This week on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the show sinks to new depths of low-effort self-promotion with a VH1 Divas Live impersonation concert where every one of nine famous divas are singing RuPaul songs.
This was an episode full of buffoonery, riggery, and straight up tomfoolery.
It could have been a truly iconic and hilarious event, as shown by BenDeLaCreme’s instantly-memorable performance lip syncing to RuPauls’ “Mother” as recorded in the style of Julie Andrews by actress/impersonator Christina Bianco.
Why was that performance so incredibly memorable, and all the others much less so? Two reasons.
First, “Mother” was sung in Andrews’ style but over what essentially sounded like original RuPaul backing track. It doesn’t stand up to a direct comparison, but it was a simulacrum of what you’d expect from Ru and nothing like a Julie Andrews song. BenDeLa benefited from the dissonance because she could play up the element of frantic, held-hostage nervousness in her performance. All of the other divas essentially sang an unrecognizable RuPaul song in their own style, which was less funny and gave many of them much less to do.
The second reason connects to that last bit. Essentially, Todrick Hall done fucked up drag race. He went totally ham on the choreography of Ben’s track because there was a lot for her to do. He also went ham on Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, but barely touched the six other routines. Note his uncontained glee on the judges’ panel as the girls perform his super basic voguing during BenDeLa’s song, while he basically left the capable Thorgy (and, let’s be honest, Trixie) out to dangle.
Where does that leave our rankings? They’re not too shook compared to last week, though one queen is making her own case for an advance on the final three.
BenDeLaCreme comes out on top for a second week in a row. She earned the spot with her performance, but it make me a little queasy how much rigga morris was involved in setting up said win.
BenDeLa was assigned the very British Julie Andrews as her diva, which immediately raises eyebrows – not only for how out-of-place she is against the other modern divas in this line-up, but that she’s in the same British wheelhouse as BenDeLa’s legendary Dame Maggie Smith performance from Snatch Game.
Then, BenDeLa gets the only arrangement that is in the clubby style of most of Ru’s original music, which provided a stark contrast with a prim rap performance in Andrews’ signature ultra-cheerful style.
The result is utterly addictive high camp. I think I’ve listened to it over 100 times in the past 24 hours.
And then, BenDeLa gets one of only two full-force choreography efforts from Todrick Hall, which turns out to be entirely within her ability to perform.
Like I said: rigga morris. She was obviously set up for a big win here.
Don’t get me wrong: BenDeLa’s performance was difficult and she was near-perfect. You can absolutely see the real Julie Andrews in her exaggerated execution of the bawdy dance moves. Yet, BenDeLa probably could have turned this out even if she got stuck with Kate Bush or Courtney Love.
Her runway repeat of her bejeweled Season 6 look is a fringed flapper dress alternative (weak TOOT) to the perfectly fine Vegas Showgirl original. It’s an outfit that would be easy to place in the “Safe” zone on its own, but her performance was un-ignorable. I felt like it needed one element of contrast, somewhere. Perhaps a black, gold, or silver glove?
In just two episodes, BenDeLa has gone from solid contender to Alaska-esque front-runner. That gives her a high pedestal to fall from and puts a target on her back. Season 6 really only went askew when she kept repeating herself, both in personality and showgirl looks. Is that going to be a danger here, or do we really have such an early lock on the finale?
Shangela gives us the full fantasy of a totally over-it Mariah Carey in the Divas Live sync-off, and turns in a runway look so ridiculous in concept that no one is willing to judge the details.
None of that is a read. After seeing the big twists in All-Stars Season 2, Shangela came to this competition ready to win any kind of reality game that emerged. Survivor? The Amazing Race? Project Runway? American Idol? She’s prepared for them all.
