RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars review: Queens of Clubs


A fun challenge stretches the girls in new ways and gives one of them a well-earned comeback story.

“This is my moment.”

“I’ve got something to prove.”

“I won’t squander this opportunity.”

How often have we heard variations on this phrase after a RuPaul’s Drag Race girl comes back into the fold after being eliminated? (Latrice’s take: “This time around, ain’t child’s play.”)

And how many times have those words been empty, and we watched that contestant head back home after at most another week in contention? This week, RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars welcomed Latrice Royale back into the competition, and she won. What’s more, she actually earned it. I was surprised on both counts.

For the first time I can remember, Latrice is the standout on the runway. The theme is Plastique Fantastique, and she wears a full-length neon light blue-and-purple number with a pair of googly eyes over the breasts and a long ponytail made of purple latex balls standing in for hair. (Were those eyes inspired by Monique Heart’s fashion?) It’s quirky and fun and different, and with her waist cinched up tight and the gown nipped in at the knee, Latrice looks terrific in it. It’s the best I can ever recall her looking.

She does well in the challenge, too, which is a new one for Drag Race. The queens have to split into groups and host a night at a club, coming up with the theme, the decor and even painting the place themselves. Sometimes Drag Race gets into a rut with too many comedy challenges one after the other, so it was fun to see something that challenged the queens in other ways.

Latrice, working with Manilla and Trinity, hosts a party at Club Hive. It’s the most inventive of the all the clubs we see. The bouncer is in a beekeeper’s veil, there’s cardboard honey (or something) dripping over the bar, and the yellow-and-black color scheme is less predictable than the phosphorescent fantasy of Monét and Monique’s space-themed Black Hole. Through it all, Latrice is rock steady, doling out plentiful good cheer and looking snatched in a beehive hairdo. She earns her place in the top two alongside Trinity, who hosts Club Hive’s spelling bee strip contest with gusto.

Also, “Release the bees!” is the best, and the weirdest, joke of the night. I’m thinking that was a Manila contribution.

It’s also fun to see the creative process in action. We watch the girls develop their ideas from conception through the final product. They have to write jokes, but it’s not just jokes, which helps this challenge stand out.

Monét and Monique also do well. They mesh. When coming up with ideas, they take their space theme and quickly start running in the same direction together. It’s in space. There can be an alien baby. You can take pictures with it. There will be slime! Well, maybe not slime.

The final product is a little more pedestrian than Club Hive, but they make it work with over-the-top outfits and some really solid jokes. (Monét: “Last month, we had Dennis Rodman and Bubbles the Chimpanzee.” Monique: “The month before that we had Courtney Love teaching us how to line dance?”)

Most importantly, they’re comfortable with each other, which means the guests are comfortable, which is the point. Michele Visage, Carson Kressley are both there, as are guest judges Rita Ora and Susanne Bartsch. Everyone has a great time.

Naomi and Valentin’s collaboration doesn’t go as well. You can tell there’s trouble right from the start. When she and Valentina are brainstorming, Naomi is immediately coming up with catchphrases and club names and decor themes, but Valentina is feeling “overwhelmed.” When Naomi wants to paint and write jokes, Valentina is stressing about her manicure in her ridiculous painting attire. (Naomi: “She asked me if I wanted to wear the same outfit, and I was like, ‘Girl, I’m good.'”)

It reminds me a little of how she acted in season 9 when she and Nina Bo’nina Brown were supposed to come up with a concept for a pilot; she’s too busy being eccentric to get any work done.

Predictably, their fashion-focused club — Club 96 — is underthought. I liked the two of them whispering “Club 96” over and over. Carson was right: it felt a little Saturday Night Live — but there were diminishing returns. At minimum, I wish Valentina would have said it a few more times. The judges were right: Club 96 looked chic but there wasn’t much to entertain the guests.

I did like Naomi’s rhymes, though. And as Valentina pretty much admits while the queens are getting ready, Naomi had to write more or less all of them herself. Still, when these two inevitably end up in the bottom, it’s hard to be sure who’s going to go home. Valentina hasn’t made quite the splash she was hoping, and while Naomi has had some terrific moments. I still haven’t gotten over that ridiculous back-bend she did during her lip sync last week. She has yet to crack the top two.

On the other hand, Valentina rubs some of the contestants the wrong way. As she freely admits, she pretty much lives in a fantasy world (“I know I’m a lot. It’s like a privilege but like a curse”), and I can imagine that getting exhausting. (Valentina: “Sending me home doesn’t make sense with my fantasy.” Monique: “She could stay home and just have the fantasy.”) It’s harder for her to ignore reality tonight, and she breaks down a bit while having her one-on-ones with Latrice and Trinity, who lip sync to Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).”

The lip sync isn’t great. Except Latrice doesn’t go in for the kill like she did last week and Trinity changes into a ridiculous-looking costume that makes her look like an old lady, complete with saggy, undulating breasts. I guess this look could be funny in the right circumstance, but I’m with Monét: I don’t get why she’s wearing it here. It’s more distracting than entertaining.

Latrice sings the song straight, which is enough to secure her the win. Latrice tearfully sends home Valentina, who writes a memorably brief message on the mirror. “Ugh! I have to pack! Love you all!”

And thus ends the strange strange Drag Race career of Valentina… for now. I’ll miss her vamping it up, drinking “French vanilla fantasies” in her confessionals and modeling boy looks in the workroom, but I’m not sure she has the focus to do everything asked of her. I do wish she could have participated in a design challenge or two, though. There was a stretch with a lot of comedy challenges that didn’t play to her strengths.

Next week is… a design challenge! So close.

Read. 20 reality show gems you need to see. light

Random Ruflections

  • You paint up and down, Monique, not side to side! You been told!
  • Trinity: “Who I think is the strongest competition is who I’d want to stay.” Valentina: “Thanks, Trinity.”
  • “Latrice Roayle is actually just 120 pounds. She’s just really really allergic to bees.”
  • “Non-American singer Rita Ora!”
  • Quick runway rundown, non-Latrice edition:
    • Manilla wears a cellophane explosion. She looks gift-wrapped.
    • Trinity looks like a smear of bubblegum, another creative look from her.
    • Naomi looks good in a slinky dress made from loose circles of plastic, but my favorite thing about her outfit is Carson’s pun about slipped discs.
    • Valentina is a plastic Venezuelan beauty queen. It’s an odd choice but she sells it.
    • Monét is a stripping cyborg gladiator from the future. Fun!
    • Monique’s outfit kind of has the same structure as Monét’s, only there’s less of a theme and she has a bunch of plastic bananas flopping around the bottom of her skirt. It’s clearly inspired by Josephine Baker, but it fails to stand out.
  • I dunno if I agree with the judges calling out Manilla for “talking over” her teammates. Didn’t they write the jokes out ahead of time? That felt a little manufactured to me.
  • Susanne Bartsch’s name has come up several times over the course of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The New York City party promoter was working with RuPaul back when she was first starting out, but while she’s a big deal, I couldn’t stop focusing on how great she looked for 67. I mean, good lord. And the stones on her brows looked really cool.
  • “You have a really unique talent of being shady in a good way, but you were also really warm and welcoming.” Trinity: “It’s just called being country.”
  • “All I can say is that no matter what, we’re still in our heels.”
  • “Let it be known, she left with a crown.”