It’s certainly a high bar to top last week’s GAG-worthy lip sync Thunderdome, but there was a lot to like about last night’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, even if it was one of the more predictable installments.
Our most recent ep, “Club Queens,” felt like a real throwback to Drag Race greatness. It featured an old-school challenge that called on the gals to conjure all their creativity and DIY skills to create and present a unique nightlife experience for the ages.
Inspired by Mama Ru’s own time spent hosting a variety of clubs for impresarios like this week’s guest judge Susanne Bartsch, (joined on the panel by, ugh, Rita Ora, a “non-American singer” I have very strong feelings about), the queens are charged with creating a unique club set, complete with decor, signature cocktails and entertainment.
As the victoriously returning queen, Latrice gets to pick the teams. She generously pairs up besties Monet and Monique, then it’s the leading queens Trinity and Manila, leaving Naomi to work with Valentina. Latrice smartly joins her pal Manila with Trinity.
Monet and Monique are strong out the gate. Even sketching on what looks like errant sheets of printer paper and working with Crayola markers, their ideas shined. They landed on a sort of broad outer-space/science theme. Leaning into camp (always a good choice in this competition), they created The Black Hole, an intergalactic escape for anyone looking for someone to “probe your little booty hole.”
What their space lacked in scientific accuracy, it made up for it with full commitment. Monet and Monique both rocked great looks while presenting to the judges, including Monique’s green-alien stunning tentacle fingers. The decor was a little arts & crafts, but the addition of a fake, conjoined alien baby (or maybe it wasn’t conjoined? I’m not an alien anatomy expert!) in an incubator was a twisted, inspired choice. Even the bartender, “Scotty,” was serving up “Beam Me Ups.” For their entertainment, patrons walked Orion’s Belt for a chance at cash and prizes. It was a simple, but effective feature that made perfect sense for their vision. My only small complaint is that I wish they made a few more “Black Hole” puns during their taxi-TV-esque tour of the club. I know it’s a low-hanging, cheap joke, but this show is powered almost exclusively by low-hanging, cheap jokes.
However, cheap jokes alone do not a successful club make. Just ask the brains behind Club 96. Naomi and Valentina quickly settled on a fashion-forward vibe, which fit both their aesthetics. Aiming for a modern-day Studio 54, they went from Club 69 to Club 96, an allusion to a hypothetical sex act for people so bougie, they can’t bear to even look at each other. There’s an idea there, but Valentina’s zaniness and Naomi’s timidity kept them from fully exploring it.
Their entire presentation just felt so half-baked. Their decor — silvers, mirrors, palms — was the most conventionally pleasing design, but it seemed very generic. Sure, it could work for a real life club, but that’s not the assignment. We want a DRAG QUEEN reality competition club. Amp it up! It was a huge missed opportunity to not take the fashion cue and run with it. Put mannequins everywhere! Scatter the tables with soft tape measures and pin cushions! Cover the walls in floor-to-ceiling stilettos! Give me the severed head of Law Roach! I want to feel like I’m in Cody Fern’s closet!
Instead of forcing Valentina to be anything less than Valentina, Naomi took it upon herself to drive the presentation. Now, we all know Naomi is not to be slept on, but, make no mistake, she is still no comedy queen. Her promo copy is … fine … but the repetition of a whispered “Club 96 … ” was the closest to funny we got. (Valentina inexplicably delivered only mostly her lines in rhyme, which was so much more distracting than it ever was funny.) For entertainment, there was an ill-defined walk-off that involved werking tacky fashions. Their placement in the bottom two seemed all but guaranteed.
Finally, we buzzed over to The Hive with Latrice, Manila and Trinity. Manila’s graphic design background (which explains so much about her consistently kooky, but always perfectly polished ensembles) helped the team create a space that masterfully married chic decor with kitschy fun. The bee-themed club delivered on fabulous hosting, a strip spelling bee for entertainment and enough puns to make even Shakespeare say, “YAS, KWEEN!”
All three looked great, but Latrice really showed her skills as hostess, while Trinity slayed hosting the spelling bee. The only weak spot was surprisingly Manila, whose manic energy felt at odds with the easy, breezy vibe of The Hive. In the evenings greatest gag, their evening ended by hilariously “RELEASING THE [CGI] BEES!”
The runway theme this week is Plastique Fantastisque, and it mostly yields the season’s most underwhelming lewks. We’ll discuss individual outfits in our rankings, but special attention should be paid to Latrice’s avant garde latex suit with a massive braid made of plastic balls that just gives me all of the life.
That outfit, coupled with a strong performance on the most successful team, earns Latrice a top spot along with Trinity. Naomi and Valentina are predictably in the bottom two. Backstage, Latrice and Trinity’s affinity for Valentina caused them both to get emotional. Despite everyone’s love for Valentina (including mine!), the choice here is clear. Valentina was destined to go home two weeks ago, and Naomi’s report card is obviously stronger. The writing is on the wall, and even Latrice and Trinity seemed more mournful than conflicted.
