RECAP: “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9” Episodes 1 & 2

May 18, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

It has been nearly a month without a single new episode of “Drag Race” has aired, and I was going into withdrawal. So I welcomed “All Stars 9” with open arms, regardless of what it might hold. Thankfully, based on the first two episodes, I think we’re in for a wonderful season. There’s a bubbly, buzzy energy to the proceedings, and a great chemistry with this cast already.

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As is now customary for “All Stars,” this season features a major twist to the format. Instead of competing for a cash prize, the queens are all competing to win money for individual charities (via the theme “Drag Queens Save the World”). In addition to the $200,000 grand prize — again, going to the winning queen’s charity — each episode the winning queen can earn $10K for their cause, with additional donations apparently up for grabs via certain mini-challenges (as we saw in the Reading Challenge). Oh, and like “All Stars 7″‘s all-winners season, there are no eliminations this time! Our crew of 8 queens will be with us from start to finish.

If you’re confused by the charity twist, let me break it down for you. Since “All Stars” has become an annual series instead of a quarter quell, the show has increasingly struggled to get top-tier queens to return. There are any number of reasons for that, but among the most common cited: 1) filming meant taking off 6-8 weeks of lucrative summer gigs, including tours; 2) creating a runway package that lives up to modern fan expectations costs roughly five figures, and if you’re eliminated early, that money was essentially for nothing (hence the Fame Games twist last season); 3) it’s rare, but a bad “All Stars” run can actually hurt the reputation of a queen. A’keria C. Davenport and Derrick Barry are obvious examples, and I would put Ongina, Mayhem Miller, Coco Montrese in that company as well.

So how do you get big-name queens to sign on for something, given all that? Change the paradigm. “All Stars 9” queens aren’t competing for a grand prize. Let me repeat that: the queens are not competing for money — at least not for themselves. All eight queens negotiated a very nice payday (reportedly $50K apiece), AND a sizable stipend for runway looks (again, reportedly $25K). That’s just for showing UP. They also get a nice exposure boost, especially good for older-season queens, but even the newest queens this season had been off air for two years, an eternity in the 2020s. The charity component also automatically puts a positive spin on the queens/this season, AND I suspect has additional tax benefits for the queens, when donations are made in their name. I think it’s a brilliant solution that mixes philanthropy with entertainment — and business! — and whoever came up with up with deserves a raise.

WITH ALL THAT SAID. Let’s go over how each member of the cast fared after the first two episodes — Girl Groups and the Paint Ball, respectively — which both dropped on Paramount+ last night. I’ll go in alphabetical order, in for fairness. Spoilers ahoy! And here’s the ENTIRE FIRST EPISODE, available via the Paramount+ YouTube page:

Angeria Paris VanMichaels (Season 14, tied for 3rd Place; playing for National Black Justice Collective): A terrific premiere episode for Angeria, and a solid ball performance. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed watching Angeria. She’s such an inherently charming queen, and well-rounded in terms of her skill set — she’s funny, aesthetically on point, etc. She delivered easily the best verse in “Drag Queens Save the World,” with not only great lyrics but also a commanding stage presence. I thought her Southern Belle fragrance concept for the E1 runway was hilarious as well. Her ball looks were successful, but not super exciting (this was true of the S14 ball as well, so interesting). She was rightfully in the Top 2 for E1, and won the “Million Dollar Bill” lipsych because she, you know, actually lipsynched (*cough*Jorgeous*cough*). It’s a pleasure to have Angeria on my screen again and I’m so looking forward to seeing what else she does this season.

Gottmik (Season 13, tied for 3rd Place; playing for Trans Lifeline): I had honestly completely forgotten how impressed I was by Gottmik in S13. They reminded me quickly in this double premiere. Gottmik fell fast and far after her S13 run, in part because of their partnership with S7 champion Violet Chachki, which, I would argue, brought out the worst qualities in both queens. The two of them generated serious mean-girl energy, and I think people had largely written off Gottmik prior to “AS9.” I suspect many people are writing them back in, especially after that ball. All three of Mik’s Paint Ball looks were top tier; the second look, a stoned skintight dress painted to resemble Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” was an instantly legendary look. RuPaul was actually speechless as it walked down the runway. The final, workroom-made look was also cool, punk, impactful and stunning. Many fans still dismiss Gottmik’s S13 ball win in favor of Utica, but there was no question Gottmik cleared this one, and rightfully was Top 2. Mik also won the lipsynch to “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte — a weird song choice, especially for the two queens performing it — and was generally so much fun to watch both episodes (solid job in Girl Groups, too). Great start for Gottmik.

