Which ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Queen Is Most Likely to Return?

Welcome to Drag Race Power Rankings! Every Saturday, we’ll debrief the previous night’s new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 to determine which queens are riding high, and which need she-mergency care. This week, we’re processing the twist-on-twist-on-twist delirium of the final six episode, and determine who has the best chance of returning to the competition this week.

10. Farrah Moan — POTENTIAL RETURNEE (last appearance: 9)

A note before we get too deep into this: According to VH1’s description for the next episode, the return challenge is a Lip Sync for Your Life battle royale, in which all the returning queens will get a chance to come back to the competition. So, with lots of love to Farrah, who looks amazing in her red return look, but I would be shocked if she were to win a lip sync.

9. Gia Gunn — POTENTIAL RETURNEE (last appearance: 8)

I actually think Gia has the lip-syncing skills to get back into this competition, depending on her opponent. But she spent the night of her elimination cursing out RuPaul … so yeah, she’s not getting back in.

8. Jasmine Masters — POTENTIAL RETURNEE (last appearance: 10)

All Stars 4

If there were to be just one returnee, I’d say Jasmine had no shot at coming back. But the description is clear that all the eliminated queens have the chance to come back. Jasmine is a talented lip syncer, and if she gets the right opponent, who knows! All that aside, though, I’m betting on just one returnee, and it’s not her.

7. Valentina (last week: 4)

Valentina

Time to go, Val. You’ve done what you needed to do here — got your lip sync redemption, endeared yourself to scores of fans — and now you’re just blowing up your spot. I enjoy Valentina’s delusions of grandeur as much as the next gay, but let’s send her on her way to Rent Live and narrow down to the strongest competitors left.

6. Naomi Smalls (last week: 5)

I actually don’t think Naomi will get sixth in this competition — in fact, I could see her making top four — but she’s this low because there is just no way she can win. She’s been all but invisible in the edit, and there aren’t enough episodes left to craft a compelling winner’s arc. Naomi is destined to be a bridesmaid in this competition, and considering how strong she’s been overall — though admittedly not this week — it’s kinda sad to see.

5. Latrice Royale — POTENTIAL RETURNEE (last appearance: 7)

The redemption challenge is a lip-sync tournament? Oh bitch, just put Latrice back in the competition right now. That said, if she can’t turn it out after winning her way back in, she’ll be back out the door right away.

4. Monique Heart (last week: 3)

The ooh-ah-ah sensation really did get screwed by the judging this week, earning a bottom placement despite being one of the clear best in the challenge. That’s the tough thing about All Stars‘ final weeks: If you’re not a winner, you’re a potential loser. While she was kind of mopey about it in the workroom during deliberations, I admire her for not getting too defensive on the runway. She’s learning how to work the judges, slowly.

3. Trinity the Tuck (last week: 2)

Trinity really threw Valentina under the bus after practically citizen’s arresting Manila for considering sending her home two weeks ago! Good lord. Trinity’s biggest issue is her inability to keep her eyes on her own paper. When she’s focused and working hard, there’s no one performing better in this competition. If she can get that focus back, I think she’s a lock for the finale, but that’s a big if at this point.

2. Monét X Change (last week: 6)

The biggest rise of the week goes to Ms. Change, who really, truly, and finally pulled her shit together. Both her challenge performance and runway were strong, and while I would’ve personally put Monique in the top two above her, I can’t quibble with the quality of her output this week. If she can keep this energy up, she could truly win this whole thing. But she has one massive obstacle standing in her way,.

1. Manila Luzon (last week: 1)

I mean, come on. If you’re not on the Manila train at this point — which, I’m very open that I wasn’t until recently — what are you doing? She’s slaying this competition, putting forward the most complete package of runway, challenge performance, attitude, and damn good TV of any queen left. In my mind, she’s the winner. Which probably means she goes home in two weeks. But we’ll cherish every moment until then.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Recap: Nobody Was Killed at Lady Bunny’s Funeral?

Usually I prefer to proceed somewhat chronologically in my RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 recaps, but this week, I think we have to start at the end. And what an end it was! Double lip sync win! Non-elimination! All Star rules finally suspended! A mirror message from Ru herself! Lady Bunny recreating the mirror gag from All Stars 2! And, of course, the inevitable return of the eliminated queens.

It was kind of the kitchen sink approach to reality TV production, and I wasn’t not entertained by it! It was just, you know, a lot. I’m still processing. Here, let’s process together.

Drag Race

The main challenge this week (well, only challenge, the mini-challenge drought continues) is a roast of Lady Bunny framed as a funeral. It’s a fun twist on the RuPaul Roast challenge, which previously appeared in seasons 5 and 9. Season 5’s roast episode was one of the all-time great Drag Race episodes, while season 9’s was … mostly just okay. Better than you’d expect in a season with zero comedy queens.

Two of the worst performers in that roast, however, were Trinity the Tuck (back in her days as Trinity Taylor) and Valentina. Trinity was bottom three, while Valentina was, ahem, lucky to be safe. The stakes are high for both of them going into this week, and they promptly make all the same mistakes they did the first time — despite guest judge Cecily Strong’s attempts to help them during rehearsal. Valentina completely ignores Cecily’s notes to avoid starting too mean, starting her set bitter and never letting up. Trinity, on the other hand, never gets a handle on her comic timing. The two contestants barely elicit a sincere laugh from the judges or audience.

I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader: It’s extremely satisfying to watch the season 9 alliance fail this week. While I enjoy Valentina tremendously as a TV character, and I think Trinity is playing in this competition with a level of technical prowess only previously matched by Alaska and BenDeLaCreme, they’re both carrying around big egos. Valentina has a warped sense of how she performs; she thought her performance in the season 9 roast was good (to quote Ru, “Was it?”), and completely misinterprets the judges’ comments this week. Meanwhile, Trinity once again whines about Manila Luzon’s deliberation process, after the season 3 queen reveals she would’ve sent Monét X Change home last week. It’s satisfying to see them brought back down to earth a bit. I think they both have what it takes to win this season, but I prefer a more self-aware Valentina and a laser-focused Trinity.

Speaking of Manila: She may never be my favorite in the challenges, but I am firmly Team Manila at this point in the race. Positively ridden with guilt that she once again couldn’t save Latrice Royale in a lip sync, Manila cries trying to explain her reasoning for wanting to eliminate Monét. Monét refuses to show Manila even an ounce of empathy for wanting to save her friend, and all but tells Manila that she’s not allowed to sit at the cool girls’ lunch table anymore. Seriously, she and the other girls all join hands in front of Manila as she’s crying, and don’t get up to leave when she does. It makes them look so damn petty.

The girls gang up on Manila again in the workroom, when she says she’ll choose who she wants to eliminate moving forward on a case-by-case basis. (Getting to choose who you want to send home if you win is, you may recall, the literal format of All Stars.) I admire Manila for sticking to her guns — but then again, it’s pretty easy to do when you keep winning. She does again this week, and it’s probably her hardest-earned win of the season. (Though I would’ve also given Manila the win way back in week 1, when she was just safe.) Her roast performance is perfectly pitched, with just enough sight gags — the umbrella! the will! — to balance out her battery of jokes. Her look is perfect, and she’s the only queen to roast most of her fellow competitors plus the judges. It’s surprising that she’s the only one to turn that trick, considering that roasting the full assemblage is usually a staple of these challenges.

Joining Manila in the top is Monét, who maybe wouldn’t be my choice, but I get why she wins. From a pure comedy perspective, she has the most jokes, and they all land. I prefer the Southern preacher caricature her season 10 sister Monique Heart puts on, even though Monique swallows a few of her jokes in her delivery. Monique was the emotional choice; Monét was the comedy-as-art choice. The panel is particularly technical this week — more on that in the final thoughts — so their decision makes sense.

That leaves us with Naomi Smalls, who is just a disaster this week. I’ve been high on Naomi all season, but her lack of wins has left me wondering if she’s really cut out to win this competition. Sadly for the leggy season 8 queen, she falls into the bottom before ever rising to the top, on the back of a one-note performance and shockingly underwhelming funeral drag look. Luckily for her, she is one of four queens in the bottom, as RuPaul puts everyone who didn’t win onto the chopping block. This is likely done for two reasons: to scare the girls, and because Ru already knows no one is going home this week.

Bottom Four

Deliberations are, to be frank, a fucking mess. Trinity immediately seems to realize she’s screwed up by being so aggressive with Manila, and both firmly stands on the strength of her report card while also being conciliatory toward the queen with the power. Naomi is clearly bummed to be in the bottom, and worries her lack of wins will take her out. Despite this, Monét and Manila don’t really seem to consider her a legitimate choice for elimination, though — in fact, the winners practically ask the other one to take on the responsibility of sending someone home this week instead of them.

The consensus choice among the other queens, though, is for Valentina to go home. Trinity immediately names her as the correct option (guess that season 9 alliance only goes so far), while Monique — who outright refuses to do one-on-ones, that’s how certain she is she doesn’t deserve to go home — goes off on Valentina in her confessional for not having a full face of makeup for the main challenge.

