Tops and Bottoms: A Look at the All Stars 5 Final 3

I decided to do a different sort of article for the All Stars 5 final 3 because, in my mind, all three exemplify what Drag Race as a franchise has become. Episode 7, like most penultimate Drag Race episodes, was outstandingly boring, and I’ve already said my peace about the already self-explanatory Blair St. Clair.

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The kind of person who would fall for Joe Exotic.

For better or worse, this final 3 each give us a glimpse into how Drag Race has evolved into the show that it is today. And while this final 3 was beyond predictable, to the point that every single person I knew guessed it at the cast reveal, that predictability I think shows how worn the Drag Race tires are, and how set in its ways the franchise has become. Drag Race is over a decade old, and the changes from the move to VH1 have not so much shaken the franchise as much as globed more shit onto it.

Each of these finalists represent trends Drag Race has had since the beginning: trends that percolated at the beginning and were enhanced with the channel hop. And I think these finalists can help explain not only how we got here, but who will win.

Bottom

3. Cracker

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So damn telegenic…

Cracker’s archetype is one we have seen before, and seen prosper. She’s a joke-cracking “oddball” who naturally charms the general audience with her like of melanin. Since the genesis of the VH1 era, we’ve seen these types of characters rise above and take the show with an iron fist. Cracker is almost a textbook definition of a fan favorite (more on that later), and her placement in the finale doesn’t shock me. Seeing her at a distant third on Twitter and Facebook, however, did.

I don’t like Cracker. That point, I’m sure, has become obvious to all four of my readers. But what really caught me off guard was how much no one else seems to like her either. Friends who like similar characters like Trixie or Trinity have come down hard against Cracker, and have similarly ranked her a distant third of these finalists. For whatever reason, Cracker hasn’t won these people over the same that past examples have, and in fact has actually alienated a lot of them. And for a long time, I didn’t get how. It’s not as if Cracker’s trajectory is on paper different than these past examples; if anything, AS5 Cracker is a beat-by-beat repeat of Trixie’s All Stars 3.

What I think ultimately sabotaged Cracker is her privilege and, ironically, lack of originality. Cracker knew she would be a finalist. This isn’t from deducing some obscure evidence or body language, she heavily implies as such in the second episode after making the comments she did to Ongina. And while her place as finalist may have been obvious, comments like that are only going to shrink your already tiny fanbase even more. And before you ask if she could any more fans with her talent… well, I think that thought speaks for itself. Cracker doesn’t have anything to distinguish herself from the numerous Queens just like her. Cracker brings absolutely nothing to the table of All Stars 5 outside of total entitlement. And to be fair, in most seasons that entitlement wouldn’t have stopped her win (looking at you, Alaska), but Cracker had the misfortune of being in an endgame with…

Middle

2. Shea

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Shea is probably the most interesting contestant this season to talk about, but it has almost nothing to do with the season itself. Of this final 3, I believe Shea is the one with the most natural talent: she totally deserved her two wins, her runways were great, and she’s a decent, if dry, narrator. In theory, Shea has this season totally in the bag.

I just don’t know who this Shea person is.

I’ve made my thoughts on Shea pretty clear over the last month and a half, but the biggest thing stopping me from getting on board with a Shea win is how muted and nonspecific she presents herself. She’s a powerhouse performer, but I never get the sense of where that performance comes from. She has a past, but doesn’t elaborate on it. She wants to fight, but for what? It wasn’t until the final 5 episode of this season, her second, where we got to see a more vulnerable side of Shea. Her talking about her dead father is the kind of thing we needed more of from Shea because it was something I couldn’t get from someone else. At the 11th hour, Shea finally got personal, and I think it might be too little too late.

And for the record, I get why she does it this way. Shea wants to present herself for other queer people… from Chicago, let’s just say. And I think she really wants to be that inspiration, and thinks the only way to do is to be non-specific, both to be a cipher for young Chicago kids to be inspired by her, and to not alienate the non-Chicago viewers who wouldn’t understand. Shea feels pressure on herself to be something meaningful, but I think in the process she has lost herself.

I don’t hate Shea. I really don’t. My biggest complaint about her, that she enables bad behavior in other, more privileged contestants, is much more a problem with the show itself. And in the current climate, I do think Shea would make a great, important winner and figurehead.

