‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9’ Episode 9 recap: Badge swap

At this late juncture, two queens finally think strategically when it comes to badge donation

Sadly, I don’t have access to Paramount+’s viewership figures for their original series. (If I did, I would spend 99 percent of my time analyzing The Good Fight’s numbers. Bring it back!) But at least anecdotally, from talking to friends and reading online chatter, it seems that RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9 has lost a lot of the general viewing audience’s attention.

There are likely a lot of factors that have led to this: the non-elimination format with non-winners put some folks off from the start, while a couple of weak early-season episodes gave the impression that this would be a non-competitive, everybody-say-love season. I also think that, after the triumphant Season 16 of the main series, viewers were feeling good about Drag Race—and maybe wanted to hold onto that feeling instead of jumping right back into another season, particularly when the last All Stars was such a mess

Even some of those who have stuck around are still somewhat underwhelmed. Drag Race YouTuber JackFed explained in his most recent (very good!) video that while All Stars 9 is technically good, he’s having a hard time finding ways to talk about it. I think this is a fair assessment, though I’m finding myself enjoying All Stars 9 more than I expected to. It feels to me like a Down Under Season 2 or UK Season 5: a quality season that nonetheless suffers from audience apathy, leaving it as something of a hidden gem.

That gem sparkles extra bright this week, though, as the eight queens of this season deliver a spooky Rusical for the ages. Combined with a very strong runway presentation and storyline focus for the season’s most underappreciated queen, and you have a recipe for one of the best episodes of the season.

Gottmik embraces the queerness in horror as the queens camp it up for a devilishly good Rusical. Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

We start this week, as we often do, with math. There are no hard feelings between Angeria Paris VanMicheals and Roxxxy Andrews after the latter blocked Angie once again—after all, “it’s an eye for an eye.” Angie isn’t able to win her own Beautiful Benefactress Badge this week, but she can still get one thanks to Ru’s latest twist. Once again, the top two will receive two badges, and must give one away at episode’s end. (This helps fill the time that would ordinarily be used by the Ruby Snippers, which Ru says have been shipped off to the Smithsonian.) Angie realizes that if she comes out on top in the Rusical, she can offer her fellow challenge winner her badge, and receive theirs in return. It’s clever! 

 

It’s this kind of twist that has Plastique Tiara worried, as further twists threaten her frontrunner spot. Sure, she has four challenge wins and four badges, but Ru’s episode-opening promise that there is a way for all of them to make it to the top three is ominous. Looks like we’re heading toward some shenanigans in the last three episodes of the season.

Before we get to those, though, we have “Rosemarie’s Baby Shower: The Rusical!” This Rusical is a celebration of horror, both in parody of Rosemary’s Baby and featuring other scary flick icons. It’s composed by David Steinberg (whither Leland and my husband Freddy Scott?), and while it lacks the stronger plotting or main character development of recent Rusicals like “Moulin Ru,” “Wigloose” and “The Sound of Rusic,” it’s still a well-rounded challenge that gives basically everyone a chance to shine.

We only get one bit of casting drama: Angeria and Nina West both want the same part. I don’t really get what draws them both to it until we see it later in the Rusical, but it’s kind of a church lady part that fits both Angie’s drag persona and Nina’s theatrical background. They pick from a hat to decide who will get the role, and Nina wins out. Otherwise, everyone gets what they want, and after relatively unremarkable recording and choreography segments with Michelle Visage and Miguel Zarate, respectively, it’s time for the show!

Shannel gives the Rusical her all this week, and is well-rewarded with her first win. Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

Rosemarie (Plastique) and her new wannabe actor husband (Jesse from the Pit Crew, who kinda eats in this) arrive in a spooky manor to spend the night, and are quickly greeted by two sisters (Angeria and Shannel). Their opening number is catchy, and Angeria and Shannel act the hell out of it. Plastique dances well, but her vocal choice for the character doesn’t match her movement and expressions. It’s a broad, comical voice, paired with Plastique’s usual fluid movement and serious expression. The queens’ vocals across the board really lean into character choices, which is understandable—but it makes the judges’ raves about the queens’ vocals later in the episode feel a little silly.

Rosemarie gets pregnant through devilish intervention, despite Jesse leaving when Hollywood comes a-calling. Angeria and Shannel throw her a baby shower, inviting such horror icons as Blair (Gottmik), Pennywise (Roxxxy Andrews) and M3GAN (Jorgeous). Each gets a song-and-dance to summarize their story and explain how a deal with the devil gave them power. (Which is an odd reading of M3GAN, who is just demented AI invented by Allison Williams, but I digress.)

Of these three, Jorgeous is the standout. She struggles a bit in the choreography session with balancing her usual dance moves with interpreting a robot, but she gets it exactly right here. Paired with an unusual makeup style for her and some very funny bits (she sings “Not a Soul Can Clock”?!), and she delivers what may be her best Drag Race performance ever. The other two are good, but Gottmik’s performance outside of her assisted backflips is a little dull, and while Roxxxy really goes for it as Pennywise, it’s tough that we’ve seen a queen nail this exact kind of performance before: Pythia in Canada Season 2. (Granted, Melinda Verga did a M3GAN-themed dance in the Canada Season 4 Rusical as well, but that aired after All Stars 9 had already filmed—and I think Jorgeous’ performance is the superior one.)

