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On RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, Everyone's Getting Fierce

In the season premiere of Drag Race's most enduring spinoff, the queens know that basic-cable-fame can pay the rent, and they're hungry for it.

As was decreed by God, the third season of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars begins with a reference to The Handmaid's Tale. Walking down a sidewalk in their red gowns and white bonnets, previous All Stars champions Chad Michaels and Alaska trade Under His Eye platitudes before confessing that their time in the hall of fame has been more dystopian than they expected. Still, I assume they want to visit the secret whore motel.

And because this show is perfect and will always be perfect, the showcase of prizes in the opening credits depicts Chad and Alaska's photos in the hall of fame...while they're wearing their Handmaid uniforms...

...and in the very last scene of the episode, when the eliminated queen learns of a "shocking" twist, our hooded sisters watch her from the background. Repetition makes this joke sing, so don't be surprised if Ann Dowd is a guest judge next week.

Back in the workroom, this year's contestants enter one by one. First comes Trixie Mattel on roller skates, and when she notices she's alone, she says, "There's nobody in here! It's like a Morgan McMichaels meet and greet!" Hee hee! As I mentioned on a recent episode of Extra Hot Great, she's a queen I didn't get AT ALL in her original season, but with the advent of The Trixie and Katya Show, I've converted.

Trixie, meanwhile, has converted to shaving her head, rather than pretending she isn't going bald:

Next up is Milk...

...and my exhaustion with this ho is a 9 out of 8, since her big thing is pretending to be above it all. In her original season, she showed her disdain by snottily subverting the intention of the challenges, like dressing in male drag for a RuPaul impersonation runway. Now she makes a Willam-sized show of referencing her (admittedly impressive) career as a fashion model, and when she's not extolling herself, she's dissing the other girls in a blasé way, like she can barely muster the language to address them. You know what, bitch? Ya basic. I don't care how tall and handsome you are. Everyone on this season has got a serious career, so please spill your tea on yourself.

Next up is ChiChi DeVayne, who has worked out her boy-drag haircut in the interview portion, but who otherwise looks uninspired in her garbage bag couture.

Like...girl. We've seen it. We've also seen Thorgy Thor's wig...

...but when we saw it last, Hayden Panettiere was shaking it during football games on Heroes. I continue to have a soft spot for Thorgy, who is smart and talented and funny. Yet she is also the very model of a self-saboteur. She STILL gripes about Bob getting all the attention in Season 8, and I'm like, "Bitch, Bob made this music video last year. That's why we pay attention."

Meanwhile, Thorgy's first talking head introduces a running gag about her getting distracted by a stray hair. She just can't with this hair, and she keeps interrupting herself to pluck it off her forehead. Like the handmaid joke, it's funny because it keeps coming back.

Then we get the return of Morgan McMichaels, whom I remember quite liking on Season 2, but who was apparently a villain! Or at least, that's the story she's spinning now.

To me, the biggest villain of that season was Tyra, since she won when Juju or Raven obviously deserved it, but I'll save that for my 2010 Livejournal. Meanwhile, the rest of the girls acknowledge that Morgan works all the time on the drag circuit and is apparently quite impressive. She also interviews that she wants to smack the shit out of Milk, so I'm like, "Hey girl!"

And then Aja rolls in on a little scooter. She insists that she's had a lot of work done to her face and teeth and skin in the few short months since Season 9, but she looks the same to me.

Then comes Ben DeLaCreme! Yayyyy! I love DeLa!

I also love her interview look: a purple Jughead hat and matching bowtie.

I'm sure folks will read her for repurposing her Miss Congeniality dress for this entrance, but I think it's funny. Plus, I'd like to counter the shade she catches for disappearing from the drag scene. That's because she's been doing theater! She had several cabarets in New York, and she starred in her own play in Seattle. And if I sound biased in her favor, well...I am!

I'm ALSO biased toward Kennedy Davenport, who strolls in like an explosion at the disco ball factory.

We hear she's become a mother figure to ChiChi and that they might as well be the same person, but I disagree. Kennedy is styled, poised, and ready to slay. Don't get it confused.

And don't get confused about Shangela, who is back for her third appearance. Naturally, she enters inside a giant gift box, which is a reference to her return on Season 3...after getting booted in the first episode of Season 2.

