by Kevin O’Keeffe
It took writing out my feelings about recent “RuPaul’s Drag Race” controversies, a long, relaxing weekend in Palm Springs, and a very good finale episode, but I’m ending this season of “All Stars” mostly on a high note. Sure, I ultimately didn’t love the season, and I have some quibbles with the winner. But it was a satisfying finish, just twisty enough to keep us on our toes, with a terrific challenge attached. At this point, that’s about all I can hope for.
The actual challenge is an interesting twist: Instead of just performing as a girl group on the main stage, as the final fours of season 9 and “All Stars” season 2 did, the All Stars season 3 girls will be performing a remix of RuPaul’s “Kitty Girl” all around the studio. But the biggest gag of all: It’ll all be in one take. The news makes Trixie Mattel and Shangela practically gag with glee, while Bebe Zahara Benet, who struggles mightily with choreography this week, seems less thrilled.
For someone who ruled during the competition, and had fans convinced she was part of a bigger conspiracy, Bebe goes out with a whimper in this finale. She is easily the worst in “Kitty Girl,” both lyrically and with the choreography. On the runway, her best drag look is exactly as wild as you’d expect — but that’s not quite a good thing. If your best drag is going to be something expected, it has to be flawless. And this wasn’t.
Bebe fails hardest, however, during a new segment introduced for this finale. Ru herself does not choose who will be the last two standing of the final four; she has the six eliminated queens serve as a jury. Each of them votes on which two queens they want as the finalists. Arbitrary? Kinda. Tacked-on? Sure feels like it. Drama? Absolutely, girl.
Before they vote, they have a chance to question the queens, and Bebe’s performance is nothing short of a disaster. The eliminated queens want to know who she would have brought back and eliminated had she won the “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” lip sync two weeks ago. I said last weekBebe was smart not to reveal her choices of who to return and eliminate. In the moment, that was true; she had absolutely nothing to gain by revealing them, as she would have certainly angered whoever she chose to eliminate. But to not reveal her choices when asked by the jury? When they’re insisting that they want to know and might not vote for you because you wouldn’t say? Bad gameplay, girl.
Whereas Bebe is overly defensive with the jury, Kennedy Davenport is a dream. She leads with her heart in her interview, leading queens like Thorgy Thor to praise her for being “real.” She emphasizes how much it would mean to her, and generally slays — as you’d expect a pageant queen experienced in interview portions would be. Somehow, the Dancing Diva of Texas gives her best performance when sitting down.
Shangela and Trixie both acquit themselves well in the challenge and on the runway (each wearing their best-ever looks on the main stage). With the jury, each does OK, and strikes a similar note of “I’m already an All Star.” Which is true! They are two of the most popular, most successful queens to ever come from Drag Race. Some might say that’s the reason why they should win.
But in listening to Kennedy talk, combined with her thoughts last week on wanting to be the Ru Girl that fans are lining up to see, I felt a real pang of love for Kennedy. She’s right: The crown would mean more to her than it would to the others. She is a legend, she has given us major moments across two seasons (her “Roar” lip sync! The Bitchelor!), and she does deserve the platform that “Drag Race” offers.
In truth, I think Shangela and Trixie are better at what is required of a “Drag Race winner.” But damn if I wasn’t swayed by Kennedy’s candor, emotion and narrative.
We don’t get full vote totals — which is deeply bullshit, to be frank — but we see a few highlights: Thorgy votes for Shangela and Trixie. DeLa votes for Kennedy. We’re meant to assume Chi Chi votes for Kennedy. The end result is that Kennedy and Trixie earn enough votes over Shangela and Bebe to make it into the top two.
After an emotional lip sync to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, Trixie Mattel takes it. She’s not the best winner in franchise history, not by a long shot, but she’s certainly one of the best drag queens to ever compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. This was about minting someone who was already a winner in the real world, and that’s a pretty damn good reason for a win.
How the fanbase takes this win is to be determined, but frankly, I’m tired of sticking my finger in the air to see how the wind blows. There’s been a lot of noise this season that drowned out more constructive conversation about the show. Was this season a disappointment? Arguably, yes. It certainly was for me personally. But “Drag Race” on a bad day is still more entertaining than most shows. We expect a ton of it, and are quick to criticize heavily when it fails us. Sometimes, the criticism is fair; often, it’s whining about rigging when our faves don’t make it far.
The world is better for having “Drag Race” on the air. And I’m thrilled we’re moving on to another season with new girls and, hopefully, a new vibe. But Trixie can raise her head high. She’s the winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” and nothing can take that away from her.
It’s all over but the shouting — and the final thoughts, of course:
- “All Stars” season 3 sits in the bottom three or four seasons for me, only besting All Stars season one, and the flagship series’ seasons 1 and 7 on a quality level. But even original recipe seasons 1 and 7 are important to the show’s legacy and growth — hell, I think season 7 is maybe the most important season of “Drag Race.” But that’s a subject for another time. For now, I’ll just say that “All Stars” season 3 wasn’t in any real way important to the show’s growth, and I hope season 10 improves on that point.
- I hope All Stars season 3 improves “Drag Race” season 9’s legacy in retrospect. That one isn’t a perfect season, but it does sit in the top half or so of “Drag Race” seasons, and got a deeply unfair reputation when it aired. A much worse season directly following it should give it a bit more shine in the rear-view mirror.
- Shangela’s final look was a goddamn dream. Trixie and Kennedy’s were both impressive, for their respective surprise factor and glow-up factor. Bebe flopped this whole episode, and her look was no exception. It was disappointing to see a queen who gave us some major moments this season (Jungle Kitty, “The Boss”) underwhelm at the finish line.
- Speaking of, Bebe’s “The Boss” reigns as my favorite individual lip sync performance of the season. DeLa’s “Anaconda” and Shangela’s “Freaky Money” come close.
- Aja and Thorgy killed the jury segment, asking smart questions and looking great. DeLa was practically invisible, which felt odd to me.
- Though I appreciated the idea of casting nothing bu queens who didn’t finish in the top three (excepting Bebe, of course), the resulting season was too high on drama and not strong enough creatively. So for “All Stars” season 4 — which shouldn’t air until summer 2020 at the absolute earliest — I’d recommend a mix. Give us Stacy Layne Matthews, Jessica Wild, Valentina, Ongina, but also give us Shea Coulee, Trinity Taylor, Courtney Act, etc. And please, please, for the love of Ru, change the format. Lip Sync for Your Legacy was a gag once, but it is fully tired.
- This season turned sour in a flash, but the response we got from these recaps was worth the more unpleasant moments. Thank you all so much for reading. Here’s to better seasons in the future, and drag on our TV screens in all sorts of formats forever.
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars may be over, but Drag Race season is just getting started. The flagship show returns for its season 10 premiere next Thursday, March 22, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.