Are you ready to get All-Started?! The time has come for the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.
A normal season of Drag Race plucks a dozen drag queens from semi-obscurity to compete on a nationally televised stage in front of RuPaul Charles (“supermodel of the world!”) to prove they have the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to be America’s Next Drag Superstar.
All Stars is a little bit different. It features ten queens returning from previous seasons to vie for a spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame. In the past it tended to focus on high-placing queens, but this time around the cast are all competitors who just missed the finals or got stuck in the middle of the pack … with the exception of one.
This series of weekly posts will rank the house down, looking at who is surging in the competition versus who is going a bit limp.
Every post in this series comes with a big disclaimer: Drag is hard, and these girls are all consummate professionals. I’m ranking them from the comfortable position of a critic and fan who has only done drag a handful of times in my life, sews slowly, and can barely apply eyeliner. I just happen to have a lot of stage experience and a life-long love of drag, which makes me want to give each of these queens the same kind of serious critical attention I’d give to a rock star or famous actor.
Want to get to know this cast before we get started? Check out my pre-season rankings, and then keep reading to find out who came out on top in the premiere Variety Show!
BenDeLa delivered the singular standout performance of the All-Star Variety Show, sweeping the reading mini-challenge (even her deleted reads are great) and the Variety Show. Having seen her live a few times, I was delighted to see the playful, sexy version of BenDeLa I’ve enjoyed at shows finally emerge on the runway.
BenDeLa’s entrance look was quintessentially her – so much so that she’s worn it before on the show! It was a recut version of her Miss Congeniality dress from the Season 6 finale. Despite getting lightly read for repeating a look and revising it to be even more in her 60s housewife cocktail partier wheelhouse, I think it was a lightweight TOOT and a smart choice. It provides a built-in continuation of her existing narrative, and it’s something she wouldn’t mind trashing (considering all the insane things queens have been made to do in first episodes of this show in the past).
In the Variety Show, BenDeLa performed a kooky burlesque number which I’ve seen in person before. Both then and now I didn’t love the drab beige of her corset with its over-exaggerated bosoms – it adds a lot of weight to Ben’s already-curvy frame and just doesn’t bring a lot of pow to the performance. It’s a BOOT for me. I wish it was a bit slimmer and sexier, with a splash of color.
That said, any fears that this would pale in comparison to Roxxxy’s amazing burlesque show last year were nipped in the bud by BenDeLa’s zany comedy in this routine. It’s a whole different sort of act from Roxxxy’s presentation. She brought the same inanity in her Legacy Lip Sync to Nikki Minaj’s “Anaconda” – lest you be surprised at the outcome, remember how hard she slayed the rap challenge in Season 6.
With Snatch Game sure to be in the next two episodes and four years of one-woman shows under her belt, there’s no chance of BenDeLa departing this competition anytime soon. However, she also did something extremely risky this episode in kicking off Morgan McMichaels when ChiChi was much easier prey. Did this have to do with the rumor that ChiChi killed it in rehearsal and then injured her hand? Or, was Ben seriously annoyed with Morgan’s divisive bitchiness and how it could put her at risk?
Either way, Ben could now have a target on her own back after giving Morgan the chop. If she can stay out of the bottom, she feels like exactly the sort of queen RuPaul would be willing to call her new Hall-of-Famer – a queen who destroyed on her own season but for whom the time simply wasn’t right (both due to Bianca’s ascendance and being a bit repetitive of Jinkx).
Does she have what it takes to go all the way, or will she plateau and get stuck in her persona again exactly like she did in Season 6?
Shangela snuck into the top group in this episode despite a slightly unfocused All-Star Variety Show presentation, confirming that she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Her entrance look was on the basic side of good – she continued her “what’s in the box” gag from Season 3, but upgraded the box (and her outfit) to be in Tiffany colors. The cut of the cute, retro separates set she wore was fetching, but I could have done without the “Halleloo!” on the skirt and the massive hair bow. It’s a mild TOOT for me. Altogether it was a bit kitschy, and that’s not usually Shangela’s zone.
