‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars’ Recap: Shea Snatches The Crown, Messy Derrick Loves The Drama
It is a travesty that Derrick Barry, our greatest reality TV show contestant, went home first.
The world was well and truly already off its axis in 2017, but scientists always say that a crownless Shea Coulée only hurts the imbalance. But now, one of Drag Race‘s best has won All Stars 5. Nature is healing.
There never really was any other alternative, though. Sure, Miz Cracker had three challenge wins and I’ve been fantasising about a split win with Jujubee, but All Stars 5 was Shea’s to take from the moment she walked in: week-by-week, she’s run circles around most queens, taken each challenge in her stride and showed off her comedic chops, rapping talent and versatile looks.
Let’s be honest: she won the show in episode two with her ‘love the skin you’re in’ runway look, a The Birth Of Venus which was so breathtaking that even Vogue covered it. Shea is funny, beautiful and incredibly sharp, but she’s also a queen with a clear message: Black is beautiful. Her politics inform everything she does, which is no doubt why everything she does is so graceful and elegant — for her, the stakes are high.
Hell, she entered the werkroom by literally saying “I’m Black!”, and then followed it up on Instagram by saying “My name is Shea Coulée and I didn’t come here to slay — I came to dismantle white supremacy, defund the police, return power and resources back to the people, uplift and amplify black voices, and get that crown.” And now she’s done one, the rest are on-lock.
By no means does it fix the show’s (and fanbase’s) problems with race, but it’s worth celebrating that we’ve now had four Black queens win the US Drag Race in a row (Shea, Jaida, Yvie and Monet. Yes, Trinity won too, but that doesn’t negate this).
Drag is so indebted to Black culture, from ballroom to the endless use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English), and Drag Race, even with Ru at its centre, has a complicated relationship to Blackness: it profits and promotes white mimicry off of it, and can push queens into stereotypical racial roles for drama. (My colleague Patrick Lenton had a big chat to The Vixen about this recently, which is well worth your time).
Shea’s by no means the first Black contestant to be political on the show, but she also arrived into All Stars 5 so beloved, and used that as a platform to promote Black culture and pride with everything she did, whether her homage to her mother’s prom look this episode, the stencilled mourning shirt she wore to the BBQ, or her weird and wonderful woke Flava Flav.
She’s been the brightest light in a so-so season, as the queens struggled to make the lousy challenges work and the lip-sync assassin/voting twist didn’t quite spark as much drama or amazing moments as the producers hoped for. It’s a shame, as seeing the season’s queens back together this episode was a reminder of what a fun, odd cast this is.
In a way, All Stars 5 — a mixed bag with a solid end half of the season and satisfying winner — is pretty much almost the inverse of All Stars 4, which started strong and fell apart long before the messy double-crowning.
With the COVID-19 of it all, we’re probably going to get some welcome breathing space between 5 and 6. Hopefully the show sits back, writes some challenges that make sense, and simplifies the ‘gaggy’ plot twists. We just want to hang with our favourite queens (and see Asia O’Hara take the crown, duh)!
But First, It’s Derrick Bitch
Ru’s phone call from last episode was, assumedly, all seven eliminated queens yelling down the line in unison, as this episode they all arrive into the werqroom and hide behind the glory hole wall usually used in the puppet mini-challenge.
The eliminated queens get a chance to hash out any unresolved drama with the group, which is basically just a chance for Alexis to get her redemption and an apology from India.
The queens discuss Ongina and Mayhem voting themselves home and a few other tidbits, but it all gets a lot more real when Miss Eggplant is asked to clarify what really happened, now that Mayhem is there to say there was no campaigning to get Shea out.
We learn that India was absolutely talking out of her ass/breast plate, and Alexis’ name is cleared. It’s a real shame though, as Alexis could’ve crushed last week’s roast challenge. As Rita Baga might say, “C’est la vie… et regardez Canada’s Drag Race, s’il vous plait!”.
While it means a lot to Alexis, no one is happier than Derrick Barry, who is positively beaming throughout the confrontation. Watching in 2020, the sheer happiness and joy Derrick exudes is entirely alien: I think the last time I felt that high was when Derrick said nobody died at Stonewall.
It’s truly a travesty Derrick left first, as she’s perfect reality TV catnip. It was really nice to see her joke around with Jujubee this episode — a friendship we didn’t otherwise see on the show.
After things are resolved, the top three get ready for their final challenge: a big musical number to launch forth Ru’s latest single ‘Clap Back’, featuring verses from each queen. It’s possibly one of her worst songs yet, and the queens’ lyrics are pretty much incomprehensible. None are quite Mayhem Miller level, but you’ll definitely need to head to Genius to decode what they’re saying. Or not, because literally who cares!
These final challenges tend to be a little underwhelming even with the show piling more and more production money onto them: maybe the episodes just feel a bit formulaic, or we’re all just waiting to find out who wins? There’s the Tic Tac lunch, the dance rehearsal with Todrick, the reminiscing about the season — it’s perfectly fine stuff, but it’s hard to not just want to get to the end.
Of all those scenes, Blair steals the show by practicing the top three’s choreography while watching from afar. What did she think was going to happen? Bless her — she came into AS5 posturing as a sex siren, but couldn’t hide the ‘teacher’s pet theatre kid’ energy that made her so endearing/stand out back in S10.
Another person who kind of stole the show this episode? Miz Cracker. I’ve been quite harsh on her all season long, but this episode she was effortlessly witty, fun and confident — finally, on the last episode, everything clicked for me with her. Of the three queens, her performance was probably the best (and most enunciated, which helps), but overall, it just seemed like she let go a little bit.
10 Person Runway? I Hardly Even Know 10 Person Runway
The actual performance of ‘Clap Back’ was fine: perfectly fine.
The matching outfits with the backup dancers has me questioning how much time and rehearsal actually went into the number, though, as those things aren’t coincidences. Maybe that’s why it didn’t really connect for me, as it felt like an overproduced number that didn’t actually involve much of the queens’ input. We did get this though:
The best moment was the runway, as they invited all 10 contestants back for their eleganza look. They weren’t all on-par, but it’s nice to see them strut again.
Blair and Jujubee’s looks, in particular, were stunning — both were designed by Diego Montoya, who also did Cracker’s runway look too (also very pretty! Just thought the other two were standouts).
The story behind Juju’s — that it was a homage to a Hindu Buddha figure from her childhood which she was transfixed by because of its somewhat gender-fluid stance — made it just that much more beautiful, too.
Seeing them together, it makes sense why they were the top four. After a little bit more rehashing of drama backstage, the three queens lipsynced to ‘Make Me Feel’ by Janelle Monáe — a perfect song choice. They all did a solid job, but Shea had a clear vision: she was funny, sexy, surprising and eye-catching.
Apparently it was an accident that her final look is a blue mirroring of Sasha Velour’s rose petal look, but it sits well with the lipsync: there were no stunts or reveals (not that they’re a bad thing or that Sasha didn’t deserve the win!). It was just Shea’s sheer talent on stage — no wonder she won.
RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars streams on Stan, and new episodes of Canada’s Drag Race drop each Friday at 1pm AEST.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and is on Twitter.