Well, Halleloo, folks, it is time for RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3, where the face are (almost) the same as the ones we've grown to know and love, but where the stakes are higher and the contestants have business as unfinished as the hem on one of Derrick Berry's sewing challenge specials.
Whereas the first two installments of All Stars favored previous queens who made the Top 3 or were Miss Congeniality winners, All Stars 3 gives us a group of girls who just didn't live up to their potential the first time around (which, lets be honest, is relatable). The highest any of the promoted contestants placed was fourth, and, if anything, it's a testament to the talent and power of Drag Race that such a setup barely makes us blink. Name any other reality show that could assemble a collection of middle-of-the-pack placers and actually make us believe they are All Stars. No one is crying out for The Voice: Second Chances, you know.
The episode started by checking in on previous All Stars winners Chad Michaels and Alaska, finding that their Hunger Games fantasy was actually more Handmaid's Tale realness all along. That bit aside, the opening workroom entrance segment of All Stars 3 started like a group therapy session, as each queen enters they sort of gave themselves a compliment sandwich. They explain why they deserve to be here, what, exactly it is that was keeping them back the first time, and how they'll assuredly improve upon on it this time around if all goes according to their plans.
Knowing how much the show loves a good pun, it makes you wonder why they didn't just subtitle it "All Stars Rudemption." That is until Ru enters looking like a new wave vision in an electric pink suit to announce that, hold up, wait a minute, there would be one final addition to the cast. Who could warrant such a special entrance. In our hearts we wanted it to be Stacy Layne Matthews, but we knew there were more likely reveals. Willam? Lady Bunny? Porkchop? Santino Rice in a shake-n-go and a cat suit? ...Wintergreen?
No, as it turns out, it was none other than Season 1 winner BeBe Zahara Benet, who, as the other girls are quick to point out, has nothing to "rudeam." She flew through her season flawlessly, even if she had to deal with vaseline-smeared lenses, random ladders in the backgrounds of shots, and guest judges who were merely at the Jenny Shimizu-level of celebrity. Benet's only problem really is that she won on a season no one actually watched (unlike other seasons, it was impossible to find on streaming services).
In the narrative of the show, it makes no damn sense to have your first ever Diamond Crowned Queen come back to face off against a gaggle of seventh placers, but, for better or worse, it makes complete sense in the larger eco-system that's sprung up around Drag Race. A queen that makes an impression on a recent season despite getting kicked off after merely five episodes may amass more popularity (and thus more bookings around the country and more money) than a queen who was a finalist during an early season (has anyone heard form Rebecca Glasscock lately?).
So, if anything, this was Drag Race's way of doing BeBe a solid and reintroducing her to the children. Let's just hope it doesn't backfire for anyone involved.
With the introductions out of the way, we get into the competition itself. First we have a mostly satisfying reading challenge, followed up a by a redux of All Stars 2's talent show, which sadly did not have any spoken word segments, but still had some surprised. We'll deal with all of that below in our completely unscientific power rankings:
Her Rudemption: Learning how to be slightly less terminally delightful. The Entrance Look: Flintstone couture redux. The Performance: Dita Von Teese, eat your heart out.
DeLa may not have known she'd walk into the workroom as one of the queens who was most successful on her original season, but she unintentionally made that point by wearing the same dress she wore to collect Season 5's Miss Congeniality challenge, although refashioned a bit for daytime drag. Her fellow contestants are quick to point out that she's sort of disappeared into the ether since (apparently if you don't release a generic dance single post-Drag Race, it means you're not working). Then again, DeLa has a very particular set of skills that may not quite as easily translate to the Instagram and YouTube age. She's a queen with an old school heart, and her inventive Russian nesting doll bra burlesque number was unquestionably the best of the night. She put the point on her win with her lip synch that used the quirkiness inherent in any of Nicki Minaj's pop hits as a springboard for more unexpected physical comedy.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Hoping that the changes she's made to her face equal changes to her performance. The Entrance Look: Katy Perry backup dancer. The Performance: A voguing masterclass.
Aja walks into the runway like she's on an episode of Extreme Makeover, proudly detailing all the work she's had done to her face since the end of her season. Apparently she's the first drag queen ever who needed a chin implant to polish her look, rather than a chin reduction. Never mind that, it's the fact that she's also seemed to have improved her makeup skills and confidence that may actually matter more in this competition. While several (read: too many) decided to do the "look, here I am dancing!" thing for their talent portion, at least Aja went directly for RuPaul's heart by doing an excellent routine that interpolated elements of old school vogue. Frankly, for a show about drag queens, it's kind of shocking how few voguing moments this show has given us over the years. As for her take on Minaj, she did an above average take on Minaj if one was performing in the club on a Saturday night. That's fine, but, this is All Stars, honey. Above average is expected. Risks should be rewarded, and while DeLa took one, Aja didn't.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Making up for season 1's vaseline-smeared lens The Entrance Look: Cameroon's Delegate to the United Nations The Performance: Introduction to a United Theory of BeBe 101.
