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Strategy, sewing, and slapping make for a compelling RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars


Image for article titled Strategy, sewing, and some light slapping make for a compelling episode of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

With each queen now having earned a competitive Legendary Legend star, the competition seems to be becoming, well, more competitive. The celebration for Yvie and The Vivienne’s victories last episode feels particularly truncated as Jinkx walks in following her second block. The vibe in the room has shifted from celebratory to strategic. This shift is exacerbated as this marks the first directly retaliatory block with The Vivienne blocking Jinkx right after Jinkx blocked The Vivienne. They both air their grievances at the current situation with The Vivienne being denied a star for her performance last week and Jinkx being denied the opportunity to win one this week. They both attempt to frame the plunger as a compliment suggesting that it is an affirmation of the blocked queens’ talents. However, their rivalry is felt in the room, especially when they spotlight the fact that The Vivienne and Jinkx were actually on the same team during the challenge. Now that eliminations have been eliminated, the strategy has become very precarious. How does one become a frontrunner without the double edge of having a target on their back? A montage of the queens looking tense underlines the pressure of the situation only broken by Raja’s overheating mic pack. It’s a perfect metaphor for the competition reaching a boiling point.

As the queens discuss being at the halfway point again, making us all wonder how many episodes are planned for a non-elimination season, they are interrupted by a video message from RuPaul. Filled with fashion references, RuPaul enters to confirm the second design challenge of the season. The main challenge will have the queens using past RuPaul looks by Emmy-winning designer Zaldy as inspiration for their own creations. Zaldy is to RuPaul as Bob Mackie is to Cher. RuPaul clearly states that the assignment is not to copy, but rather be inspired by the look. The queens must pick from eight selected RuPaul looks to draw their inspiration.

The Vivienne, having won last episode, gets to pick first. Complimentary to her Westwood workroom ensemble, The Vivienne gravitates toward a gold lame gown and RuPaul’s most Westwood looking gown that she wore during the Despy Awards of season seven. She then gets to pick the next queen to choose. Trinity decides on RuPaul’s baby blue baby doll dress from her promotional look for season eight. As part of her alliance, Trinity selects her twinner Monét to go third. Monét picks the season 10 futuristic club kid facekini look, which is actually the look RuPaul wore when Monét survived her first lip sync for your life. Shea goes next and selects a pink leopard look from the season five Sugar Ball. When Shea passes to Jaida, Yvie rightly points that all the fashion and sewing queens keep picking each other and laments, “where is the strategy?” Jaida lands on a look from the VH1 Diva’s Live show, a leggy look complete with large golden palettes and a matching furry coat. Yvie is next and decides on the red and orange look RuPaul wore from the Supermodel music video. This decision is punctuated with a cut to Raja, who had said she wanted that specific look. Interestingly Jaida and Yvie did not feel obligated to select the queens who gave them charity stars the episode before. Instead, Yvie selects the design adverse Jinkx, who picks a sharp structured look from Drag Race Down Under. Finally, Raja, known for her design talent, is stuck with what is left. She claims to be happy with white bedazzled and deconstructed Born Naked look.

As with the previous design challenge, the queens are provided fabrics to create their looks. Again, it feels like it’s a shame that they are not using unconventional materials as is the practice with standard seasons. The use of unconventional materials adds drama to the challenge. It triggers a sense of ingenuity and complicates each contestant’s sewing skills. For example, it can force someone like Shea or Trinity to think outside the box and allow someone like Jinkx to compensate for their lack of traditional sewing skills. It is the unconventional material design challenges that have produced some of the most memorable looks in the franchise, from Roxxxy Andrew’s Candy Couture or Utica’s Sleeping Bag gown to Vanjie’s floral Barbie look or LaLa Ri’s gift bag ensemble. At the least, if they are going to use conventional materials, shouldn’t the queens get a budget and field trip to Mood?

