‘Drag Race All Stars’ Premiere Reads RuPaul for Filth

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Paramount+
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Paramount+

There were exactly four weeks between when the newbie Ru Girls of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 sashayed away and the seasoned Drag Race All Stars Season 9 queens stomped their stilettos back into the show’s workroom. (To the average civilian, that’s 28 days, but to a gay man—who must subtract his hangovers, k-holes, and/or blackouts caused by the severe emotional distress of shorts weather returning—it’s about six days.) Drag Race moves fast so its producers can maintain its status as a cornerstone of reality television. But all of that rushing and scheduling can become tiresome. Even the strongest of us viewers can get fatigued by the onslaught of new seasons, which is why Drag Race All Stars 9, which premieres May 17 on Paramount+, is switching things up in a major way.

This season, all of the returning queens are competing for charity. And no, they’re not trying to raise money for the Alexis Michelle Colored Contacts Foundation, or donating to the Daya Betty Insulin Institute. They’re playing for actual charities, ones that don’t have a wire straight to a Florida surgeon who performs Brazilian butt lifts on the cheap. All the contestants are here to knock out the competition for a chance to donate to causes near and dear to their hearts. But there’s another twist: No one’s going home this season. Most All Stars installments see the girls eliminating each other, but that wouldn’t be very charitable, would it? Instead, each cast member will compete in challenges to win Beautiful Benefactress Badges, scoring them $10,000 for their charity. The BBBs (that’s one more “B” than I’m sure these girls are used to seeing, if you catch my drift…*cough* bareback *cough*) will be tallied at the end of the season, and whoever has the most badges will take home $200,000 for their charity of choice.

Maybe it’s the fact that the money is going someplace other than these queens’ own bank accounts that makes All Stars 9 so lighthearted. This really is RuPaul’s Best Friend Race, fulfilling a prophecy that Lashauwn Beyond spoke into fruition back in Drag Race Season 4. The queens are not afraid to be more raucous and messy than they usually are, and watching them have fun together without so much pressure is downright infectious. That cheerful atmosphere might even be the reason that one queen could walk away from the premiere unscathed and alive, after delivering a read so vile, so rotted, and so absolutely hysterical that even the notoriously unpredictable RuPaul couldn’t help but laugh at his own expense.

Returning to the workroom this season are Season 13’s Gottmik, who I have such a crush on out of drag that it actually might consume my life before this season is over; Season 10 and 11’s Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, whose every syllable becomes funnier because of her gravelly voice; Season 14’s Angeria Paris VanMicheals; Season 5 and All Stars 2’s Roxxxy Andrews; Season 11’s Nina West and Plastique Tiara; Season 15’s Jorgeous; and Season 1’s Shannel, the first person who ever walked into the workroom 15 years ago. Together, they’re playing for charities like Trans Lifeline, the ASPCA, the Trevor Project, the National Black Justice Coalition, and other excellent causes.

The vibes are off the charts from the moment Roxxxy walks into the workroom second, trailing Gottmik, and the usual pumped-up electro walk-in music is replaced by the instrumental of “Read U Wrote U,” which boasted a cataclysmic verse that made Roxxxy even more famous. “I’m Roxxxy Andrews, and I’m here to make it clear” has saved countless queer lives, and no, I don’t have the numbers to back that up, but I’m positive of its power regardless. Seeing Roxxxy walk in, showing off pearly white, Hilary Duff 2006 veneers—which fit much better on Roxxxy’s face than they did on Duff’s—put me at an ease I can’t possibly describe. In her large, confident hands, I am held in a blanket of warmth.

The first mini-challenge—and first chance to score a Beautiful Benefactress Badge—is a reading challenge, where queens are asked to insult their fellow cast members playfully. (Surely, if you’re this far into this review, you know what a reading challenge is, but you never know when we’ll have the chance to convert another straight person, like conservative mouthpieces so fear). Angeria puts on her reading glasses first. In addition to being a contestant, Angeria is also a Drag Race superfan, so I knew her reads would be good. “Gottmik, when it comes to having talent, you ain’t Gottmuch!” she begins. Just what I wanted: a searing roast, right off the grill.

But when Gottmik had her chance for retaliation, she took it and ran. “Angeria, I’ve never met anyone whose parents are more related than their teeth,” Gottmik said to a sea of laughs. But she wasn’t done! “Vanjie, the only bitch I’ve ever met that can outdrink me,” Gottmik began. “Your liver is so black and shriveled, it’s 15 face-tapes away from hosting RuPaul’s Drag Race!” Gottmik’s thinly veiled jab at RuPaul sent the show’s host and this season’s cast into a frenzy of oooooooohs and cackles. Even RuPaul, who has occasionally been prickly about shots at his legacy, was cracking all the way up. It was so simple, so smoothly delivered, and so shocking that I’m ready to call it one of the franchise’s best reads ever.

The rest of All Stars 9 is off to a solid start too. The main challenge—a group performance with individually written verses about drag queens saving the world—was pretty standard Drag Race fare. But Angeria and Jorgeous, the challenge’s two winners, delivered an exhilarating, high-energy lip sync to the Freemason’s Radio Remix of Whitney Houston’s “Million Dollar Bill,” a performance that I didn’t know I needed to see until today. This show has a funny way of doing that: providing viewers with just enough unexpected twists and exciting moments, even when we think we’ve hit maximum Drag Race exhaustion. Hopefully, the queens playing for charity and approaching this season with a little bit more humor and a lot more inanity will keep All Stars Season 9 chugging at this surprisingly affable pace. Or, at the very least, give us another horrendous and instantly meme-able Roxxxy Andrews verse.

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