I personally don’t care about the makeup issue that much, though it is worth noting how it comes about, and how she responds to Ross Mathews’ criticism. Apparently Val runs out of time in the workroom, unable to finish her set and her face. So she wears sunglasses as part of her costume — but then tempts fate by making a Maskgate callback. She practically dares RuPaul to tell her to take the glasses off, which RuPaul promptly does. This backfires big time, revealing her face is incomplete.

Upon presenting her excuses to Ross, he promptly takes no shit. “I still wish your eyes had been done,” Ross says with the exact right blend of sweetness and bitchiness. The look Valentina shoots back at him could kill, and probably has. So, yeah, Monique’s pissed about that, and while it doesn’t matter as much to me, I can understand being mad if you think you might go home over someone who didn’t even finish beating their mug.

It is hilarious to watch the other queens insist that eliminating Valentina is the only fair thing to do, when just two weeks ago they were lecturing Manila for even considering sending Val home. My guess is Trinity fans will justify her throwing Valentina under the bus by citing Val’s record, but that doesn’t wash for two reasons. One, Val has a win, which should conceivably put her ahead of the winless Naomi. Two, Trinity insisted in that episode that she wanted to take Valentina with her all the way to the top four. Now she wants Valentina to go home in sixth?

The truth is, there is no “fair” when it comes to making elimination decisions on All Stars, and it behooves no one to pretend like there is a particularly “moral” way to do it. Alaska eliminated Tatianna twice and Alyssa Edwards once over Roxxxy Andrews in All Stars 2. Kennedy Davenport eliminated Milk the second she got the chance during All Stars 3 because, to put it bluntly, she just didn’t like Milk. Manila saying she doesn’t want to adhere to one kind of elimination style is not new or novel, and she shouldn’t be ostracized or judged by the other queens because she doesn’t want to pretend.

The lip sync to Aretha Franklin’s “Jump to It” isn’t exactly a close one. Manila has a couple of good moments, but clearly fumbles words here and there, and Monét just really nails it. However, Ru declares a joint win — a head-scratcher of a decision that makes more sense if you look at the other lip sync ties in All Stars seasons. Be it Raven and Jujubee on “Dancing on My Own,” Tatianna and Alyssa Edwards on “Shut Up and Drive,” or Shangela and BenDeLaCreme on “I Kissed a Girl,” double wins tend to come when the performers mostly work together versus against each other. Considering the amount of interplay between Manila and Monét on “Jump to It,” the tie makes a bit more sense. (But make no mistake: If one girl was winning, it’d have been Monét.)

Ru’s other big motivation for declaring two winners is that ultimately, who they chose to go home doesn’t matter. No one goes home this week, and All Star rules are promptly put on hold. What that means — and what the returning queens’ challenge to get back in will be — will have to wait for next week. A return for Latrice or we riot!

Dearly beloved, we have gathered our thoughts here today:

• Cecily Strong and Yvette Nicole Brown both make for good guest judges this week. Alongside Michelle Visage and Ross, they really turn the judging session into an artist’s critique, getting granular about both jokes and looks in a way I love. I’m still holding onto Jenifer Lewis as the best guest judge of the season, but these two are easily the runners-up right now.

• I didn’t talk about the angelic-themed runway this week, but the girls are uniformly very good! Special shout-outs go to Naomi for a Prince-inspired getup, Monét for a gorgeous bleeding heart detail on her chest, and Manila’s dewy Grecian outfit, which makes her look younger than anyone else on the stage. Age 37 looks really damn good on her.

• I have some thoughts about Valentina naming Monique and Naomi as the worst of the week, but I’ll be as generous in my reading as possible and say she just didn’t want to name her friend Trinity. (Even though Trinity didn’t exactly show her the same kindness.)

• With “Jump to It,” Aretha joins Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, Madonna, and Whitney Houston with four songs performed as lip syncs. Getting crowded at the top! (After I included this stat in a previous recap, someone asked why Ariana Grande doesn’t also have four, the long and short of it being that she’s just a featured artist on “Bang Bang.” So you can place her in the same echelon, but definitely give her an asterisk.)

• Naomi’s shade that she’s the only queen left who can give a millennial’s point of view is funnier than any of her roast jokes.

• Monique practically racing off the stage after Ru saves them all, saying “She ain’t gotta tell me twice,” is the biggest mood.

• In the preview for next week’s episode, we see each of the eliminated queens picking a lipstick from one box. My guess? We’re getting a full set of Lip Syncs for Your Life next week, with the eliminated queens getting to choose who they want to face off against. Winners earn their way back into the competition; losers face elimination. That might be too complicated — plus, Drag Race always seems reticent to shell out more money for lip sync song royalties — but we’ll see!

• So both Monét and Manila were going to eliminate Valentina, right? That would certainly make a certain piece of intel season 4 bad girl Willam leaked before the season started airing more interesting…

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 will air Friday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.

Where Do the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Queens Stand at Top 6?

Welcome to Drag Race Power Rankings! Every Saturday, we’ll debrief the previous night’s new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 to determine which queens are riding high, and which need she-mergency care. This week, we;’re drying our tears and saying goodbye to season 4 legend Latrice Royale, and checking in with the rest of the top 6.

7. Latrice Royale – ELIMINATED (last week: 7)

Latrice Royale

This blows. Latrice was the worst of the week, no doubt, but watching an icon like her go out in 7th feels like shit. I do think, of all the eliminees so far, she’s the likeliest to win her way back in the midway-point redemption challenge. She just needs someone she can beat to go home next week.

6. Monét X Change (last week: 5)

Yikes. Monét is just not popping in All Stars 4. Her win back in episode 2 was all but erased by the edit, and she’s been underwhelming in every other episode. She fell into the bottom two for the first time this week, and weakly defended her chance to stay against the emotional Hail Mary coming from Latrice. She’s lucky her best friend won the lip sync, else she was going home this week. That said, she does look good in the upcoming roast challenge, so maybe her fortunes are about to change.

5. Naomi Smalls (last week: 3)

Naomi’s always-the-bridesmaid streak had to end sometime, but color me shocked that it ended because she fell out of the top. I figured she was going to win sooner versus later, yet here we are. Halfway through the season and she’s the only queen left without a win. She needs to pull one out fast, because combined with her relatively slim story value, there’s not a ton keeping Naomi in at this point.

4. Valentina (last week: 4)

Valentina drink

I said this in my recap, but I sincerely would not be shocked if Valentina actually goes out the door next. Her edit has suddenly turned negative, after weeks of nothing but glow and admiration. Plus, she ran through basically her entire redemption arc in episode 2. I don’t think there’s a viable path to a win left for Valentina, though I’m excited for her to prove me wrong.

3. Monique Heart (last week: 6)

I am, as a general rule, cooler on Monique than most. Her runways almost never work for me, and her confessionals, while loaded with charisma, also skew too catchphrase-heavy for me. But Monique’s performance in the challenge absolutely killed me. She was hilarious, from yelling “objectify!” instead of “objection!” to bantering effectively with Michelle Visage. I wish she hadn’t gone back to the brown cow well on the runway, but hey, it didn’t bother the judges. I’m starting to think that Monique may actually outlast Monét — unless the latter can really pull out the stops in the next week or two.

2. Trinity the Tuck (last week: 1)

Trinity the Tuck

I loathed Trinity’s attitude this week, but also was mostly underwhelmed by her challenge performance. Her runway keeps her from falling too far down the list, plus the fact that she still hasn’t hit the bottom two. At this point, I think Trinity is playing an excellent game for getting to the finale, but maybe needs to start making a case for herself as the actual winner. All Stars seasons are short; you don’t have all the time in the world to play around.

1. Manila Luzon (last week: 2)

 

It’s funny; despite her wins, I still don’t think Manila is very good at the challenges. I’d have slotted her third at best this week, behind Monique and Valentina. But almost everything else about her is winning me over. Though she got a bit melodramatic about it, her devotion to Latrice is beautiful. My heart twisted seeing her cry upon losing the lip sync. And even though she didn’t quite nail the prompt on the runway, she still looked super cute. Slowly but surely, I’m warming up to the season 3 fashionista. At this point, I wouldn’t mind seeing her take her spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Recap: The Fourth Cut Is the Deepest

I said last week that the top seven queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 were so unbelievably evenly matched, every cut from here on out would be tough. I just couldn’t imagine exactly how brutal this first one would be.

This episode was a tough one, with relatively little fun to go around and a lot of heavy hearts. I don’t think it bodes poorly for the rest of the season, but it is the first All Stars 4 episode to disappoint me — and I’m not even talking about the eliminated queen yet.

MIchelle Visage

This week, RuPaul challenges the queens to compete in a Judge Judy-style improv challenge, Jersey Justice, aptly titled for its lead character, Judge Michelle Visage. The challenge is a complex one: create a cartoonish Jerseyite in look and voice, execute the actual story of the case in pairs (or in one case, as a trio), and make it all funny. Simple, right? Heh.