In the Variety Show, Shangela performed a lip sync to her own song, which ran the genre gamut from gospel to rap. Her long-sleeved cat-print bodysuit wasn’t anything special, but her hair and makeup were incredible – as were her dance moves, of course! The styling of her look pushes it into TOOT territory despite the bodysuit being a bit basic.
Shangela comes off as a much more sane version of Alyssa Edwards, especially with a near carbon copy of Ms. Edwards’ talent presentation. She also shares Alyssa’s big weakness – a sometimes questionable taste level and a love for tacky things. I mean, clock the continued box obsession.
Even with a tacky streak, Shangela is so knowledgable, talented, and professional after a half decade working in the industry that it almost feels unfair for any other girl to go up against her in the race to the Hall of Fame. The only way she’s going to miss the finale is if she briefly stumbles when we get down to the 5-6 queen mark and someone ruthlessly cuts her from the Bottom Two (perhaps to avoid cutting a fan favorite like Ben or Trixie).
In a way, crowning Shangela this season would feel like added Ru-demption for Alyssa’s unfair early dismissal by Detox last season, since the Haus of Edwards would finally be represented in the Winners’ Circle.
3. Bebe Zahara Benet
The original queen! If you’ve never seen Season 1, you owe it to yourself to track a few episodes down now. The cast was fierce as hell, and Bebe delivers a near-flawless performance across the entire season.
Bebe is the kind of queen who never has a hair out of place, as her pair of looks in this episode emphasized. Both looks utilized “kitenge,” a East African cotton fabric with bold patterns that nods to Bebe’s CAMEROON! heritage. Her entrance look of a floor-length sheath gown with a flowing cape in a solid accent color was a total TOOT – like an old-time movie star slash superhero.
Her outfit in the All-Star Variety Show was breathtaking, and not just for the lion’s mane of kinky hair that stayed affixed on her head through some serious choreography. From her corset and half-cape to a dance leotard with a feathered bustle, Bebe’s Variety Show looks were by far the most stunning out of all ten queens with no close contest. It was two TOOTs in one!
Despite a monstrous variety performance, Bebe seemed a bit tentative behind the scenes. She had just a few confessional scenes, her reads are tentative, and she says almost nothing during the deliberation.
Even if we’ve never seen a Snatch Game out of Bebe, she’s got everything it takes to crush the other queens this season. There’s no way she misses the final without a major twist or upset that sends her to the Bottom Two, where she could be safely eliminated, as she’s not a particular fan favorite.
4. Trixie Mattel
Trixie Mattel is the first in the workroom door in this episode, which allowed her to be the narrator of all of the subsequent girls entering the room.
That showed off the Trixie wit we all love from UNHhhh, which she’s great at deploying when she’s uninterrupted (or, talking over Katya). In the actual workroom, she was a bit more subdued – although, she was queen of the reaction shots in this episode.
Trixie’s workroom look was a roller-blading Barbie come to life, complete with neon yellow pads, a fanny pack, and fantastically large hair. This showed off her new, more-voluptuous look, although I think her hip pads were a little suspicious. It’s right on the verge of a boot for me, but it’s on-brand for Trixie so I’d reluctantly TOOT it.
For the All-Star Variety Show, she went to a 2017 staple, a demure Dolly Parton floor-length flared dress with a touch of fringe. It’s classic and plays up the country influences on her drag and in her music. A fine TOOT.
Trixie’s performance in the show displayed actual talent, with her singing and playing the autoharp. Even if it was too low-key for a win, it was calculated to keep her safe – much more attentive to detail than similar low key performances from Ginger and Adore in last year’s talent show.
Trixie is one of the biggest fan favorites in Drag Race history, but there are a ton of challenges we simply didn’t get to see her do the first time around – including Snatch Game and a ball challenge. Between that and her introvert tendency to fade into the background in a crowd, it’s hard to predict how she’ll perform here.
Also, I have my doubts that she’s really the right queen to represent Ru in the Hall of Fame. While her post-show success is huge, she isn’t the same kind of commanding presence as Chad or Alaska.
In terms of sheer momentum, Aja utterly slayed the competition in this episode – finally getting to show off her full-power lip sync skills not once, but twice.
(For my money, she could be the best pure lip sync artist in the entire Drag Race pantheon right now. I’ve never seen a bad performance from her.)
