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

Ra'Jah O'Hara and Scarlet Envy in RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars study.  Scarlet is dressed as Katy Perry's Left Shark.

Ra’Jah O’Hara, Scarlet Envy
Screenshot: Most importantly+

With such a strong cast and no clear lead, what happened? All Stars when everyone is doing a good job? Rigga Morris, that’s how it is. Arrived like that after one of the best All Stars episodes of the year, “Halftime Headliners” always tends to be a little disappointing. So it’s no surprise that despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that nobody bombed, this season’s episode of Rusical was a total failure. This is Why it was surprising. Not because the queen didn’t serve, but because her judgments and criticisms seemed so arbitrary. Ru, Michelle, Carson, Jamal: you guys, are we watching the same halftime show?

In “Halftime Headliners,” the queens are tasked with emulating the legendary Halftime Super Bowl MVP. But once they chose their fighter and prepared their sights, as they all did before arriving, there was only so much left under their control. As is often the case with script and/or choreography challenges, much depends on the material presented. Is Ginger’s look worth putting down, or does she just get the most boring cover? Is Madonna Eureka really that good, or is it just because the recording artist’s vocal impressions are spot on? And when all shows are good, how much material does it count?

The storyline doesn’t help either*. Jan’s wish not to be Jan safe and A’keria’s drive to prove herself after a tough week is textbook, not only for this show, but all reality shows. There’s a thing or two that’s interesting: Kylie’s choice to debut as drag king, for example, might be very interesting, if we hear more about her experience. The exception is the Trinity K. Bonet arc, at least for the first half of the episode. He’s a) out to break Beyoncé’s curse, and b) here to make friends**. Both are good. And of course, there was Yara who became Yara. But other than that? Not much there there.

When that happens, we have to hope that the show will make up for it. And they did, sort of. No disasters, and a few highlights. Drag the left Scarlet shark! A’keria’s ass! Ra’Jah shines while serving up classic Motown! The list goes on. But win Drag Race challenge (or get robbed a Drag Race win) rarely just the result being good. Winning is about gay gasp (or bi shortness of breath, in my case). And I rarely pant/bi-breathe. Such reactions are of course very subjective, but to me:

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

That’s not to say the others aren’t great. But in my eyes, there’s one clear top (TKB) and one clear bottom (Yara, baby, frills, no factory.) Put just about everyone on top with Trinity and that can be justified pretty easily. Trinity, Jan, Eureka? Certain. Trinity, Pandora, Kylie? Certain. Trinity, Ra’Jah, A’keria? Right. Same with Yara and the bottom three. Ginger and Jan? Certain. Eureka and Scarlet? Certain. You get the ID. But A’keria below? What?

The justification doesn’t make sense. “Fergie has no autograph” is not a criticism of anyone except maybe Fergie and/or whoever mixed “Geronimo”. “Your prince isn’t big enough” only makes sense in a world where choreographers, also a judge, didn’t use rehearsal to tell the person playing Prince to replay it. “And I love Michelle, but “Madonna is my queen” isn’t a criticism, nor is it an excuse to put someone over the top.

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

A'Keria dressed up like a flower in bloom.  It's no exaggeration—she's really opening her skirt.

Screenshot: Most importantly+

Am I a producer/judge? Drag Race, my top three are probably Trinity, Pandora, and Ra’Jah, with a possible A’keria swap in the “mix-but-we-want-to-talk-about-it” slot, replacing one of the last two. The bottom is a louder call, aside from Yara. But as I stated before, almost any combo can work, whether it is justified by the judge in a reasonable way.

This is all the more frustrating as the filth deflated the long-awaited win for Jan, an excellent player and a savvy contestant whose win here seemed like less than a “Yeah!” and more than “really? Okay, why not.” This was not a victory that came from his love for Gaga; it’s not because of his approach to playing the game; it’s not the runway, which is beautiful but not a show stopper. It was because he was so good at what he did—but he always good, and it’s no better or worse than the average week for our January. This is a victory, but not a victory. And while it’s much better than Jan safe, it’s not a very satisfying story.

So Jan won. Long overdue. But her most interesting moment is not her appearance, or her lip sync. This is lipstick temptation. Jan tells us in confession that she chooses someone not based on what her heart tells us, but what she thinks will be the consensus of the group, perhaps to avoid tension with another queen who might soon choose Jan’s lipstick. But we don’t see who it is. This isn’t the first time someone has opted for a lipstick based on strategy rather than performance or drive, but it’s also not about getting rid of stronger competitors (or at least, he says not). And that’s an interesting wrinkle in an episode that could use some crow’s feet.

Hey, at least we got a win back from another lip-sync killer. Chickens come in fierce, indeed. It’s not lip-syncing for ages, but it’s entertaining, with Jessica Wild swiping a potential $20,000 tip from under Jan’s nose with the power of her hairpin. The win was, at least, perfectly legitimate. Let’s hope Jan’s next win—and there should be another—is just as fair and satisfying as Jessica’s.

* – Sometimes the best storylines lead to satisfying victories when things are close at hand. Check it out: Tatianna wins for her Britney over Pandora’s Carol Channing in the first Snatch Game, a number of comedic challenges, whenever someone who doesn’t really sew wins a construction challenge. Pandora’s Carol is better than Tati’s Britney, but Tati’s win is a better story.

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

Deviant observation

  • Kate’s Corner: “While I was disappointed the queens didn’t record their own vocals, they all did, further positioning season six as one of the best in the series. I want to enjoy Jan’s victory, but this challenge belongs to TKB. She kills as Beyonce and deserves her second win. Regardless, it’s great to see Gaga and Beyonce’s curse lifted, or at least overcome. And let’s not neglect the runway! These queens are not kidding with their lewks. I raised a very skeptical eyebrow over most of the judging, but I agree with the elimination and lip sync results, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
  • Practice is fun, thanks to Ginger’s absurd facial expressions and the group’s reaction to TKB. Ass hole pinching chair!
  • Props to Yara for not only slipping in the fact that she did Shakira on her show, but also naming the bar and the night he performed at the bar. Next level.
  • “Well, he’s dead, so no.”
  • “Your hips are quite honest.”
  • Cheers to whoever in the comments predicts soon return of the Golden Boy when I say “Jessica Wild in All Stars when?” in my first review. Either you have great instincts or you’re a Reddit Nancy Drew. Regardless, played well.
  • Speaking of that Nancy Drewing: Jessica pulls out lipstick and it’s on a little beige sleeve, but when we see her put lipstick inside her costume. Not tucked, no sleeves. So did he know it was Yara or not?
  • My gift to you for the week: I don’t know why Kinja turned my serviceable GIF into a mess, so here it is this week, via Tweet:

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