Shangela makes a big show of being a total diva before she even gets on stage for her Mariah choreography, which doesn’t demand too much from a dancing standpoint. Shangela wisely plays this for all of the possible laughs, nailing a perfect simulacrum of Mariahs’s low-effort 2016 New Year’s Eve performance. It’s hard to see it in a single frame, but in full motion she absolutely nails Mariah’s exasperated facial expressions. That she did it with her entire chest bared and a ridiculous swarm of rainbow butterflies orbiting her head only made it that much more delicious.
This would probably be enough to get her into the top group of the night (we all know how Ru loves to laugh), but then there is her RuDemption Runway. Shangela has a whole host of terrible runways to choose from here (corn!), but she decides to reprise her “Queen Who Mopped Christmas” look as a sort of space-age snowglobe Christmas ornament.
Except… there’s nothing snowglobe about her big plastic bubble or her outfit adorned with red metallic ornaments.
It’s high-drama, but it never really reads as Christmas or eleganza. What is going on with her ear muffs? Why isn’t her top a halter that shows skin? If this look wasn’t in a bubble, it would have been read. (BOOT!)
And yet… are you really going to call “SAFE” on Shangela in a snatched bodysuit with great hair walking down the runway in a fucking bubble? Like I said, she came ready to play. There will be no low-effort performances from Shangela this season. The only hope any of the other queens have to knock her out of finale contention would be some unintentional poor taste.
3. Bebe Zahara Benet
Bebe Zahara Benet aces something very hard and botches something very easy in this episode.
As a late-career Diana Ross, Bebe is perfection. She gets the look close enough to sell the illusion, but where she really excels is Ross’s vague, slightly arrhythmic wandering around the stage.
If I was given this assignment I’d be tempted to go for the visual of Supremes-era Ross, which is a much easier target to hit. Bebe was confident enough to go with the older Diana, and it was a terrific choice – probably the best one we’ve seen on the show out of a few impersonations to date.
What Diana Ross isn’t is a diva with a large amount of visual or performance impact, aside from her massive hair. Getting Diana right is an impressive feat, but not really show-off-y.
I was a little less impressed with Bebe on the runway. Her secretarial entrance look didn’t really need a redo, and her strangely-fitting pleather pant-suit wasn’t an improvement on the original. It was tight in all the wrong places, which created too many unattractive creases in what should have been a super-smooth look.
I wouldn’t call it bad by any stretch of the imagination, and her face face beauty face was perfect as always, but in terms of the challenge it was a BOOT for me.
For me, that added up to Bebe being very comfortably safe in this episode – so I was surprised to see her in the top three! It felt like an indicator that – intentional or not – Bebe might be graded on a slight curve compared to the other girls. After all, how can you be super hard on a prior winner who so often embodies studied perfection? For that matter, how hard would it be for one of the other queens to dismiss her.
That’s why I still think Bebe is in the top trio of these power rankings – she feels unassailable! I still have a hard time imagining what could possibly trip her up, though her being relatively quiet in the group settings (and her lack of confessional footage) could mean that acting challenges could be a danger in the coming episodes.
There’s no other way to say it: Aja slayed this episode. I might just be beginning to believe that she could actually make it to the finale of this season.
Aja’s Amy Winehouse was instantly recognizable, half vampy and half messy. Her slutty chair antics with two members of the Pit Crew immediately evoked “You Know I’m No Good” for me. She even had Amy’s facial ticks and slouching down as she performed her lip sync.
Then, Aja obviously won the runway – both in outright good looks and in the “Who had the best RuDemption?” competition. Her Princess Disastah re-do was utterly beautiful. Great make-up, great outfit, great wig. Seriously, I cannot imagine what they could have critiqued. Perhaps the waist could have come in a bit more? It’s a total TOOT.
Why wasn’t Aja in the top group? If she was, it would have been an exact repeat of last week’s top group of Aja, Ben, and Shangela. Repeating that same selection would have messed with the narrative momentum of the season a bit too much, putting her neck-and-neck with Ben and Shangela as the top two queens to beat. There’s no question this safe placement comes with an asterisk indicating: “Only safe to avoid a repeat.”