Somewhat surprisingly, Manila Luzon and Latrice Royale don’t team up for this challenge, with Latrice instead joining the ultra-close Monique Heart/Monét X Change duo and Manila pairing with the free agent of the season, Naomi Smalls. Though this isn’t a paired season like All Stars 1, Team Latrila has been close in spirit and energy, so I’d have expected them to work as a team. You have to imagine Latrice regrets her choice when Monique and Monét immediately start riffing, leaving Latrice all but cut out of their dynamic.

Each team gets a different legal scenario: a suit over a cake, a suit over a celebrity impersonator, and a suit over a botched makeover job. I like these improv challenges — including The Bitchelor in All Stars 3 and Bossy Rossy in season 10 — because they’re faithful to the core spirit of Drag Race. The most interesting thing about Drag Race as a competition has always been the sheer scope of skills that it requires. You can’t just be a fashionista. You can’t just be a comedian. You can’t just be an actor, a singer, a makeup artist, a writer. You have to be everything. The improv challenges adequately test for a wide range of skills. If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.

Appropriately enough, everyone fucks up somewhere this week, even when their performance is otherwise stellar. Winners Manila and Monique are both very funny in the challenge, riffing with Michelle particularly well, but Manila’s curves and swerves runway look underwhelms and doesn’t quite nail the prompt. Monique gets major praise for her runway look, which, yes, is structurally impressive. But it’s yet another brown cow look, no matter how stunning it may be. And her voice in the challenge is irritatingly shrill, which Michelle does note (though ultimately doesn’t care).

Valentina seemingly comes in third, if my interpretation of judge impressions is correct. She absolutely slays the main challenge as “the OG Snooki,” nailing both the character and the comedy. Judging solely based on the challenge, I’d have placed her in the top with Monique. However, she goes a little too high-concept for the runway, serving a deconstructed look that’s more interesting in concept than execution. (It also doesn’t quite fit the runway prompt for the week.) Guest judge Erica Ash rips into the look with a sharp “I don’t get it,” which inspires some, ahem, strong words from Valentina. More on those in a bit.

In a break from how she’s been doing so far, Trinity the Tuck, Not the Taylor mostly fails to impress. She teams up with Valentina, keeping the season 9 alliance together, but for the first time is fully outshone by her sister. Trinity actually forgets her character’s name at the start of their scene (a truly awkward moment) and otherwise essentially plays straight woman for Valentina. Her runway is incredibly strong, though, with one of the best wigs I’ve ever seen on Drag Race. That seems to keep her firmly in the safe group, where Naomi joins her after receiving her first real criticisms of the season. She couldn’t quite keep up with Manila in the scene, and a strong ’50s housewife look on the runway doesn’t help her. That said, I did love Naomi’s season 2 shout-out: Her Nicole Paige Brooks impression while yelling “cherry pie” is flawless.

That leaves Latrice and Monét in the bottom two. Neither Latrice’s elegant runway nor Monét’s Kim Kardashian-allusion look can save them from being utterly flattened by Monique in the challenge. The one who clearly belongs in the bottom is Latrice; Monét isn’t great in the challenge, but I might’ve put Trinity in the bottom instead. Nonetheless, this is the bottom two we get, and it feels like a goddamn funeral the second Ru announces they’re up for elimination.

Latrice is a beloved icon, and the idea of her even possibly going home makes the air in the room thicken like soup. She monologues emotionally about spending 25 years doing drag, and expresses dismay that she’s not able to fulfill a “prophecy” for herself on Drag Race. Back in season 4, it was almost universally understood that Latrice was cheated out of the top three in favor of season villain Phi Phi O’Hara — never mind that Phi Phi did legitimately beat Latrice out in the final challenge, and Chad Michaels out-lipsynced Latrice at the last second. It was a robbery in fans’ minds, as was hers and Manila’s loss on All Stars 1.

Something about this has clearly taken hold in Latrice’s mind. She believes she deserves this crown, even if her performance record so far hasn’t indicated that to be true. This separation between expectation and reality makes deliberations a nightmare. Manila is absolutely devastated by the idea of Latrice going home, throwing herself onto her best friend while sobbing and pledging to keep her safe in the lip sync. Monique is wrecked, clearly wanting to keep Monét, but worrying about the implications of sending Latrice home. She knows how much fans love Latrice, because she is one of those fans. She even outright states how much Latrice means to black queers and queens in particular — something that’s unmistakably true, but rarely stated on the show itself.

Trinity, meanwhile, has no problem saying Latrice deserves to go home. And honestly? It’s a bad look! In fact, Trinity comes off as kind of an ass all episode. She all but lectures Manila for even considering sending Valentina home at the start of the episode. Later, when Valentina indicates she’d have a hard time saving Trinity over Latrice if they were the bottom two, she gives a dramatic confessional that feels either faked or just plain whiny. Then, she moans about “morals” when Manila and Monique weigh whether or not to save Latrice. It’s all quite obnoxious, like the best student in the class protesting about the rules when the kids she sees as below her don’t act the way she wants them to. No one likes that kid, Trinity.

What’s especially perplexing is that Trinity clearly doesn’t mind being cutthroat — she’ll eliminate beloved legend Latrice if she has to — but only likes her form of being cutthroat. Eliminating a strong competitor? That’s immoral to Trinity. In Big Brother, which this season reminds me of more than any other Drag Race season, they call someone like Trinity a “game bot.” She’s too fixated on her own game and can’t see outside of it. It’s likely going to take her very far in this season, but will also likely make her unpleasant to watch if she keeps the unpleasantness up.

The season 9 girls both behave strangely this week. After she gets some criticism for her runway look, Valentina throws what seems like a joking fit about it during deliberations. It seems too exaggerated to be honest, but also not funny enough to be a very good joke. Worse, she chooses to unleash right after Latrice and Monét emotionally plead to be kept in the competition. Monique rolls her eyes and all but tells Valentina to calm down. To quote Trixie Mattel, “That’s a lot of emotion for safe.”

It illustrates the main problem I still have with Valentina, who has otherwise been such a delight this season: She’s still not behaving like a human being. It’s clear she had a plan to be funny and have a diva moment this week, but couldn’t read the room and realize it would play horribly in the emotional moment. For better or worse, Drag Race is won by those who can, at least once or twice, let their guard down and be themselves. We’re not getting that from Valentina right now. I remain skeptical about whether she can actually go all the way in All Stars 4.

Ultimately, all the hissy fits in the world can’t distract from the ultimate choice: Latrice or Monét? Manila, like Trinity last week, makes her intentions known (“After all these years, I am still Team Latrila”), while Monique holds her cards closer to chest. After an evenly matched (and, admittedly, somewhat low-energy) lip sync to Tina Turner’s cover of “The Bitch Is Back,” Monique wins. Does she win mostly because there’s no narrative tension to Manila winning? Perhaps. Does she win because she keeps her hair on for the first time? Also perhaps! Regardless, win she does, and through tears, she eliminates Latrice.

Latrice Royale is, next to Alyssa Edwards, my all-time favorite Drag Race queen. She is a living legend. Her final speech to RuPaul on the runway in season 4 ranks among the best moments in Drag Race herstory. It sucks to see her go home in 7th place. But I cannot deny that she was the worst in the challenge, and didn’t stun on the runway. Her going home is an entirely fair call. That doesn’t mean it can’t feel like shit, because it does. But Monique made the right decision.

One can only hope that Latrice will find her way back into the competition during whatever inevitable comeback challenge is on the horizon. All Stars 4 should be a chance for every queen to prove they’re sickening — even if it takes a little bit longer than we expected.

Drying our tears with some final thoughts:

• I’ve alluded to it in this and other recaps, but it intrigues me that, despite this not being a teams season, our remaining queens have mostly settled into pairs. Monique and Monét are united, as are Valentina and Trinity (though I wouldn’t put it past Valentina to eliminate Trinity if she gets the chance). With Latrice gone, and Naomi unaffiliated, I wonder if the two fashion queens will team up moving forward. They could each use an ally right now.

• Record check-in: Manila and Trinity each have two challenge wins, with one lip sync win each, and neither has hit the bottom two. Monique has two challenge wins and one lip sync win as well, but hit the bottom two once. Valentina won one challenge and one lip sync. Monét X Change also won one challenge, but has not won a lip sync. Both have hit the bottom two once. Naomi, queen of safe, has never won, nor hit the bottom two. My guess is she does not stay safe for another week — either for good or for ill.

• Manila bowing to Trinity’s dominance during Snatch Game, but insisting that she’ll still be listed as the winner of the episode on Wikipedia, is delightfully nerdy.

• The main stage critiques are edited strangely this week, with a ton of shady noises thrown in even when the judges give positive feedback. Monique’s entire critique sounds like the judges are trashing her simply because the sounds are wrong.

