It was beginning to feel like this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars was a second straight week of weak challenges, unremarkable performances and the ongoing torment of Jan. However, the final act dropped a delicious little twist for just the right amount of drama.
In a bit of Chekhov’s lipstick, the editors expertly included a brief scene a few weeks back when the queens wondered aloud what would happen if there was a tie vote?
This week gave us the (sort of disappointing) answer, but it was still a much-needed jolt of excitement on an episode that was otherwise sorely lacking.
Let’s go back to the start. A quick count of the lipsticks reveals a unanimous decision to eliminate A’Keriah, and it gives Ra’Jah a bit of reassurances the other girls still think she belongs. She feels even better when Jan (of course, it’s Jan) points out that everyone but Pandora and Eureka have won a challenge.
Pandora’s journey is front and center this episode. After a solid start to the Race, the time has passed for Pandie to make an impression. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be an easy week for her.
Ru’s task this week is to split into two groups to perform original choreography and a rap verse to “Show Up Queen,” the sonic equivalent of a crumpled up napkin Beyoncé left at an actual Sonic drive-thru.
It’s an almost comically unlistenable … song? … but what’s worse is that it comes with the directive to infuse the song with “inspirational” lyrics.
The writing, recording and rehearsal process is snooze-worthy. Pandora predictably struggles with choreo, but Jan struggles with the content of her lyrics — a much bigger sin in Mama Ru’s eyes.
I guess it bears a bit more elucidation on The Jan Problem, since her ongoing storyline keeps circling around this inability to be authentic. The common retort is she is just “authentically” like that, so everyone should stop expecting her to suddenly change her personality to fit Ru’s moral code.
I get that. Maybe authentic is the wrong word. However, there’s an ease the best performers have that usually only comes from someone at their realest, purest, more “authentic” self. Audiences want to relinquish control, and the best performers can — with a joke or just a confident look — tell the audience, “I got you.” Jan has the immense talent to do absolutely anything she sets her mind to. The problem is you can always see her focus on the achievement, on the talent. It’s difficult for the audience to relax into her performance.
That’s certainly the problem in this number. Again, the song is … well, it’s no “Read U Wrote U,” let’s say that. Jan starts the show with a verse about how she’s happy and she knows it (*clap*clap*), and she does some vocal acrobatics that is more impressive than it is nice sounding. I’m sure it is very physically impressive to hit that note, and I am, without a doubt, certain she is performing it flawlessly, but you cannot, in good faith, tell me it sounds good. It doesn’t! Could there be a better representation of Jan’s Janness?
Pandora’s troubles follow her onto the mainstage as well. The content of her verse is thin. She attempts to recapture the spastic magic of her week one performance, but it feels out of place and wastes large swaths of Pandora’s small slice of time in the spotlight.
Looking to bounce back from last week’s bottom placement, Ra’Jah comes fully correct with a well-worded, adequately inspirational verse delivered with magnetic attitude. When Ra’Jah shines, she really sparkles, and it’s a blast watching her.
And then there’s Trinity. Girl. Like the strange (but ultimately charming) Super Bowl challenge, Trinity performs on an entirely different level. Maybe it’s the track’s budget Beyoncé vibes, but this is all TKB. Even when she’s not being featured, it’s hard to look away. Her lyrics have outstanding energy, a strong message and she delivers them while executing the same Samurai sword sharp choreo we’ve come to expect.
Eureka, whose “no wins yet” story really went nowhere, turns in a solid lip sync with strong lyrics about body confidence. Ginger talks about her size and bullying as a kid, but does it with a bit more performance and wittier lyrics. It’s a shame she looks like she’s in Halloween drag.
After a few early sleepy weeks, Kylie continues to rise. Out of all the dolls, she’s the most likely to be the Ginger Spice here. By that I mean she would unquestionably be the coolest, most popular and most adored by the gays. Her outfit is three times better than the next best-dressed queen during the performance. The hair, the boots, the skirt, everything. Her lyrics are fine, but like Geri, who gives a zigazig-ah what she’s saying when she looks that good!
Everyone turns it out for a Hot Tropics themed runway, and the judges along with RuPaul gown designer Zaldy, give mostly positive critiques across the board. Of course, Trinity gets the win. I don’t think it even matters, but her runway is also easily the best of the bunch, by far.
As telegraphed, Pandora’s dancing and Jan’s intensity place them both in the bottom. Ru says Jan’s performance lacked “soul,” which is up there with Scarlet’s “uncomfortable” savagery a couple weeks ago.
Deliberations backstage are more of the same. “It’s not my time!” etc., etc. It all starts to feel very rote.
