Every week in Slate’s RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race TV Club, J. Bryan Lowder will have an IM conversation with a different RuPaul fan after the losing contestants have sashayed away. This week, he kikis about the premiere episode with Daniel D’Addario, a staff writer for the New York Observer.
J. Bryan Lowder: Happy Election Day Eve, Mr. D’Addario! I’m sure you’re just as excited as I am about the convoluted and inconvenient electoral process we will enjoy tomorrow, but before deciding that contest, we have a particularly contentious episode of All Stars Drag Race to unpack. What did you think? Better than last week’s hot mess, surely…
Daniel D’Addario: Oh, I’m not so sure, my squirrelfriend. While last week was messy, it at least had a certain charm with Vicki Lawrence helping our girls out. This week’s challenge was arbitrary in every sense, with the team that had been edited as the loser ending up the winner, and with all the teams managing to convince pedestrians to do things they’d never have done without a reality-TV camera trained on them. Last week, queens had to impersonate celebrities, which they might do sometimes in the club. This week, they left the club altogether—and there’s a reason queens only appear under stage lights…
Lowder: Oof. Yes, this is true. A previous TV Club chatter expressed a preference for sticking to the pure “drag arts” in the challenges, and I’m beginning to see the wisdom of that rule. This week’s little punk’d episode was a strange mix of prostitution and a Christian youth group scavenger hunt. I have to say, though, that I did find myself LOLing a good bit more this week than last, so call me a philistine. Especially when our girls were tasked with trying to take those ridiculous butch Grindr photos.
Weren’t they just so masc, bro?
D’Addario: I’m not sure how much the Grindr photos had to do with the show’s mission statement (leaving aside Chad Michaels’s hilarious smearing of brown foundation across his cheekbones to approximate… dirt?), but the queens’ attempt to be “str8-acting” for an hour or so was a challenge worthy of these mistresses of disguise, even if it made Latrice uncomfortable.
But then, what doesn’t? Latrice’s poor attitude in the face of a moment of levity was one of the episode’s many downers, as far as I was concerned, as well as the mid-2000s-MTV challenge on the street (remember Boiling Points? Some producer at Logo does!). And then there was the Spanish-speaking Team Yarlexis’s lashing-out at the rest of the competitors at the final runway, prompted by Latrice’s maybe xenophobic read: “I can’t understand a word they’re sayin’!” Even RuPaul seemed bummed by the end of the episode, and that cannot stand.
Lowder: Well now I’m bummed too! I agree that the queens’ little shade fest was dismaying, though I didn’t take it to heart as much as you did. But I’m very glad you brought up Latrice’s gender-based depression. I can see how it might have been lame to make such a stink about her insecurities, but on the other hand, I have a feeling many drag queens identify with her. You have to admit that some of the contestants are just more attractive as women than men. Yet they’re all, in the end, men who sexually desire other men. I feel like that tension is worth at least acknowledging, no? To go from receiving all that adoration and coin to being ignored in your “own skin” has to be hard.
D’Addario: Oh, the tension is absolutely worth acknowledging. Even so, Latrice’s whole mien has always been a combination of lazy and confrontational that was testing my patience even back during her original season; I was a big partisan of hers in Season 4, but if the girl does not want to do a challenge, she simply won’t show up. Witness her tossed-together runway look tonight, which allowed guest judge Rachel Dratch to make the first-ever on-point guest-judge observation, that Manila and Latrice were coming from two different drag planets. We saw a bit of that in the main challenge, as well—for all Latrice shaded Yara and Alexis, they hustled far harder (who knows how it got quantified, but that’s how I’m reading it).
What about you—do you think Latrice and Manila were justly eliminated?
Lowder: Ooh, that’s a great point—I don’t think I’d quite thought of Latrice as lazy, but there is something to be said of the way she depends on some old-school, vaguely racist, cackly big-woman currency to carry her through. To your question, though: Yes, they had to go, especially becase Mrs. Luzon—who I love and think is generally very sharp—looked like some kind of heroine-addicted Wednesday Adams during her lipsynch. It was clear just from Jujubee’s facial expressions that she had Janet Jackson in the bag. Still, I am just not into Yarlexis’s aesthetic or sense of humor, so in that sense, I’m a little disappointed. Speaking of which, did you gag for the “clothesline hair” or just choke on it?
D’Addario: I definitely gagged for the clothesline hair, especially since it reclaimed for the drag world so much of what pop stars have been doing with outré looks over the past couple of years. I’ll admit—I’m far more interested in edgy, adventurous style than old-school impersonation, which is why I was so excited to see even Chad Michaels push her own boundaries a bit tonight. (She seemed, for the first time, comfortable outside of Cher mufti.) But classic drag vs. modern drag—and what those things even are—is one of those questions the show stumbles on more than addresses, which is part of what makes it so very delicious to watch. In order to get to the bottom of its semiotic issues, we better work!
Lowder: Yes gurl, and don’t even get me started on how a term like “camp” gets bandied about as a criticism, even though Ru often waxes nostalgic for some seriously dusty examples of the stuff. Consistency is not something these queens seem to keep in their drag bags. Speaking of dusty, I know we’ve got to get our beauty rest before heading to the polls, so let’s wrap up with a quick vote: Who do you want to see take it to the top?
D’Addario: Thanks, hunty, you know I need to research the candidates’ positions tonight. Their rant was impolitic, maybe, but I’m rooting for team Rujubee. They managed to handle the challenge with the most grace, and are handling the series exactly as it ought to be: lightly, as a fun bonus, and not the chance of a lifetime. They’re all already in the top five percent or so most successful queens nationally–and only the competitive but light-hearted Raven and Jujubee seem to get that. Tell me you agree!
Lowder: Of course. It only really became clear to me tonight, but Jujubee may be my favorite queen of all the seasons. She’s smart, can actually read a bitch, and consistently turns out a good (and often great) look. She’s my nominee, but I’d be fine with either her or Raven in the top job.
Now, for all the little Ru-fans out there who don’t want to catch shade from us, say it with me: GO VOTE!
D’Addario: Oh, there are far more important competitions out there than Jujubee vs. Yara. Somehow. Go do it!
Tuesday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 3.