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Drag Race All-Stars 5: Sizing Up the Competition

Breaking down the ten returning queens competing for a spot in the Drag Race hall of fame.
  • Blair St. Clair, Derrick Barry and Shea Couleé return in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (VH1)
    Blair St. Clair, Derrick Barry and Shea Couleé return in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (VH1)

    Whether or not you think VH1 should space out their drag content to last us through the lean times of TV production, the fact is that they're following up the RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12 finale with the 5th season of Drag Race All-Stars. Originally announced to air on Showtime, it's going to remain on VH1, giving the network a seamless run of drag programming. Judging by the cast of ten returning queens, it should be a fascinating season as a mix of old-school Drag Race legends challenge a number of exciting recent queens.

    There's also a major rule change going into effect that should thelp make every episode an event: whereas in past All-Stars seasons, the top two queens have lip-synced at episode's end, with the winner choosing which bottom-finishing queen gets the boot, this season is throwing in a chaotic twist. Each episode will get a single winner, and that winner will have to lip sync against a Drag Race veteran and "lip-sync assassin." If the All-Stars 5 queen wins, she gets to pick the eliminated queen. If the assassin wins, then all of the all-stars will vote for who gets eliminated. It has the potential to be a wild scene.

    With the June 5th premiere date fast approaching, it's time to evaluate the ten returning queens to see who stands the best chance at snatching the crown:

    Alexis Mateo

    Original Seasons: 3 — All-Stars 1

    How They Did: Season 3 saw pageanty Alexis running uphill against the fashion-forward juggernaut that was Raja. It also saw a whole bunch of factionalism and in-fighting between the Heathers (Raja, Manila Luzon, Carmen Carrera) and the so-called "Boogers" (Alexis and Shangela, mostly). Alexis has shown a willingness to mix it up — see also her All-Stars 1 backstage cutting down of Mimi Imfurst — but the intervening years have turned her into a Drag Race elder, with her biggest claim to fame among younger fans being that she's drag mother to Vanessa Vanjie Mateo.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: More than any of the AS5 queens, Alexis has the widest variance in plausible outcomes. You could just as easily see her making the top 3 as you could see her getting eliminated first. One thing is sure: she'll probably need to show something new and surprising in order to make a mark.

    Blair St. Clair

    Original Season: 10

    How They Did: After turning in some highly polished (if same-y) looks and landing in the top for the first three weeks, the air began leaking from Blair's balloon, and she was eliminated in 9th place.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: Blair is absolutely going to try to ride the "growth" edit in AS5. While her looks got high marks in Season 10, they were all pretty retro and self-consciously cute. But just from watching the entrances and teaser for AS5, you can see that Blair has turned the dial way up on her look, which is now a lot more daring and risky. She's primed for an edit similar to Naomi Smalls, whose next-level looks got her all the way to the end of All-Stars 4. Blair is a very real threat to make it at least that far this year.

    Derrick Barry

    Original Season: 8

    How They Did: While Derrick made it all the way to the top 5 of Season 8, he spent most of that season getting read by the other queens for his lacking skills and attitude problem. He was finally knocked out by eventual winner Bob the Drag Queen in a Lip Sync for Your Life to Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real."

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: The thing about Derrick Barry is that he's an incredibly skillful Britney Spears impersonator, but that's really the only arrow in his quiver. Upon getting cast for AS5, he was going to have to step up his game and elevate his drag. Which is why his workroom entrance for All-Stars 5, doing the exact same Britney schtick only with an "Oops! I Did It Again" reference, feels like a very bad sign.

    India Ferrah

    Original Season: 3

    How They Did: Not all that well, actually! After two weeks of coasting by as safe, India survived her lip-sync against Mimi Imfurst essentially by default — after Mimi picked her up and tried to airplane-spin her like one of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — and was asked to sashay away the next week after losing a lip sync to velour couture goddess herself, Stacy Layne Matthews (who should be on this season instead).

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: Few people understand why of all the queens to choose from, they chose India Ferrah to return. She's going to have to show that there was a very good reason for it right away or else it's doubtful she'll last very long this time either.

    Jujubee

    Original Season: 2 — All-Stars 1

    How They Did: There ended up being bigger contenders at the end of Season 2. Juju never so much as won a challenge, but there's no doubt that she put her stamp on that season as one of the show's best and most likeable contenders. When she returned for All-Stars 1, her storyline was folded into her friendship with Raven, who finished as runner-up (again) while Juju finished third (again). As the years have gone on, Jujubee's legend has only grown.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: Traditionally, the all-star seasons haven't reached too terribly far back to find their winners. Chad Michaels won immediately after his original season aired; Alaska was only three years removed from her original season, as was Trixie Mattel. Trinity Taylor and Monet X. Change were both within a year and a half of their original seasons when they won All-Stars 4. It's been nearly eight years since Juju was even on All-Stars 1, and a decade since her original season. If Ru is truly in the business of getting the children to learn their history, Juju should have a great shot to win.

