It Was the Best of Times…
From the beginning, RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 has felt like a season intent on shaking things up. It started with the surprise addition of Season 1 winner Bebe Zahara Benet as its 10th queen. This was, itself, a rule-breaking decision as winners were not previously invited to All Stars and Bebe had already won the crown. But RuPaul makes the rules, so RuPaul can break them.
While past seasons have thrown curveballs at the contestants to keep them on their toes and test their ability to adapt, no bigger curveball has been thrown than The Jury. The Eliminated queens were tasked with picking a Top Two, a decision that was based not only on how well they did this season, but what they could do with the crown and, more importantly, if they even needed the crown.
Shangela and Trixie Mattel both have huge careers off the show. Trixie is potentially the most successful alumna, with chart-topping albums on iTunes and a hit TV show with her name in the title. Shangela will be in the upcoming remake of A Star is Born with Lady Gaga and tours extensively worldwide. Both of these queens are proof that you don’t need to win Drag Race to be successful after the show.
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And Now for the Rest…
Kennedy Davenport and Bebe certainly also tour and have their own fan bases, but neither queen has the exposure or following of Shangela and Trixie. Because Season One has typically been hard to track down (it’s now available on iTunes and should be considered required viewing) most fans haven’t connected with Bebe the way they have with winners like Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen or Sasha Velour. And Kennedy has been working to change people’s perception of her as an outdated diva since Season Seven. So if the decision was really about which queen needed this win, Kennedy and Bebe should have been in the Top Two.
That being said, because this is a competition, shouldn’t the Top Four be evaluated on how well they did to get to this spot? Fans of Shea Coulee were gagging on Season 9 when her four challenge wins didn’t give her any lead over Peppermint or Sasha’s objectively weaker track records. Then again, how could queens like Thorgy Thor or Morgan McMichaels have accurately assessed who the Top Two queens should be when they saw so little of this season? Left with no choice but to vote emotionally, leaving the the Jury based their decisions on behavior like Bebe refusing to reveal which queen she would have eliminated when DeLa went home.
This also worked against Shangela. Once BenDeLaCreme left the competition, Shangela became the official frontrunner. She’d won the most challenges and delivered some of the season’s most exciting runway looks. She’s also been a true Drag Race success story in the making. To see her win All Stars 3 after her humble beginnings on Season 2 and her scrappy return on Season 3 would have been a testament to her work ethic, her perseverance and her unwavering self-confidence.
In that way, Shangela has always been the quintessential underdog, a much loved archetype on the show. Past winners like Sharon Needles, Jinkx Monsoon and Alaska have represented this underdog story as well. Part of what was so gratifying about seeing them win was the feeling that the odds had been against them all along: They were the kids who got picked last in gym class, and now they were winning Drag Race. A lot of fans identified with that, and felt validated to know that being weird and different could be celebrated. Many fans similarly saw Shangela as proof that hard work can finally pay off, even after years of trying and failing. So to see her not get picked for the Top 2 was truly the gag of the season.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want…
This ultimately pitted Kennedy Davenport against Trixie for the final lip sync to “Wrecking Ball.” Each chose a very different approach: Kennedy used every inch of the stage while Trixie held one spot. One is not necessarily a better choice than another — Ivy Winters and Charlie Hides lost lipsyncs for staying in one place, while Kenya Michaels and Sonique went home after dancing their hearts out. Despite Kennedy’s effort, though, her dancing disconnected her from the song and also sent her to the back of the stage too much.
Meanwhile, Trixie tapped into the emotional weight of the lyrics and showed a vulnerability in drag we haven’t seen from her on the show before. She created a fascinating contrast of raw human emotion against absurd drag makeup. Pulling her hair out towards the climax of the song was not only a clever twist on the wig reveal, it brought the Barbie-doll-on-acid that is Trixie Mattel to life.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.
If Drag Race is considered to be more of a platform than a competition these days, then no one has earned this win more than Trixie Mattel. Her success before ever getting on to All Stars 3 and everything she plans to do next with the crown represent what “winning Drag Race” really means.
Want to queen out each week on Season 10 with us? Alright Mary is a weekly recap podcast and deep dive into all things RuPaul’s Drag Race. We go in on the queens, behind the scenes, the larger social themes explored on the show and as much reddit T as we can get our mitts on. Subscribe on iTunes!
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Last modified: February 14, 2019