‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 6’ defined Rudemption—for the queens, but also for the ‘All Stars’ format

Lessons learned from ‘All Stars 6,’ and what we want to see in future seasons

If RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 was about a polished, professional future, All Stars 6 was about redeeming regrets of the past. Suffice it to say that Season 13 wasn’t the fandom’s favourite. It was widely panned as too long (16 weeks!) and fairly predictable in terms of who would make the endgame—Symone and Gottmik with their impeccable looks felt like frontrunners from the jump. My biggest issue was the level of polish; while it was great to see some excellent drag, the financial arms race of the show had gotten out of control, and the cast largely arrived a bit too prepared. 

If drag is about the spirit of invention, then Season 13 by and large did all their inventing before the season even began. It’s no surprise that the makeover challenge, in which the queens had to put each other in their drag, was one of the season’s major highlights: it presented a problem to be solved on the spot, not one that could have been predicted going in.

That’s why the All Stars 6 cast was so intriguing—dare I say even exciting—upon first announcement, despite all the dismissive “some stars” comments about the cast. (One such remark: “Let’s just say it stretches the term all-star to its breaking point.”) Here you had some strong competitors who got close to the crown once upon a time: Ginger Minj, Eureka!, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and A’keria C. Davenport. You had returning Miss Congenialities who hadn’t been on Drag Race in years: Pandora Boxx and Yara Sofia. You had mid-out queens who had more to offer than we saw the first time around: Jan, Scarlet Envy and Ra’Jah O’Hara. And you had queens who were returning from the earliest seasons of the show to demonstrate how they’d grown: Trinity K. Bonet, Jiggly Caliente, Serena ChaCha and Kylie Sonique Love.

All of these queens in some way (but crucially, not all in the same way) sought Rudemption. Maybe they wanted to reintroduce themselves after a poor reception in their previous season. Or maybe they had gone through tremendous personal and professional growth. Or maybe they just needed one more shot to actually lock down the crown. There was a ton of story potential in this group, even if they didn’t necessarily meet the fanbase’s metric of what an “All Star” should be.

The result, of course, has been the best All Stars season save AS2, and the best American season since Season 9. It has been an absolute triumph, a vindication for this cast and a demonstration of how Drag Race should be casting All Stars seasons moving forward. Even the Lip Sync Assassin format made a strong case for itself after a rocky introduction in AS5, with queens like Laganja Estranja, Jessica Wild and Mayhem Miller getting shining moments of their own. Laganja’s “Physical” lip sync alone went wildly viral, and served as a rebirth of sorts for the queen after her rocky departure in Season 6.

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjExLN38GSs

If AS2 was about some of the best queens in Drag Race herstory performing at an expected high caliber, AS6 has been about underdogs proving themselves as exemplary queens. Yes, some of this was built into the show through victories: Jan finally got her Rusical win after being snubbed in Season 12, for example, and Ginger became just the second queen to win Snatch Game twice. But the surprising moments have been the highlights, even when they haven’t earned wins. There was Ra’Jah making a dress in a minute for her talent show, Kylie pulling out a hilarious Dolly Parton impersonation and Trinity K. Bonet finally getting her chance to show that yes, she really does do a great Beyoncé.

There’s been remarkably little drama in AS6, largely because the stories around each queen’s triumphs have been more than enough to fill the episodes. The season’s momentum has only dipped a couple of times, notably when either the resulting winner or elimination was not in question. But otherwise, this crop of queens fighting their hearts out kept us entertained and on our toes week in and week out.

I hesitated to fully embrace AS6 until we saw what the game-within-a-game would be, though. This one twist was so heavily hyped. How many times did we see Ru promise an outgoing queen that “this season! there’s a game! within a game!” If the twist could not deliver, it would do a lot to hamper the trajectory of this season. Luckily, I was silly to worry: “RuPaul’s Rudemption Lip Sync Smackdown” was a dynamite episode of television, featuring Silky Nutmeg Ganache’s improbable, awe-inspiring run of victories. Did it soften the excitement a bit to see her lose at the last second? Perhaps. But even then, the show knew it was smarter to leave us on a cliffhanger than deflate us with a Silky loss right away.

That’s another point in this season’s pro column: on the whole, production did a very good job guiding the season. They got out of the way when needed, didn’t force drama and prepared a very good suite of challenges. The exception, I would say, was in the judging: especially for the first few weeks, the maxi-challenge wins often felt catered to who should win that week for story versus who was actually the best. Opinions are always going to vary about performance, of course, but it was a pretty widespread complaint this season—and a rare weak point.

But most importantly, AS6 worked because it was a showcase. The 13 assembled queens each had something to offer and by and large, Drag Race gave them the space to show what they could do. The fact that our final four included two queens who originally scored ninth in their previous runs was a good sign of that: anything really felt possible in this season of All Stars. The show didn’t need huge marquee names to fill out the cast; the cast more than stepped up to the challenge.

All Stars 6 is the season Drag Race has desperately needed: an unconditional home run. It demonstrated that All Stars as a format still has juice, and more than justified the audience making the jump to Paramount+. (Although I have a feeling this may be a temporary decision—the online chatter about the show was significantly impacted by it not airing live.) 

It feels like a small miracle of a season, and one that once again met the moment. We’re all just trying to get back into the normal rhythms of our lives after a rigourous, daunting 18 months. In some small, silly way, it’s refreshing to look at this season and know that, no matter what happened in the past, true Rudemption is still possible.

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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TV & Film, Culture, Drag Race, Analysis

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