‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9’ premiere recap: Benefactresses everywhere

The non-elimination format is back for an all-charity season

Remember Idol Gives Back? The American Idol charitable fundraiser special, which aired three times across four seasons in the late 2000s, had a noble purpose: use the absolutely massive platform that the singing competition built in its heyday to do some good in the world. The format was successful, but as the economy remained uncertain in the wake of the late-aughts recession—and as American Idol’s grip on culture loosened—the reality series quietly retired Idol Gives Back.

While RuPaul’s Drag Race doesn’t have the same viewership as American Idol did once upon a time, thanks to the absolute shattering of our monoculture, it does have significant cultural impact. And as RuPaul likes to say on All Stars: with great power comes great responsibility. So it’s probably about time for Drag Race to do something big for charity. All Stars 9 is that something.

This season, eight queens return (and reportedly get paid a hefty appearance fee) not to compete for a grand prize, but to compete for a charity of their choosing. In the All Stars 7-style non-elimination format—with badges instead of Legendary Legend Stars and Ruby Snippers instead of a certainly-gold Platinum Plunger—the queens will compete to raise money for their causes. As they rack up badges along the way, three will ultimately earn enough to compete in the grand finale, where one will take home a grand prize donation of $200,000 for their chosen organization. That, plus the $10,000 for the Lip Sync For Your Legacy winner’s charity each week, means some major dollars are going to these causes.

Do I think this format is going to produce the most dramatically interesting season of Drag Race ever? Of course not. The cast has already all but said not to expect conflict this season. Judging by this premiere, I’m not even sure how much we’re going to get in the way of storylines; the most narratively interesting part of this episode is whether a queen who did well in her original season, but is from a recent installment, will still do well against bigger names. (Spoiler: yes, she will.) But despite this premiere lacking a lot of what I love about Drag Race, I’m pleased to report that this is a fun, frothy installment that proves quite entertaining. I have some concerns about whether the season will be able to maintain its momentum, but at least for the moment, I’m enjoying myself.

Roxxxy Andrews’ cutting reads give her the first mini-challenge win of the season Credit: Courtesy Paramount+


Season 13’s Gottmik is the first one in the door, and she touts both her fashion bona fides and her post-show accomplishments (a creative partnership with Violet Chachki, a book co-authored with Gigi Gorgeous) as to why she’s an All Star. She’s competing for Trans Lifeline, a cause she says is near and dear to her heart. She’s followed by a queen already cemented as an All Star: Roxxxy Andrews! The doll you cannot read has a storied history on this show, making it to two finales and delivering one of the most memorable verses of all time on the “Read U Wrote U” Rumix—the very song that scores her entrance. She admits that, as a pageant girl, she keeps aiming for the win; will the third time be the charm for her?

Another third-timer, although only technically, is Vanessa Vanjie, who seems to have dropped “Mateo” from her branding on the show. (Sorry, mother Alexis!) She was an early out on Season 10, but her “Miss Vanjie” chorus upon exiting the main stage made her such a meme that Ru invited her back for Season 11. There, she stormed the competition with her charm, but failed to win a single maxi-challenge. (Though I’m still mad at how robbed she was on the makeover.) This time around, she wants to channel her innate charisma into some victories, and take home cash for the ASPCA.

Next up is a queen from a recent season: Angeria Paris VanMicheals! She’s touting herself as being new and improved as a competitor, and Roxxxy knows just how good she was in Season 14. But she’s up against some real titans this time—and Angeria did lose some steam as the competition went on last time. Will she be able to break through and take home the big prize? Or will Nina West be taking it for the Trevor Project instead? The Season 11 Miss Congeniality winner is fresh off the Hairspray tour, and she thinks her background in acting and comedy will serve her well in All Stars.

Nina notes that the next queen in the door, her Season 11 sister Plastique Tiara, wasn’t the strongest in those very same challenges during her original run. But she is undeniably gorgeous, is the most followed Ru Girl on social media thanks to her enormous TikTok following, and has clearly evolved as a performer. More to the point, thanks to guest appearances and Lip Sync Assassin stints for the others, Plastique is actually the queen we’ve seen the least recently on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Because we haven’t seen her since 2019, she actually has some runway for a growth arc, akin to Tatianna in All Stars 2 or Trinity K. Bonet in All Stars 6. Will she deliver at a new level for her own All Stars run, taking home the prize for the Asian-American Foundation?