Aja’s look went from clownish to fishy in the span of a year thanks to her supremely cleaned-up make-up style. She gave up on big, overdrawn lips and huge black wings on her eyes, and the lighter paint brings out just how pretty she is to begin with.
I’m still a little confused by her weird pastiche of fashion. I guess it’s very Brooklyn or banjee or some other reference that’s totally lost on me? Her entrance look was a busy jacket and highlighter yellow hair over a bra and dowdy panties that made her look like she had a pot-belly. It’s a complete BOOT for me – one of the worst looks of the episode. Yet, I’ve seen a lot of people who love it.
One look I think we can all agree on is Aja’s All-Star Variety Show outfit – a three piece reveal that stripped down from pastel kimono to Vegas strip fringe to a body-suit extenuating Aja’s lithe body. I think the complaints about her make-up on Season 9 tended to gloss over just how in-shape she really is, which the bodysuit shows off in a way we’ve never seen from her before. It’s a 100% TOOT.
Unfortunately, even if she is an All Star, Aja feels utterly ineligible to become the All Star. Even with her makeover and improved confidence, she’s not necessarily going to be better at acting and All Stars usually includes conceptual challenges, too.
At best, she’s a fourth-place finisher who can play spoiler to some of the weaker girls in this competition.
6. Kennedy Davenport
The Dancing Diva of Texas Ru-turns! Kennedy really ought to have been in the final three of her season (I’ll never understand how Ru picked Pearl), so she feels like she ought to be an obvious front-runner here.
Except… has she leveled up in the same way of some of these other girls since her season ended?
Kennedy’s entrance look displayed the same borderline-fugly taste level she had the first time around. She took an attractive bright yellow dress with a nude cut-out and a fantastical suspended cloud of hair, and distracted from them both by turning herself into a human disco ball. BOOT.
Later, everything about her All-Star Variety Show presentation was effectively her “Roar” lip-sync on speed – from the pink body suit with thigh-high boots (a mild TOOT) to the wild choreography.
Don’t get me wrong – the performance was stunning and incredibly controlled – but nothing about it was a surprise or an upgrade.
I think that emphasizes the big question for Kennedy this season: “Can Kennedy of Season 7 defeat all of these other queens?” Because, this is effectively the same queen we saw before, right down to the attitude.
And you know what? The answer is “Maybe yes.” If we’re talking about queens who already feel deserving of being crowned an All Star, Kennedy fits the bill perfectly. Her biggest problem is going to be edging into the seemingly rock-solid top four so she has a shot at the finale.
7. Thorgy Thor
Thorgy Thor delivered a fine performance in this episode, with a entrance look equivalent to her original workroom entrance and a confident Variety Show performance unlike anyone else.
Yet, like Kennedy, it feels like she hasn’t necessarily returned to the race with any additional resources compared to her original run. The only thing working in her favor is a lack of Bob the Drag Queen.
Thorgy’s entrance look is squarely in her “fashion clown” comfort zone – all metallic and rainbow-colored, right up to a red tinsel wig. It’s weirdly self-consistent in a way that lets it be a TOOT, but it’s so damned garish.
That makes it easy to overlook how gorgeous her mug continues to be. Thorgy’s transformation from man to queen has always been impressive and close to unclockable. She has consistently petite, feminine facial features across all of her make-up looks.
In the All-Star Variety Show, Thorgy delivered understated high fashion that’s a total TOOT – a glittery white-and-slightly-transparent pantsuit. While I would have enjoyed a dash of color somewhere on it, it was perfectly cut for her figure and it kept the focus on Thorgy’s (slightly flat) violin playing.
I was a major fan of Thorgy in her original run. Even though she never won a challenge, I felt that on the whole she delivered the most-dominant performance right up until her dismissal – much like the ultimately-winning run from fellow Brooklyn queen Sasha Velour in Season 9.
That’s relevant here because maybe it doesn’t matter that the Thorgy we’re seeing in All Stars is effectively still Original Flavor Thorgy Thor. She isn’t exactly delusional when she says the only thing holding her back on her season was Bob.
On the other hand, the thing that holds her back here might be the presence of BenDeLa and Trixie – both clownish in a similar vein to Thorgy. Thanks to them, she’s probably going to wind up playing second fiddle again.
