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RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars returns with promising new twists and plenty of shade

Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars /ireturns with promising new twists and plenty of shade
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars does not have the best track record of late. BenDeLaCreme walked away with season three when she eliminated herself, not to mention Shangela’s shock exclusion from the top two. Then season four ended in a controversial tie. It’s time for All Stars to get back on track, and to do so, RuPaul and the producers have a few tricks up their sleeves. The result is a promising start to what could be the fiercest season of All Stars yet.

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The premiere begins with the queens’ entrances, and the All Stars for the most part deliver memorable, fun looks. Shea Coulee of season nine struts into the Werk Room confident and poised, wearing a light pink and blue tropical print ensemble. She takes viewers back to her surprise finale elimination, when the heavy favorite was out lip-synced by Sasha Velour. Next in is Miz Cracker of season 10, who did well in her season, but wound up overthinking and in her own head. She looks great in a mint cocktail dress and giant blonde wig. Alexis Mateo is up next, clad in a Puerto Rican flag leotard and cloak. The season three queen makes sure to mention her status as drag mother to Drag Race favorite Miss Vanjie, before settling in for the next entrance. The second season 10 queen is Blair St. Clair, who makes an impact with her orange, ’80s-inspired look. Blair says her drag has grown in the years since season 10, but while she certainly seems more mature, she’s still the baby of this cast. Fifth is Mariah Balenciaga, another season three alum. Her purple, yellow, black, and white superhero look is a bit much, but she wears it well.

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The final season three queen is India Ferrah, who makes a dramatic entrance in her mint, puffed sleeves ensemble. Fans know her best for having been lifted during one of her lip-syncs, and she’s out to change that. Jujubee, lip-sync assassin and queen of the library, comes in next in a demure black dress. She made it to top three in both season two and All Stars season one, and she’s confident this is her time. In a Drag Race first, Derrick Barry enters and goes immediately into a costume reveal, referencing Britney Spears’ 2000 VMAs performance. The season eight queen is out to prove that there’s more to her than Britney. Why she chooses to do so via a Britney reveal is unclear. Mayhem Miller is the final season 10 queen, sauntering in wearing a red leotard and gloves. After fizzling out on her season, she’s back to push herself and live up to the greatness she knows she has within. Last is Ongina, a beloved season one queen known not only for being the first bald queen on the show and for “hiyeeeeee,” but for movingly coming out as HIV-positive during her season. There are a lot of strong looks here, but Ongina’s intricate, beaded costume piece takes the cake.

The cast is half season one through three queens, and half season eight through ten queens, which can’t be accidental. It’s a good mix and while a few rise above the others, the overall average of the queens is quite strong. Ru heads into the workroom and outlines the new rules: Everyone will be voting on who to eliminate, not just the top two queens. Before Ru elaborates, though, it’s time for the first mini challenge. Ru welcomes in guest judge Ricky Martin and announces that the library is open! After tweaking the reading challenge for season 12, it’s nice to see it back in its original form here, albeit rather truncated. With 10 queens, the editors only leave in a couple reads per person. Things are a bit tense between Derrick and India, who have beef, and Ongina crashes and burns spectacularly, but overall the queens do well. Ru and Ricky declare it a tie, naming Jujubee and Blair the winners and awarding them both $2000 gift cards to Marek + Richard.

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Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars /ireturns with promising new twists and plenty of shade
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

For their first maxi challenge, the queens will be putting on a variety show. Ru ties this into a Werk the World plug, but this has become the standard first challenge for All Stars, and it’s a good one. The more the queens think outside the box, the more memorable they are, and seeing them perform something distinctly their own is a great way to introduce the All Stars to viewers who may have missed their initial seasons. The queens de-drag, and after some Derrick and India drama, the episode moves along. As this is All Stars, the episode skips a few steps. There’s no Ru walk-through, no back-and-forth as the queens decide what they’ll perform. Every one of these queens came knowing what they’d do for their talent, and so after some more India and Derrick squabbling, we head right to the runway. Ru sparkles in turquoise as she introduces the judges and again welcomes Ricky Martin.

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Alexis is up first in a bright orange outfit, complete with showgirl-big feathers. She gets the show off to a high-energy start with her dance routine and impresses the judges and the crowd. Shea is next, doing a solid pole dance number that would have been more impressive pre-Hustlers. Mayhem is third, delivering a confusing spoken word or rap performance that the episode quickly moves on from. Mariah also goes for spoken word, but hers is more performance art than dance number, a piece on black oppression in America. Unfortunately, her audio is a little drowned out by the heavy music mix, which makes her poem harder than it should be to hear.