Image for article titled Strategy, sewing, and some light slapping make for a compelling episode of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

It is great that this design challenge isn’t complicated with superfluous additions as in past seasons, where it was part of a bloated ball or some kind of song and dance number is added last minute. This episode actually privileges process and design. There is an interesting moment between Raja and Trinity, who have very different design processes. Raja’s approach always seems very organic and contemplative, she takes her time and plays with her fabrications. Trinity moves like a train, quickly deciding on her vision and executing it quickly. Raja even attempts to sidetrack Trinity a little with some light sabotage. It also comes up later when Yvie discusses that she sees herself as a designer but as a “slow designer.” It’s this same kind of pressure that ends up affecting Jinkx and Shea. With the former, the editors have a clever montage of the queens cutting and sewing fabrics punctuated at the end with Jinkx hot gluing away. The pressure combined with her own limited design skills seems to push Jinkx to a hilarious meltdown of bizarre behavior. Later, Shea, who is a very skilled designer and seamstress, becomes overwhelmed realizing that in creating her own pattern she may be hobbled by her own ambitions. As the last design challenge, Trinity who must sew at super human speed, lends a helping hand to Shea and Monét.

The episode is also good at redefining and reemphasizing some of the strategic partnerships and rivalries going on in the game. While working together, Trinity and Monét discuss their alliance and the works of others. They also start to ponder what the most beneficial block would be for them if they were to win the challenge. On the other side of the spectrum, editors reinforce the contention between The Vivienne and Jinkx with a Kill Bill-inspired sequence. They even discuss the failed strategy of blocking Jinkx on a design challenge. It would be more interesting if the queens had some sort of knowledge of the challenges to come when mapping out their own strategies. Clearly, The Vivienne was not anticipating a second design challenge.

RuPaul enters the runway in a particularly interesting Zaldy design. The salmon pink gown is seemingly wrapped around a chain element creating a beautiful effect. Michelle and Carson are joined on the panel with special guest judge Betsy Johnson. This is one of those wonderful times when the challenge and the judging are perfectly matched. Having Betsy Johnson, a celebrated designer, feels like a return to the earlier years of the franchise in which the judges felt more connected to queer and underground culture despite their celebrity status. She gave kooky, yet insightful commentary and even landed in a split on the runway at 79 years of age.

Image for article titled Strategy, sewing, and some light slapping make for a compelling episode of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Yvie, fittingly in the earliest RuPaul looks, is first down the runway. While staying true to the original color story, Yvie reinterpreted the look by playing with scale, volume, and finishing. Instead of a gown, she constructed flowy, wide-leg trousers and repositioned the tulle bottom of the gown into a voluminous tulle jacket. A pink cropped bustier completed the look with unfinished edges nodding to Yvie’s punk aesthetic and perhaps RuPaul’s punk roots. Despite the intentionally unfinished elements of the garment, the exposed white ticking stripe is not punk it’s just unfinished and the judges should have mentioned it. The Vivienne managed to take a Westwood inspired look and make it even more Westwood inspired, aided by adding some actual Westwood accessories. She took the glamour of the original look and, like Yvie, added a more punk point of view that felt like a great combination of RuPaul, Westwood, and even Betsy Johnson. In fact, a lot of the designs felt like they had some influence from Betsy Johnson, which probably exposes the tremendous impact or influence she has with drag culture. Despite being overwhelmed during the construction process, Shea managed to present a complete, finished, and directional look. While the pink leggings felt underwhelming and there was a sense that she may have abandoned some of the look in lieu of time, it’s a terrific design that pays homage to the original while finding its own lane.

Perhaps the most dramatic change from the original inspiration, Trinity created a dramatic gown. It was interesting to see how Trinity – “the body is here” – would reinterpret whay was decidedly the least body conscious RuPaul look. Working blue, Trinity shifted the baby doll shape of the RuPaul dress to below the knee and placed emphasis on prominently placed bows. It was dramatically different, yet intrinsically linked to the original look. It was pure Trinity, inspired by RuPaul. Raja took a, in her own words, “maximalist,” approach. On the body form it looked unhinged, but on Raja it was exquisite. She showcased the important link between design and display. No one else on that stage would have made that look work. At the same time, it might be one of the furthest from the original looks but was anchored by the overall shape and white boots.

