‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 8’ Episode 6 recap: Don’t fuck with Joan, fellas

A Rusical challenge puts the season back on the right track

Now that’s more like it.

I wouldn’t have expected it to be the Rusical challenge that would turn RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 8 around. Sure, Alexis Michelle did well in her Rusical back in Season 9, but queens like Jaymes Mansfield, Jessica Wild, Kahanna Montrese and LaLa Ri have never done one. Moreover, Jimbo and Kandy Muse, two of the biggest characters of this season, notably bombed Rusicals in their previous seasons, with Jimbo eliminated and Kandy only saved thanks to Ru’s iconic “Kandy wait!” moment.

Moreover, while Joan Crawford is an icon, there’s something that feels misjudged about choosing her as a Rusical subject. She is not a Madonna or Cher, with musical styles that Leland and the song producers can mimic. This is not a case where existing RuPaul songs can be remixed, like we saw in All Stars 6’s Halftime Headliners challenge or in Season 14’s Moulin Ru! This will require all new music, written about an Old Hollywood figure that Ru reveres. The potential for disaster is sky-high.

But lo and behold, these queens slay it. They’re given great material: lengthy songs in different styles that they cast themselves quite ably for, which all give them plenty of time to show their stuff. The production is incredibly impressive, with the queens singing their own songs (the one thing Season 15’s Wigloose!, another remarkably strong original Rusical, lacked). Everything sounds mixed properly, and Leland does a terrific job getting the best takes out of all the queens.

I think we can safely say we’ve entered a new era of the Rusical—and I’m hoping it’s a new era for AS8, too. If the rest of the season is on this level, I think we may be in for a treat just yet.

“Hairspray” director Adam Shankman is both choreographer and guest judge this week

Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

We start with the reveal of votes from last week’s non-elimination: all queens but Kahanna had voted to send her home. Kahanna takes this in stride—she’s much less upset about this than she was the two stray votes for her back in Episode 2—and resolves to only do even better from here on out. (As we will see by episode’s end, she does redouble her efforts, but it may not be enough.)

 

Meanwhile, Jimbo is a bit of a mess after losing her third lip sync this season (and sixth overall). She expresses to both the other queens and in confessional that she’s embarrassed by her repeated poor performances. “This is annoying, it’s so fucking annoying! I love performing, and somehow I get on that fucking stage, and I choke every fucking time,” she says in the werk room. “And I can’t stand it.” I appreciate hearing Jimbo’s frustrations about this; it’s much better than the show just bouncing along ignoring that its frontrunner is failing at a core part of the competition. Moreover—and I’m sure I’m not the only one to think this—this builds a story that will almost certainly end with Jimbo finally winning one.

Since we never have time for mini-challenges anymore, despite the loss of deliberations, Ru jumps right into introducing the queens to Joan: The Unauthorized Rusical. The story of this production is largely modelled on Mommie Dearest, which Ru alludes to while giving Faye Dunaway her flowers for her committed performance (while glossing over that it’s a performance she regrets, as it effectively ruined her career). Each queen takes a different “era” of Joan in the performance, with their song in a different musical style.

We get relatively little drama when it comes to role selection, with Jaymes, LaLa and Jimbo getting exactly who they want, and Kahanna and Alexis both stepping into roles with encouragement from the other queens. The only dispute is between Kandy and Jessica over who gets the big centrepiece “No Wire Hangers Ever” number—but after an audition that Jess stumbles through, Kandy wins the part. Now comes the challenge: can she step it up in a demanding role when she nearly got eliminated for the Rusical the last time?

“Joan: The Unauthorized Rusical” is a surprise smash for “All Stars 8”, potentially putting the season back on the right track

Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

Reader, she does! Kandy successfully executes her own Rudemption arc in this episode, nailing her choreography and giving a fierce, committed performance in the recording session. While all the roles give the queens space to shine, Kandy’s is undoubtedly the showstopping number. It’s like the “Don’t Rain on My Parade” parody Rosé got in Kandy’s original season: done poorly, it would be a real disappointment, but done well, it’s the obvious standout. After also delivering during the Night of 1000 Grace Joneses runway in a geometric look, Kandy takes the win.

I personally might’ve gone another way, though. For my money, Jessica delivers the performance of the week. Despite the part not being her first choice, Jessica gets to perform rock—a comfortable genre for her—and smashes her song. Getting the “Bring Me the Axe” number is nearly as iconic as a number around wire hangers, too. She also looks incredibly glamorous in purple on the runway, serving an entirely different look than in the challenge. Were I in Ru’s shoes, I’d have had a hard time choosing between Kandy’s Rudemption arc and Jessica’s superior performance.

Also great are both LaLa, doing a vogue-inspired number, and Alexis, who performs a patter version of Joan’s iconic press conference scene. Even Jimbo is quite good as Joan in her hagsploitation era, although “quite good” is just good enough for safe in this crowd. Similarly, while both Jaymes and Kahanna are solid in the Rusical, they have just enough slight errors that they become our bottom two.

It’s interesting to see them both up for elimination, because I would say I’ve had similar issues with them this season. Both have their niches: Kahanna as a Vegas showgirl, and Jaymes as a campy, housewife-esque comedy queen. But I find that their dreg is too specific in their particular lane, with little flexibility. Kahanna in particular is rigidly in her showgirl lane—a stark contrast with Anetra on Season 15, who could turn out a gorgeous gown once in a while. I would argue Kahanna’s looks are technically better than Anetra’s, but I was more excited to see Anetra’s takes on the categories every week than I have been with Kahanna’s looks.

