RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars review: Super Girl Groups, Henny


Genuine talent fights for airtime with reality TV shenanigans on a solid episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.

“Some of us don’t have to force storylines to get our airtime.”

Farrah Moan says that to Gia Gunn as the queens are getting ready to go onstage and lip sync in teams as part of this week’s girl group challenge. It’s emblematic of the tension that’s long been at the heart of Drag RaceDrag Race is a talent competition. In “Super Groups,” queens rise and fall on the strength of their self-penned lyrics, the creativity of their performances, and the detailing in their outfits. But Drag Race is also a reality show. The queens take care not to come off as unlikable (Trinity, who professes to not be a crier, still tries to summon some emotion in the immediate aftermath of Jasmine’s elimination) and to repair their reputations (Valentina is eager to show the world she can lip sync after the disaster of mask gate). Which part of Drag Race is the real Drag Race? What are people here to see?

Gia has most definitely decided they’re here for the drama. It’s not surprising that she plays things up for the camera. It’s surprising how blatant she is about it. During a song-writing session with her team, she stops work dead so she can discuss some months-old drama about Farrah getting drunk and messy in a bar where she was performing. Later, she fishes for confirmation that Farrah did poorly in rehearsals, walks over to Farrah’s work station to “make sure that I did my part in terms of reaching out to her and trying to squash this drama so that I can have closure,” and immediately tells Farrah that her group thinks she’s the weakest link. In reality TV, you’re not supposed to look at or acknowledge the cameras, so that Farrah brings up airtime at all should tell you how shameless Gia’s move is.

In reality TV, it’s always hard to tell if someone is getting a villain edit or actually being a villain. In Gia’s case, it seems like a little of both. Early in the episode, Gia takes us into the title card with a literal evil laugh. That one’s on the producers. But during elimination deliberations, she does the unprecedented and interrupts Farrah’s conversation with Monique, purportedly so she can resolve her drama but look for God and Ru and everyone at home like she just wants more airtime.

“I want to put Gia in the bottom, just for her attitude,” says Trinity, watching from feet away. I kind of see her point.

In other words, there’s a lot of potential here and Gia is still the most interesting queen in the roster. Keep it up.

Her biggest competition for that title is probably Valentina, who is incredibly watchable both in and out of drag. As a boy, Valentina is quirky bordering on truly weird, and I love it. She doesn’t just debut looks on the runway. She also sports looks in the workroom, and makes sure the poses and explains them for the camera. This week, it was a sleek black number with latex elements at the top of the episode and a wallpaper romper later on.

As we mentioned, the queens had to write and perform their own song lyrics in the main challenge. Apparently, Valentina’s verse is about giving her heart to a boy, but it sounds like dadaesque nonsense, punctuated by comic squeals. And once again I’m with Trinity: “I don’t know what the f—k she’s saying, but girl, I am living.”

Her unique lyrics, strong singing voice and distinctive stage presence land Valentina in the top 2, and she ends up lip syncing for your legacy to Ariana Grande’s “Into You.” This is the first time we’ve seen Valentina in a lip sync since her season 9 elimination. She wants to prove that she can perform, and she does. Decked out in a simple glittery slip and voluminous tumble-down brown hair, but bucks and bends, whips her hair, catches the beat, lays on the stage and bears her leg, gives us over-the-shoulder blue steel, and generally melts the stage under her feet. With her hair in her face and her eyes on the camera, there’s a sensuality to Valentina’s performance we don’t see much of on the drag race stage. She wins, and it’s well-deserved.

It’s possible I’m developing a crush on Valentina in drag. It’s confusing.

Valentina squares off against Monét X Change in the lip sync. In the challenge, Monét had excellent flow and made great use of props, something that’s served queens (named Shangela) well in the past. I loved her yelling into the phone. She did well in the lip sync, too, but her more comedic take on the song couldn’t stand up to Valentina’s charisma.

Still, this pair were good pics for the top two. I was, however, quite confused that Monique Heart ended up in the bottom three. A lot of the girls wrote inspirational lyrics, but for the most part, they were too general to really connect. Monique, however, wrote a terrific lyric about learning to love herself as a black person and nailed the vocal; she was the only one of the nine girls who sang rather rapped, and I expected her to be rewarded for it. The judges made some noise about her struggling to take off her jacket onstage and Valentina didn’t think her Aaliyah-inspired getup was accurate, but I didn’t think that warranted a bottom three finish given everything she did right.

Basically, I’m not ready to call shenanigans quite yet, but I have her number.

I was also a little surprised that Gia, who wrote a pretty standard verse and didn’t put much personality into her vocal, wasn’t in the bottom, but so it goes. Instead, the bottom three is rounded out by Manila Luzon — who makes the same mistakes as Gia but who is saved by her best-in-show runway outfit — and Farrah Moan, who’s breathy verse is fine but not good enough to rise above the rest. Given a choice between Farrah and Monique, Valentina sends Farrah home, which I think is the right call, particularly when Monique was in the top just last week. Farrah playfully reprises her infamous tiff with Valentina from the season 9 reunion (“You don’t love me”) before walking out the door, giving Gia a hug on the way (“You actually don’t love me”).

Farrah was the focus of a lot of Gia’s ire. With her gone, with Gia hang up the whole villain thing? Or will she choose to focus on someone else? And who will have the chops to survive a reworked Snatch Game? Join us next week, as the eternal struggle between enjoying this show for the talent and enjoying this show for the drama continues.

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Random Ruflections

  • Monique has added “gooped” and “goopery” to her catchphrase library. Oh, and “Crunchy monkey!”
  • Stacy Layne Matthews returns to perform in the girls’ group numbers. Matthews isn’t the most mobile of queens, so having her return for a choreography challenge is a bit of an odd choice. She lip synced the house down, though, and got in a few good zingers. “I promise you, [if I did a death drop] this studio would have a basement.”
  • Latrice Royale was terrific in her confessionals, calling out Monique for her wig problems last week, reading Valentina for her flat ass, and doing a hilarious impression of Manila’s personality-free vocal. She also had a rock-solid verse. It’s good to have her back on TV.
  • Tonight’s runway theme is “Eleguence After Dark,” aka “Wear a Gown.” There are no disasters, but neither are there many standouts. The big exception is Manila, who wears a silver-purple bejeweled gown with fanned ruffles along the breastbone and flared out below the knee. She has a glittering starburst necklace, matching earrings, and even matching stones under her arms. (“Did you stone those armpits?”) And the gown goes perfectly with her piled-on platinum hair and smooth makeup job. It’s a total stunner.
  • RuPaul to Valentina, Naomi and Monét: “You are the tops of the week. Bet you don’t hear that often, do ya?”
  • Oh my god, Farrah trying and failing to leave a lipstick kiss on the mirror. It was her time to go but I will miss her.