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Drag Race All Stars reaches its full potential when the queens get personal

Illustration for article titled iDrag Race All Stars/i reaches its full potential when the queens get personal
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All hail Alyssa Edwards, bringer of drama and delight! Alyssa was entertaining in the first two episodes of this season (shame on me for not mentioning her face mask moment last week), but she significantly ups her game in “HERstory Of The World,” an episode that spotlights her overwhelming personality, deep talent, and surprising savvy. Alyssa was something of a joke in season 5, a scatterbrained, over-the-top queen that had difficulty focusing all her energy, but she’s totally in on the joke now, owning her ridiculousness and using it to elevate her drag. Alyssa presents a huge personality out of drag that doesn’t feel like a forced performance (something her protégé Laganja Estranja struggled with in her season), and while I don’t know if this is how she actually acts in real life, she’s successfully convinced me that this caricature of a person is her true self.

The editing of Alyssa this week makes her look incredibly loud and hyperactive, but these are good qualities for a drag queen. She shouts out catchphrases and occasionally does the splits for no good reason, and Phi Phi calls her out on showboating for the cameras during a cutaway interview. What Phi Phi doesn’t seem to understand is that this is a TV show and playing it up for the cameras is the entire point. Yes, Alyssa is thinking of the .gifs that can be shared and the merchandise that can be sold from her antics on this show, but that’s what everyone should be doing. Going back on Drag Race is the opportunity to revitalize your brand on a global stage, and Phi Phi has to use it to redeem her past sins while Alyssa can use it to be big and silly and fun because she doesn’t need to be forgiven for anything.


RuPaul wants to see scene-stealers on this show, and Alyssa is willing to make herself look foolish to pull the focus to her (see: “All-Stars Snatch Game”). Even if you’re in the background, Ru wants to see you try and grab her attention by doing something especially impressive (pulling focus with mistakes is still a no-no), and that’s exactly what Alyssa does in this episode’s big lip sync extravaganza. Each queen plays a different woman from herstory, and Alyssa’s Annie Oakley is like a sharp-shooting, fleet-footed Jeri Blank wearing huge hair and a cowgirl costume. There’s a bold goofiness to Alyssa’s performance that makes her stand out in a crowd, and she pairs that attitude with precise dancing and lip syncing to stomp the competition when she takes the spotlight. Silly meets sexy when Alyssa is dancing, and the sharpness and clear intent of her movement bring extra sensuality to the character and highlight different facets of Alyssa’s acting ability.

Alyssa is one of the winners of the challenge, and this is when her savvy becomes especially evident. The bottom two queens are Katya and Ginger Minj; the former is arguably one of the most beloved queens in Drag Race herstory, the latter has a smaller fanbase but received better critiques from the judges. Of the two, Katya is the more entertaining queen, and this season of All Stars will benefit from keeping her in the competition because she’s so good on camera. Alyssa will also get less shit on social media if she eliminates Ginj, and I highly suspect this plays a part in Alyssa’s decision. The queens bring up the topic of social media harassment while getting ready for the runway, and the reactions of the fan community have a definite impact on the contestants’ behavior. You see it intensely with Phi Phi and her quest for redemption, but I also believe those probable future reactions influence Alyssa’s decision to save Katya.


When it comes to social media response, eliminating Ginj is the safer choice, even though it means keeping a competitor who poses a greater threat to Alyssa’s victory. I applaud Alyssa for finally shaking things up after two weeks of winners using the judges’ critiques to eliminate the contestant that performs the worst, and by cutting Ginj, Alyssa raises the stakes of the game moving forward. Now that a winner has decided to follow her heart instead of the judges, the doors have been opened for more personally subjective eliminations down the road, and I’m excited to see how that changes the group dynamics moving forward.

Ginj is a fiercely talented queen in performance, but her character still pales in comparison to the best this series has to offer. She’s at her best when she’s acting, singing, and dancing, but take away the script, music, and choreography and she starts to fade into the background. Even though she lands a good one-liner every so often, her comedy is fairly tame, and while she was one of the bitchier queens in her season, she doesn’t create very compelling drama. Ginj’s performance as horse-fucker Catherine the Great is a highlight of the lip sync extravaganza, but her energy level drops once she’s in the chorus. As a professional musical theater actor, Ginj has probably become accustomed to not pulling focus when another performer is being showcased, but that’s a liability in this challenge.


The main issue with Ginj this season is that she isn’t offering the judges or the viewers anything new. She tries to create drama for herself by bringing up her weakness as a dancer, but it’s just a rehash of her season 7 troubles, which always played as disingenuous given her musical theater background. Ginj’s outfits on the runway have been uninspired in All Stars, and she has the worst look of the night as she takes inspiration from “retro The Brady Bunch space age” for her futuristic drag ensemble. That inspiration makes no sense (The Brady Bunch has no place in a futuristic drag challenge), and there’s nothing futuristic about Ginj’s look, which looks like an ’80s showgirl got herself some chrome spraypaint and a horrible haircut. Katya also disappoints on the runway, but her look does much better work channeling a ’60s space age aesthetic. Unfortunately for both of them, going retrofuturistic is a risky decision that doesn’t pay off because both outfits lean too much on the retro.