RuPaul and his dancers perform “Hustle That Cat” on the main stage Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

We wrap things up with the youngest and oldest queens in the competition, from one of the most modern seasons and the very first. The youngest, of course, is Jorgeous, who returns to us as “born to do drag” as ever. Though she hasn’t had much time to evolve her drag style, she’s gotten to perform a lot since her season, skills she demonstrates quite well in this episode. She’s playing for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Conversely, Season 1 and All Stars 1 legend Shannel self-admittedly struggles with choreography—but why would you need to see her move? Shannel is a work of art just standing, putting her unreal makeup skills and love of old-school drag on display. She’s playing for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and as she says in her entrance line, don’t you dare tell her she’s not beautiful!

These eight queens are tasked with coming up with choreography and verses for the season’s “theme song,” as Ru refers to it: “Drag Queens Save the World.” It’s as standard a group performance as you’ve come to expect on Drag Race, but the queens all do a solid job with writing and performing their verses. It always helps when the queens are given something tangible to write about, in this case about what’s happening with attacks on drag in America. Any time they aren’t left to just default into claims about snatching the crown, the product is better.

Tops among the performers for me are Jorgeous and Plastique, while Shannel indeed struggles. (She doesn’t have anything to worry about, though, as just like in All Stars 7, this is an all-positive-critiques, all-the-time season.) Just considering the performance, I’d name them the top two of the week straight-away. But reader, there’s an extra element to this episode, and it is absolutely wackadoodle.

Plastique Tiara presents her Signature Drag, Signature Fragrance runway, showing off her “Fantastique” perfume Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

In the “Signature Drag, Signature Fragrance” runway category, queens must not only present their looks, they must also present a perfume bottle—complete with a name, voice-over and presentation of the fragrance. This is only introduced when RuPaul introduces the runway. It’s a whole challenge concept! It’s basically the top seven challenge in Season 5, just with a main stage presentation instead of a commercial! The queens do well with it, particularly Angeria and Plastique, but we get no sense of when any of this work is done. Did the queens record their voice-overs ahead of arriving on set? Was there an entire production day for all of this that we just never saw? Where did they get the perfume bottles? It’s a wild development, all the stranger for the lack of details given.

Anyway, after all the dust has settled on our surprise challenge, and the judges have given their critiques, we have four queens looking like contenders for the win: Angeria, Jorgeous, Plastique and Vanjie. Considering both the runway and the performance, my top two would be Angeria and Plastique, with Plastique clearly the best on average. But it seems like Ru instead picks one runway winner and one performance winner, giving Jorgeous the nod for the latter. I don’t get how Plastique, with a top two performance in both elements of the episode, doesn’t make the top two, but alas. She’ll be back in the top in no time based on how well she does this week.

Angeria and Jorgeous take home the first badges of the season, and give us a Season 14 face-off in the lip sync. The two previously battled it out on Beyoncé’s “Radio” in that season’s LaLaPaRuZa, with Jorgeous beating Angie and Lady Camden to advance to safety. This time around, the song is in Angie’s park-and-bark wheelhouse: it’s Whitney Houston’s latter-day bop “Million Dollar Bill.” I fucking love this song, and while I quibble with Drag Race using a Freemasons remix, I do appreciate how it gives both queens a way into the song. Jorgeous dances it out, while Angeria camps it up.

Angie ultimately takes the win, earning $10,000 for the National Black Justice Coalition, and is tasked with “cutting off” one queen from being able to win a badge next week. This means that, yes, if they win the challenge, they still don’t get a badge. (This is the twist that screwed The Vivienne out of a deserved finale spot in All Stars 7.) Using the Ruby Scissors, Angeria delivers a “snip snip, bitch” to Roxxxy, blocking the veteran pageant queen from winning in the next episode. Considering it’s a ball challenge, and Roxxxy gives us what we like on sewing challenges, that is looking like a very wise strategic decision on Angeria’s part.

