bottom. Shea is ultimately declared the winner, and the queens head back to the workroom to deliberate. The queens congratulate Shea but before they can start deliberations, Ongina tearfully declares that while she wants to be there, she feels the other bottom queens deserve to stay over her, and that everyone should vote for her to be eliminated. The other queens try to buck her up, and Cracker in particular feels responsible for Ongina’s self-defeated headspace, but after this, the rest of the deliberation process feels perfunctory.

After voting, the queens return to the main stage and the lip-sync assassin is revealed: Alyssa Edwards. She comes out in gold boots, a purple jacket, and a neon fringe dance ensemble, ready to battle. The queens are happy to see her, and Shea knows she’ll have to turn it out to beat the Dancing Queen. The lip-sync song is The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” and Alyssa and Shea have the same idea at the start, strutting to the back of the catwalk as they wait for the vocals to kick in. Both queens serve up personality and fun, but the lip-sync is harder to follow than it should be thanks to too frequent cutting to the judges and the other queens. This is a slower but still up-tempo song, more about attitude than tricks, and both Alyssa and Shea would have been better served if the editors held back and let them build their performances. In the end, Ru deservedly gives Shea the win and the $20,000 cash tip, and Alyssa bids a fond farewell.

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Ru summons the bottom three queens back onto the stage and Shea reveals her lipstick: She’s chosen Ongina to go home. While it’s very surprising to have this season one favorite eliminated so early in the season, this is definitely the right call. All Stars is grueling at the best of times, and if she’s grappling with self-doubt, there’s no way Ongina will thrive. This is not the All Stars experience she wanted, but at least Ongina had the opportunity to slay the runway this episode and introduce herself to a new generation of fans. She’s a fantastic queen, and it’s been a treat spending two more episodes with her.

Stray observations

  • Jujubee’s talking heads are terrific throughout. I was particularly fond of her “IRA-Roth” discussion.
  • Mayhem, relying on friendships to keep you afloat in this competition is a mistake, both for you and for the show overall.
  • I loved Blair’s hand motions for “Hannibal Lecter.” The producers put up a pic of Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter, but Hannibal fans know she was singing to Mads Mikkelsen.
  • It’s hard to root for Cracker this episode, even as she tears up saying she doesn’t understand why people keep calling her difficult. You can dismiss others’ critiques or you can listen and take your lumps, but you don’t get to shut down the people trying to politely explain where they’re coming from and also play the misunderstood outcast.
  • Instead of spending so much time on Cracker’s lack of social skills, I would have much rather lingered with Shea as she slayed this challenge. No, Shea, we were not surprised.
  • The timing of this episode is fortuitous, with the lip-sync acting as a tribute of sorts to the late Bonnie Pointer, founding member of The Pointer Sisters.
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