Jorgeous (Season 14, tied for 6th Place; playing for National Alliance on Mental Illness): Jorgeous — infamously “born to do drag” and winner of a design challenge for wearing the most fashionable napkin — is a wild card this season. She brings a refreshing youthful energy to the proceedings — Jorgeous was only 23 while filming this! — and is serving us Chaotic Good. Jorgeous was Top 2 for Girl Groups, and I’m not entirely sure I agreed, based on what they showed us. Mind you, Jorgeous in person is very different than Jorgeous on the TV screen. I saw her at Vegas Live from the front row, and trust me, she is absolutely hypnotizing in person. The Hilarious Ross Matthews (TM) said that Jorgeous is probably the best dancer they’ve ever had in the competition; I’ll politely disagree and say that that Jorgeous is the most fluid dancer. The way she moves her body is almost unearthly. She was throwing down some great moves in the E1 lipsynch, but repeatedly was not mouthing the words. Her Paint Ball performance was fine. I thought her hand-made look was VERY chic, but agreed that rocking a brassiere brought from home was a copout.

Nina West (Season 11, 6th Place/Miss Congeniality; playing for The Trevor Project): Since the cast was announced, Nina has received an unbelievable amount of online harassment, and has actually lost followers on social media. Why? Ostensibly because she made a public comment in support of Amy Schumer, who has been extremely vocal in the Israel/Palestinian conflict still unfolding. This has led to a full-on brigading of Nina West for a variety of alleged sins, which I will not repeat here. I fully reject this narrative. To borrow a line from Angeria’s girl-group verse: Nina West is not your enemy. She is NOT. Dunking on Nina West online is doing exactly nothing to help this crisis, and all you are doing is negging on a person who has dedicated her life and career to support LGBTQ+ individuals. Is this an opportunity for dialogue and discussion? Sure. But that is not what’s happening. It’s full pitchforks and torches and it is appalling to behold, especially for someone who has worked for decades to make this world a better place for queer people. Mind you, I think Nina was an easy target. Even before CommentGate, I saw her routinely derided on Reddit and other online spaces in posts that ranged from body shaming to kink shaming, all of which is completely antithetical to what this show is supposed to be about and the LGBTQ+ equality movement generally. This fandom has a serious social-media problem, and it needs to get itself together. With that being said, the first two episodes featured challenges that were never going to be in Nina’s wheelhouse. She is an admittedly weak designer, and she’s never going to feel believable in a girl group. But I thought her singing was great on her “Drag Queens Save the World” verse, and her monochromatic ball look was sensational. I even loved the concept of her Tom of Finland look, even if the actual result was less than successful. My hope is that people can move past their issues with Nina and appreciate her for the very talented, incredibly well-meaning queen that she is. This negativity needs to STOP.

Plastique Tiara (Season 11, 8th Place; playing for the Asian American Foundation): An inevitable All Star, Plastique has the most followers — at least on TikTok — than any other “Drag Race” queen. She is arguably better known outside of “Drag Race” than she is in this fandom. Plastique’s Season 11 run was solid. She got at least one win, and did well in several challenges. But she struggled pushing through in terms of personality. I was frankly getting more of the same from the first two episodes. She is definitely a stronger performer, and while she was already very strong aesthetically, she is on a whole new level this season. What is beyond stunning? Whatever it is, that is Plastique Tiara. Her first two ball looks were strong, but the look she made in the work room is an all-time “Drag Race” Top 5 design-challenge garment. Plastique could have walked the Met Gala in that and been on the best-dressed list. It’s incredible. She was correctly Top 2 for the Paint Ball, and I’m very curious to see how she does in performance challenges this season. But I continue to feel strangely detached from her in her talking heads.

