Friday, July 22, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' - Everything Comes Down to This in 'Drag Race Gives Back Variety Extravaganza'

Paramount+'s RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars - Episode 7.11 "Drag Race Gives Back Variety Extravaganza"

The crowded queens give 'til it hurts, as they star in a charity talent show extravaganza! But first, they each join RuPaul and Michelle Visage for an intimate tic-tac chit-chat!

It all comes down to this. The four winners competing in the Lip Sync LaLaPaRuza will be decided based on the talent show. The queens have complete control over what they bring to the judges. This season flipped the traditional challenge order of an All Stars season. Usually, things start with the talent show and end with the finalists recording original lyrics to a RuPaul song. This season, the competition opened with a chaotic RuPaul song and ends with the talent show setting the stage for what's to come. Plus, anyone can make it to the finale. All eight queens have an equal opportunity to make it. The only guarantee is Jinkx. With four stars, it's impossible for four queens to overcome her. And so, her performance here doesn't dictate the terms for how the season will finish. Early on, it felt like Trinity and Jaida were secure in their positions as well. They were tied with three stars. All hope seemed lost for Shea because she was the only queen with one star after ten weeks of challenges. All of this reads as production wanting things to be as equal and balanced throughout the entire season. Yes, a winner has to be crowned amongst all the winners. They didn't want anyone to be so far ahead that it would then be insane if they didn't win. Everyone needed an opportunity to shine. That's been a consistent critique. It's notable because it creates the expectation that everyone had to earn at least two stars. Because production didn't follow through on that promise with Shea, she ultimately had to be rewarded here. It just comes at the moment where this is the one challenge that is more important than all the rest. Of course, it's more in line with what these queens do on a regular basis. They actually celebrate getting to sit back and enjoy a drag show. This competition is fun. It's been a life-changing experience for all of them. But now, they get to do whatever they want. They are in control. They are comfortable with these presentations. That shows in some instances. Distinct choices had to be made. The judging doesn't quite line up with the final quality. And so, that will create some heated opinions.

Before the talent show gets started, all of the winners sit down for an intimate conversation with RuPaul and Michelle. It's meant to highlight the charities they are also competing for in this challenge. The talent show is rebranded as a variety showcase raising money for a worthy cause. And yes, each of the queens have singled out charities that need the resources to do a ton of good in the world. The winner will receive a $30,000 donation. None of these charities were realistically going to walk away with nothing though. As such, it's not surprising when RuPaul reveals donations will be made to all of them. That's worthy. Plus, the show displayed the websites for viewers to make their own donations to each of them. Outside of that, these tic-tac chats are chaotic and abbreviated. That is true in a normal season when only a few queens are left. This episode has to balance eight of these chats. As such, a few of them stand out for either their emotions or the laughs. Raja mentions how she still has the tic-tac she received from her season a decade ago. It's deformed now but still in existence. Meanwhile, Yvie talks about the glory of competing again when she knows her body won't allow her to do her tricks for too much longer. And Jaida thanks the show for allowing her to express herself for who she is instead of going through life fearing how others perceive her. At the end of the day, this show really is a celebration of these queens. They have all won the hearts of the audience. They will all have amazing careers after this competition is done. In fact, the most rewarding quality of this season has been seeing the camaraderie amongst the cast. That has already created so much content worth consuming over and over again.

Now, the talent show is a revealing challenge because it truly does share what the average drag show will entail. For anyone seeing these queens live outside of this competition, this is the format in which they will likely be performing in. As such, it's a good branding opportunity to showcase. The challenge still fits into the confines of the overall competition format. That means it can typically feel like the queens showcasing the same talent repeatedly. Again, that's not a bad thing. Many of them make a living as live performers with original songs and backup dancers. However, these numbers can blend together. That makes it so worthwhile when Jinkx, Raja and Monet are brought in to break up that monotony. That was clearly on the minds of the people behind-the-scenes. Heading into this season, no one would have questioned Jinkx being labeled the best singer of the winners. And yet, Monet truly shocked everyone with her opera. Nothing could have followed that. It was such a pure distillation of talent shared to the delight of everyone watching. When the show was over, Monet was guaranteed victory. Nothing could have changed that. She more than redeemed herself from the talent show in All Stars 4. That has long plagued her. And now, the burden has been lifted. Similarly, Raja was so moving in her traditional Balinese dance. It evoked intimacy and beauty. She brought the viewer into her world. It was a number of epic movement and subtle changes. She personally deserved a spot in the final four. Unfortunately, that wasn't the outcome the judges decided on. Yes, Shea was excellent with her homage to the 90s and Janet Jackson. Her choreography was more intricate and precise than anyone else on the stage. It's what should be expected at a Shea Couleé show. But it's also important to see the evolution of drag. These queens are at the top of their game. Drag informs the culture. Monet does something that has never been done before. Everyone should bring that caliber of talent to their performances. They can push themselves further. The promotion was evident in each routine. Monet and Raja still stole the show.

The talent show typically doesn't produce a runway. Instead, it's straight to the critiques from the judges. That's always a little jarring. That's especially true here. It means the "All Glown Up" theme was the last runway of the season. It was an epic note to end on. It may have been the best runway in the history of the franchise. As such, it was fitting. It's still unexpected to make that realization now. Of course, Carson still talked about the outfits the queens were wearing in the talent show. Yvie redeemed herself after her struggle with pink in the first design challenge. Raja's traditional gown was gorgeous. Jinkx has a silhouette that works but can still offer some surprises every now and again. Those were all noted. The episode still had to get down to business. Shea and Monet win. They make it to the finale with Jinkx. Because Monet has the most stars with five, she gets to break the tie between Trinity and Jaida. That was a clever idea that ultimately fell flat because all Monet and Trinity have talked about is their alliance. At least the amount of time spent on those conversations paid off. It's still anticlimactic given how well Jaida has done. It dawns on her, Yvie, Raja and the Vivienne that they won't be winning. RuPaul still has a twist in store for them. RuPaul loves a twist. Again, the production doesn't want anyone to feel bad about how they did this season. And so, the energy has to be maintained of seeing all of them as winners. They are. That shouldn't be questioned at any point. It means a second LaLaPaRuza will take place where the other four queens will compete for a $50,000 grand prize. That's encouraging. Does it mean the winner of that lip sync smackdown will win more than the queens who lose the bigger prize? That's confusing and up-in-the-air. It frankly reads as RuPaul just giving away so much money. No one should complain about that. It's notable given the humble beginnings of how this show started. Plus, Raja already carries herself as the Queen of She Already Done Had Herses. It will still be hard to beat Jaida or Yvie in a lip sync. That's still what all of this depends on. Jinkx was the most consistent throughout the competition. She won the most challenges. The winner being decided by a lip sync may throw the odds against her. That's a skill Monet, Shea and Trinity are great at. Monet and Shea won the first and last challenges. Nothing quite topped what they did in that first episode. Moreover, Kylie Minogue's "Supernova" was so recently used in UK vs. the World to crown Blu Hydrangea the winner. Monet and Shea certainly offered more layers to the number. RuPaul declares Shea the winner. That may be a consolation prize for so often being overlooked this season. That creates the illusion of not everything being judged by what's immediately being presented. The show is still a blast to watch despite those behind-the-scenes machinations.