It’s coming down to the wire on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars, and with three teams left competing for a spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame, safety is no longer on the table; if you’re not on top, you’re lip-synching for your life. Say what you will about this season’s teams system, but halving the chances has raised the stakes pretty high. That being said, this week the final three teams are tasked with reading their sisters through the art of cheer, dragging out celebrity daughters and creating girl groups. Let’s take a look at the shit that worked and the shat that Fanny Shosha’d.
Another team went home last week, and with the absence of Latrila comes another round of raiding and pillaging, as the remaning queens go through Manila and Latrice’s stuff, mopping the various odds and ends left behind. At this point, the queens are leaving so fast and so furiously that it’s no longer about reflecting on what they brought to the competition and what undid them so much as it is a weekly clearance sale. Normally I would find this egregious, but if I were there, I’d grab Manila’s shoe headpiece like Chad did. I HAVE NO REGRETS.
As the queens circle Latrila’s leftovers like sharks on jetsam, the dulcet tones of RuPaul’s “Ooooo, Girl! You got SheMail!” break their focus long enough to bombard them with a steady stream of girl groups, before boy Ru steps into the work room and tells the queens that their mini-challenge is to do a cheerleading routine wherein they read the other queens. Drag Race historians will be able to parse through tonight’s episode and identify the various pieces of challenges past that have been Frankensteined together for the night’s spectacle.
This mini-challenge, specifically, is an amalgamation of the annual reading challenge, along with Season 3’s Jocks in Frocks challenge. The result is a slightly below-average reading, as the normally pithy queens are too busy rhyming in sync to really let each other have it. The only highlight of the shade throwing is Yara Sofia and Alexis Mateo’s dig at Shannel:
Alexis: Knock knock!
Yara: Who’s there?
Yara: Shannel who?
Aaaaaaand scene. Also, Oliver Sava over at the A/V Club pointed this one out, but Shannel. WHAT. HAPPENED.
Yikes. But whatever, on to the actual challenge! Boy Ru ushers in Kelly Osbourne, Jillian Hervey (Michelle Williams’s daughter) and Kady Z (daughter of Pia Zadora. If that means anything to you, congratulations on being born before the ‘90s!). The queens will be dragging up one celebrity daughter and teaming up with them to create a girl group that will lip sync to one of RuPaul’s songs in front of a live audience. It’s the annual makeover challenge, with a dash of Season 1’s girl-group challenge and just a touch of that one Drag U episode where they made over famous people. Yarlexis teams up with Kelly Osbourne for “Cover Girl"; Rujubee buddies up with Kady for “Jealous of My Boogie"; and Jillian is working with Shad for “Glamazon."
Over the course of the season, each team ended up with one member who everyone thinks is “carrying” the other. For Shad, this was Chad Michaels; for Yarlexis, this was Yara, and while Rujubee has been on pretty even footing, Juju slightly edges out Raven. Tonight, both of these power struggles come to a boil, one for the better and one for the worse. Shannel takes the reins in her group as a means of asserting herself, despite being the only one without any actual experience in choreography. The power play doesn’t seem particularly ego-driven, but Chad and Shannel are probably the most sisterly of all the pairings, and their squabbles actually sound like two sisters fighting, so when Chad tells Ru that Shannel is being overly assertive, it sounds like two sisters asking their mother to settle a dispute.
Team Yarlexis gets off to a good start, due in large part to Kelly Osbourne being one hell of a trooper. She was a judge for last season’s Float Your Boat challenge and established herself as a smart cookie when it comes to drag and a perfectly willing student and friend. She integrates into Yarlexis like a packet of raw sugar into a cup of coffee, and her transformation is seamless. The one thing holding the group back is, surprisingly, Yara. During rehearsals, rather than fine tune the already existing choreography, Yara chooses instead to completely throw it out and replace what could have been pretty stellar dancing with ho-hum baby steps.
There are two ways to look at Yara’s meltdown: the first is that it’s a repeat of her meltdown in Season 3. As the competition gets stiffer and the stakes get higher, Yara’s craziness turns more inward on herself as the pressure grows, and it causes her to slowly crumble into a pile of self-doubt, only this time, she’s taking Alexis and Kelly with her. The other perspective is that Yara’s been spoon fed the idea that she’s carrying Alexis for so long that she believes it and has taken it upon herself to micromanage the group’s performance. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both, and it’s going to implode in a particularly juicy finale in a bit.
But enough about Yarlexis; let’s talk about Rujubee here. If the judges were to base the top and bottoms solely on the queens’ performance, Ruju would be #1 with a bullet. But the inclusion of Kady Z proves an impediment rather than an asset, as she doesn’t throw herself into the challenge the way Kelly and Jillian do. She doesn’t really commit to learning any choreography, she turns down big hair and earrings, and when Raven and Jujubee try to contour her face, she has them wipe it off in favour of a more natural look. Because if drag queens and Pia Zadora are known for anything, it’s their natural beauty.
But enough of that. On to the main-stage, where the groups perform for RuPaul, Michelle, Santino, Rosie Perez and Mary Williams. Rosie is a fantastically exuberant judge, and Williams provides a touch of realism to the judging panel as one of the founding members of The Supremes. Chad’s reaction to Williams is a spot of unintentional hilarity. “One word: a legend.”
Chad does not understand how much one is.
Team Shad cleans up with a tightly choreographed performance, as Chad and Shannel’s sisterly bond and professionalism brings them together to knock one out of the park, with Jillian’s dancing put centre stage. Team Yarlexis are fun to watch and they know how to work a crowd, but the choreography is limp and the costumes look a tad samey. Kelly Osbourne, in particular, looks like a grown up Honey Boo Boo, and I mean that in the best way. Rujubee’s look reads ‘90s girl group, and Juju in particular pounces on every word of the lip sync with gusto, but Kady Z (yes, the initial is necessary) doesn’t contribute much to the performance, and Raven and Juju take a lot of the choreography from the “Jealous of My Boogie” video, prompting eyebrow raises across the board from the judges.
Shad walks away with a deserved second win in a row, while Raven and Alexis go toe-to-toe for a lip sync for your life to The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha.” Raven comes out of the gate swinging, as the song totally fits her man-eater style of drag, but you can see that Alexis is quickly gaining momentum on her and is set to overtake when —
Yara’s micromanaging returns to rear its ugly head one last time as she presses the Shermergency button and tags herself into the lip sync, stopping Alexis dead in her tracks. The incredibly awkward break in the scene offers Raven a chance to make a costume change . . . er, removal, as she strips down to her under things. The combination of Raven’s overt sexuality and Yara’s cock-blocking puts the final nail in Yarlexis’s coffin, and they’re told to sashay away.
As talented as Yarlexis was, I can’t say that I didn’t see their exit coming. They kinda overstayed their welcome, and between Chad, Shannel, Raven and Jujubee, the winner at this point is a complete tossup. Normally, I’d be able to make some stab at who the top queens will be, but the team thing throws a wrench in the equation I just can’t factor out. Will the teams stick together? Will Ru mix things up one last time just for shits and giggles? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.