RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 3 finale review: A Jury of Their Queers


A wild season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars comes to a predictably unpredictable end. Is the show sacrificing consistency for drama?

Well, that was surprising.

I feel like I’ve said that a lot this season. I said it when BeBe Zahara Benet returned in the premiere, the first time a former winner had been a part of an All Stars lineup. I said it when BenDeLaCreme racked up more challenge wins than any girl in Drag Race history, and I said it about a million times when DeLa sent herself home and brought back early exit Morgan McMichaels. And you best believe I said it after the end of this episode, when Shangela — the girl who, next to BenDeLaCreme, had been doing the best in this competition — didn’t even get to lip sync for the crown, and instead watched as Trixie Mattel took home the win. I mean…what happened?

Reality TV happened. As in DeLa’s final episode, the ending of “A Jury of Their Queers” completely overshadows what happens before it. It brings up the question: Why do we watch this show? Is it to see talented people ply their trade? Or is for the reality TV twists and turns?

RuPaul’s Drag Race has decided that we’re here for the drama, and that’s kind of a shame, because these queens really are talented. We can see that in the challenge, where they have to write original lyrics, lip sync, and perform choreography, all in one take with no do-overs. It’s like the rap challenge from the last season of All Stars, but turned up to 11, and all of the girls slay it, even if some are better than others. Kennedy entertains with her raw dance power and solid singing voice, Shangela brings loads of attitude and nails her choreography, and Trixie impresses with clever lyrics, rhyming “Pamela” with “Shangela” with “tarantula” with something I didn’t quite catch, but the point is that there were four rhymes. Even BeBe, whose choreography is a good deal less dynamic than her sisters’, brings plenty of personality to her performance, all of it set to a whimsical lyric that reminded me of her off-the-wall verse from the Handmaid’s Tale episode. BeBe’s a strange one, and that’s not a bad thing.

The queens also stun on the runway, whether they stick to their established aesthetics (BeBe in a cheetah-print gown and Kennedy in a turnt-up version of her rainbow gown from the penultimate episode of season 7) or go outside the box (Trixie in a black, Mae West-inspired mermaid gown and Shangela in an elegant red-carpet-at-the-Oscars gown — the theme of the night is gowns, apparently).

Trixie’s outfit is memorably vampy, but Shangela’s impressed me, both because of how unexpectedly understated it was and for how well she wore it. She also stood out in the challenge — she was the only girl to nail her lyrics, her attitude, and her dance moves.

Which brings us back to the question: how on God’s green Earth did Shangela not even make it into the final lip sync?

Again, the answer is drama. RuPaul loves a twist, and this year, she lets the eliminated queens interview the top four girls and decide which two will lip sync against each other for the crown, with RuPaul choosing the final winner. The twist does fit with the contestant-driven nature of All Stars, but if it produces this kind of result, is it worth it?

I actually don’t know. Maybe. Yes, these girls are talented and we want to see that, but this is a reality show — drama is in its blood. There’s no wishing it away, and I wouldn’t want to, but I think this episode leans a little too hard it. When RuPaul makes a decision about whom to eliminate, or to reward, we know why she makes it. It’s based on how well the queen has done in the competition; on their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. The eliminated queens don’t need to judge by the same standards. Unlike Ru, they haven’t been here to watch their sisters work, and it’s sometimes hard to tell why they make the decision they do.

But it’s clear they’re not feeling BeBe, particularly after she again refuses to reveal who she would have sent home, and brought back, had she won the lip sync at the end of “Handmaids to Kitty Girls.” (Trixie also mocks her for it at the top of the episode; it’s the puzzling decision that keeps on giving.) BeBe thinks they’ve come in determined not to give her the crown on account of her already winning it back in season 1, and maybe they did. It’s impossible to know.

On the flip side, the eliminated queens are very receptive to Kennedy, and to her “positive light.” (Thorgy: “People who are real make me so comfortable. BeBe doesn’t make me comfortable.”) They also agree with Kennedy’s argument (delivered after the fact, to be fair) that she needs the crown the most, since the other girls already have established fan bases. Again, normally, RuPaul would give out merits and demerits based on how well a queen has performed. But here, the eliminated queens act according to the old political aphorism that voting is less about how well a candidate is suited for the job and more about whether you’d want to have a beer with them. And that can lead to dodgy results.

Shangela, likes BeBe, comes off as defensive in her interview, at least at the start — she recovers with a speech about her work ethic. Trixie is confident throughout, and compliments the eliminated queens along the way. And so it ends up that, for whatever reasons, Kennedy lip syncs against Trixie, and Shangela is left without a crown.

Here are some thoughts on that:

Also this, because perspective is good:

The lip sync, to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” is solid, although it’s pretty clear Trixie is going to win right from the start. She goes for a straightforward emotional reading of the lyrics whereas Kennedy breaks out the dance moves and splits. Don’t get me wrong; Kennedy’s moves are great, but on an angsty song like this, you’re better off keeping it sincere.

I’m happy for Trixie, but after moving the goalposts for victory in both All Stars season 2 and Drag Race season 9, I wonder if RuPaul isn’t alienating some of the show’s fans. Yes, part of the strength of this show is that it can and will do the unexpected, but it’s got to maintain some consistency if it’s going to keep around long-time viewers. I think the show sometimes struggled to find that balance over the past couple months.

Will it recover? We will find out literally next week, when RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 premieres! Yes, we might disagree with our favorite show every once in a while, but we’re not going anywhere.

Next: Five team-ups we want in Avengers: Infinity War

Random Ruflections

  • RuPaul: “The eliminated queens are coming back back again!” Good to see Alyssa Edwards has left her mark on this show.
  • Shangela: “Of course she thinks [the returning queens] are gonna be backup dancers. BeBe thinks we’re all backup dancers.”
  • Kennedy laughing at BeBe’s inability to dance is me. What? I’m not a role model.
  • Trixie’s face when Todrick was telling them about the challenge was ridiculously over the top. It was great.
  • Not content with just another Game of Thrones reference, Shangela hits us with references to The Color PurpleAmerican Idol and Drake. As far as I’m concerned, those are just more reasons she should have won.
  • “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. And may the best All Star win! …Why do I feel like I’m talking to myself?”
  • The song-and-dance number was impressive, but they may have wanted to rethink the bit where we follow behind the queens as they blitz back to the stage. Trixie looked less than elegant pumping her arms in a rush.
  • “BeBe, can you hear us? I think she’s a deaf leopard.”
  • BenDeLaCreme barely said a word all night, but I loved her huge red frilly hat. I also dug Thorgy’s orange-and-blue jumpsuit with sunglasses high hat space age … thing.
  • “I’m January Jones-ing for more.”