Photo: RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars/YouTube
Despite ending in victory, Yvie’s journey in season eleven was defined by silver medals. She was not quite as charismatic as Silky in performance challenges, not quite as likable as Nina West in hosting ones, and not quite as good at improv as A’Keria in comedy challenges. The only time Yvie was truly unstoppable was when she lip-synced. We watched her come alive: contorting her body to positions that defy physics and human anatomy, capturing the room with her magnetic charisma. In those moments, her talent was plain for all to see. Indeed, it quickly became obvious that lip-syncing was Yvie’s most undeniable strength, her drag race trump card. And ultimately, she played that card often enough to win.
In a regular season, lip-syncing can be a queen’s salvation. A final hail mary that can not only keep you in the competition but perhaps even create the ever-illusive drag race “moment.” A fortuitous event that cements your legacy and ensures you’ll be featured in YouTube compilations and on gay bar projector screens for years to come. Yvie accomplished this with her lip sync against Brooke to Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” widely considered one of the best performances of the franchise. And she arguably did it again as a lip-sync assassin against India Ferrah on All Stars 5. But this season, creating another “moment” won’t be so simple because lip-syncing isn’t a necessity at all. In fact, it’s practically inconsequential. We need only look at All Stars 4, where Monet won her crown without so much as a single solo lip sync win. Lip syncs occur after a queen has won a challenge, and (even if she does win) usually that’s accompanied by a punishment instead of a reward, like being forced to send a queen home or (in this case) block them from receiving a star. Far from salvation, a good lip sync could even be a queen’s downfall. So it should be no surprise that Yvie has been having a difficult time this season with her signature skill devalued. So much so that she comes into this episode as the only queen without a win. But despite all that, Yvie emerges from this episode with not one but two Legendary Legends Stars. How did she do it?
The challenge this week? Girlgroups. And thank god for that! If there’s one type of music production drag race has been nailing consistently both at home and abroad, it’s these girl group parody tracks. But before the girls break into groups, RuPaul announces it’s time for Jinkx and Raja to make good on last week’s twist by giving away their extra Legendary Legends Stars to a queen of their choice. Raja gives her star to Yvie (a huge development and a choice Raja might regret later), and Jinkx gives her star to Jaida. Jinkx says this is because she “believes in this queen,” but it’s pretty easy to deduce her strategy. While the rest of the queens have one star apiece, Yvie has zero, meaning that she’s the only queen Jinkx wouldn’t be catapulting into the lead. Or so she thinks. And just like that, Yvie claims her first charity star of the episode. And we’re not even ten minutes in!
After the most minor and British of tiffs between The Vivienne and no one in particular over the composition of the girl groups, the teams are decided. On team one we have Trinity, Raja, Monet, and Shea singing “Titanic,” and on team two there’s Yvie, Viv, Jaida, and Jinkx doing “Together 4ever.” Both teams come up with strong concepts for their backstories. Team Titanic (or “MSTR”) elects to portray a girl group on the ropes. One of their members has just gone solo, and they’re doing their first TRL performance without her. A fun idea, to be sure, but they essentially abandon it when it comes to recording their solos. It doesn’t really matter, though, as I’m immediately captivated by their tight choreo and catchy vocals the minute they hit the stage. Shea and Monet are the indisputable stars, hitting every beat of choreo and nailing their verses. Trinity takes up a solid third, with a verse that’s perhaps a little too plot-heavy to land, and Raja claims a distant fourth as the camera generously cuts around her sloppy choreo and spotty lip-syncing. Love you anyway, queen!
Team “Together 4ever” chooses to focus on their individual characters’ personalities as opposed to concocting a specific group history. Jinkx is a secretly geriatric frontwoman, The Vivienne is a posh stereotype, Jaida is a rapper with IBS, and Yvie (per Jinkx’s suggestion) is a robot sent from the future to be the perfect girl group member. The result is a slew of dynamic performances that make for an entertaining, engaging number that’s able to stick the landing better than that of their MSTR counterparts. Jinkx, pro that she is, has my favorite verse. The jokes are well-crafted, and even without context, it’s easy to understand the pop star stereotype she’s satirizing. However, that’s not to take away from Jaida and Vivienne, who are excellent as well. If you only have 32 bars, sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones, so both Jaida’s idea (pop star with diarrhea) and The Vivienne’s (British) are a ball to watch. Coming up in fourth, Yvie Oddly. At first, I assumed she had abandoned the robot idea since her verse makes no mention of it, but then towards the end of the song she starts “malfunctioning,” so apparently that’s not the case. Even in the group interview with Ross (Carson Gayly) at the end, when each of her other teammates manages to drive their character arc home, Yvie again floods with a generic bromide.
So it’s surprising to me that when it comes time for critiques, Yvie is on the receiving end of most of the praise. Ross loves the pace of her rap as Yvie replies, “the triplets!” (they were not triplets), and Michelle says Yvie’s Dolly look is her favorite, which feels particularly wild given that Raja is standing next to her. But the judges are convinced! It’s Yvie’s night. Monet and Shea both soak up some praise as well, but it’s The Vivienne who claims the second winner’s spot.
When this lip sync pairing was announced, I assumed Yvie had it in the bag. The Vivienne is not exactly renowned for her lip-syncing, and Yvie, as we’ve thoroughly discussed, is a bonafide assassin. But very early into Dolly’s “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That,” it’s clear that the opposite is true. The Vivienne, already in chic Dolly drag, is an impressionist first and foremost. She embodies not only the country song but also Dolly Parton herself. She has her mannerisms down pat, some tasteful and simple choreo, all the while with Dolly’s cheerful optimism shining through. Yvie, on the other hand, is at sea. Her signature splits and flips would be out of place in a number like this, so she defaults to an almost mockingly cheerful do-si-do. It quickly becomes monotonous, and next to The Vivienne, it’s entirely ineffective. RuPaul seems to agree and awards a resounding victory to Viv.
While Yvie undebatably comes out of this episode the statistical victor, I have a hard time describing her as a front-runner. Her journey this episode (from last place to first place) is narrative catnip, and I can see why the show would be unable to resist giving her the win, especially when Jinkx’s momentum shows no signs of slowing. The competition is more level now, and I’m sure the other queens are feeling the pressure to nab their second star as well. But something tells me lightning won’t strike twice. Yvie certainly even the odds this go around, but she’ll need a lot more to keep pace for the second half of the season. We shall see!
Until next week!