While several queens should have used their talent portion to expand or evolve the personal brand they brought into the show, Benet was smart to just zero in on what those who may not be familiar with her missed. The queen (who, in case it wasn't spelled out to you 100 percent clearly, was actually born in Cameroon) pretty much gives you a polished thesis statement of what her drag is all about in the 40 seconds allotted. The other queens are clearly shook by her presence for now, but as the show goes on both contestants and audiences prove to have a short memory. It's up to her to maintain a solid start and build on what brought her the crown in the first place.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Actually delivering during a challenge, and not just during the talking heads. The Entrance Look: An extra playing a retiree skating down Ocean Drive during an American Crime Story: Versace scene. The Performance: Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line.
Every season, the producers have one or two queens they cut to again and again and again for talking head commentary, and it's clear Trixie is going to be their favorite this season. The editors certainly know Trixie's strengths. The question remains whether or not she does. Her decision to deliver an earnest (by drag standards, at least) song with the help of an autoharp was certainly an interesting choice, but not the kind of skill one would want to trot out if their intention is that they think they're going to dominate a drag competition. It was a risk, sure, but also one that we think she made on the assumption that there'd be no way the producers would kick her off early once again after the drama of season 7.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Proving that she finally knows how to beat her face. The Entrance Look: Dida Ritz. The Performance: Shangela doing Shangela.
Shangela basically gets this spot for her importance to the show. She's the first queen ever to appear on Drag Race after being inspired to do drag by Drag Race. She's also gone on to one of the most impressive careers since, as she reminds us, Willam-like, during her entrance. Drag Race fans have certainly been paying attention, which means that many of them have probably already seen her dancing to her track "Professional" on YouTube. We kind of wanted more.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Being more than just a pretty face. The Entrance Look: CFDA Fashion Fund Award Nominee-Designed Sex Doll. The Performance: Moschino Spring/Summer 2017: The Musical!
Milk was quick to point out that the outré looks she wore on Season 5 either inspired or foreshadowed challenges on future seasons. The look was definitely her strong suit. (Heck her helmet hair bowl cut might have foreshadowed the hair we just saw on the Gaultier couture runway). Yet, for someone with such individual fashion sense on the runway and out-of-drag looks that caught the fancy of many fans, it was sort of amazing how otherwise she far too often sunk into the background during her original run. She seems determined not to do that this time. Bitch has jokes, and she's not afraid to unload them. She's featured in almost as many talking head cutaways as Trixie.
Anyway, if the former figure skating queen doesn't wind up doing Tonya Harding during Snatch Game, we're gonna be upset.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Making sure she's keeps her Adderall prescription refilled. The Entrance Look: If Sarah Jessica Parker joined the circus. The Performance: The world's tiniest rendition of "Sissy That Walk"
Hoping for the moment where they team Thorgy Thor and Dela up and the mutual sufferers of terminal delightfulness either produce something sublime, or cancel each other out.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Acknowledging that she may or may not have been bitch. The Entrance Look: That thing where trade didn't like the session, so he drops a nuclear bomb on you. The Performance: Kennedy doing Kennedy.
Our feelings on Kennedy boil down to her infamous dead chicken outfit. Ridiculous, sure? But if we saw a drag queen doing kick and flip and splits while dressed like someone took a poultry corpse to arts and crafts class, girl, that would be all over my Instagram stories, my Snapchat, my Twitter, we might actually even use Facebook stories! We'd be living for it, and you know you would be too. Come on! That'd be all you talked about at brunch the next morning.
That being said, Kennedy was criticized numerous times for her fashion sense in season 7, and it doesn't seem like it's a critique she's focused on much in the interim. She's still good for an amazing stage stunt though. Girl was up there twisting around like she has three legs like Reese Witherspoon on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Well, having money in the bank now. The Entrance Look: Trash and Vaudeville, but taken literally. The Performance: High school color guard.
Chi Chi herself said it best when she described herself thusly: “I was a trashbag queen that had a heart of gold." She showed up with both, and at the end of the day it was the later that saved her.
We loved the growth storyline the first time around, but Chi Chi need to step it up because a good sequel shouldn't just be a rehash of the original.
Her Rudemption Storyline: Reminding the greater public she exists. The Entrance Look: Victoria Secret model's mother attending the afterparty. The Performance: Interpretive Meme Performance
Morgan McMichaels showed up acting like she was single handily bringing everything you needed. That included the rope with which she hung herself.
We've listened to enough of RuPaul's podcast over the years to know that McMichaels is a sweetie off the show, and will do anything for her Drag Race sisters if they come through her SoCal home turf. Despite being a season 2 contestant, She's clearly doesn't hold a grudge against queens who made it on to the show in later seasons when it grew to be more popular. Though, clearly she has a competitive side that comes out in situations like this. While she may have been best served taking a page of Tatiana's All Stars 2 playbook, she instead almost immediately sets herself up as this season's Phi Phi by instigating a discussion about how the queens should go about eliminating each other. She thinks the winner should eliminate the strongest competitor that's up for elimination. The more popular choice is to agree to eliminate the queen the judges feel should go like the queens agreed to in All Stars 2 (the obvious flaw: the judges never actually say who they think is the weakest).
Her obsession with elimination logic seems like foreshadowing, and at the end of the day, DeLa jumps throw some logistical hoops, which involves holding Morgan's logic against her, to justify her decision to send Morgan packing. It's all very messy, but perhaps elimination is going to be messy all season long.
Of course, as Ru and our Handmaids Ofchad and Oflaska are there to remind us at the very end, it's probably not the last time we'll see Morgan this season anyways. Why stress so much about eliminations when they might not even be permanent anyway?