Roxxxy Andrews (Season 5, 2nd/3rd Place; All Stars 2, 4th Place; playing for Miracle of Love): The other big story so far this season is Roxxxy, coming back for a third run. Roxxxy is the second AS2 queen to come back again, after Ginger Minj on AS6. Ginger unquestionably deserved a do-over after her truncated AS2 run. But Roxxxy made it to the end TWICE. My argument here is that Roxxxy needed a redemption after her AS2 run, which left her something of a punchline in the fandom (she references it multiple times these first two episodes). Roxxxy Andrews is a fucking legend. She is Drag Excellence. She is one of the most well-rounded queens to ever compete in “Drag Race.” For her to be dismissed as as the girl who got dragged to the finale is insane. So I have no issue with bringing back Roxxxy for Round 3. With that being said, I didn’t think these premieres were particularly strong for Roxxxy. I’m here to make this clear: I am a Roxxxy stan. But something is off with the aesthetic so far. Her normally flawless mug feels cramped and dark, especially the eyes. The clothes, which are usually impeccable, are not at the level to which we have come to expect from Roxxxy. Yes, she made them all herself — that’s amazing and she deserves credit for it. I thought her workroom-made ball look was the most successful thing she’s worn all season, and that’s kind of crazy. I do understand why Angeria opted to snip — the AS9 equivalent of AS7’s blocking — Roxxxy in Episode 1. She’s good at just about anything they throw at them. But as of Episode 2, Roxxxy is not at the level of S5 or even AS2 Roxxxy, and that’s concerning. I did notice, however, that there were multiple comments by the panel and other queens that were included that made it obvious how well regarded Roxxxy is by everyone. That wasn’t happenstance. The editors want you to know that Roxxxy is a serious threat, even if the first two episodes didn’t necessarily demonstrate that. Although she deserved that Reading Challenge win!

Shannel (Season 1, Fourth Place; All Stars 1, tied for 3rd Place; playing for Anxiety and Depression Association of America): Shannel is probably the queen I was most excited to see back. I’m a sucker for old-school queens, and underappreciated queens. Shannel is both of those things, and an absolute fucking legend. Shannel was a frequent punching bag on S1, dismissed routinely by the judges; in AS1, the edit shifted to make her look like comic relief. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for Shannel, who has been giving us iconic drag for literally decades. It’s been more than a decade since Shannel was last on “Drag Race,” so welcome back, Shannel, the mother that you are. The first two episodes were not a great showcase of Shannel’s talents. The girl-group verse didn’t quite work, and I think she missed the brief with her fake fragrance. She was more successful in the ball, as I thought her first two looks — especially the one inspired by “The Great Wave” — were wonderful. She put SO much effort into that workroom-made look, and I thought the ombre techniques she used were beautiful. I’m so excited to see what she can do this season. I’m also delighted she got to talk about her Christmas business; Shannel should really be the Queen of Christmas, and more people need understand how serious she is about that niche. (Sidebar: with Shannel on this season, the only AS1 queens to not return for a solo All Stars run are Nina Flowers, Mimi Imfurst, Raven, Tammie Brown, and Chad Michaels. Unless Chad returns for another All Winners — and please Cher, make that happen — I think we can assume the AS1 Reclamation Project is complete. Raven cannot come back given that she is a WoW employee; Nina doesn’t really do drag any more; I cannot imagine a non-elim season with Tammie; Mimi is effectively persona non grata.)

Vanessa Vanjie Mateo (Season 10, 14th Place; Season 11, 4th Place; playing for American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Miss Vanjie is back back back again for this All Stars gig! Whoever wins the crown this season is actually not the winner; the true winner is Vanjie, who seems to be having her absolute LIFE this season. If you’re watching with subtitles, I feel like they should perpetually say, [Vanjie screaming in background]. And I mean that as a good thing. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Vanjie, and the personality is cranked to 11 this time around. Just a ball of infectious energy, fully throwing herself into the challenges and into her relationship with the other queens, especially GottMik. I thought Vanjie was a standout in the Girl Group challenge; I might have even put her Top 2 over Jorgeous. Her ball output was less successful to me. The monochromatic look, while sexy as fuck, was not in fact monochromatic; the art reference barely referenced “Starry Night”; she could barely walk in the workroom-created dress. But honestly? Who cares! Vanjie is so entertaining just EXISTING that I am so pleased to have her back on my screen for this entire season.

Overall, a great start. A polar opposite shift in energy from AS8, which felt sad and frustrating. Incredible guest judges in Keke Palmer and Stephanie Hsu. Good challenges with strong performances. I am so here for this season, because honestly, the world needs saving, and I’m happy to watch these drag queens do it!

Next: It’s the Snatch Game

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