• Love Monique, but I can no longer defend her getting praised for brown cow callbacks when Monét got trashed for doing sponge callbacks. It’s an absurdly unequal standard.

• Strange that the show specifically uses the Tina Turner cover of “The Bitch Is Back” for the lip sync while emphasizing that it’s originally an Elton John song, no? While most Lip Sync for Your Life/Legacy songs are by women, there have been plenty of songs with at least some male vocals: “Love Shack,” “Macho Man,” “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” every RuPaul song, etc. Might’ve been a rights issue, though considering Elton John himself appears in a pretaped message to say “don’t fuck it up,” I doubt that.

• I don’t care how fake-mad she was, Valentina calling MadTV alum Erica Ash “that judge with the bun” is disrespectful. That entire staged hissy fit was so ill-advised. And Val’s been so charming and enjoyable so far!

• Even though Stacy Layne Matthews’ cameo shots as the court reporter were clearly not shot on the Jersey Justice set, I still like seeing her pop up with reactions. More Henny!

• Speaking of: While I don’t entirely agree with her critique of Valentina’s look, Erica Ash is otherwise a good guest judge this week. She gives insightful notes and appropriately drags Trinity for blaming her reserved performance on trying to make room for Valentina. Zoe Kravitz is a good bit quieter as a judge, but still gets some good notes in. (Perennial reminder that Jenifer Lewis remains the best guest judge of the season.)

• Best guess for the next queen out the door: Monét. Could be Naomi if she doesn’t get a win soon. Although the person I’d maybe be the least surprised to see go next? Valentina.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 will air Friday, Jan. 11, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1.

Judge Tosses Out Christian Lawsuit Against Events Where Drag Queens Read to Kids

Reading is fundamental. And according to one Texas judge, it’s constitutionally protected.

On Thursday, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas tossed out a lawsuit against “Drag Queen Storytime” events hosted by Houston Public Library. Founded in San Francisco, the popular events feature drag performers reading to books to children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old.

Plaintiffs argued the gatherings contravened library patrons’ freedom of religion. Their complaint states that Drag Queen Storytime is “brainwashing the children of Houston” by promoting secular humanism.

In an 18-page opinion, Rosenthal found the argument didn’t meet the legal standing for a violation of the Establishment Clause. “Because the plaintiffs do not allege facts that do or could show that the event is a religious activity, there is no issue of establishment of religion,” she wrote.

Rosenthal also noted that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate harms arising from the events because they did not attend them.

“The plaintiffs assert the very opposite: they purposefully avoided ‘Drag Queen Storytime’ because of its alleged immorality and potential to harm their children. Instead of witnessing the event, the plaintiffs ‘researched [it] online,’” she claimed.

Complainants plan to appeal the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tex Christopher, who has also protested Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance and inclusive bathrooms at Target, told the Houston Chronicle that plaintiffs are “excited” about the outcome of the ruling because it “speeds things along.”

“We knew that she wasn’t going to give it a fair shake because this whole case is all entwined with her,” Christopher said.

The four Christian activists behind the lawsuit believe that Rosenthal was unable to be impartial because her mother worked for the library. Others attached to the suit include Calvin Miller, founder of 1 Team 1 Fight Ministries, and Chris Sevier, a member of Special Forces for Liberty.

Special Forces for Liberty has filed lawsuits against drag queen events in several other municipalities in conjunction with Warriors for Christ, a West-Virginia based ministry.

The groups have been involved in numerous other lawsuits related to LGBTQ rights.

Sevier filed suit against several states charging that if same-sex couples are permitted to marry, he should be allowed to marry his laptop. Meanwhile, Warriors for Christ founder Pastor Rich Penkoski petitioned West Virginia to prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The cases have been less than successful.

In fact, another case to which Sevier is attached faced similar setbacks this week. He petitioned to halt Drag Queen Storytime from being held in Lafayette, La. On Friday, the Lafayette Public Library announced it would allow the events to continue at its branches as litigation makes its way through the courts.

Prior to the decision, patrons hoping to reserve a room for special events at Lafayette libraries had to sign a form saying they would not be participating in Drag Queen Storytime in any way.

The ACLU of Louisiana, which sued to allow the gatherings to continue, celebrated the victory in a statement.

“The library’s unjust and discriminatory ban targeted LGBTQ Louisianans and violated our clients’ First Amendment rights,” claimed Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann. “This is welcome news for our clients and everyone in Lafayette who will once again be able to use library facilities without being unfairly interrogated or censored by library officials.”

The civil rights organization said it would keep fighting to ensure Drag Queen Storytime can organize peacefully.

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen the LGBTQ community in Lafayette come together to speak out against this discriminatory mandate and rally behind the values we share,” added Executive Director Alanah Odoms Hebert.

Image via Facebook

Power-Ranking the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Queens Post-Snatch Game

Welcome to Drag Race Power Rankings! Every Saturday, we’ll debrief the previous night’s new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 to determine which queens are riding high, and which need she-mergency care. This week, as we do the walk of shame from our post-Snatch Game of Love dates, we deliver to season 6 veteran Gia Gunn her parting words, and check in with the incredibly tight final seven.

8. Gia Gunn — ELIMINATED (last week: 8)

Gia Gunn went out about as sympathetically as you could imagine, opening up about why she defaults to bitchiness as a defense mechanism. Her final heart-to-heart with Manila was a nice moment, as were her final words on the runway. There’s not much use beating a dead horse, so we’ll just remark that her Snatch Game was the clear last-placer of the week, and her elimination came at the fairest possible time.

7. Latrice Royale (last week: 6)

I really didn’t expect Latrice’s first critique on the All Stars 4 stage to be a negative one. Unfortunately, she really let Gia trip her up in the Snatch Game of Love, and got knocked by judge Ross Mathews for losing her usual professional composure. Latrice needs a main challenge win fast, because this is a competitive crop. She doesn’t have much room for underwhelming at this point.

6. Monique Heart (last week: 5)

You could easily swap Monique and Monét this week; they both don’t shine in Snatch Game, and seemingly only barely find their way into the safe middle group. Here’s the thing that separates them, though: Whereas Monét treated being called safe as a blessing — she was cognizant of her poor performance — Monique looked miffed that she wasn’t in the top. Which, girl. You weren’t the worst this week, but you definitely weren’t the best. I have remarkably little patience for Monique’s attitude during critiques, so this was enough to make the difference for me this week.

5. Monét X Change (last week: 4)

Monét should count her blessings that the judges decided to rag on Valentina this week, because from where I’m sitting, she could easily have been in the bottom three — or even bottom two — for her misfire of a Whitney Houston. What’s particularly rough about Monét’s performance is that, of all the queens left, she is the only one to place high in her original Snatch Game. (Seriously, this crop is not great at this challenge: Monique and Gia both went home on their first rounds, while Naomi hit bottom two. Everyone else managed safe at best.) This was Monét’s challenge to win, and she definitively did not.

4. Valentina (last week: 1)

Valentina makes landing in the bottom look good. Her Eartha Kitt wasn’t great, but it was kinda weird and fun in a way I can appreciate. (I do agree with Michelle Visage that Val’s runway was better in concept than execution, though.) Still, it was in the deliberation segment, when Valentina expertly steered Manila away from eliminating her through pure social prowess, where Val really shone brightest. She was born to be an All Star, but she really can’t afford to fall into the bottom again.

3. Naomi Smalls (last week: 3)

I was tempted to knock Naomi out of the top three solely because something about her isn’t clicking with the judges. They keep placing her in the top three, never giving her a win. It’s perplexing, especially when, by my count, her Wendy Williams was easily the second-best performance of the week. She gets ragged on for wearing sandals on the runway instead of boots, but I can’t imagine that was enough to cost her the win. Still, because of her strong performance, and because she’s yet to come anywhere near the problem, the season 8 fashion girl stays in third.

2. Manila Luzon (last week: 7)

Manila served genius runway, killer lip sync, and plenty of drama in the deliberations. What more could we want from her? Well, maybe a better Snatch Game performance; her Barbra Streisand feels like a default winner considering the chaos of her group. That said, Manila really knocks it out of the park this week in general, and makes a fan out of this Manila skeptic. If she keeps this up, the self-described “old bitch” could give the young girls quite a run for their money.

1. Trinity the Tuck (last week: 2)

Is Trinity the Tuck beatable? Maybe not! She’s won two of the three maxi-challenges this season, plus one of the lip syncs. (She also was hardly bad in this lip sync, just outmatched by Manila at her best.) Moreover, she’s striking a note of technical perfection that shows she really prepared for this season. Alaska, BenDeLaCreme, and Shangela all demonstrated similar preparation, and hey, they all did pretty damn well. We’re still in the early days of this season, but I’d place safe money on the Tuck to run the board.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Recap: “Win, and Beat Me”

The Lip Sync for Your Legacy format is broken. Of that, there is little doubt; it inspires fairly lackluster lip syncs and fails to conjure up the kind of drama one would hope sending home a fellow queen would. RuPaul and the RuPaul’s Drag Race production team designed Lip Sync for Your Legacy to make All Stars more strategic, but on the whole, it doesn’t work that way.

