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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Drag Race All Stars closes out a fantastic season with a satisfying crowning

Illustration for article titled iDrag Race All Stars /icloses out a fantastic season with a satisfying crowning
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No matter your feelings on the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2, there’s no denying that this season has been a massive improvement on the show’s first All Stars attempt. No more pairs, new elimination rules, and a steady stream of drama have made this not just a great All Stars season, but one of the best Drag Race seasons, period, and this finale reaffirms that fact.

“All Star Supergroup” is an episode that encapsulates nearly the things that have made this season so memorable (no Alyssa or “Same Parts,” so it doesn’t have all the things). There’s a strong focus on legacy, both in how the queens’ past experiences on the show inform their performance on All Stars and the pride RuPaul feels when she sees the outstanding drag talent that has been shaped by this series. That caliber of talent has elevated this season, and the queens’ lip-sync performance of RuPaul’s new single, “Read U Wrote U,” is easily the strongest group performance this show has ever had.

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Then there’s the drama. Rolaskatox has become the villain of All Stars 2 by standing in the way of both Alaska and Katya in the finale, and it’s a highly engaging conflict for both queens. Alaska is trying to distance herself from the Rolaskatox narrative that she helped perpetuate by saving Roxxxy and sending Tatianna home, and she’s overcome with anxiety that her connection to Detox and Roxxxy will cost her the crown. She remembers the last time it was Rolaskatox versus the lovable weirdo back with Jinkx Monsoon in season 5, and she’s panicking that history will repeat itself.

At the same time, Detox and Roxxxy are Alaska’s close friends and she feels like shit when she views them as liabilities in the competition. This is a conflict with a long history behind it, and it’s the last big push Alaska needs to send herself to the top. Alaska has been killing the competition since the beginning, and while I don’t think her fall from grace last week was intentional, it was the perfect event to create tension in this finale. The chances of Katya winning improve thanks to Alaska’s tantrum and the specter of Rolaskatox rearing its ugly head, and even though Alaska is still the frontrunner based on her overall performance, there’s still the off chance that Katya can claim the crown. The conflict between Rolaskatox and Katya isn’t as complex but it’s equally entertaining: Katya is the underdog facing a team of Drag Race juggernauts, and she won’t go down without a fight. Katya’s going to make sure the judges notice her, and she gets the perfect opportunity during the “Read U Wrote U” number.

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I’m a huge So You Think You Can Dance fan, so it’s thrilling to see SYTYCD alum Travis Wall as the queens’ choreographer this week. Travis has been through the reality TV competition gauntlet as a contestant on SYTYCD, and has had a huge career since then, winning an Emmy in 2015 for his choreography on the show. He doesn’t go easy on these girls, and they all rise to the challenge to deliver a number that floors the judges. Katya’s flexibility makes her especially well suited for this aspect of the challenge, and she pulls off impressive dance moves with ease, making her competitors very nervous in the process. They all end up doing a solid job, but Katya steals the show at a time when she really needs to take the spotlight.

The quality of the music isn’t as strong as the choreography because the queens write and record their own rap verses, but even when the track takes a downward turn, the lip-syncing and the dancing keep the energy up and the number engaging until the very end. Roxxxy’s verse shows why she’s been in the bottom more times than anyone else this season, and her glittery nude body suit during the performance is as underwhelming as her rhymes. (If she’s going to pull focus, at least she could do it in something that deserves that attention.) The judges are distracted by the fan so they don’t comment on how rough Roxxxy’s little whisper-singing bit is, but it is not good, and she makes the mistake of pointing out her past flaws this season as she tries to boost herself up with the line, “Not like my comedy, I’m killing on this rhyme.” (Spoiler: the rhyme is very much alive.)