Katya gets the shaft with the role assignments, and not only does she have an extremely difficult character in Princess Diana, but she’s given lackluster music and choreography to perform in the number. Ginj gets a horse-fucking Russian queen in a bawdy cabaret number while Katya gets a dainty piece about Diana’s divorce that gets a little rowdy at the end but is generally demure and not very Katya. Diana’s wedding dress is her most iconic look, but it’s impossible for Katya to do choreography with a ridiculously long train so she has to cut it off, diminishing the entire look. RuPaul points out that Diana is the only figure whose true appearance was captured on camera so this challenge is harder for Katya because she’s competing with the image people have of Diana, but then there’s also Diana’s tragic fate, which makes her a strange choice for a wacky drag queen lip sync show. Katya has the odds stacked against her with this role, so it’s an even bigger relief when Alyssa saves her.


One of the most fascinating reveals of this episode comes when Phi Phi tells everyone that Detox was a huge bitch to her on social media during her season, and it’s interesting to hear their individual perspectives on those past interactions. Detox was part of a larger onslaught of negativity from the Drag Race fan community after Phi Phi’s villainous turn in season 4, and the personal attacks and threats made Phi Phi consider quitting drag altogether. Detox views her actions as support for her L.A. drag sister Sharon Needles, and while she’s sorry that she contributed to Phi Phi’s distress (and fear of West Hollywood), you can also tell that Detox is proud that she stood up for Sharon in the moment.

Detox is the other winner of this week’s challenge, but Phi Phi deserves that spot. I don’t agree with the judges’ criticisms of Phi Phi’s performance as a hard-rocking Helen of Troy, and her phenomenal “C-3PHO” look on the runway is more than enough to make up for any flaws in the lip sync extravaganza. She has a lot of energy in her lip sync, and she makes a stronger connection with the lyrics than Detox, who whips out her crowd-pleasing jaw choreography but doesn’t make the words between those sustained notes clear. The judges go ballistic for Detox’s chrome dome reveal on the runway, but her silver bald cap looks like its been duct-taped on and the ensemble is just Leeloo’s white outfit from The Fifth Element. Phi Phi’s alien drag soldier is much more dramatic and original, and I would have loved to see her lip sync in it, although she probably would have changed out of it like Alyssa does with her outfit this week.


“HERstory Of The World” is the first hour-long episode this season, and losing the extra time forces the editors to condense everything into a more quickly paced show. The result is the strongest episode of All Stars yet, with no dead air as it moves rapidly through all the material. It’s got comedy, glamour, suspense, intrigue, and it’s topped off with a satisfying ending that changes the competition. It doesn’t get much more all-star than this, but given the talent of the remaining six queens, I wouldn’t be surprised if this season keeps reaching new heights.

Stray observations

  • Alaska continues to be a frontrunner for the winner, once again getting very positive comments from the judges for her Britney Spears-inspired Eve and alien princess runway look, which she presents with a scream at both ends of the runway. That scream sells the whole thing, and Alaska will win the crown if she keeps making strong, memorable choices like that.
  • Roxxxy’s Eva Perón bit is peppy and charming, but her runway look is pretty boring, with lots of metallic-looking materials put on a typical Roxxxy silhouette. I do like that she tries to get a little spookier with the make-up, but it gets lost underneath the silver jewelry on her wig and face.
  • Katya’s interaction with the producer when she complains about recording “new day in the workroom” bites is a perfect example of why she needs to stay on this show. Her cutaway interviews are the best.
  • Alyssa’s runway outfit looks like something Kim Chi would wear, which makes it appropriate for a “future of drag” challenge.
  • Todrick Hall is proving to be an underwhelming regular judge. He hasn’t really shown us any of his personality beyond the flashy clothes.
    Phi Phi spells out “.gif” instead of making a hard choice on how to pronounce it. What a cop-out.
  • If you haven’t seen Ginj’s tribute to Harvey Feirstein at the Logo Trailblazers Honors ceremony, do that now. You might want to grab a tissue before pressing play.
  • “You were looking at yourself in the mirror, so you counted yourself twice.”
  • “If you are that rotted, you can be a monster, a gila monster, or a beast.” What does that even mean??
  • “It’s actually my friend’s dead grandma’s dress. Rest in peace, grandma.”
  • Girl, I needa-I needa-I needa-I needa-I needa get up in this Annie Oakley get-up gig.”
  • “I’m a Tony Danza!”
  • “I’m a little resentful of Ginger because she gets the part that is not only Russian, but gets to fuck a horse.”
  • “Yippee-yi-ki-gay!”
  • “I did it better than Madonna!”
  • “In the future, if you’re not wearing three-foot nails, you’re not doing drag.”
  • “The higher your hair, the closer to Uranus.”
  • Ru: “She’s serving The Fifth Element, the sixth element—” Carson: “And magnesium.”
  • “No, it’s still ugly.”
  • “Like The Bodyguard soundtrack, track nine.”
  • “Girl, you’re livin’ your legacy!”

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