Finally, we get Nina’s gospel-influenced performance (which is good, although I can’t help but want to see Angeria’s take on it the whole time she’s performing), and Vanessa Vanjie’s birth as Rosemarie’s baby—who sounds a lot like Sam Smith. “Holy Guacamole,” the final song, is a parody of Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy,” and I am putting aside my absolute disdain for that somehow-Grammy-winning track to say that Vanjie’s song really works. Most impressively, Vanjie forgoes her usual performance voice and actually leans into singing it. She’s the one queen who really gives a solid, non-gimmicky vocal here. Like Plastique, she also performs without much emoting, but it fits this song and Vanjie’s voice better.

Vanessa Vanjie channels “Unholy” for her song in the “Rosemarie’s Baby Shower” Rusical. Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

In an odd twist, the werk room chatter is moved to between the challenge and runway. It gives the queens a chance to bask in their excitement about their performance, but it breaks up the narrative flow of the episode in a way. I’m hopeful this is a one-time change, because it doesn’t really work for me. This is followed by the Bring Back My Pearls runway, in which basically everyone looks good, but Shannel’s unusual, futuristic look really stands out. It’s a major change for her aesthetically, and it reminds me of when Trinity the Tuck first came out in Club Kid drag on Season 9. It’s the kind of big swing that you really want to see rewarded.

And indeed, Shannel finally takes her first win this week, alongside Jorgeous as the Season 14 queen gets her Rudemption from landing in the bottom for “Moulin Ru.” Jorgeous’ performance is great enough that I’d definitely place her in the top, though her runway is one of the least interesting this week. Shannel … well, it feels great to see her get her first win! The other queens are so excited for her. Do I think her performance in the challenge justified her winning over Vanjie and Angie? No, not particularly. But like I said, after that runway, I’m happy to see the OG garner some recognition.

The lip sync this week is to guest judge Kristine W’s song “Love Come Home.” It’s a good song, but the mix the show uses is odd, and neither Shannel nor Jorgeous really gets any momentum going. Jorgeous is better, because she’s the better dancer (and dressed in a wig and bodysuit that recall Brooke Lynn Hytes’ “Sorry Not Sorry” look, no less), but it’s not a TKO.

Ru seemingly decides to just call it a draw—his declaration of a tie is more tossed off than triumphant—and donates $5,000 to both their charities. They also both get to hand out their extra badges … and in a twist, they both give them to each other. This is the kind of strategy I’ve been hoping to see all season long, and it’s incredibly satisfying. Now, all of a sudden, Jorgeous is a frontrunner with four badges, and Shannel is in with a real shot at making the endgame. (The fact that she’s suddenly tied with Gottmik and Nina is hilarious.) With even more hijinks likely to come, I think it’s safe to say you can’t count anyone out—and that, to me, is even more of an argument that this season is underrated. Let’s see if we can finish strong, starting with a LaLaPaRuZa next week!

Untucking our final thoughts

Gottmik notes how appropriate it is to do a horror-themed Rusical, since queer people often connect with the “monsters” shunned by society in horror movies. I wish the Rusical itself leaned a bit more into that—it could’ve been a nice connective thread between the songs—but alas!

While I do like Miguel Zarate’s choreography, I thought it was interesting that when Shannel says she can’t learn dancing by counting beats, he basically just says he’ll teach her to do so. It’s a stark contrast with when Gottmik said the same to Jamal Sims in Season 13, and Jamal changed his whole approach to teaching her to make it easier on her. There just really isn’t anyone like Jamal on this show, honestly.

As mentioned, Kristine W is the guest judge this week—and I’ll admit, I was not familiar with her before the episode. Ru says they’re friends, and she’s apparently played DragCon several times over the years. She seems game and fun, and having a dance music icon on the panel is great. I just wish we could’ve gotten a better mix of her song for the lip sync to do her justice.

A “Your mother darns socks in hell” reference in 2024 … Darienne Lake, you will always be famous.

Vanjie walks out in a half-shell runway look that is truly gorgeous. Ts Madison’s response: “Back for All Stars, it’s Clammie Brown!”

Seems to me the other queens are pretty annoyed by Jorgeous and Shannel’s badge gambit. Angie admits in confessional that she would’ve done it too, but it’s gotta sting to be leapfrogged by Jorgeous in one episode.

Shannel Win Watch is over, but I think it’s time for Vanjie Storyline Watch. Including her crying on the runway this week, emotional as they get to the end and grateful to be there, is an interesting choice on the editors’ part. Very intrigued to see if it pays off in the next couple of weeks.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 10 will stream Friday, July 12, at 3 a.m. EST on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. We’ll be publishing recaps all season long, and you can also subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every month.

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