Aja has suddenly become the Black Horse (wonk wonk) of this competition. No one could have ever predicted she would come out on top in the Variety Show, nor that she would out-do queens like Shangela and Trixie in both this challenge and this runway.
Will she continue to slay thos hard every week? If so, will it force Ru to change her plans about who the true All-Stars are in this cast? Could Aja actually make a credible case that a young, hungry, drama-loving queen from Brooklyn deserves to be in the Hall of Fame with such consummate pros as Chad and Alaska?
So many questions! This is a mess I can’t wait to see!
5. Trixie Mattel
This was a weird night for Trixie. Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
Trixie utterly slayed as a Dolly Parton impersonator. The assignment was a total gift to her, since she was already pretty much impersonating Dolly in 2017 prior to being cast in All-Stars.
Even if it was predictable, this impersonation was so right. The body suit. The tremendous curves. The wide-mouthed smiles. It was a perfect cartoon version of Dolly at her glitziest.
The producers were absolutely aware of this when they slung this role Trixie’s way in the second episode of the season, also knowing full well she would be strong in the Variety Show. If they didn’t want her to have an Easy A on this assignment, they could have given her someone riskier like Cyndi Lauper or Annie Lennox.
Yet, Todrick Hall deflated the plum assignment by giving Trixie nothing to do in her lip sync except fake-strumming a guitar. This could have been an elaborate line dance or West Coast Swing stepping routine! From Trixie’s one featured dancing spot (behind Ben’s Julie Andrews), she was entirely capable of utterly killing the choreography.
What are we supposed to take from that? Was Todrick’s direction for Dolly lazy? Or, did the producers tell him to sandbag Trixie because they didn’t need her to be an obvious winner here?
That’s the riggery on the behalf of the production. Now let’s get to the riggery from Trixie herself.
Of all things to pick for her Rudemption runway look, Trixie chooses to redo her totally-not-ugly Ugliest Dress runway (instead of her unfairly ignored Judy Jetson look or her gender-bending look).
Bringing a deliberately ugly dress to All-Stars is a risk, when everyone else on the pick-your-own-theme night could be slaying the house down boots. What are we supposed to take from that? Did Trixie really only pack this risky look for this runway, putting herself at risk down the line? Or did she decide to burn a weird, hard-to-critique outfit (I mean, TOOT, I guess?) on this repeat challenge because she was certain she’d be safe as Dolly Parton.
Either way, the net effect was a Trixie who is still stuck in the background while Ben, Shangela, and Aja chew scenery and Bebe struts royally. With a season this short and with Trixie being an obvious front-runner to the other queens, she needs to kick it into high gear before she winds up in the bottom!
6. Chi Chi Devayne
Chi Chi Devayne is still having trouble kick-starting her rags to riches rudemption arc, but tonight’s performance puts us closer to a positive storyline than she was in her near-ouster last week.
I recall enough of Patti LaBelle in her prime (Philly represent!) to tell you I was getting major Patti from Chi Chi’s performance. Even if it wasn’t a specific Patti moment, it was perhaps the best likeness and impersonation out of all the queens after Trixie. The fashion was a great nod to Patti in her 80s “New Attitude” era.
If Ru hadn’t specified the tops and bottoms before the judging began you might have even though Chi Chi was in the top group! Really, all of the judge’s dings against her were in the same category as ever – a lack of inventiveness and attention to detail.
Despite the newfound curves in Chi Chi’s updated neon runway, it really wasn’t anything new. In fact, it was something borrowed, but the judges had the good graces not to mention how much her paint splatter look owed to Bob’s look in the neon challenge.
(It’s a BOOT for me, mostly for the hair – should have been a contrasting color and more styled.)
It feels like there is a wide gulf between Chi Chi and finale placement right now given the fierceness of the girls ranked above here, but I will continue to insist that Chi Chi has the best winner’s narrative in this entire cast right up until she sashay’s away.