But will she pay the price in the long run for starting strong strategically? Just because this won’t be a season of drama doesn’t mean there’s still not some game to be played. If All Stars 9 is gonna work as a season of television, and not just an entertaining televised fundraiser, it’s going to need to lean into any intrigue where it can. Luckily, you can tune in right now to Episode 2 to see where things go—which is exactly what I’m about to do. See y’all in the next recap!

Untucking our final thoughts

Lunchtime poll: Which is more ridiculous, “Legendary Legend Star” or “Beautiful Benefactress Badge”?

A lot of the entrance lines are direct rehashes of their previous entrance lines: Gottmik’s reference to the “cis-tem,” Angeria repeating the exact same one but adding “2.0, bitch!”, and Nina West’s “nine-conic” echo of her previous “elevengendary.” It adds to the sense that we’ve seen most of these people too recently—or at least, they haven’t had time to establish a new brand. Roxxxy opting to reference something she’s done off the show, instead of a riff on “making it clear,” really helps her entrance line stand out.

Interesting that it’s a top three in the finale instead of a top four, no? I’m guessing that means no Lip Sync for the Crown tournament, which is a major improvement. Will we still get some kind of She Done Already Done Had Herses competition for the other five queens?

We get a really good round of Reading Is Fundamental as our first mini-challenge. (Thank god it’s back in its rightful season premiere placement, instead of near the end of the season like All Stars 8’s edition.) You’ve got some clever wordplay like Angeria’s “Gottmik! When it comes to having talent, you ain’t Gottmuch!” You’ve got a genuinely creative read from Gottmik for Angeria: “I’ve never met someone whose parents are more related than their teeth!” And then there’s Shannel getting shady with Gottmik: “I didn’t expect to see you here. I just figured you would cancel on this booking like all of your other ones!” Everyone gets off at least one good read, and most everyone hits nothing but home runs.

The winner is Roxxxy, who claims her first reading challenge victory (after Alaska won in her previous two appearances). I absolutely howled at her read of Gottmik: “I’m so proud of your transition. Round of applause, everyone! Fan favourite to Violet Chachki’s assistant!” The Vanjie read is great, too: “I didn’t know you were gonna be here today! But judging by your outfit, you didn’t either!” She wins an early $2,500 for her charity, Miracle of Love.

Some interesting early alliances are coming to the fore! You get the expected Angeria/Jorgeous link-up, since the two come from the same season, and our two 44-year-old queens, Nina and Shannel, bond over being old-school. But my low-key favourite pairing of the season is Plastique and Roxxxy, who bonded while doing RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! in Las Vegas and now consider each other their closest friend in this competition. We’ve only seen Roxxxy on Drag Race in the context of Rolaskatox, so I’m fascinated to see her not only without them, but with a new and unexpected best bud.

Keke Palmer is our guest judge this week, and she’s perfect for this! She’s as positive as anyone in her critiques, but she brings up specific notes for nearly every queen that shows she paid close attention. You can see how her stint judging on Legendary pays off here. Would love to see her back on a season where she can use that expertise to offer up some constructive critique as well.

RuPaul performs noted bop “Hustle That Cat” on the main stage, but with all due respect to Ru’s reborn love of performing, if you’ve seen one of these Ru performances, you’ve seen them all. 

Though it worked out in this case by giving each of the top two a way into the lip sync, I always groan when I see that the lip sync song is a remix. “Million Dollar Bill” is a bop on its own! I don’t need the Freemasons’ involvement to make it great!

“Which sister will you scissor?” Already loving the Ruby Snippers more than I ever did the Platinum Plunger. (The Golden Beaver stays winning overall, though.)

The second episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9 is streaming right now! The third episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9 will stream Friday, May 24, at 3 a.m. EST on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. We’ll be publishing recaps and power rankings 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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Two individuals wearing red and black plaid shirts, one with a straw hat and the other with a large blonde wig, perform in a commercial in a scene from RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars Season 9 Episode 5 in a scene from RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars Season 9 Episode 5.

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