And now for something completely different. Miz Cracker comes out in a pickle costume, getting a few laughs before tearing it off to reveal a sparkly pink leotard. She lip-syncs to an original song, filled with puns and playing up her sense of humor. Blair on the other hand sings live, performing in a black look with a bright blue ponytail. Her vocals aren’t bad, though they’re a ways from the best Drag Race has heard. Ongina comes out next in a blue, then a pink checkered flag look which she tears away to reveal a white sparkling leotard. She dances, but her movement is haphazard and far from the compelling performance Alexis opened the show with. Then Derrick runs through a string of impressions, none of which are that great. She’s better with her fellow Drag Race alums than the pop divas she throws in the mix, and the audience is forgiving, but compared to the others, she’s in trouble. Thankfully Jujubee cleanses the palate by singing an emotional ballad. Her song is one of the more impressive showings, her black gown is a good fit for her still, emotive performance. Last up is India, who dances the house down, making a meal of Ru’s season tdeclaration that, “Drag is not a contact sport.” It’s funny, self-aware, and a delightful way to end the show.

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Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars /ireturns with promising new twists and plenty of shade
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

After the show, the queens stand on main stage and listen as Ru explains the new rules. Only one queen will be named the winner of each episode, and that queen will lip-sync against a non-All Star lip-sync assassin. If the All Star wins, her vote will determine who goes home. If the assassin wins, the other queens’ votes will. Bringing in ringers for the lip-syncs should amp things up a bit, and spreading the responsibility of voting to all of the queens has the potential to shake up the social game significantly. It remains frustrating that Ru refuses to take responsibility for All Stars eliminations, but since that ship has sailed, these new rules at least initially feel promising.

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As the queens process these changes, Ru declares Shea, Blair, Mariah, and Jujubee safe. Ru sends them off, with Ricky Martin chiming in to thank Mariah for the message of her piece. That leaves Miz Cracker, Alexis, and India in the top, and Derrick, Mayhem, and Ongina in the bottom. The judges praise Cracker for her humor and polished look and Alexis and India for their energy and vitality. Derrick is read for her impressions getting jumbled and not being precise enough, while Mayhem is called out on her diction and for a lack of levels and momentum in her performance. The same is true of Ongina, whose performance peaked early with her reveals and then stagnated. Ru declares India the winner and Derrick and Mayhem the queens who will be up for elimination. Everyone then leaves the stage and the episode heads into deliberations.

All Stars deliberations can be fun, but at this early stage in the game, there’s not much interpersonal drama to play with. The Derrick and India tension comes up, of course, but the more interesting conversation is between Cracker and some of the others about whether Ongina belonged in the bottom. This isn’t supported by the edit, but season 12 has highlighted just how dramatically Drag Race can tweaked in the edit when it suits the production. Did Ru give Ongina a pass based on past performance? If so, this could easily come into play during future votes.

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Illustration for article titled iRuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars /ireturns with promising new twists and plenty of shade
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

After the deliberations, it’s time for the lip-sync. There’s plenty of pomp and circumstance, and the lip-sync assassin is eventually revealed to be season 11 winner Yvie Oddly. She looks fabulous in a neon wig, shades, a cool red coat, and a brightly colored top and pants. The lip-sync song is Martin’s “La Vida Loca,” and both queens go all-out. India pulls out some good dance moves, even somersaulting from a run into a slide right up to Yvie’s leg, which is extended in a split. It’s a high-impact, terrific performance. Yvie steals the show, though, with her wig reveals, tear-away pants, eye makeup reveal, and contortions. Ru rightly gives her the win, announcing that the premiere’s $10,000 cash tip will roll over to the next episode. A reaction shot to the queens shows this final twist sink in. Queens who are particularly strong lip-syncers have the potential to make bank this season, should the assassins win a few times in a row.

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With the bottom two queens on the stage, Yvie reveals that the safe queens have chosen Derrick to get the chop. Derrick handles the verdict well, leaving with a promise to return, new rules permitting. This can’t have been the All Stars experience Derrick was hoping for, but any time back on Drag Race is a career booster, and hopefully she’ll win some new fans who’ll seek out her initial season and other work. As for India, her performance and lip-sync put her on the map with the other more popular queens. A lot of fans will not have known what to expect from her, and this is a strong introduction. She could contend. For the rest of the queens, the intrigue is just beginning. Welcome back, All Stars.

Stray observations

  • If I had to guess, this season looks like it’ll come down to Jujubee versus Shea. Then again All Stars 3 looked like it’d be BenDeLaCreme versus Shangela and All Stars 4 was Manila’s to lose, so who knows what will happen.
  • Blair did well in the mini challenge, as did Cracker, but I’d have given it to Jujubee on her own for her stellar delivery.
  • I loved Alexis’ comment to Michelle, about her shoes, “Hey! You gotta like them goddamn it, I stoned them for you.”
  • Miz Cracker looks to be the early favorite for narrator of the season.
  • The ridiculousness around the lip-sync and the assassins is a hoot; Ru gives “Ru-veal yourself!” plenty of extra sauce, as is appropriate.
  • I loved the queens genuflecting to the lip-sync! Yvie reminded everyone watching why she won her season, making a much bigger impact here than she did in her season 12 finale spot. What other lip-sync assassins are you hoping stop by? I’ll need at least one battle each for Tatianna, Alyssa, and Monét.
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