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Detox gets the most praise from the judges for her verse, but Alaska and Katya out-rap her with funnier lyrics, smoother flows, and bigger personalities. Detox’s verse is totally average, and her proclamations of excellence ring hollow when she also includes lines like, “I ain’t saying I’m the best, but I ain’t the worst.” Girl, this is the time to tell the world that you are the best and no one can stop you. She goes on to say, “If Ru’s number one, I’m number two,” and while I get that she’s trying to suck up, she shouldn’t do it in a way that presents her as inferior. Compare that to how Alaska executes her RuPaul shout-out in her verse, which I’ve included in its entirety below because it’s just that good:

Hey girls, my name’s Alaska
I got a tiny little question to ask ya
Who’s that bitch that’s on the top?
Oh wait, that’s me. Hey, Porkchop!
You’re born naked, the rest is drag
But your face just needs a paper bag
Gimme a challenge and I’ll crush it all
Changin’ the game like my name’s RuPaul
Line them up, front to back
I’m sending bitches home like a heart attack
Mess with me and you’ll wind up in a casket
I’m Dorothy, you’re Toto, GET IN THE BASKET!
I’ll read you down, beneath the ground
Could you hold my purse while I snatch the crown?
Legacy, remember my name
‘Cause you’re gonna see me hangin’ in the hall of faaa-aaaa-aaa-aaame

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Alaska’s verse shows off her Drag Race knowledge while effectively presenting her as the bitch that can’t be beat this season, and she performs it with a cool confidence that reinforces the lyrics. She uses RuPaul’s name to make herself look bigger instead of positioning herself below RuPaul like Detox, and she has the best vocal quality of any of the queens, getting much closer to a Nicki Minaj sound than Roxxxy, who mentions Nicki by name. Like Alaska, Katya writes clever lyrics with a higher degree of difficulty than the other two queens, but Katya’s verse is the best at giving the listener a clear concept of the specific character she’s playing. Let’s take a look:

Katerina
Petrovna
Zamolodchikova
But your dad
Just calls me
Katyaaaaaaaaa
I’m the bright red scare
With the long blonde hair
Always keep ’em coming back for more
You’re a basic ass ho
And it’s your time to go
So bitch let me show you the door
’Cause it’s me who’s getting laid
And I’m always getting paid
The only high-class Russian whore
I’m a scorching hot mess
In a skintight dress
That’s a rash, not a Herpes sore
Lenin the streets, Dostoevsky in the sheets
Baby are you ready for this Cold War?
Katya
Zamo
Lod-chi-koh-vah!

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Bookending her verse with the announcement of her name highlights Katya’s focus on character in her rap, and she uses evocative imagery to make sure anyone that hears the song knows what Katya is all about. Katya showcases her ambition and skill by rapping with a Russian accent and giving herself tongue-twister lines like “Lenin in the streets, Dostoevsky in the sheets,” but the accent does restrict her vocal performance and muddy her diction. Those aren’t significant issues, though, especially given the strength of Katya’s lip-sync performance.

Detox has been a strong competitor all season, but she’s just not on the same level as Alaska and Katya when it comes to having a distinct perspective outside of her consistently impressive aesthetic. The main appeal of Detox is the visual she presents, but Alaska and Katya embody fuller characters when they get in drag. Those huge personalities have made them two of the show’s most popular contestants, and even though Detox is extremely talented, it still feels like she’s playing catch up. With the way the season has unfolded, if someone from Rolaskatox is going to win, it’s going to be Alaska.

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Detox has a breathtaking runway look and gives the best lip sync for her legacy at the end of the episode, but her speech detailing why she should win falls flat compared to her top competitors. Alaska has herself a Mr. Smith Goes To Washington moment as she gives a rousing speech spotlighting her Drag Race superfandom with a string of references that get the judges fully on board the train to Alaska, whereas Katya shows a more vulnerable side of herself by starting with her Russian whore persona and then dropping the act to say how Drag Race has affected the person behind the make-up. Detox isn’t as eloquent or emotional as she argues for herself, but at least she has strong reasons for why she should win. Roxxxy gives a speech that is more of a thank you for keeping her around this long. She essentially give the judges approval to get rid of her early, which they do.