Top

1.Jujubee

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That being said, I am so fucking exciting about the prospect of Jujubee winning.

Jujubee is, and has always been, an ethereal part of Drag Race. She is something so cosmic and yet so relatable, a down-to-earth weirdo whose appeal can’t be easily summed up. While Shea and Cracker represent modern trends that have popped up in the VH1 era, Jujubee is an archetype we’ve seen many times since the beginning: Yara Sofia, Monique, Katya. And while these contestants are great, Jujubee was the trailblazer. The original honest soul that Drag Race would be a much hollower without.

It’s interesting that Juju is in a final 3 with these two opposites because, in a lot of ways, she’s the epitome of what they both try to be. Cracker’s character, the one she’s playing on TV, is one that only exists because of one of those aforementioned honest souls: Katya. Once Season 7 wrapped and people realized that the real star of the season was her, and not the actual winner, aspiring contestants started crafting “unique,” “funny” characters in order to get a seemingly guaranteed instant surge of popularity post-show, even if they don’t win. Hell, how Trixie became popular enough to win All Stars 3 was after a year and a half of piggybacking off Katya’s popularity. Of course, the irony is these contestants are nowhere near unique or zany as they pretend to be, but it’s a formula that’s yielded results, so it makes sense Cracker tried to emulate it. Unfortunately for her, the type of character Cracker tries so hard to be, and can’t, is the same one Jujubee pulls off effortlessly. Jujubee lacks the over the top mugging and disingenuous behavior of Cracker, and instead has a warmth and sincerity that makes her so engaging. While Cracker mugs endlessly and makes pointless references to past catchphrases in a hopeless attempt at her own piggybacking, Jujubee is busy telling you how adorable her cats are, showing god damn polaroids of them during a confessional.

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Bless.

The comparison between Juju and Shea is murkier, but it similarly stems from the same place: portraying a character on television. As I said, Shea is someone who intentionally guards her complicated feelings and censors her opinions to achieve a win. While Cracker plays up her personality to try and be some sort of breakout character, Shea obfuscates hers to try to be a winner. And while her intentions are sound and her paranoia about expressing herself is valid, it does mean that key elements of Shea’s story are under wraps, forced out only after Miz Fracker dredges them up. Jujubee wants to tell you about herself. She wants to tell you about her two cats and about wanting a third. She wants to tell you about struggling with alcoholism and how her life changed after deciding to become sober. She talks about losing friends and even her fiancé because of the choices she made for a better life. Jujubee is a character that builds on itself, and while she certainly benefits from a decade of being a famous drag queen, she’s a layered, complicated person who doesn’t shy away from both hyping herself and talking about her problems. Her talking about her addition completely recontextualizes her Black Velvet breakdown, a kind of subtle callback that you can’t do with Shea not focusing on herself and Cracker’s identity being a façade.

In fact, the one thing Shea and Cracker have in common is also a thing Jujubee lacks: expectation. It’s abundantly clear Shea and Cracker, even before the season started, knew they were going to be finalists. Shea’s status of robbed winner mirrors past All Star winners like Chad and Alaska, while Cracker’s persona was cut whole clothe from Trixie and Trinity. They knew they were favorites going in, especially upon seeing they were two big fish in this small pond of a cast, and deliberately played the same cards they played in their respective seasons. Cracker played her persona up to agonizing levels of obnoxious and forced, while Shea played herself down to not rock the boat. Jujubee, who had no expectations going in, is just being herself. There’s no bullshit to Juju’s All Stars 5, no overcompensation, no cloak and dagger. Jujubee is playing All Stars 5 on her terms, and only her terms, and made it to the end on her terms. It’s inspiring that this Queen who hasn’t been on television in years can so perfectly recapture audience attention.

It can’t be overstated how much Jujubee should win All Stars 5. I wouldn’t be upset, and totally get it, if Shea won, and Cracker… well, I won’t say I’ll be surprised. But for me, there’s no other choice. Jujubee is the embodiment of Drag: a critical, artful expression of the conscious. Drag is about literally dressing up in costume so that you can metaphorically peel away the layers and let your heart lay bare. And while Shea hides hers and Cracker fakes hers, Juju wears hers on her sleeve.

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