Occasionally on RuPaul’s Drag Race, a challenge is not what it seems to be. On the surface, it looks like a ball, or a comedy challenge or even a makeover. That’s what it looks like this week, when RuPaul challenges the remaining All Stars 4 queens to make over their best friends — or, in Drag Race/queer terminology, their best Judies.
The challenge is a tribute to Judy Garland, complete with a mini history lesson for the queens on her impact, and a workroom redecorated with photos of the late Wizard of Oz icon. But in truth, it is neither just a tribute or just a makeover task. No, this week’s challenge is actually about listening to RuPaul’s words of wisdom, and taking his advice.
As he makes his way around the workroom to talk to the queens, Ru dispenses all kinds of nuggets. Do the queens take them? And how does it affect them on the runway? To break it down, let’s take the girls one-by-one, and see how well they did — both in the makeover, and in the real challenge.
Monique Heart and Shanida Heart
Monique’s makeover of her best friend is a genuinely smart transformation. She opts to go with costumes that accentuate their similarity not in look, but in novelty. Slapping giant eyes on the front of their looks, and even trading the eyes mid-runway, is the kind of risk that pays off. I don’t know if I’d go so far to call it “avant-garde,” as Monique does during their runway presentation, but it is different. Were I judging, she’d be in my top two.
However, despite her claims in talking heads that she wanted to share a tender moment with Ru, Monique is very clearly not taking in Ru’s psychobabble advice in the workroom. Ru says that Monique’s defensiveness on the runway is somehow a rejection of her vulnerability, or something. It’s a lot of words that mean little, and Monique’s expression reflects her true feelings on it. Considering that she once again does not look happy during critiques, I’d say Monique does not successfully implement Ru’s advice. As a result, she lands firmly in the middle.
Monét X Change and Patty Cash
Monét benefits from getting the most concrete advice, which essentially boils down to: don’t fuck it up like you did in Season 10. Admittedly, Monét’s looks are more polished than last season, but I wouldn’t say her makeover of best friend Patty is much better than her makeover of Tyler Oakley — certainly not enough to land her in the top two. Frankly, I’m baffled when Ru says Monét’s a winner this week, though I do think the redemption narrative helps her out. From eliminated to a champion — that’s the kind of story Ru wants to inspire.
I guess this is where I should say that there was some kind of Judy Garland tribute number aspect to the challenge, and that seems to be what lands Monét in the top two. But, c’mon. We see all of 20 seconds of each act, which is hardly enough to distinguish who did the best. These dance elements to the makeover challenges always seem like throwaways, and I can’t imagine this one was truly enough to give Monét a win.
Latrice Royale and Alexis Knight
Latrice is the rare case of nailing the Ru wisdom part of the challenge this week, but flopping hard on the runway. Latrice’s makeover of her friend Tim is, in a word, busted, and their looks don’t go together at all. I’ll give Latrice credit for selling herself well on the runway to a particularly sharp-tongued Michelle Visage, who gets deep in critiques this week. Latrice manages to charm Michelle, and even though she still lands in the bottom, it softens the blow.
In the workroom, though, Latrice manages to genuinely connect to Ru, sharing the story of how Tim helped her get her life back on track after prison. It’s heartwarming and heartfelt in equal measure, and Ru himself gets emotional about it. Latrice’s demeanor throughout this episode is far superior to her creative output — which, to be fair, is pretty reflective of Latrice this season as a whole. Her legend status is coming through more in her persona than in her work. That sets her up well for a long career, but not an All Stars win.
Manila Luzon and Iyowife Luzon
Unfortunately, Manila fumbles every ball possible this week. She doesn’t get handed the easiest Ru moment in the workroom to decipher, with Ru emphasizing that Manila and her husband Michael Alvarez are married! Yeah. That’s pretty much it. I don’t know how you turn that into gold, but Manila sure doesn’t. She actually seems thrown off her game by having Michael there, more distracted than inspired.
It shows on the runway, to be frank. The judges blast Manila for going too costumey with their card-inspired costumes (Carson Kressley in particular is not happy), and Manila’s choices of wigs for her and Michael make them look too dissimilar. Manila also commits the cardinal sin of makeover challenges on RuPaul’s Drag Race: she makes herself look better than her partner.
