RuPaul in her Stella McCartney-esque dress.
The last two days have been rough for the Eastern Seaboard and Caribbean—weathering Hurricane Sandy has been, and will be, devastating. But I'm a firm believer that light and humor is as important on the road to recovery as wearing the proper rain gear, so once my internet got turned back on and the lights stopped flickering, I went right back into Drag Race All-Stars for the levity, well wishes for everyone affected from Staten to Haiti still in my heart.
So, it's the most wonderful time of the TV year! No, not cuffin season (that too) but the time of year when RuPaul whips out the "Match Game," when her girls have to impersonate a celebrity and knock it out the park or face the axe. For "All-Stars," though, Ru upped the ante by staging a full-scale "Laugh-In" parody called "Gaff In," on which the contestants were not only expected to mimic a famous person, but also write canny '60s style jokes on legal pads and deliver them to guest judge Vicki "Mama" Lawrence. Cream-pied (literally) at the end of the skits, this was the episode of a million .gifs. (We see you, Tumblr!) Jokes about vagine were plentiful, and most of them not all that funny, but the costumes! Oh, the costumes!
Team Yarlexis (Yara Sofia and Alexis Mateo) paired up as Charo and Shakira respectively, and they could not have been anymore on point. Alexis' Shakira wig was perfectly parted down the middle with the Colombian queen's no-pants pop star stee, while Yara's Charo was practically bubbling over that sequined minidress and signature salsa booty-pop. Were it not for Chad Michaels' impeccable Bette Davis, Yarlexis would have been the best of the crop, but Chad Michaels' Bette Davis! Chad gets ranked on sometimes for being an older queen (and uh, she was the only person who seemed to know who the hell Vickie Lawrence is—real talk, we consider ourselves a smidge below ancient and had to Wikipedia that ass). But when it comes to the classics in the drag lexicon, no one can front on the knowledge and finesse of Michaels. Coiffed sans a misplaced hair, clutching a cigarette holder and a frown, and clothed in a teensy waist and hooped skirt that gave Dior's New Look realness, Chad Michaels as Bette Davis was a vision in embodying your ambition. And when she spoke, it—was—with—the—stutter—from—All About Eve, her mouth contorting itself into a pause-and-frown (a prown?).
Team Shad as Lucy and Bette.
Chad Michaels' partner in Team Shad, Shannel, was serviceable as Lucille Ball, but basically no one would have shone against such perfection. Unfortunately, one couldn't say the same for Tammie Brown and Nina Flowers, who did Tammy Faye and Le Lupe respectively—and had no clue who each other were. Tammie Brown wouldn't write down her quips but made good on the freaky evangelical matriarch makeup, causing mascara droughts across the greater LA area. Nina had a hard time explaining to Ru why she chose to be Latin soul goddess La Lupe, her explanation essentially being, "She was excommunicated from Cuba and spoke terrible English." Ru was all like, "So you're a political refugee and a Tammy Faye that doesn't tell jokes," lobbing an eyebrow and gliding away.
It didn't bode well for Team Brown Flowers. In the runway round, though, the "1960s Groovy Glam Drag" theme worked it out for some cute retro looks that brought them back in the game a bit—a crimson-and-clover, pre-sexual revolution look with Tammie in nightgowny chiffon and Nina rocking creamsicle-orange go-go boots, which impressed the judges. (Michelle Visage in particular, like she's never tried to pull it off.)
Yara Sofia's bikini.
Team Yarlexis blew it out the water yet again in an ensemble look that Ru called "very Valley of the Dolls"—Alexis wore a girl-next-door-gone-bad frock in silver lame, while Yara Sofia stripped off her impeccable Mondrian-print a-line dress to show a psychedelic bikini pattern worthy of "Maui" Megan Draper. One of the best parts about Drag Race is how deeply the best girls can reflect the history of fashion—Yara Sofia's Mondrian was a direct throwback to Yves Saint Laurent's '65 line, and ugh could we die anymore over Chad Michael's invocation of Dior. It's not like style's not inextricable from the history of drag, but as fashion stalkers it's dementedly edifying to see it represented so historically across spectrums. Yara! Let us see your closet!
Tammie Brown's eyeliner.
Latrice Royale and Manila Luzon did their own sequin-mermaid go-go steez, which was cute—even though their proportions are so different, they dress well as a team in shapes that fit their bodies, and Latrice offset Manila's barely-there bodycon dress with a hemline at the knee and bell sleeves. But Michelle Visage was not feeling Manila's white eyeliner, swiped straight across the lower lid, for making her look "cross-eyed." We love white eyeliner, too, particularly in the liquid form, but the first rule about white eyeliner is that unless you blend it in, keep it up top! Alternately, Tammie Brown knows whence from eyelining, giving her Madonna Dick Tracy wig a little jolt with an ever-so-subtle, smudged ochre lower liner and a lip in a shade of brick.
As for Ru, she emerged in a more Dynastic look, a lovely, sequined off-the-shoulder gown with a mirrored photo image that fit right into S/S 2012 floral prints a la Stella McCartney. It also could have served as a sequel to the Rorschach message of last week's dress. Is Ru trying to tell us something? We see a banana in that inkblot! Speaking of ramping up the beauty steez, for the first time the Drag Race winner will receive a bunch of MAC make-up, which is so perfect since Ru was original face of Viva Glam, leathered up in lipstick red dominatrix gear.
Latrice and Manila as Madonna and Oprah.
Last week on the premiere of RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars, sisters-in-camp Pandora Boxx and Mimi Imfurst got the dual boot for their lack of photogenic chemistry (and those highly questionable neon green-and-aqua gowns (or maybe because, as some of the girls presented, Pandora gave up). This time, last week's winners Latrice and Manila ended up in the bottom two, thanks to Latrice's flat interpretation of Oprah Winfrey. But Team Brown Flowers were there too, and as much as we adore freaky-deaky Tammie, she just couldn't out lip sync Latrice, particularly when it came to Ethel Merman's BBW anthem "There's No Business Like Show Business." La Lupe and Tammy Faye are kaput, but Vickie Lawrence's parting comment should make Tammie Brown feel better: "Good god, that woman's just on another planet... what in the hell is going on in that head?"
Drag Race's most wonderful quality is making visible the struggle it can be to A) come out and B) come out as a drag queen. This episode, Manila Luzon talked about her high school days, when she was dating a girl who "forced' her out of the closet and sent her into a suicidal depression. Now, she joked, "I got my new girlfriend," and the camera cut to a photo of Manila together with Sahara Davenport, season three competitor and her longtime companion. This season was pre-filmed over the summer, before Sahara passed away from heart failure at the beginning of October at the age of 27. Both Manila and Ru's statements, though, chose to focus on the beauty of Sahara's life, rather than the tragedy of her death. That sense of love and generosity will pervade the Sahara Davenport Memorial Show this Friday in Manhattan, when Sahara's "industry friends, family, and Drag Race cast members" perform at the newish gay nightclub XL to benefit her memorial fund. Here are more details on the event, and words from Sahara's drag sister, Milan, on her passing: "I will remember Sahara as a loyal friend with a good heart whom I shared many laughs with." Rest in Paradise, Sahara Davenport.