Until Manila Luzon gets her hands on it, that is.

Manila and Trinity

I am of very mixed emotions regarding Manila: I usually don’t love her performances in Drag Race‘s challenges, and her runways — while usually stunning — can’t close the gap for me. And while I think her “MacArthur Park” lip sync in season 3 is one of the all-time greats, her follow-up efforts have been far less impressive.

What I do think Manila is fantastic at, however, is being a reality TV character. She is immensely watchable, and is terrific at driving story without self-producing. Her instigation skills are without peer — without her, the Heathers vs. Boogers arc in season 3 likely never heats up as much as it did.

So I’m thrilled to see her win the challenge this week (although I do think that win is somewhat dubious) and immediately get to scheming. What follows is the best deliberation session since Alaska’s temper tantrum in All Stars, and some of the very best TV of the year.

Snatch Game of Love

This week’s challenge is Snatch Game with a twist: This time, it’s the Snatch Game of Love, kind of a cross between Match Game and The Dating Game. Considering how the traditional Snatch Game format has gotten somewhat tired, the change of pace is welcome. Unfortunately, the format is a little wonky. The eight queens are split into two groups, each vying for the heart of a different celebrity: Olympian Gus Kenworthy for group one, and Love, Simon‘s Keiynan Lonsdale for group two. This split means we’re deprived of some characters interacting, and because of one particularly bad performance in group two, three other performers don’t get much of a chance to shine.

Trinity the Tuck (née Taylor) and Gia Gunn have both brought the same character for Snatch Game: Caitlyn Jenner. One might call this a fool’s errand, since Sharon Needles’ Caitlyn Jenner from the Battle of the Seasons tour is a pitch-perfect parody already. But nevertheless, the two queens spar over who should take it. Gia insists that, as a trans woman, she’d be the correct choice. The other queens thoroughly shoot her down, and instead encourage her to do Jenny Bui, Cardi B’s nail technician. (If you didn’t know her before now, don’t worry, I didn’t either.)

Gia’s shit-stirring the last two episodes really comes back to haunt her this week. The other queens form a united front against her, verbally pushing her away from Caitlyn and into Jenny. It’s clear manipulation on their part, a bit of strategy and alliance-making that’s rare on Drag Race, even for All Stars. Gia does make the swap, but not before taking a swipe at Trinity, telling her as both Caucasian and having “a fucked-up nose like her,” she’ll fit Caitlyn much better.

Snatch Game of Love

Trinity knocks it out of the park as Caitlyn, and is the clear winner of the week. She plays Caitlyn as a crotchety old grandma, and sits with her legs cartoonishly parted in a white suit. Most impressively, she utterly dominates group one in Snatch Game of Love, grabbing every possible joke and riffing with her competitors, RuPaul, and Gus Kenworthy. Gus winds up picking her as his bachelorette because she’s the funniest, leaving Naomi Smalls’ terrific Wendy Williams (complete with faint), Monét X Change’s underwhelming Whitney Houston, and Valentina’s misguided Eartha Kitt loveless.

Group two is some “romper-room fuckery,” to quote Latrice Royale circa season 4’s Snatch Game. Monique Heart’s Tiffany Haddish is just Monique, although admittedly she fires off some good jokes. Manila’s Barbra Streisand, complete with rather large nose prosthetic (in questionable taste, in my opinion) and heavy Barb accent, is funny enough, but a distant third to Trinity and Naomi. The true disaster is Gia’s Jenny, simultaneously not humorous and constantly talking. She sucks all the oxygen out of the group, and especially throws off Latrice Royale.

As the late Della Reese, Latrice seems mostly like Latrice, but we never get much chance to see her fully embody the character, because Gia keeps stepping on her. Gia-as-Jenny also calls Latrice fat and says she looks like a man, which especially upsets her. It’s disappointing that a queen as funny and talented as Latrice has now done poorly as three different celebrities — as Aretha Franklin in Snatch Game season 4, as Oprah Winfrey in All Stars 1‘s ill-advised Gaff-In!, and now as Della. It clearly weighs on her, too; you can see it in her face both on the challenge stage and on the runway during critiques.

Latrice Royale

After a fun boots runway — in which Manila knocks it out of the park as an S&M bunny, and Valentina gets knocked by judge Michelle Visage for a nude bodysuit that doesn’t quite fit right — Manila, Naomi, and Trinity land in the top, while Valentina, Gia, and Latrice wind up in the bottom. I’d expect Naomi and Trinity to win the challenge, but it seems the judges dock points because Naomi wore gladiator sandals instead of boots. Manila wins instead, giving her her first win of the season and fifth in her Drag Race career. (I’d argue she deserved one, maybe two of those wins, but I’m trying to be nice today.) Gia winds up in the bottom, sitting next to an unlucky Valentina. Latrice seemingly gets away with Gia being blamed for her performance, and avoids the bottom two.

And here is where the episode transforms from a solid one into a legendary one. Right at the start of deliberations, Trinity calls Manila over to the side to chat about the decision they have to make. Trinity insists that the choice of who should go home this week is obvious. Gia was the clear worst. Manila doesn’t disagree, but also doesn’t see that as the only reason to send someone home. She thinks this could be a chance for her to send home a strong competitor in Valentina. This panics Trinity, as Valentina is her ally and season 9 sister.

Manila and Gia have a heart-to-heart, Gia admitting that she didn’t realize competing on Drag Race as a trans woman would be so difficult. “I just wish there was another way for me to do this,” she says, starting to cry. “To show you can be whoever you want to be as a trans woman.” She shares further in confessional that while drag used to be an outlet for her to feel in touch with her real identity, now it’s frustrating for her to be in this competition. She also expresses major regret for personally insulting Latrice in the game. It’s the most authentic Gia’s been all season, and thus no surprise it’s also the most compelling she’s been all season. And it clearly resonates with a tearful Manila.

At the same time, Trinity meets with a very relaxed-looking Valentina. She’s in the bottom next to Gia; she knows she won’t be going home. Until Trinity warns her about Manila, that is. Valentina’s whole persona shifts as she leans forward. “So you think that i could go home tonight?” she asks. Her voice shakes a little on the last word. She seems both petrified and primed to attack. It’s a fascinating transformation, seeing Valentina go from cool cucumber to focused strategist. She takes that attitude with her to meet with Manila — and inspires an amazing 90-second tête-à-tête.

Valentina drink

Manila starts strong, complimenting Valentina as one of Drag Race‘s strongest competitors. But, she admits, “That scares me, because I think, ‘How can I keep up with these young girls?'” Valentina’s response? Sipping her drink. Manila says she has Valentina in a corner, and admits she’s very much considering sending Valentina home. Valentina says she thinks she’s done well on All Stars, and she wants to stay,. So, Manila says, let’s make a deal.

“How about this: Can you promise me, if you ever land in the top, and I’m in the bottom, [to] show me grace?” she asks. “For an old-ass bitch like me.” The way she poses after making this offer could best be described as “Ursula after telling Ariel she just wants her voice.” It’s delicious.

Valentina immediately turns the deal down, saying she’d never ask Manila to promise the reverse. Instead, she offers Manila a challenge: Keep her in the game, and beat her fair and square. “Can you handle it?” she asks. As she puts it in her confessional: “Win, and beat me, bitch.”

Valentina as cunning strategist is the kind of thing we’d never see on Drag Race‘s flagship series, but All Stars‘ format is perfectly suited for. It’s not her drag skills that help her this week, it’s her social game. It’s Big Brother in heels and wigs. And as a Big Brother fan, I’m certainly thrilled by this development.

Manila Luzon

Manila and Trinity face off in the lip sync to Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” giving Whitney a fourth lip sync song on Drag Race and tying the record held by Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, and Madonna. The two queens give one hell of a battle to commemorate the occasion, with Trinity frenetically bopping to the energy of the music and Manila giving a full acting performance as a young lover. Trinity’s very good, but Manila is spectacular, finally matching the promise of “MacArthur Park.” Most impressively, she kills the lip sync without a single split, trick, or anything. She just fully embodies the spirit of the song, and delivers on every front.

Unlike most Lip Syncs for Your Legacy, this one actually has some real tension. We know Trinity won’t send Valentina home, but Manila just might. So Valentina looks mildly petrified walking to the front of the stage with Gia, who seems far more resigned to her fate. Manila ramps up with a big speech — she wants this more than any of the other girls, and has been competing for longer, too. It really does seem in the moment like she’s going to pull the trigger — but instead eliminates Gia. Valentina gets off with just a warning shot.

It’s farewell to Gia Gunn, a contestant I don’t have much love for, but can still have compassion for. I can only imagine how psychologically taxing it is to compete in a drag competition as a trans woman, and especially to be pummeled with hate online. While I wish she’d come into the competition with more strategy than mere villainy, I trust she’ll continue to succeed outside of the werk room.