But I'm glad Shangela's back, because I have always felt she had the goods. Maybe this will be the season she really proves it.

After these nine girls gab for a while, RuPaul enters in a cherry-red suit to announce that, oops, there's one girl still to come. And that girl is Season 1 champion Bebe Zehara Benet!

The other girls do the obvious clucking about how this bitch already has a crown and she's gonna be fierce competition and why is she even here?

But we all know why. As RuPaul points out, Bebe won when the grand prize was only $20,000 and barely anybody watched the show. It's a wise move for her to come back now, when the Drag Race brand has leveled up to VH1, RuPaul is on his second hosting Emmy, and the New York Times is running features about how Drag Race girls can make a viable living on the road. Simply appearing on this show is going to bring financial rewards, even for the queens who don't take the crown.

Which leads me to a sidebar: the universal financial boost is why I don't care about the elimination drama. Same as last time, the top two queens must lip sync for "their legacies," which actually means lip syncing for the chance to choose which of the bottom two girls goes home. There's this drawn-out bullshit about Morgan causing "controversy" because she says that if she's given the chance, she's gonna send home the better (and therefore more competitive) queen. People act affronted, but Morgan says that being blunt about her strategy is better than pretending to be selfless. Meanwhile, DeLa moons about listening to the judges, following her heart, bibbity bobbity boo. But again, since merely appearing on this show is a major career boost -- especially at the All Star level -- does any of this really matter? Gals, you're all winners here.

Yet this elimination nonsense consumes almost all the workroom scenes. Let's consider this your "recap" of that gum-flapping silliness so we can turn our focus to better things.

Like the first mini-challenge! Which is Reading Is Fundamental! The Library is one of my favorite segments, because you can't be a legendary queen unless you can read a bitch for filth.

Here are some highlights:

Chi Chi DeVayne "Big and Milky! Girl, just like the drink, you give me the shits."

Milk: "Shangela. I always thought her name was Angela, and people were just telling her to shut up!"

Trixie: "Aja. You're beautiful. You're gorgeous. You look like Seal." (This is a multi-level read, since it clocks Aja for both hating on Valentina AND having jacked-up skin.)

Ben DeLaCreme: "Thorgy, I love this full outfit! I usually only get to see this much when you're handing out balloons from that sewer grate."

Bebe: "I'm the only African here, so why does Kennedy Davenport look like you could sponsor her for thirty cents a day?"

My GOD, that was satisfying. RuPaul gives the win to DeLa, but many of the ladies brought A-grade shade.

Next up: The maxi-challenge, where the girls headline a variety show, performing acts that display their Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. And y'all, this is my life and glory. So many of these gals just nail it, and that's what I want. I want people thriving, not merely surviving!

RuPaul wants that, too, I'd say, and when she arrives for the variety show, she's certainly thriving in a gown that looks like every scoop of sherbet all at once.

Ru is joined by Michelle Visage, Ross Mathews, Carson Kressley, and guest judge Vanessa Hudgens, whose former High School Musical co-star Zac Efron is currently starring in an Oscar-nominated musical that has grossed over $100 million in the United States. Because the world is upside down.

Anyway, I'm gonna recap these performances out of order because I want to consider them thematically.

First, the lip-syncers -- meaning the girls who dance and lip-sync to a track of themselves singing. (I assume they do this because the show doesn't want to pay for the rights to someone else's song.) Shangela opens the show with this format, and in many ways, she also shuts it down. She starts in a choir robe with the word "Haleloo" printed on the front in gold letters. She also has a tambourine, because she was raised right. At a key moment, she rips off the robe to reveal this bodysuit:

And then the pace ratchets up, Shangela lip syncs to a super-fast rap verse, and ends with a death drop. This is straightforward club drag, but it's done at the highest level.

The same is true for Bebe, who repeats her glorious lion-mane wig from her original season, and leans into her African fantasy with an animal print outfit, tribal makeup, and a vocal track of African-influenced harmonies. It's "nahhhh-suh-HANE-yahhh," Lion King realness.

The song isn't great, but Bebe's charisma sets the stage on fire. And at the end, we hear a jungle cat roar, like it's Janet Jackson's "Black Cat" video. Which is a good thing, obviously.