All this said, Manila opens up about the ways in which Michael helped her after Sahara Davenport’s death, and it is achingly beautiful. In an episode full of moments meant to tug at heartstrings, this is the one that got to me most.
Naomi Smalls and Extra Smalls
Home run. Naomi absolutely kills it this week. She picks up on Ru’s advice to be looser and more fun, and delivers an incredibly smart Sonny-and-Cher runway. It’s such a down-the-line pitch to Ru’s interests — Judy Garland! Cher! — and so well-executed, it’s no wonder she takes home her first win.
Naomi has impressed me mightily in recent weeks. From her “Adrenaline” lip sync, to the iconic whispers of “Club 96,” to now this, she’s on a roll. I do still think her winning would be an odd choice, but I’m very much here to ride the Naomi wave.
Trinity the Tuck and Indigo the Tuck
Eh. Trinity’s fine. She doesn’t get much of a challenge in the workroom from Ru, and her makeover looks are standard but solid. She gets some nice moments being cute with her boyfriend. Honestly, outside of talking heads, Trinity is kind of invisible this week. That makes me think we’ll be getting a lot more of her in the next two episodes.
So Manila and Latrice wind up in the bottom two, with Naomi and Monét in the top two. What follows is a remarkably lighter set of deliberations, considering how emotional they were last time Latrice was in danger of going home. Manila seems to take her safety for granted, resting on her record. Latrice, on the other hand, fully campaigns, and it’s incredibly effective. I myself am way more drawn to a fighter than someone who rests on their laurels — and I want Manila to win this whole competition!
The lip sync song is, appropriately enough, Judy Garland’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and Monét has a good umbrella reveal gag. Naomi, on the other hand, serves an absolutely fire lip sync. She owns every part of the stage, moving in flawless rhythm with the song. If her “Adrenaline” is a perfect 10, this is arguably a super-perfect 11. It is one of my favorite lip sync performances of all time, and I cannot believe I am saying this about Naomi Smalls.
She’s not done gagging us, though: in a twist, Naomi decides to send home Manila, eliminating her biggest competition. I’ve criticized the show for burning through its plot too fast this season, but I’ll admit, this one snuck up on me. All season long, Naomi has waxed poetic about her admiration and love for Manila Luzon — a queen she first watched on TV almost a decade ago. And now, here is Naomi, eliminating her inspiration. The student surpasses the teacher.
It’s one hell of a twist, and I’d be more excited were I not so despondent to lose Manila. She’s made a fan out of me after years of my skepticism, and she’s introduced herself to the modern Drag Race audience in a big way. I’m gutted that she won’t be our All Stars 4 winner.
But hey, placing sixth on All Stars isn’t the worst fate. Just ask Tatianna.
💋 These makeover challenges work so much better when the queens are emotionally connected to who they’re paired with. That can be as simple as “they work together on the show,” as with Season 9’s film crew makeovers, or the sisters and mothers makeovers during All Stars 2. Every queen’s reaction on tonight’s episode to seeing their best friend come in is heartwarming. Even though the results of the makeovers aren’t the strongest, I think the emotional payoff is more than worth it.
💋 That said: the segment where the queens “learn” that Judy Garland’s death was the spark that lit the Stonewall powder keg is fully insane. Like, did those girls really have to pretend not to know queer history just for that segment? Nuts.
💋 It’s so endearing to watch the differing reactions to the top two getting trips to Iceland. Monét fully freaks out, while Naomi just says a subdued “. . . gag.”
💋 Ellen Pompeo is really a ton of fun as a guest judge. I don’t know how great she is at it, on a pure technical level, but she is clearly really invested, and wants to do well. “Diagnosis: sickening, darling!” was just perfect. Frances Bean Cobain was charming, but not quite at the same level.
💋 Monet: “I’m not a makeup artist . . . ” Naomi: “We know.” Perfect.
💋 “I have my best friend in the whole wide world here. He’s up in drag looking like a truck driver crossdresser!” Even in the most emotional moments, Latrice can inspire such pure joy.
💋 Ru saying “Toto she better don’t!” fully sent me.
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 returns next Friday, Feb 8, at 8 pm ET on VH1 in the US and OUTtv in Canada.