So here we have our final seven! Truly, it’s anyone’s game; everyone but Naomi has a win (if you count Latrice’s Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge win), and she’s been in the top three every single week. Every cut from here is going to be deep. Fasten your seatbelts, ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary folks: It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Show grace for some old-ass thoughts:

• Though Snatch Game of Love wasn’t quite the right fix, I do hope Drag Race continues to experiment with the Snatch Game formula. It’s been the same for so many years, and it really does need freshening up.

• Manila is smashing the runway in a fashion unparalleled by anyone else this season. Naomi’s looks are usually strong, but missing the prompt on the boot this week was a major unforced error. Trinity and Valentina could rise up to challenge them if they really pull out the stops in the next few weeks. Latrice’s runways are too basic, Monét and Monique’s aren’t quite refined enough.

• Naomi nails Wendy Williams’ faint perfectly. I’d have given her the win for it alone, shoes be damned!

• Trinity gets off plenty of great jokes in Snatch Game of Love, but saying that Gus Kenworthy looks “like a Democrat and broke” might be my favorite.

• RuPaul’s runway look this week is amazing, a short, sparkly cocktail dress with killer hair. (I won’t mention the shoes, out of respect.) Her legs look killer, and she sashays down the runway like she knows it. I’m happy to see she’s stepping outside of the long gown and high blonde hair combo she’s become so accustomed to in recent seasons.

• Gia Gunn is now the first and only queen to go home on Snatch Game twice. (No one on this season won their original Snatch Game, so there was no potential to match BenDeLaCreme’s two-win record.)

• Though they both look good this week — especially in wrestling garb — I’m iffy on both Gus Kenworthy and Keiynan Lonsdale as guest judges. Keiynan just doesn’t keep up with the quips on the runway, and has not much insight to add during critiques. Gus is a bit better, but says something clumsy about how important it is for Gia to represent for trans women — well-meaning, but inadequately expressed. Jenifer Lewis’ best guest judge of the season title goes unchallenged for another week.

• God bless Valentina, who strikes a pose even when facing potential elimination in the bottom two. She really has come into this season ready to play the telenovela character to the hilt.

• To address an elephant in the room: Yes, this episode was leaked online in its entirety last Friday. In some countries outside the U.S., RuPaul’s Drag Race streams on the WOW Presents Plus app. Seemingly, the episode was mistakenly uploaded to that app, and was captured and reuploaded across the internet. It’s a rare instance of such a leak, especially from such a notoriously secretive show. That said, no leak can change what an excellent episode this is. To me, it’s the best All Stars episode since “Revenge of the Queens.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars returns next Friday — in fact, next year! — on January 4, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1. Have a fun and safe New Year’s Eve!

After The ‘All Stars 4’ Rusical, Where Do the ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Queens Stand?

Welcome to Drag Race Power Rankings! Every Saturday, we’ll debrief the previous night’s new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 to determine which queens are riding high, and which need she-mergency care. This week, as we decompress from the latest Rusical, we check in on the eight queens remaining — and pay tribute to departed season 9 queen Farrah Moan.

9. Farrah Moan — ELIMINATED (last week: 9)

God bless Farrah, who was sadly out of her depth in this group. It’s a shame she couldn’t bring it big and surprise us all, but losing Monique Heart over here this week would’ve been devastating. Valentina made the right call.

8. Gia Gunn (last week: 7)

Here’s the thing: If you’re gonna be a villain, you gotta be able to back it up with really stellar work. Gia’s kabuki routine in the All-Star Variety Show was strong, but she was nowhere near memorable enough in this week’s challenge. When you’re more notable for bothering another contestant than for your drag, that’s a bad sign.

7. Manila Luzon (last week: 5)

This one is tough. Manila surprised last week with her painting routine, and her runway this week was stunning. But if you’re going to call yourself a performer and recording artist, you probably should be able to do those things. This was Manila’s challenge to lose, and she lost badly.

6. Latrice Royale (last week: 1)

That 1st-to-6th placement fall looks harsh, but Latrice is down here less because she did anything wrong and more because everyone else is simply shining brighter. Latrice is experiencing roughly the same competitive arc as Gia right now: never a disaster, but not enough of a success for the judges to notice. The difference between the two is, for one, Latrice sits at a higher baseline than Gia does. (The other is that Latrice isn’t trying to be a villain.)

5. Monique Heart (last week: 3)

Going from top two to bottom two the very next week is never a great sign on All Stars. (Roxxxy Andrews did the same thing in All Stars 2.) I’m inclined to think this week’s sloppy performance was just a speed bump in Monique’s journey — but holy hell, she has to stop making excuses when she gets the slightest criticism from the judges. They clearly hate it. I’d bet her excuses (plus Manila’s runway) are what put her in the bottom two over Manila this week.

4. Monét X Change (last week: 8)

That’s more like it! Monét bounced back big from a bad variety show performance, killing her verse in “Everybody Say Love” and turning out a surprisingly strong runway look. Unfortunately, despite smashing the episode, Monét was deemphasized in the edit to make way for Valentina’s redemption narrative. That, plus the memory of her weak performance in the first episode, keeps her out of the top three.

3. Naomi Smalls (last week: 6)

Slowly but surely, I am becoming a Naomi stan. Her top three placement last week was somewhat dubious to me, but I was much more onboard this time around. She killed her “Everybody Say Love” verse and had no less than Kacey Musgraves complimenting her songwriting — not to mention Ciara wanting her stagewear. If she can step up and clinch a win next week, she may be able to go all the way.

2. Trinity the Tuck (last week: 2)

Trinity the Tuck

Trinity stayed under the radar this week, which was a good place for her. She won in a big way last week, so showing off again would make her a big target for both potential elimination later down the line. I’d expect to see Trinity in no worse than second or third place all season long. She’s got the mark of a queen who knows consistency is key.

1. Valentina (last week: 4)

Valentina is a superstar. Period, exclamation point, etc. There’s just no question mark, because it’s not in question. You can dislike Valentina, dislike her attitude, dislike her drag, whatever. But you can’t deny she’s a goddamn star. The editors were obsessed with her this episode, and she played the part to the hilt. Her challenge performance was strong, as were her runway and lip sync. She’s $10,000 richer for it, and set up to go the distance in this competition. Even if Valentina doesn’t win the whole season, she’ll earn scores of new fans for her trouble.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4’ Recap: The Redemption of Valentina

Get out your roses and red M&Ms, girls. After a quiet performance in the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 premiere, Valentina properly explodes onto the scene in episode 2. She wins the challenge, wins the lip sync, and gets some primo confessionals, to boot. Though the episode is framed as being about season 3 legend Stacy Layne Matthews, in reality, this week is All About Val.

Of course, considering what a divisive figure the season 9 Miss Congeniality-cum-Fan Favorite can be, this episode will likely inspire heated disagreements. For example: Her talking heads are plentiful, yes, but also quite extra. (The editors literally stitch in a round of applause for her in one confessional.) An impromptu monologue during deliberations about how difficult choosing someone to go home is mostly makes her fellow queens roll their eyes.

That said, the quality of her performance in the challenge — a girl group music battle that sees the girls writing and recording their own verses, executing group choreography, and incorporating Stacy into their routines — is nearly indisputable. She comes up with a killer verse that is perfectly Valentina, all fire and spice, and sings the hell out of it. Her runway presentation, a gorgeous gown, is also 10s across the board.

Valentina definitely deserves to win this week. The biggest point of dispute, I imagine, will be about her winning the lip sync.

Season 4 Premiere GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race - Find & Share on GIPHY

Watching the Lip Sync for Your Legacy, I knew immediately Ru’s choice of winner would be controversial. Season 10 veteran and fellow challenge winner Monét X Change certainly serves big stunts and moments in her lip sync, which is more immediately impressive. In rewatching it, though, I get why Valentina wins. Monét doesn’t really stitch those big moments together, whereas Val’s is a cohesive performance. Her peaks aren’t just sudden spikes; she builds energy throughout the song, and explodes at the climax. It is a battle reminiscent of the similarly disputed Peppermint-vs.-Trinity Taylor lip sync to “Stronger” in the season 9 finale. I don’t begrudge anyone who thinks Monét deserved the win, but I’d personally also likely go with Valentina.

That said, I’m also certain Valentina wins because it makes for the best story. Redemption on an Ariana Grande lip sync? A year and a half after the Great “Greedy” Massacre? Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to resist that either were I a Drag Race story producer.

Still, any whiff of impropriety is enough to get the fanbase roiled up these days. After Farrah Moan fell in last week’s challenge, some viewers (including season 9 and All Stars 3 veteran Aja) were upset that the show used the take of her All-Star Variety Show Performance in which she fell, as opposed to an alternate take. Trinity the Tuck herself started some drama when she alleged Latrice Royale’s alternate take was worse than the performance we saw (which, in our minds, could have easily been in the top). There was even anger over the shot of season 6 alumna Gia Gunn that the show used after Farrah’s fall. Some eagle-eyed viewers caught that, due to Manila’s unrevealed outfit behind Gia, that shot couldn’t have possibly been Gia’s real reaction to Farrah.