The lip sync was to “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” which is already an odd choice. I know gender is a construct, but there’s something about the queens lip syncing to male vocals that just never sits right with me. Compounding the dissonance, Trinity chose to perform in full old lady drag, wearing flats and a tear-away hospital gown that (very obviously) revealed swinging, floppy breasts. (Remember Monet’s old lady drag with the IV? Very that.) It just makes no sense in this context.
Latrice continued to show why she is and always be an All Star with a commanding lip sync performance. (Reminder: You don’t need stunts to be good!) She was serving lip quivers, face-ography and floor rolls — ooh! The floor rolls! It was the most fun to be wrung from the track.
With a $10,000 tip tucked in her … well, tuck … Latrice made the emotional decision to send Valentina home.
So where does that leave us? Let’s assess with a ranking of the queens.
- Despite Manila‘s admonishment from the judges for being a little too extra, she’s still breaking out of the pack as this season’s most likely winner. Her fruity Fantastique fantasy was very her, and it carried her requisite polish and point of view. Although it was her partners’ personalities that really sold The Hive, it felt overwhelmingly like Manila’s vision. Sure, Trinity first suggested the bee theme, but all those little wink-wink details felt very Luzon. Could this all be heading to a bestie v. bestie finale with Manila and Latrice battling it out? …
- … Not if Trinity has anything to say about it. I mean, yes, that lip sync was BIZARRE, but you can’t say she didn’t go for it. It was a big swing (and a big miss), but it was definitely memorable. Trinity’s Plastique runway was one of my absolute favorites — a pop-art splat of bubblegum pink with matching wig. It was a season highlight, for sure. Just watching Trinity host the strip spelling bee in this fake, weird club diorama made me want to buy tickets to one of her shows. Her fashion is incredible, her lip syncing is sharp and she’s got a great gregarious energy that most local drag bingo hosts would trade their last lash for. It would qualify as a shocker if Trinity isn’t in the finale.
- Narratively speaking, Latrice is on the path to victory. Bringing back eliminated contestants is a reality TV trope, but rarely do these second-chancers manage to get the win. Drag Race loves to subvert expectations, so it stands to reason they could break that paradigm. There’s also been SO MUCH said about what a legend/veteran/strong-competitor she is (even when it wasn’t totally evidenced on camera). Watching her claw her way not only back to the competition but also to the crown (and potentially having to battle bestie Manila as the final hurdle) is almost too delicious to pass up. This was certainly one of her best runways, and the lip sync was confident. I’m still not entirely clear what her big contributions were to The Hive, but I’ll take the judges’ word for it.
- Monique, Monet and Naomi are neck-and-neck for (presumably) the fourth slot in the finale. A good case can be made for any of them to be there, but I’d give the slightest edge to Monique. She is BELOVED by wide swaths of Drag Race fandom. This week, Monique had some ups (her Club Kid from Outer Space lewk in “The Black Hole”) and downs (that “Josephine Baker” craft project she walked down the runway), but out of Monique, Monet and Naomi, it feels like Monique is the biggest STAR. (She’s certainly the best branded. #FactsAreFacts, #OohAhAhSensation, #BrownCowStunningNowAvailableOniTunes
- This was Monet‘s best runway ever, hands down. Gorgeous. Stunning. I also loved her look at the club. Where I was a bit disappointed was her performance at “The Black Hole.” It’s not that she wasn’t funny — she was! — it’s just that funny comes naturally to her. It didn’t feel like she was challenging herself to really go for it. It was just one-liners tossed off like she was at any other kiki. You want things to LOOK effortless, not BE effortless.
- Such a shame to see Naomi struggle after such an impactful performance last week. Being saddled with Valentina didn’t help matters, but that just meant we clearly got to see Naomi’s vision (or lack thereof). It’s unfortunate this was the Plastique Fantastique she packed for this week when she really could’ve used a knockout to compensate for the performance. (Though I don’t know if any fashion would have made up the difference.) It was a good look, but not her best. At this point, Naomi’s creative weaknesses have been laid bare, and it’s possible lewks and lip syncs won’t be enough to save her.
- Valentina is a star. Full stop. I will miss her presence on the show, but it was her time. I’m looking forward to seeing Valentina flourish in roles like Angel in tomorrow’s Rent: Live on Fox, but as I’ve been saying for weeks, we’ve seen all she’s got to give. I’m glad she redeemed herself lip syncing, and she will leave in much greater graces than how she ended her initial season. None of her choices tonight seemed coherent to me, from the choice to go by “Vivi” to the sometimes rhyming to the Miss Venezuela Barbie runway, I feel like I was missing a crucial piece of information each time to understand her motivations. Watching her is like watching The Masked Singer, which is to say I LOVE it, even if I have no idea what’s going on.
How would you rank the remaining queens?