Less delicious is Milk, who has the clever idea of cycling through paper doll-style outfits...

...but doesn't do much with it. The joke stays the same throughout, and the song she's lip-syncing to is a snoozer.

But you know who's here to wake us up? Aja. She starts off voguing in a candy-colored kimono and progresses to an acrobatic leap off a giant block. It's wild, and you know she has bruises, but it's awesome AF.

Even Bebe interviews about Aja's excellence, and Bebe's regal ass isn't gonna praise just anybody.

It feels like Morgan is going for a similar badass attitude -- and both Ross and Aja interview that they've seen Morgan own a club with her ferocity -- but her nerves get the best of her. She keeps looking at the other queens during her lip sync like she's afraid of them, and she does the same pointing motion about a hundred times. It's a rough sketch when we needed a finished painting.

Next, the talent show gals.

First, let's consider Kennedy, who is so confident in her dancing that she doesn't even add a lip sync. Instead, she gives you bumps, pops, hair twirls, and all of her entire soul. When SHE uses the giant block, she hurls herself ONTO it, not off of it, in a backward-somersault-leap that made me shout "OH SHIT!" in my living room.

My only read is that her outfit recalls a frock that ChiChi wore on her season, and that's not going to dispel the jokes about them being the same queen.

But then again, Kennedy's serving us grade-A glory, while ChiChi comes out for her dance routine wearing flats, a cheap wig, and an ill-fitting, lime-green, fringe-covered bib on top of a bathing suit.

It's really not good.

Better is Thorgy, who plays the violin in a sparkly pantsuit.

And while I can't deny Thorgy's musical talent, Vanessa Hudgens is correct to note there's something timid about this performance. If I'm gonna see a drag queen play violin, I need it to be intense.

DeLa understands this. Her performance is a burlesque striptease, in which she twirls titty tassels and then tears off her bra. Except every time she does this, there's another bra (with more tassels) underneath.

The joke builds in surprising ways -- a bra with dozens of tassels, a bra with tassels that hang to her knees -- and it's brilliant. Her sense of timing is impeccable, and the construction of the routine demonstrates her intelligence as a performer. I give it two tassels up.

My favorite performance, however, is Trixie's: she sings a sad country song while accompanying herself on an autoharp (perhaps you've seen some of her country music videos?) It's a lovely number, and it's subversive in its way because Trixie doesn't play it for laughs. She has the guts to get up there and be sincere, when it's the last thing we expect. But also...she's dressed like 1970s Dolly Parton:

And THAT is high drag, y'all. Because while Trixie's music might be genuine, her look is harder to parse. Is it a mockery of '70s country ladies? A tribute? It's a little of both, which adds camp to this otherwise tender moment. Trixie makes me feel a lot of things at once, is what I'm saying. It's confusing and compelling, and it's what drag is for.

The judges decide that DeLa, Aja, and Shangela are their tops, while ChiChi, Morgan, and Thorgy are their bottoms. DeLa and Aja get sent to the winners' lip sync. ChiChi and Morgan land in the basement.

Oh, also? Vanessa Hudgens praises Aja's dancing by saying, "I'm so into voguing right now!" And I don't know how to feel that voguing is old enough to be making a comeback. Pardon me while I pull back my wrinkles with Scotch tape.

Anyway, after the previously mentioned mishegas about how the top two queens will choose a loser, we cut to Vanessa and Porkchop lip syncing for their lives. Except its not Season 1 queen VIctoria Porkchop Parker. It's an actual slab of pork sitting on a white dinner plate on top of a pedestal.

Then DeLa and Aja lip sync to Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda," which I know from experience is VERY challenging to do. There are a lot of words and grunts and shouts to account for, and both gals do a good job. DeLa opts for a funny approach, while Aja goes straight ho. DeLa is chosen the winner and chooses to send Morgan home, because Morgan dared to announce her self-serving strategy.

But then during Morgan's interview, we see Chad and Alaska in those handmaid outfits, indicating that there's a twist coming. Normally I hate it when a reality show plays maybe/maybe not with eliminations, but I'm so curious to see what's going to happen that I'm giving this little wrinkle a pass.

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