If anyone began this episode believing Milk could go all the way to the finale of All Stars, that belief would surely be dispelled by her weak fashions, entitled attitude, and “performance” of posing and shouting.
Are we doing puns? Because here’s where I’d insert a joke about lactose intolerance.
Milk’s denim workroom look relied pretty heavily on her body-ody-dy (which was stunning), but it had a few details that really bugged me. We’ve seen multiple times on the show that chaps are hard to do well, and hers were crooked in every shot. While her inverted bowl of blonde hair was perfect, being able to see the helmet beneath it in every shot destroyed the illusion.
On the whole, it’s a BOOT for me. This first free play look was the chance to do something conceptual that she wouldn’t get to show off later, but instead she got stuck on replicating one of her Season 6 looks (with less success than Ben).
Then, in the All-Star Variety Show, Milk was totally flat. Her performance as a living paper doll is probably funny in a club where she can feed off the energy of the crowd and play with modeling the looks, but here it came off as desperate and screamy. There’s not even really a look to BOOT – none of the paper dresses were very intricate, and all she had on underneath was a nude bodysuit! Her face is too pale and almost skeletal beneath an awkwardly bumped-up bouffant.
I have no doubt Milk acquired some major experience since Season 6, and the one time I saw her live she slayed. I actually believe she has a lot of the skills she needs for this season on lock, from acting to construction, and her runways are all going to be high-concept.
However, she’s just not enough of a quintessential drag queen to crack the group of queens in the top half of this ranking – she spends too much of her time focused on being an attractive boy. I absolutely believe that Ru is ready to reward some androgynous, gender-bending drag, but Milk isn’t the right queen to snatch that opportunity.
9. Chi Chi Devayne
Poor Chi Chi.
She has the perfect rags-to-riches progression from her original season to her All Stars appearance, and like BenDeLa and Kennedy she only missed her original finale by a hair (due to a surging Naomi in the final two challenges).
Why is this obvious potential Hall-of-Famer at the bottom of our ranks? Because, while ChiChi has got her head right in the year since her season and earned some coin, her taste level is still questionable.
Chi Chi’s workroom look is a completely basic BOOT. She’s wearing a yellow one-piece swim suit with some yellow trash bag ruffles. Any additional element would have helped this look stand out more – an accent-color belt, more bracelets, fantastical hair … anything.
Her baton-twirling All-Star Variety Show routine could have been a charming outlier from all the singing and dancing, just like Tatianna and Roxxxy were last year. Unfortunately, her fugly BOOT of an outfit derailed her. It was too much a literal baton twirler outfit without any kind of drag qualities to embellish it.
That “regular girl” feel was emphasized by the dance shoes, flat hair, and real-woman mug. Given the odd choice in talent to display, Chi Chi really need to drag up her look to make it seem like something other than a high school basketball halftime show.
Even if she has the resources to present strong runways now, Chi Chi doesn’t seem to have the imagination and detail-orientation to match some of these other high-concept queens. She could slide through another episode or two on raw talent, but it’s already sadly evident that she doesn’t have what it takes to go all the way.
Sashay Away: Morgan McMichaels
Morgan McMichaels strikes me as the perfect example of a queen who rules in the clubs but has trouble translating her skills to the TV medium.
That was her problem back in Season 2, where her irrepressible punk energy and resourcefulness didn’t always equal strong execution in challenges and on the runway. It seemed to be the case again here, with a truly embarrassing song and an accompanying lip sync that couldn’t figure out how to play to the cameras.
Similarly, Morgan’s massive personality helps her fill a room in person, but on the show it simply comes off as pushy and mean. She glibly informs Ben – an obvious front-runner – that she plans to oust the strongest competition first in her quest for the finals.
That’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t position to advertise heading into the first challenge – either she’s on top and no one is surprised by her ruthless choice, or (as we saw) she’s on the bottom and a strong girl cuts her to protect the herd.
BenDeLaCreme made as if she was helping everyone by benching Morgan, but her unilateral decision to speak for them all probably hurt her in the long run. She would have been better served by interviewing the other girls on who they would send home rather than deciding to speak for them.