RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars review: RuPaul’s Best Judy’s Race


A shocking ending completely overshadows a solid if drawn out makeover episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. What in the world just happened?

Naomi Smalls sent home Manila Luzon.

Naomi Smalls, who’s been nothing but agreeable and laid back and non-confrontational this whole competition, just sent home Manila Luzon, arguably the frontrunner of All Stars 4, after telling her how much she admired her, and telling the PAs in the confessionals how Manila inspired her to do drag when she was still in junior high. She sent her home. Naomi Smalls sent Manila Luzon home.


I did not see that ending coming, to the point where I’m almost ready to call shenanigans. Honestly, I was bored throughout the whole deliberation chunk of the episode. Manila was in the bottom with Latrice Royale, who recently came back to the competition after being eliminated.

Sure, Latrice won the club night challenge last week, but returning to the show after getting booted usually means you have a target on your back. Plus, her performance in tonight’s makeover challenge was adequate at best. I enjoyed looking at the sparkly blue and red outfits she and her friend Tim wore on the runway, but Michele was right: there wasn’t much of a family resemblance. Tim was wearing a cocktail dress, Latrice a gown, and the shoulders on Tim’s outfit were far more severe.

I’m so worked up I didn’t even describe the challenge. It’s the makeover. RuPaul invites each of the girls’ best Judys onto the show, and the queens have to turn them into a member of their drag family.

With her mismatched outfits, Latrice definitely deserved to be in the bottom. I liked Manila’s outfits — she and her husband Michael dress as the Queen of Clubs and the Queen of Diamonds respectively, in flowing white gowns with some playing card accents — but I can see her being in the bottom with Latrice if only because the other girls all pushed things a little further.

But I can’t see her going home, not after how well she’s been doing in the competition! I can really only see two explanations for this:

Explanation One: RuPaul’s Drag Race is fake

Could this stunt have been drummed up for publicity? As we all know, reality TV is real in name only; producers do think about storylines and cliffhangers and all the rest, and the shock ending did electrify an episode that was probably a half-hour too long.

The makeover episodes are fun because they show off the queens’ sartorial abilities, which is where many of them shine. But sometimes the makeover subjects aren’t camera ready and drag the proceedings down. This time, the queens have to make over their best friends and lovers, so there’s some built-in chemistry that livens things up.

I enjoyed the banter between Monét X Change and her bubbly best friend/assistant Patty, as well as the easy camaraderie between Latrice and Tim, who have known each other for 25 years. All the same, an hour-and-a-half is a lot of episode to fill when the challenge amounts to the queens walking down the runway, something they do on the weekly already.

Maybe Drag Race wanted to shake things up and decided sending home a frontrunner was the best way to do it.

Explanation Two: Naomi Smalls is all about the game

When it comes to who to send home on Drag Race All Stars, there are no hard and fast rules. Still, it’s pretty widely accepted that the girls should send home the person they think was the weakest on the night. Queens occasionally pay lip service to the idea of sending home the strongest competition, but no one ever actually does it. In All Stars season 3, BenDeLaCreme sent home Morgan McMichaels for even suggesting it.

Was Naomi the first person to actually pull the trigger? If so, I guess I respect the boldness… but seriously, that’s cold. Up until now, I’ve thought of Naomi as the determined underdog, someone who preferred to let their inventive runway looks and consistent performance in the challenges do the talking for her.

But if she really sent Manila home to get rid of the competition — and rob us at home of some great drag, I might add — that changes things. I don’t know if I’ll be able to look at her the same way.

I can take some small comfort in the fact that Naomi truly did earn her way into the top. Before the runway, the queens have to choreograph a dance tribute to Judy Garland (oh, the whole episode is about Garland, something else I forgot to mention because I am gooped), all of them wearing outfits modeled off the suit jacket Garland wore for “Get Happy” in Summer Stock. With her mile-long legs, Naomi pulls that look off best.

Her runway look is also the most creative of the night. She and friend Ricardo come out as twin Chers, sporting long black hair massaged with Naomi’s signature minimalist styling. Then, halfway down the runway, Naomi loses the long wig, puts on a mustache, and boom: it’s The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour circa 1976. They both look the part, but Naomi’s runway impresses because it’s about more than just aesthetics.

Naomi pushes even further during the lip sync, to Judy Garland’s “Come Rain or Come Shine.” First, she changes into a striking acid green ’50s-inspired dress complete with a long matching mantle that nearly hits the ground.

Naomi is all kinds of animated, vibrating her fingers, collapsing to the ground on the beat, pointing, bending, posing, dragging herself down the stage with her things and flailing her limbs like a praying mantis in a frying pan. Latrice speaks for everybody: “I am not even watching anybody but Naomi Smalls.”

Monét is also in the top thanks to the lovely all-gold outfits she and Patty (drag name Patty Cash, nice) wear down the runway, Patty in a leotard and Monét in a bodysuit with a matching sparkly tie. The wavy black wigs complete a memorable look.

But in the lip sync, Monét goes for the Latrice-singing-“Natural Woman” strategy, standing still and hoping the gravity of her words will draw people’s attention, but with Naomi having spasms of inspiration next to her, it’s a lost cause. She does unfold an umbrella full of glitter at the end, which is nice, but it’s not nearly enough.

And that brings us back to where we started.

Naomi Smalls sent home Manila Luzon. At this point, I’ve said about all I can say about it and I’m happy to pass the question off to you: what in the world happened here, and what happens next?

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Random Ruflections

  • Valentina’s gone but not forgotten. Naomi was pretty funny at the top of the episode sporting Valentina’s signature, and there’s this bon mot from Manila when pleading her case to Monét: “I don’t agree with my position here today. I feel like Valentina would have said that.”
  • Monique and her friend Danny wear matching cocktail dresses, each outfitted with a huge eye over the bust and lined at the bottom with a giant red streak. When they stand next to each other, their dresses make big frowny face. It’s classic Monique Heart camp, fun and quirky.
  • Trinity and her boyfriend Leo wear coordinated blue-and-gold outfits with identical platinum blonde wigs and sharp black stiletto heels, plus matching necklaces and belts. As always with Trinity, the looks are polished to a mirror sheen.
  • Monét: “I am not a makeup artist.” Naomi: “We know.”
  • Had this been a boring episode like it was supposed to be, the best part of the deliberation portion probably would have been the oddly stilted conversation between Monique and Trinity about who was going to go home.
  • I may be freaking out over Manila’s exit, but she herself takes it in stride. It is just a TV show, and she clearly has a good life to get back to.