RuPaul introduces this week’s maxi-challenge in a Joan Crawford-ified werk room

Credit: Courtesy Paramount+

Jaymes, on the other hand, has actually stepped out of her lane occasionally. While her similar looks are very similar (a lot of pink, a lot of blond, a lot of the same silhouettes), she’s also given us her Aztec-inspired Ass the World Turns runway, as well as her fox-tail Grace Jones look this week. Unfortunately, whereas she’s shown us a bit more range than Kahanna at times, she’s fallen short in the details. Just like last week, Jaymes’s look is not properly fit, and more than that, it can’t help but look like a cheaper, costume version of the Grace Jones original. Most of the other queens change just enough about their looks so as to avoid such strict comparison; Jaymes’s is too similar while not being at the same level.

So the two queens are up for elimination, with this being Jaymes’s second time and Kahanna’s third. However, Kahanna also has a maxi-challenge win under her belt. It’s a tough call, although Jaymes is quite confident. After all, the queens just voted to send Kahanna home last week. The same thing should just happen with this go-around, no?

What Jaymes did not consider is that one variable has changed: she is up for elimination, not previous maxi-challenge winner Jessica. The math works out differently for the queens, and whether Kandy wins or not, Jaymes is going home. But first, Kandy must lip sync against Season 14’s Angeria Paris VanMicheals, an incredibly sweet queen who is not exactly a beast when it comes to a battle like this. She herself admitted multiple times in her season that she does best with park-and-bark songs, but she does decently well with Grace Jones’s “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You).” That said, Kandy gives a more dynamic, sexy performance, earning her the win and $30,000. Angeria becomes only the second LSA defeated this season.

And indeed, when she reveals her lipstick, Kandy shows she did not just go with what the queens decided last week: she eliminates Jaymes. This is a dramatic result—although the fact that all the queens are revealed to have voted the same way in Untucked dilutes the impact a bit—but it’s not uncomfortable or upsetting like Heidi N Closet’s quit last week was. This is what All Stars is for, and while it comes at Jaymes’s expense, she can hold her head high. She got to top seven on All Stars despite being a first out in Season 9. That’s true Rudemption.

Untucking our final thoughts

The Other Half of the Story, Fame Games Edition: As expected, no Heidi in the Fame Games. Of the other four departed queens, would it shock you if I told you Naysha Lopez is wearing another bodysuit? Mrs. Kasha Davis’s take on Grace Jones’s red Hollywood Bowl look is dramatic, but the fit isn’t quite right, while Monica Beverly Hillz’s look is flimsy in comparison to the original. It’s actually Darienne Lake who wins this round for me, in a take on one of Grace Jones’s looks that is perfectly drag-ified.

The Other Half of the Story, Deliberations Edition: This is an instance where having deliberations fully shunted off to Untucked should pay off as the show wants it to, because I couldn’t wait to jump to the after-show to see exactly what leads to this decision. Unfortunately, we don’t get much from Kahanna and Jaymes’s campaigns. Kandy alludes to it being difficult to send a friend home in Kahanna, but that doesn’t explain why literally every queen besides Jaymes votes to send her home. I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to learn more, but it’s pretty lame that even watching Untucked doesn’t give you the other half of the story this week.

“The real competition has started,” Kandy says in the cold open, immediately after Jimbo gets her third win in five episodes.

Love to see Denali in the flashback to Kandy’s near-elimination. When’s she gonna be on All Stars, I wonder?

Jessica’s reaction to having to audition for a role in the Rusical: “I’m about to have a stroke!”

Hairspray director Adam Shankman is both Rusical choreographer and guest judge this week. He’s great! The fact that he’s involved in both roles, and that he still finds ways to give smart critiques despite the uniformly great performances this week, helps him stand out amid the more underwhelming judges we’ve had this season. So far, he and JoJo Siwa are in a competition for the best-of-the-season spot.

Thrilled that Ts Madison is back for her third episode already—she’s judged more than Ross Mathews or Carson Kressley this season! This is, to me, a drastic improvement, and I hope it’s just the start.

Jessica’s take on Grace Jones’s Alaïa gown has holes on it. “Because I like holes,” she says, succinctly.

Okay, so let’s talk about Angeria’s selection as a Lip Sync Assassin. I’ll preface this by saying I adore Angie, and I’m still a little miffed at how the edit suddenly turned on her chances in Season 14. But the fact is that Angeria’s only previous out-and-out win in a lip sync came in Round 2 of the Season 14 LaLaPaRuZa. She lost her first round in that episode, and survived the later Final 5 lip sync in a dubious tie. It’s not new that we have someone whose lip syncing record is weak: Jessica herself didn’t have a single lip sync win before she appeared in All Stars 6. (Now she has two!) I just don’t understand the show bringing Angeria back when there are too many legendary lip syncers we’ve yet to see return as LSAs. BeBe Zahara Benet! Kylie Sonique Love! Tatianna! Dida Ritz! Latrice Royale! Detox! Trinity K. Bonet! And those are just from the first six seasons! Angie, much as I enjoy her as a presence, shouldn’t have gotten the call before any of them, much less several of her Season 14 sisters. If the LSA twist is going to continue in future seasons, the invites should be reserved for true LSFYL titans.

Just know that every week, I am Jessica saying “Jorgeous?” as the LSA is revealed.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars will stream Friday, June 16, at 3 a.m. EDT on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. Check back every weekend after new episodes for our recaps and power rankings, and subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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