Image for article titled Strategy, sewing, and some light slapping make for a compelling episode of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Then there was Jinkx. Serving a saloon look, Jinkx presented a well-constructed look considering her skill set. The design choices were somewhat baffling. The attached tulle ruffles and the single purple leg are a lesson in style mistake. Maybe the leg was in reference to her favorite look from her original season which incorporated mismatched tights. The main issue with Jinkx’s look is that it completely disregarded the assignment. It was to be inspired by the original RuPaul look. The original was structured and minimal, Jinkx’s look was not. The only common thread was the color purple. While she should be applauded for her effort, the judges should have remarked about how this missed the mark. Initially it seemed as if Jaida might have had the opposite problem. In the workroom she used a gold palette fabric that felt like it may be too much of a direct copy of the RuPaul look. However, Jaida managed to manipulate the fabric to present a fresh signature look while paying tribute to the original. Taking the gown to floor length while translating the exposed leg into an exposed hip was, as the judges said, “really smart.” In addition, the restraint exercised in using the fur so sparingly was a great and impactful decision. Finally, Monét closed the runway. Transforming RuPaul’s psychedelic club kid gown into a body suit and facekini was clever. By going to the source inspiration of the original look, Monét managed to present something new. By embracing Leigh Bowery, Monét showed a different version of herself. The clashing patterns gave shape and the best touch, pointed out by the judges, was the hoop earrings. The one drawback was for all the talk about the hat, it was very pedestrian. The hat needed more drama and exaggeration. It was just a hat.

Even with no negative critiques, it is clear that everyone did fairly well with the challenge. Before the queens return the judges more directly discuss the work of Jaida, Monét, Shea and Trinity suggesting they are all in the running for the top two. Personally, I might have exchanged Monét for The Vivienne or Raja. When the queens return everyone has changed outfits suggesting they all suspect they could be in contention for a win, sans Jinkx, whose black dress doesn’t seem like a lip sync outfit. Interestingly, it is an exact repeat of the previous design challenge with Jaida and Trinity winning. From a producing standpoint, it’s surprising they didn’t vary the winners a little more.

Image for article titled Strategy, sewing, and some light slapping make for a compelling episode of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

In a rematch of the third episode, Jaida and Trinity lip sync to Jessie J’s “I Want Love.” Early on in the performance, perhaps a tad too early, Jaida does a running split down the main stage. Sadly, the spotlight was not ready to follow her. Landing in a dark spot tempered the overall effect. After that there is a strange moment when Jaida looks at Trinity, normally a sign that the performer is more concerned with what their opponent is up to than their own performance. Trinity, on the other hand, is completely focused. Perhaps she learned from her lip sync against Peppermint. Trinity paces her performance well when she does a front roll followed by a running slide that lands directly into Jaida. Proving that drag can be a contact sport, Trinity faceplanting into Jaida’s ass lip syncing “I want love,” will be a memorable moment. It certainly tickled Yvie, who was watching on the side of the stage. Trinity is declared the winner and earns the right to block a fellow contestant.

This scenario has already been discussed with Monét, as part of the twinner alliance. Trinity, now with two stars, seems focused on blocking someone else with two stars. Jaida, who now has a third and the most stars, is immune. That leaves Yvie and Jinkx. Earlier in the episode, Trinity and Monét discussed Yvie’s growing momentum. Likewise, Trinity felt conflicted about double blocking Jinkx, a concern Monét did not share. Considering that the next few episodes will be performance based, there is not likely to be a third design challenge, the most strategic choice would be to block Jinkx. In the end, Trinity decides to block Yvie and forgo the chance to neutralize Jinkx, who remains one of the season’s biggest threats.

Stray Observations:

  • Betsy Johnson did an impressive split on the mainstage, only to reveal in Untucked that she injured her ankle. This is why RuPaul’s dancing is so restrained during musical performances.
  • Betsy Johnson’s ankle injury after Kornbread’s? I’m convinced Willow Pill put a curse on the studio with her Season 14 entrance look.
  • I kind of loved Jaida’s joke about constructing looks out of Trinity’s train.
  • They revealed that there are four challenges left. And factoring in the final four lip sync finale… it is likely a 12-episode season.
  • Yvie’s design color story also matched perfectly to her original season design challenge look.
  • The way they remarked about The Vivienne’s makeup looking perfect and airbrushed made me think something looked strangely off about RuPaul’s makeup.

 



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