The best part of Katya’s runway look is her description of it (“I am the confident, complex regal matriarch of a Russian mafia family, enjoying her last days on Earth before she is set ablaze by jealous relatives”), but it’s riskier than Alaska’s gold gown. Detox is easily the winner on the runway with a dress that is bold because of how soft it is, showing a side of her that is both dramatic and delicate. If the winner of this episode was crowned on the runway and the lip sync, Detox would deserve it. She makes the strongest emotional connection to the surprisingly somber “Lip Sync For Your Legacy” track, Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “If I Were Your Woman,” embodying the desperation of the song without exaggerating the performance like Alaska.

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Detox’s performance is the best fit, but Alaska does what a drag queen is supposed to do and channels her character through the song to put it in a new context. She gets that trademark Alaska make-up smear in there, and while that action doesn’t feel emotionally motivated, it’s shows how aware Alaska is of her brand. That make-up smear is the final touch her look needs to become something more subversive than a blonde glamazon in a gold gown, and she gets it in there just before she’s named the winner and inducted into the Drag Race hall of fame. Standing with her crown and scepter, Alaska makes a statement on the superficiality of beauty with that make-up smear, a cosmetic mistake that says so much about her approach to drag and gender performance.

Sometimes Alaska can get messy, but that messiness is there to show the world that trash can be treasure. Alaska has always loved the garbage bag aesthetic, and it’s part of this overall message that something unwanted can be transformed into something that is adored by the world. “Anus-thing is possible,” Alaska says at the end of this episode, and her Drag Race trajectory proves her right. She auditioned for the very first season and every season after until she finally got on with season 5, and although she didn’t win then, she came back on All Stars and got the crown she’s been fighting for this entire time.

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Stray observations

  • It’s strange to have an old-school finale where the winner isn’t crowned in front of a huge audience at the end of the reunion, and while I appreciate the return to the old approach, the energy is weird because it’s obvious the queens have each been filmed winning, ultimately making the crowning feel less genuine.
  • Business-oriented until the very end, RuPaul uses this finale to promote her podcast with Michelle Visage, What’s The Tee?, and she folds a selfieonastick.com promotion into the podcast segments because she’s a marketing muthafuckin’ genius.
  • AB Soto’s outfit is amazing: sequined star-spangled jumpsuit, brown cowboy boots, and a black bandana under a red cowboy hat. I’m suddenly feeling very patriotic.
  • SYTYCD alum and Lady Gaga back-up dancer Mark Kanemura is one of the dancers in the “Read U Wrote U” number, and I fully understand Roxxxy’s reaction to grinding up on him. (Good god, he’s hot.) Katya also has the privilege of doing an upside down spread eagle while Mark carries her across the stage, which is the most jealous I’ve ever been of a Drag Race queen ever.
  • Todrick Hall was underwhelming this season. Can we get Aubrey Plaza in that judge’s seat for the next season of Drag Race?
  • “I’m going to look you in the eye and say this so you know that I mean it: (pulls wig down over eyes) I do not have a personal vendetta against you.”
  • “H-E-A-R, bitches! I am here!”
  • Alaska: “Seduction.” Michelle: “God, no.”
  • “I’m like the Sugar-Free French Vanilla Ice of drag.”
  • “And when you pinch yourself, can you feel it?”
  • “You know what Brenda? Shut the fuck up.”
  • Alaska: “What if Roxxxy Andrews wins?” Katya: “Uh…I would be confused.”
  • “Choreography is hard. Need some duct tape.”
  • “Ugh, that feels fucking sexy.”
  • “Shit fuck mother fuck shit.” Alaska, as eloquent as ever.
  • “My favorite moment was when you were in the bottom two, Roxxxy.”
  • “Ru, I don’t think I can handle this. Woo!”
  • “Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, talent. What do these qualities have in common? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist.”
  • “I have a carburetor outside that I just have to do some work on.”
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