    Mariah

    Original Season: 3

    How They Did: Mariah Balenciaga, a.k.a. Mariah Paris, a.k.a. Mariah Successful should have done better on Season 3. A queen from the ball circuit, Mariah could turn a flawless look, stomp the runway with purpose, and was deceptively quick with a read. What proved insurmountable was her Snatch Game performance, an unforgivably off-the-mark Joan Crawford impersonation that sent her to the bottom two and ultimately home. After the show, Mariah turned in some of the most entertaining performances on the Drag U spinoff (often opposite her fellow AS5 contestant Jujubee), though that show's spotty reputation among Drag Race fans means Mariah still hasn't quite gotten her due from the fandom.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: Winning will probably be a tall order for a queen who's been largely off the Drag Race canvass for this long, and unfortunately Mariah's workroom-entrance look comes off as a messy bad omen. She's also primarily a look/attitude queen whereas All-Stars tends to value performance/comedy even more highly than regular Drag Race. But the reality is that Mariah is a truly fierce queen who has the talent to blow some of these other queens out of the water and possibly make a run to top 5/6.

    Mayhem Miller

    Original Season: 10

    How They Did: A longtime drag veteran, Mayhem Miller finally made it onto Drag Race for Season 10 and started off red hot, winning the first challenge and earning high marks on the second. But she came crashing down in week three, and despite winning that lip sync handily, she limped along for two more weeks before being eliminated in 10th place.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: Mayhem has a ton of respect in the drag world, but if her Season 10 performance is any indication, Drag Race might not be the best arena for her talents. She's already getting overshadowed by nearly every other member of the AS5 cast.

    Miz Cracker

    Original Season: 10

    How They Did: Despite finishing in 5th place and missing the finale, Miz Cracker was a still a huge part of the Season 10 storylines, with her two major story arc being an NYC rivalry with Aquaria (that kind of didn't go anywhere) and a perfectionist/inner saboteur storyline that ultimately did her in. But she was a reliable narrator for the season and a hugely likeable contestant to boot.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: Cracker is smart, quick, funny, and she can turn a look. And she doesn't have Aquaria around this time to leech her storyline. She's gonna be a real contender. As for Cracker's notorious inner saboteur, if she can create a narrative for herself that she's moved past her self-doubt, well, that was a storyline that got Katya all the way to runner-up on All-Stars 2.

    Shea Couleé

    Original Season: 9

    How They Did: It's safe to say that Shea dominated Season 9, winning four challenges and only falling to the bottom once. But when it came time for the finale, the new lip-sync tournament twist was a brick wall for Shea's winner's arc. She faced off with Sasha Velour, who delivered the single greatest lip-sync in show history, and suddenly (and inarguably), Shea's season was over.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: The one good thing about Shea losing the crown in such a heartbreaking fashion is that it gives her a tremendous storyline for All-Stars. She gets to be the A+ who was felled by a once-in-a-lifetime land-mine. A Shea Couleé win would get the universe back on its axis (not that Sasha didn't fully deserve to win, but it feels wrong that Shea doesn't have a crown). Her biggest concern might just be that expectations for her are too high.

    Ongina

    Original Season: 1

    How They Did: Appearing on the original, smeared-lens season of Drag Race makes Ongina something of a pioneer, even moreso for how she delivered edgy, gender-fucking looks that paved the way for countless queens after her. She also made the choice to be incredibly vulnerable and open up about her HIV positive status on the runway. She's been rumored as an All-Stars contender for years, and finally she's here.

    Chances of Winning All-Stars 5: As with Jujubee, it all depends on whether Drag Race is interested in giving the children a history lesson. Ongina's legend certainly precedes her, and if her workroom-entrance look is anything to go by, she came to compete this year. If Bebe Zahara Benet's All-Stars 3 performance is the measuring stick for season 1 queens, Ongina could absolutely match her fourth-place finish, if not reach even higher. A Jujubee-Ongina old-school finale? Well, we can dream.

    RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars 5 premieres Friday night at 8:00 PM ET on VH1.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, VH1, Alexis Mateo, Blair St. Clair, Derrick Barry, India Ferrah, Jujubee, Mariah Balenciaga, Mayhem Miller, Miz Cracker, Ongina, RuPaul Charles, Shea Coulee, Reality TV