Our lip sync assassin this week is Alexis Mateo, and it’s to none other than Jennifer freakin’ Lopez. Trinity and Alexis look ready to turn it up, but when they both go into a little Salsa dancing, it’s clear Alexis has the edge.
Ru agrees. Alexis pulls out Pandora’s lip stick, and it appears Jan lives to pep another day.
Not so fast! Alexis has a SECOND LIPSTICK. That’s right. A quick flashback reveals the vote is split, it’s a tie. That’s three votes Jan, three votes Pan.
Ru announces that All Stars rules dictate the decision now reverts to the challenge winner, TKB. She picks Jan’s lipstick, ending the Jantasy once and for all.
(Or not. Who knows what this game within a game entails?)
We’re close to the midpoint now, so I imagine we’ll see what Ru’s grand twist will be after next week’s Snatch Game. It’s a challenge that could really rearrange the board. Based on previous Snatches, Ginger and Pandora come in with a lot of pressure on their shoulders, while Kylie should be afraid, very afraid.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s where we’re at for now:
- Any doubt has been erased, now that Trinity is the first queen to snag two wins. She’s our clear frontrunner, and with good reason. She stole the show in two big group numbers, won a comedic acting challenge, and slays every runway. Her Carnival look was outstanding, but never outshined the wearer. I’ll even forgive that wig slip during the lip sync, but you only get this one, TKB.
- Ginger has got to be joining Trinity in the final four. The judges are really nitpicking now, because Ginger is on point whenever she’s onstage. She did look a fright during the challenge, but everyone looked kind of ridiculous. It wasn’t a fashion challenge. How many pictures of the Pussycat Dolls are in those listicles about terrible early-aughts fashion anyway?
- Eureka is almost so good, you forget. She’s so professional, so polished, she always understands the assignment. You want inspiration? Bam. Big, broad comedy? You got it. Rhinestone the house down boots eleganza? Mama, you know she got it. She even packed a reveal and stunts into like 15 seconds of spotlight. Of everyone here, Eureka needs this win the least. She’s got a great gig with We’re Here, and she’s got the goods to book ballrooms for years to come. All Stars is ultimately a show about redemption, not supremacy. It’s an opportunity for viewers to see a wrong righted. Karmic justice and success seem to have found Eureka already, and maybe that’s what makes her harder to root for. Still, take nothing away from the Elephant Queen. Barring a major mishap, I still think she’s a lock for the finals.
- This is where things get interesting. While the top three feel fairly certain at this point, the fourth position is a neck-and-neck race between Ra’Jah and Kylie. Ra’jah came out of the gate more strongly and has maintained a much more steady presence with commentary. On looks, both queens turn it out on every runway, but Ra’jah’s personality pops a bit more (at least in the edit we get to see). Snatch Game is going to be very important for Ra’Jah and Kylie. This week, I thought Ra’jah could’ve been worthy of the win. She was an absolute vision on the runway.
- I did not expect Kylie to blossom the way she has these last few weeks. Last week’s win felt a little odd, considering how heavy a hand the directors had, but some acknowledgement for Kylie was feeling overdue. I thought her Steven Tyler was woefully overlooked, and, while I’m not typically a fan of so much body-ody-ody all the time, she always brings a little high-fashion point of view to even her skimpiest of attires. I’m not sold on the idea of Kylie taking the crown, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see her secure a spot in the finals.
- It’s very possible for Pandora to bounce back in a big way with Snatch Game. The question is whether she can shake the hit to her confidence this week. Pandora reacted in the worst way possible when confronting a task you truly dread: She leaned all the way in and suffered through the whole thing. And it showed. If you watch Pandora’s face during the actual number, she looks like a kidnap victim. It was all over her face. Even when she walked the runway in that (admittedly gorge) vintage jetset getup, it felt like she was fighting back tears. Luckily, Snatch is in her wheelhouse. I just hope she doesn’t go back to the Carol Channing well again.
- I really think tonight’s runway is my favorite Jan has ever, EVER looked on Drag Race. I usually find her outfits to feel very “trying to be editorial,” but there was something lovingly cheap and trashy about the Jersey Shore drag she wore. It was fun! There was an ease to it! From the minute Jan started rapping, I knew it was curtains for her. The lyrics were the opposite of inspirational. They made me want to never leave the house again. It was just so clearly far from not only what the judges were looking for this week, but also what they have been asking specifically from her this whole time. It’s a blindspot, for sure. Still, there is no denying Jan’s ability, her dedication and her pep-pep-pep. She may not be right to win a popular TV competition with a very vocal fanbase, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the chops that even an anti-pep curmudgeon like me can appreciate.
How would you rank the queens?