BY Eric Rezsnyak
After last episode’s dramatic exit by Heidi N. Closet, I think many fans of the show — myself included — had grave concerns about the remainder of this season. Could the remaining queens show up and show out in a way that they arguably hadn’t for the past few episodes? And if “JOAN: The Unauthorized Rusical” was any indication, the answer is: Yes, yes they can.
First, let me say that I was absolutely delighted that this episode paid tribute to three legendary Hollywood stars and queer icons of the 20th Century: Joan Crawford, Faye Dunaway, and Grace Jones (the runway prompt was Night of 1,000 Grace Jones). It was quite literally Keeping up with the Joanses/Joneses. I always love it when this show provides a history lesson to the kids, and I suspect many of them had no idea who Joan Crowford or Grace Jones were prior to this episode. I hope they seek out more about them in the future. I thought this was a top-tier rusical, hands down the best runway of this season so far, and the best “Night of 1,000 _______” runway in many, many seasons. (Because Grace Jones actually wore interesting fashion statements, not just pretty clothes.)
As the judges attested, everyone did well in this challenge. And that was no easy feat. They each played a version of Joan from her storied career, and had fairly lengthy solos — that they had to sing themselves, these vocals weren’t provided as they have been in other Rusicals — as well as do some pretty demanding choreo. Every single one of those queens should feel very good about what they put out on that stage.
Let’s go over the queens, with my personal performance rankings:
Jaymes Mansfield as Mommie Dearest Joan. Jaymes was terrific in the vocal for this number, and looked the part. Jaymes is an Old Hollywood buff so this was very much in her wheelhouse. I felt Jaymes got a bit lost in the performance aspect — she didn’t pull focus the way the rest of the queens did, in fact I kept wondering who was playing Christina — but honestly it was a solid job. I loved that Jaymes gave us something very different on the runway instead of the usual Dizzy Blonde Bombshell she usually presents, even if I did agree that it was a bit rough around the edges, and the proportions were off. Jaymes should still feel really good about her run on AS8. She got to show the world what she can do, and she kept up with the pack. Going home on this challenge should be a sign of success, because honestly it came down to fine details.
Kahanna Montrese played new starlet Joan. Maybe I’m wrong, but Kahanna’s dancing seemed much more intense than virtually anyone else’s, and she delivered it all strongly. It is absolutely true that you could see her thinking while she was performing, and the lipsynch fell apart completely in some areas. But again, Kahanna should feel good about this performance overall. It was physically demanding, vocally she did well, and she looked terrific. I’m sure if she had a little more time to prepare she wouldn’t have appeared so panicked.
Jimbo played Old Hag Joan aka “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Joan. Jimbo was…fine. Probably the most forgettable of the week, honestly. Unsurprisingly she nailed the comedic elements of the performance, but the dancing did seem significantly easier than several of the other numbers. I think Jimbo just wanted to hit Safe this week, and that’s exactly what she got, sparing her another potential Pangina-ing.
LaLa Ri as “Mildred Pierce” Joan. LaLa was strong in this “Vogue”-inspired number, and delivered a great vocal, some good comedy moments, and had real star presence. A great week for LaLa. The judges dinged her Grace Jones as not being a big enough swing, and…I guess? But I thought it was a completely acceptable entry.
Jessica Wild as Fired Joan, aka “Bring Me the Axe” Joan. I love Jessica, but I had been finding myself bored with the zany sex-obsessed character she’s been giving us the past few weeks. She needed to do something different, and she did, with this rock-inspired entry. Not surprising: Jessica was a standout in the Rocker Chicks episode of Season 2. She was not only sensational in the challenge, she looked absolutely gorgeous on the runway in a look that definitely said Grace Jones, but still felt true to Jessica. A great week for Jessica.
Alexis Michelle as Pepsi Joan, aka “Don’t Fuck With Me Fellas.” Alexis is the robbed queen of the season. There can be no denying it now. They couldn’t NOT give her a High placement for Snatch Game, given how uninspiring the rest of the group was aside from Jimbo, but she has been performing at a consistently excellent level and being given NOOCH by the judges. Same this week. This was probably the most overall demanding role in the show, with tons of lyrics and demanding choreography. She looked gorgeous on the runway in an unmistakably Grace Jones reference. (BTW her make-up has improved so dramatically since Season 9 — that mug is absolutely flawless and she was eating up that camera, I lived.) She was Safe, and it seemed pretty clear she was taken aback by that. I would say that they’re Jan-ing her, but Alexis was the original Jan (and her drag mother). So, I guess it’s Just Alexis Things. I hope she takes some solace in the fact that the viewers are seeing the work she’s putting in, and the elevation of her drag, and I think she and Jessica are probably having the best All Stars comeback runs of this season.
Kandy Muse as “No More Wire Hangers” Joan. Readers of my recaps will note that I am generally not a Kandy fan, but credit is where it’s due: she crushed this episode. She performed that disco number as good as anyone could possibly perform it. It was a hoot, she was fully committed, and I loved watching every moment. She also gave us I think the most interesting runway presentation of the night, and certainly the best she’s given us all season. THEN she came out in Full Hooker — I say that with respect and admiration — and bodied the lipsynch to Grace Jones’ “I’m Not Perfect, But I May Be Perfect for You.” (I love Lipsynch Assassin Angeria Paris VanMichaels, but she does not have anywhere near the raw sexuality necessary for this song; it was as mismatched as Kennedy Davenport doing “Fancy.”)
Kandy won — rightfully — and in addition to the $30,000 tip, got to axe either Kahanna or Jaymes, and picked Jaymes. I’ll be very curious to see those lipsticks next episode. As Jaymes pointed out, last week they all decided unanimously to vote for Kahanna, so the fact that she was eliminated instead is something of a shocker. Is it truly because Kandy saw Jaymes as more of a threat? I certainly think Jaymes got more love from Production than Kahanna does, but that may have been a stretch.
Next: someone tries to quit. Again! And Mama Ru comes in to lay down the law. We should have a season of All Stars All Quitters, I swear…