7. Kennedy Davenport
Kennedy Davenport seems to be playing from nearly an identical script this season as she had on Season 7.
Just like Season 7, she’s in the bottom early on thanks to lackluster commitment to a challenge that shouldn’t have been all that challenging for her. She barely even gets into the same zip code as the words to her lip sync song.
While her vinyl bodysuit look was pulled from a certain Janet video, it didn’t really evoke a specific era of Janet for me. And there are so many ways to go! Early big-haired Janet. Rhythm Nation military Janet. “Scream” video somewhat-creepy Janet. Midriff-baring mid-90s Janet.
I could go on.
(Somewhere out there, Coco is scream-crying into a pillow right now.)
You’d think that even while missing the words and not looking the part, Kennedy would nail the choreography to the stage in a challenge like this – right? Well, Queen Vanessa Williams nailed it when she says Kennedy’s dancing didn’t have Janet’s staccato quality. In rehearsals, Kennedy herself admits to Todrick she’s only good at freestyle dance, not choreography.
(Just scream it out, Coco. Let it all out.)
It’s a pity, because this week seemed like a set-up to give Kennedy an early win, especially considering she was sure to repeat her iconic “After a long night of hooking, trade didn’t like the session” look from the Death Becomes Her runway.
Honestly, there’s not a single thing I’d change about her runway – the before perfectly upgraded her somewhat bedraggled chicken from the original, and the ruveal made her out to be a perfect crystal phoenix. It’s a TOOT.
The real question is if Kennedy is going to bounce back into the competition the way she did after her early bottom two in Season 7.
There’s no room for the lackadaisical, stubborn Kennedy who declines to learn her lip sync in this cast – she could skate by against similarly stuck-in-their-heads Pearl, Katya, and Trixie, but that’s not going to work in this cast.
Milk came across seriously curdled in this episode. Between her weakness in drag compared to the other queens and how annoyed they seem to be with her at this point, I don’t think she can possibly survive a single trip to the bottom.
I’ll say this for Milk – she’s a gung ho performer. I didn’t expect her to get so ridiculously messy as Celine Dion in the challenge, or to turn up as a dancer in nearly every one of the other routines.
Mind you, that wasn’t always with great success. Her Celine evoked the original diva the least out of everyone, partially owing to a total miss on capturing her look. Past that, Milk’s entire conception of Celine seems to be centered on her being bow-legged and having her mouth open at all times, which totally misses out on the pointing and power posing. The few spotlights on her dancing showed it to be on the beat but not tight.
Then, on the runway, her Rudemption look just… wasn’t. It was a very baseline glam look. It seemed to be much more on-brand for the awards ceremony look where she was read for not being glamour enough than the bedsheets dress in which she was eliminated. Her face is a bit overly pale and she needed some kind of major neck bling.
(It’s not a boot , so… I guess it’s a TOOT? Kinda more of a mumble-OOT.)
That said, I can maybe sympathize a little bit with Milk’s big temper tantrum over being safe. (Safe!) She is definitely working hard to give the judges things they didn’t see from her in Season 6, from fashion to gung-ho performances. To go two episodes and not get any kind of remark on that must feel pretty punishing – especially when Milk rightfully feels like she seriously influenced the three seasons that follower her and that’s why she might make it all the way on All-Stars.
While I didn’t love her this week or last, it’ll be a sour note if Milk walks next week after getting her first critique.
Sashay Away: Thorgy Thor
I’m super bummed to see Thorgy Thor out of this competition so early, and especially on such a sour note as this episode. Todrick Hall offered her very little to guide her Stevie Nicks performance, and I think both her likeness and her mannerisms made for a pretty strong resemblance.
Despite my love for her, even I have to admit her neon runway redo was a complete BOOT. The detailing was puzzling and her original look was much more flattering.