To that last bit of detective work, season 8 queen Kim Chi had the best response imaginable: “Who cares?” Because really, that’s the heart of it. RuPaul’s Drag Race is crafted and curated entertainment. It is not a docuseries, or a live news report. It is reality television, which, despite the name, is under no obligation to present reality exactly as it happened. Producers are telling us a story. Using a hilarious shot of Gia smiling — one that is quite rightfully going viral — to underscore their feud is not malicious. It’s good story editing.

So yeah, Valentina probably wins the lip sync for a combination of her performance, her redemption, and the dramatic narrative potential of her sending former season 9 frenemy Farrah home. That’s not shady or deceptive; to quote Angela Bassett in Mission: Impossible — Fallout, “That’s the job.”

Season 4 Premiere GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race - Find & Share on GIPHY

Speaking of Gia, though, she really leans into that villain edit this week! I’m not sure if Gia purposefully settled on being the bitch when she walked into the workroom to maximize her screen time — as Farrah accuses her of doing in the workroom — or if she’s just this unaware. But she’s unrepentantly unpleasant this week, stirring up drama with Farrah over some nebulous non-story. (Farrah tried to make Gia and another girl make up … while drunk? While Gia was working? And Gia exploded at her? That’s all I got.) She’s blatantly trying to distract Farrah in the workroom, and ignores Farrah’s multiple requests to table the discussion. Even when Monique and Naomi are yelling at Gia to cool it, she still doesn’t listen.

Gia didn’t stop there, though. During deliberations, when Farrah is pleading for her life in the competition with Monét, Gia decides to go over and interrupt the conversation to deliver an insincere apology for any drama she caused. It struck me watching Gia interrupt this one-on-one conversation while wearing opulent eveningwear that Gia is a Bachelor villain in a Drag Race world. She’s all about shady comments behind girls’ backs and inconveniencing them, but that’s not fun to watch. She’s a distraction, in every sense. I deeply empathize with Farrah when she lets out a frustrated, “GOD, I can’t stand her.”

As for Gia’s performance in the challenge, it’s fine. Her verse is unmemorable but enjoyable enough. Honestly, that’s the case across the board this week. Trinity’s verse is fine. Latrice’s is fine too, energetic but lyrically a bit shallow. Season 8 queen Naomi Smalls is actually quite a bit better than fine (guest judge Kacey Musgraves calls her a “great songwriter”), and she looks fantastic to boot. It’s enough to land Naomi in the top three for the second week in a row; one imagines she’ll break through with a win imminently.

Season 3 veteran Manila Luzon, on the other hand, is much worse than fine. Her verse is underwhelming, and nothing she does on the main stage can salvage it. I enjoyed Manila’s painting gag immensely last week, but watching her perform this episode brought back a lot of the problems I have with her. She’s a stunning queen — her runway look this week is nothing short of breathtaking — but she never feels emphatic enough in performance, “MacArthur Park” excepted. Hell, she basically whispers through her verse. For such a big character, Manila’s performances often end with periods, not exclamation points.

The heart of season 10 and winner of last week’s challenge, Monique Heart, is also mostly fine while attempting to pay tribute to Aaliyah in her performance. Unfortunately, she screws up a costume transition in her verse, and worse, she makes excuses for it on the runway. This is truly the most maddening thing about Monique: She has an excuse for everything. And she did the same thing in season 10! I desperately want her to stop, because it so clearly annoys the judges. I can’t watch such a talented queen go out too early again because she won’t just accept critiques on the main stage. If she’d had better humor about the judges’ notes, she may well have swapped placements with Manila.

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Neither Monique nor Manila have much to worry about this week, though. Farrah Moan is just so clearly out of her depth in this group. Her verse isn’t demonstrably worse than Manila’s, but her hesitance in both the vocal performance and dance is obvious. She really does lack the nerve to perform with confidence in this arena. Farrah’s a sweetheart, but her departure this week is entirely fair and deserved.

Valentina and Farrah have a fascinating conversation during deliberations. Val makes no bones about it: She is very much considering sending Farrah home, and wants to know if their friendship will survive it. Farrah says it would be difficult to recover from, considering their relationship is fragile. I’ll give Farrah credit: Whether or not she’s being sincere, that’s pretty good social game. Valentina clearly demonstrates she’s worried about upsetting Farrah, and Farrah doesn’t let her off easy. Even though Valentina ultimately decides to send Farrah home, I’d bet Farrah made the choice a harder one for Val than she expected.

It’s almost certain that Monét would’ve sent Farrah home, too, considering her tight friendship with Monique. Unfortunately, her sending Farrah home is much less compelling narratively — which is kind of the Monét problem all episode. Yeah, she gets her first challenge win, and after absolutely slaying her verse! But she’s not Valentina getting her redemption. Yeah, her runway is a major step up! But it still pales in comparison to everyone else’s gown.

Monét absolutely gets second-fiddle treatment this week — and is even getting it in this recap. I’m hopeful this is only the first win for her, and I’ll get plenty more chances to rant and rave about my fave.

A henny for your thoughts:

• I adore Stacy Layne Matthews, known best simply as “Henny,” and I’m a little bummed to see her backgrounded in a challenge that was designed to feature her. I think the failing here is that she isn’t included in helping the girls develop their verses, so the songs themselves are deeply disconnected from Henny herself. Even during dance rehearsal, she takes a backseat to the group drama. Still, it’s always nice to see Stacy, and to see the show acknowledge its pre-VH1 roots.

• No mini-challenge this week, which is worrying. If these episodes are going to be 90 minutes long, we need weekly mini-challenges. There was a whole lot of time spent in the workroom this episode.

• Sometimes I think Valentina skeptics are off the mark, and then sometimes Valentina shows off her bare ass in the first five minutes of the episode. So, like, I get it.

• Monét drops a reference to The Vixen in her verse. Color me not just shocked, but floored, that Drag Race allowed it.

• I shrieked when “Into You” came on as the lip sync song. One more Ariana song in season 11, and she’ll tie the record held for most non-RuPaul lip sync songs by a single artist! (Current record holders: Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, and Madonna.)

• Though Manila’s output this episode is decidedly underwhelming, I do appreciate her commentary on the Gia-Farrah fight. She sees a lot of herself in Gia, and wisely notes that going for the weakest link in the room is only going to look like bullying. As she says, she knows from experience. Heathers vs. Boogers, anyone?

• Kacey Musgraves and Ciara are good-not-great guest judges, though Ciara does get a couple of good notes in during judging. Knocking Monique for making excuses instead of taking responsibility as a performer is the kind of note only another performer can give. And Kacey calling Trinity “Tanya Tuck-er” during the runway is fun.

• God bless Ciara for not just screaming at Naomi when she says she listened to “One, Two Step” in sixth grade. Monét screaming that she loves Ciara is much more respectful.

• Once Gia inevitably goes next week — Snatch Game doesn’t really seem like her forte — we’ll be down to an absurdly tight final seven. I truly think anyone could win this thing, though if I were a betting man, I’d say Valentina, Trinity, Latrice, and Monét will be our final four.

• I will never be over Valentina saying that Monique’s pant fit “is so disrespectful to Aaliyah.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars returns next Friday, December 28, at 8 p.m. Eastern on VH1. (Merry Christmas until then!)

Drag Queen Story Hour is Different Down South

In Alabama, a tourist can visit many Civil Rights-era landmarks. Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where a Klan bomb killed four little girls preparing for Sunday School, still hosts a regular 11am Sunday service. Ninety miles south, tourists can still walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a site that kicked off Civil Rights marches and a brutal confrontation with police dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

But Civil Rights tourists who travel further down to Alabama’s southwest pocket would find themselves a bit out of luck in Mobile. Two grassroots leagues exerted pressure on local politics during the Civil Rights era and insured that Mobile’s struggles played out in the courtroom and not the streets. Until now. Last August, Mobile’s Government Plaza played host to a packed out county commission meeting where concerned locals spoke out against Mobile’s first Drag Queen Story Hour.

“This event represents opening the door to many other abhorrent behavioral lifestyles,” Woodridge Baptist Church Pastor Matt Morris said, “which threatens to undermine the moral fiber of this country.”

When writer and new mom Michelle Tea launched Drag Queen Story Hour at the San Francisco Library in December of 2015, she was more focused on her raucous toddler than the country’s moral fiber. By the summer of 2016, the Brooklyn Public Library was on board and the event took root up and down blue states on the east and west coasts with very little fanfare or community agitation.

