This week’s 8th episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars is the much-anticipated makeover challenge. Whereas in past years there was only a loose theme to the makeover, the All Stars rendition has a fully realized concept: gay icon Judy Garland. Rather than make over random strangers, the queens are tasked with dragging up their “best Judy” (aka best friend). As in past seasons, the girls have to makeover their partner, taking special care to create a “family resemblance.” In addition to fashioning original runway looks, they have to choreograph and perform in a Judy Garland-style lip-sync number.
After Ru kicks off the episode with a fascinating “herstory” lesson about Garland (who knew the gay community’s grief over the Wizard of Oz star’s untimely death contributed to the Stonewall riots?), the queens are off to work. Because they’ve been competing week after week without contact with the outside world, you can tell it’s a blissful respite to have their friends in the workroom. In its best moments, the episode offers some heartwarming meditations on friendship. Ru’s exchange with Latrice and her longtime friend Tim is particularly touching. Remembering the dark days when she was just released from prison, Latrice tears up, grateful she had Tim’s support. As RuPaul so beautifully articulates, we’re all Dorothy— we need friends to help us stay on the yellow brick road and withstand the lure of the poppy fields.
Though the episode has tender moments, much of the preparations for the main stage are uneventful. Traditionally, the fun of the makeover challenge was watching the male guests stomp awkwardly in high heels, looking less like Cindy Crawford than Sasquatch. This was especially entertaining when the men were straight and had to connect with a whole unexplored side of themselves (who can forget the metamorphosis of straight shy boy Chester into Marilyn Monroe look-alike Ms. Cookie, season 10’s gorgeous, hysterical master of one liners?). By comparison, this makeover challenge has no tension, no drama. Normally we see the queens struggle to instill a bit of their “essence” into their partner, but this season we don’t see any such footage— not Manila teaching her husband how to embody her quirkiness or Naomi instructing her best friend how, exactly, to duplicate the unparalleled fierceness of her signature runway walk. The result is a yawn-worthy 60 minutes.
The Judy-Garland lip syncs aren’t much better. Though I love a classy old Hollywood number, the jazzy “My Best Judy” show tune falls flat, with none of the performances memorable enough to recall even an hour later. I myself prefer when the queens have to write their own lyrics for these kinds of opening numbers because it provides an opportunity for them to demonstrate their own unique brand of humor. When the contestants had to put “jocks in frocks” back in season 3, they had to create their own cheerleading routine to promote safe sex— an assignment which led to hilarious, if vulgar, pleas to not “ride bare back.” In comparison, these performances feel lackluster.
For those struggling not to siesta at our TV sets, the runway jolts us half-awake. As has been the case all season, the queens really bring it to the runway: Trinity’s blue and gold Versace-inspired look is impeccably tailored and displays the kind of attention to detail we’ve come to expect from her whereas Monet’s gold pant suit is dazzling but nothing we haven’t seen. This week’s “most improved” goes to Monique, whose campy eye dress represents a real step up from her usual outfits and actually has a fresh concept. Not to mention, her makeup (thank god) is finally up to All Stars standards. But the real stand out is Naomi Smalls, whose clever 1960s Sonny and Cher ensemble finally earns her a win. Sadly that leaves Drag Race legends Latrice Royale and Manila Luzon in the bottom. As is usually the case this far in the game, the bottom two aren’t horrible— they’re just slightly less fabulous than everyone else. Manila’s queen of clubs dress is cute but fails to demonstrate the originality we know she’s capable of. She’s served some of All Star’s most iconic looks— from last week’s geometric Mrs. Chiquita plastic fantasy to the super group episode’s breathtaking gray gown. Because she’s been slaying all season, this week’s minor misstep feels more pronounced.
Naomi’s decision to eliminate Manila, the season’s top contender for the crown, will resound through the centuries as Drag Race’s most controversial elimination. Like many diehard fans, I finished the episode wanting to smash a 10-inch stiletto through my TV set. How could Naomi be so callously competitive as to send home the strongest contestant? In between empty promises to never again watch this trash reality show, I realized this episode represented everything I’ve come to loathe about All Stars and Drag Race in general: no longer a light-hearted celebration of gender fluidity and self-expression, the now mainstream Drag Race prioritizes plot twists and shock value over actual talent.