Having grown accustomed to season-ending lip sync smackdowns (and even a virtual finale that exceeded most expectations), the All Stars finales are starting to feel a little “small” by comparison.
A choreographed group number with an original solo already feels like a retread of earlier challenges, even if the difficulty has been ratcheted up. When Shea originally went toe-to-toe with Sasha Velour, it felt like an EVENT. This felt like an episode.
Still, there were some gratifying emotional moments. This final three in particular represent the sort of redemption stories these kinds of spin-offs are designed for. Loyal fans of each queen have rallied around their champion on Tumblr and Twitter and TikTok to claim they never got to show their best.
Now, these several many weeks later, we’ve got a Cracker who’s stopped overthinking everything and brings her whole self to the stage. There’s a clear-headed Jujubee — older, wiser and sober — reaching new heights of her artistry. And then there’s a renewed Shea Couleé, eager to show the world what she can do when she’s not caught off-guard with format surprises and gimmickry.
(Not to take anything away from Sasha’s ingenuity or showmanship, but, come on, Shea was playing checkers at a knife fight.)
Before we get to the big group performance of Ru’s new single “Clap Frack” — excuse me, “Clap BACK” — there’s a lot of talking. So much talking. The top three talk amongst themselves about how they can’t believe they made it this far while simultaneously agreeing they always imagined being the top three.
Then they talk to the previously eliminated queens about any unresolved drama. Why they felt the need to delay the eliminated gals’ return inside a makeshift glory hole, I still do not understand, but at least we finally got some clarity around #CampaignGate.
Predictably, India, the scourge of the season, either purposefully exaggerated Alexis’ intentions to Shea in a desperate attempt to save herself, or she sincerely doesn’t understand the definition of “campaign.” Either one seems likely to me.
The real T is that Alexis and Mayhem asked India IF she had ALREADY VOTED for Shea after the votes were cast. Therefore, it could not have possibly had any intention of influencing India’s vote. Messy, messy.
Oh, but there’s still more talking! This time, it’s Tic-Tac podcast time with Ru and Michelle. This is another segment that’s losing its luster. In the early days, these Tic-Tac chats felt more candid, but, like many portions of Drag Race, it’s becoming a parody of itself. I could script these interviews in advance if asked. These queens are well-versed in RuPaul’s armchair koans and come prepared to present a very well-edited emotional arc that happens to fit nicely into Mama Ru’s worldview.
Finally, after all this talking, we see the fruits of their labor. Todrick Hall has choreographed another epic performance highlighting the top three while incorporating the full cast into the background. I’ve been hard on Todrick in the past for thinking some of his earlier work could be a little cheesy, but he’s matured into quite the visionary and lends an air of modernity to everything he touches on this show.
It’s still not enough to elevate the single itself. For me, “Kitty Girl” is the high-water mark for these final Ru-ets, and “Clap Back” is no “Kitty Girl.”
Shea, Juju and Cracker nail their pieces. Juju might look the least comfortable keeping up with Hall’s challenging choreo, but everyone shines in their moment. Shea has the most demanding moves, but she delivers them with such ease and aplomb, it’s almost hard to appreciate the difficulty.
What follows is one helluva runway. The final three all take inspiration from heritage and history to deliver three absolutely outstanding looks.
First, it’s Jujubee in a stunning stoned body suit inspired by East Asian religious iconography. It fits amazing, the accessories and details were all there and a dramatic, saffron-colored sash created an unforgettable train behind her. She looks incredible.
Cracker took inspiration from her Russian-Jewish background for a pink ensemble dripping in pearls. In hindsight, I can see Cracker leaning more into her Eastern European and Jewish lineage through her runways and elements of her performance, and I can see how it’s helped distinguish her from other campy queens.
Then there’s Shea. Modeled after a photo of her mother, Shea presents an exaggerated, almost Warholian interpretation of formalwear with exaggerated volume and huge hair height. Although Cracker also wore baby pink, this shade looks incredible on Shea’s skin. Just gorgeous.
There’s one last lip sync to Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel,” and it’s a fun one. It’s always tough to follow a lip sync with more than two queens, and these final lip syncs make ME feel like they purposefully edit it to make it look like a nail-biter. And yet, it’s still hard to keep your eyes off Shea, a good sign.
Ru seems to agree, awarding Shea the crown and restoring the queen’s confidence. It’s a beautiful moment for a supremely talented performer. Juju and Cracker both made strong impressions and leave with little to be ashamed of. However, it feels like justice has been served here, and Shea’s supreme skills have finally be recognized, officially.
Do you think the right queen won? Sound off in the comments!