When there was a protestor, such as the one at a reading pegged to Staten Island Gay Pride, it was usually a lone wolf who snuck into the event. Now that the franchise is replicating in the Deep South, religious conservatives posit it as the latest skirmish in the ongoing culture wars. It’s here that drag queen Khloe Kash read from children’s books to an audience of avid 3 to 8-year-olds at Mobile’s first Drag Queen Story Hour, giving rise to angry shouts about protecting our children. These were not lone wolf protestors, though, and they’ve grown large enough to be contained by metal police gates outside the event. Their ire spreads seismically.

Six hours west of Mobile, in Lafayette, Louisiana, the president of the local public library board, Joseph Gordon-Wiltz, resigned over plans to implement a Drag Queen Story Hour in his library. Congressman Clay Higgins jumped into the fray, releasing a statement ending with the battle cry, “the very purpose of this incredibly inappropriate event should be questioned. The intrusion of the LGBQT Drag Queen realm into the Lafayette community, targeting our youngest children within a publicly funded venue, can only reflect the leftist agenda to deconstruct gender across America.”

A bit further west, Houston’s mayor Sylvester Turner and library director Rhea Lawson were named in a lawsuit brought by religious conservatives who don’t want Drag Queen Story Hour in their library system, let alone their tax dollars funding this assault on their religious freedom. The motley crew of plaintiffs included a man who uses library books to homeschool his children, a mother whose husband left her for a transgender woman and a man whose previous suit was predicated on his right to marry his computer.

“Drag Queen Story Hour is just what it sounds like,” reads Michelle Tea’s original mission statement. “Drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Drag Queen Story Hour captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.”

Jonathan Hamilt came on board in San Francisco by their second or third event and in the fall of 2015, he was huddling with a like-minded Rachel Aimee at Feminist Press, working together to bring Drag Queen Story Hour to New York.

“We brought it to a bookstore first,” he says, “and people kept asking more about it.” Soon the Brooklyn Public Library was recruiting them.

“It kept going and going,” he says. “Now it’s international.”

By November of this year, it got real. Mobile’s West Regional Library main entrance was cordoned off, dividing more than 100 protesters and counter-protesters by about 50 feet, enough room to prevent fisticuffs, but also ensure that each group would be trying to out-scream the other. One side chanted “God loves gays,” while the other riffed on kids having their childhood perverted.

It’s the return of Drag Queen Story Hour to Mobile, and one religious protester inside his pen wrestled with a bright red cross, twice as tall as he is, replete with foot and hand pegs along with a crown of thorns. The prop is indicative of this protest’s raison d’être: go big or go home. Inside, children twerked on silver platforms raised about six inches off the floor. They were warming up for Zamareyah Dawn, who would read to them from two works: Sara O’Leary’s book A Family Is a Family Is a Family and Maya Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.

A Family features a foster child who gets up her nerve to share that fact with her class after a round-robin reveals kids raised by grandparents and through joint-custody. The child raised by a gay couple is certainly not central to the story. It’s hard to see how any parent could object to anyone reading Maya Angelou to their kids, and her poem here was more about nocturnal wild animals than any type of overt homosexuality. By the time the children moved onto crafting, the protesters holding up their sad, home laser-printed bible verses and the ten police officers maintaining order could be a million miles away. They had all fallen into that familiar, glazed-over cadence of children gluing shit onto construction paper.

“We recently had a Story Hour at the Brooklyn Central branch at the Grand Army Plaza,” Hamilt explains, “and there was a protester straight out of central casting: cowboy hat and overalls with the word ‘repent’ stitched across the back. It was too funny. So he came in and did this whole rigamarole. No one turned around or looked at him during the disruption. Luckily, the drag queen was already on her guitar and playing so people just started clapping and singing louder until security escorted him out.”

For Hamilt, and those whose safety he is responsible for, it all comes down to training.

“We did a bunch of storytelling trainings on how to read books to kids and how to facilitate a reading time,” he says of an early meeting in Brooklyn. “And then it was me and Lil Miss Hot Mess, we were one of the first to do the library in Park Slope and it turned out to be huge.”

Those trainings include “[making] sure that people focus on the positive and don’t react to the negative, even on social media and online.” On Mobile’s Drag Queen Story event page on Facebook, one troll asked a mother why she just doesn’t take her kids to Bourbon Street. The mother went in, telling the troll he’s being more dramatic than any drag queen.

“You’re going to get hate,” Hamilt says. “There are going to be some people who say some really hateful things. You’re going to get trolls. But don’t react. Don’t engage, just be the higher person.”

But if a mama bear can’t resist a good smackdown, what chance does a drag queen, who has cut her teeth on hecklers in the club, have? “Well, yeah,” he agrees, “but we’re constantly being scrutinized and filmed. And we’re working with kids. If we were in a nightclub or at Pride, it would be a different story. We’d have the community to back us up. But with kids, if you ignore it, they will ignore it. So we have a zero engagement tolerance. We’re like, don’t even address us. But don’t find us in the club, either. It’ll be a different story.”

The roster of participating queens is extensive and impressive, both in their personas and their reading choices.

“Harmonica Sunbeam is always in a crazy outfit that’s very colorful. And Lil Miss Hot Mess is like Ms. Frizzle,” he says. Miss Hot Mess has also been known to freestyle her own version of the children’s classic “The Wheels on the Bus” that includes lyrics like “The hips on the drag queen go swish, swish, swish…”

Freestyling, it should be noted, is encouraged by Drag Queen Story Hour, which has a very free-form design. It’s why Michelle Tea’s original mission statement counters gender restrictions with role models, but Mobile’s chapter head Bryan Fuenmayor describes his event as a way to show the world that the city of Mobile itself is tolerant and diverse. This make-it-up-as-you-go quality is also one that weighs on Hamilt.

“Every time I do it,” he says, “I’m always thinking, OK, which works better with kids? When I do drag, I need to not wear a short dress because the kids are sitting at my knee level. So you learn stuff every time you do it.”

Hamilt says the queens are always on the lookout for new material.

“As classic as Heather Has Two Mommies is,” he explains, “it’s a really bad book to read to a four-year-old because it’s so intense. All of that goes over their head, but we worked really close with the NYPL and the Brooklyn Public Library to create two different book lists, one for early childhood and one for a little bit older.”

“Then we comb through and pull the ones that are good just for story hour purposes alone,” he continues. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a great book. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Pete The Cat are all just great books and then we have our books that talk about gender and about being different and acceptance and tolerance. We read Neither by Airlie Anderson, which is one of our favorites. And then there’s Worm Loves Worm. And Sparkle Boy, 10,000 Dresses and I Am Jazz for older kids. So we all have our favorites, our classics.”

The felines on Hamilt’s reading list outnumber humans, but it’s Heather Has Two Mommies alum Lesléa Newman’s 2017 book Sparkle Boy, with its three-year-old protagonist harboring an affection for his older sister’s sparkly shirts, that tees up this year’s Drag Queen Story Hour lightning rod. 

Parents, it seems, are learning too. “At one of the first story hours I did in New York,” Hamilt remembers, “I was pretty new as a drag queen, too, and this woman came straight up to me. She didn’t say hi or introduce herself. She just goes, ‘How long were you on hormones?’ So I was like, ‘Whoa! Hello, hi.’ But actually, we don’t get a lot of questions from parents.”

At the Staten Island event, a mother of two, who asked not to be named, admitted she likes the event, and has attended before in Park Slope, where she lives.

“That’s actually a tough room,” she confides, drawing a parallel between the Stepford-like rigidity around being “cool” with gender fluidity that she observes in Park Slope and the implacability of the religious right. Her youngest child wears his hair past his shoulders and is definitely rocking what Michelle Tea refers to in Drag Queen Story Hour’s mission statement as “the gender fluidity of childhood.” His mom says she will sometimes gently course correct when they are at home, but wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so around the other Park Slope moms.

“They’re on it,” she says. “Like I said, it can be a tough room.”

For Hamilt, the Park Slope parenting prerogative is much different from “the buckle of the Bible Belt” in rural Georgia where he grew up.

“A lot of that idea comes from an access of privilege,” he adds. “They’re in a safe enough space that there’s no backlash, but some people struggle with it and are facing adversity every day. We’ll see what happens. We all grow up.”

It’s the protesting parents in places like Mobile that Hamilt finds to be scared of what drag queens reading gender-expansive books to children means.

“It’s all fear, but the sad thing is the fear comes out in anger,” Hamilt says. “ Anytime there’s an intellectual radical shift in culture, especially one that challenges gender and puts femininity on the same level as males, people get really nervous and scared. It all goes back to patriarchy and misogyny and having men feel like they aren’t in power. When you challenge that, it trickles down into Drag Queen Story Hour.”

The point, Hamilt says, is simply to share stories that make people “feel comfortable at any age.”

“The younger you feel comfortable and accept yourself and others visually, then that’s just an extra step,” he says. “I would love to live in a world where people can present as who they are 24/7 and not get harassed. I just want everyone to be accepted for who they are.”

For more on upcoming Drag Queen Story Hour events, visit its website or Facebook page.

Images via Drag Queen Story Hour