It’s been two years since RuPaul unveiled the most enduring and celebrated format change in RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars history. Whereas other changes — teams, the jury — have gone over like a lead balloon, the Lip Sync for Your Legacy is now considered a mainstay of the All-Stars format, and the biggest distinguishing factor between the spin-off and its parent reality competition.
After two seasons of the new format, Friday’s premiere of All-Stars 4 saw the return of Lip Sync for Your Legacy in a showdown between Season 10 stunner Monique Heart and Season 9 finalist Trinity Taylor to Mariah Carey’s “Emotions.” And, for the third premiere in a row, the same thing happened: the person who actually did the best in the week’s maxi challenge lost the lip sync, missed out on the $10,000 prize and was not actually crowned the “winner” of the week, nor got to send one of her fellow queens home.
Look at the previous seasons: In All-Stars 2, after knocking her spoken word performance of “The Same Parts” out of the park, clear winner Tatianna lost in a Taylor Swift lip sync to Roxxxy Andrews, who did a burlesque routine in the talent show. Fast forward one season and Aja — who, like Tatianna, came back to All-Stars and blew everyone’s expectations out of the water — won the variety show but ultimately lost to BenDeLaCreme, who threw the comedic kitchen sink at Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” and got the $10,000 tip.
This pattern of the obvious challenge winner not actually, well, winning exposes one of the biggest problems with the format. Lip Sync for Your Legacy actually makes the maxi challenge second banana in terms of importance. Really, the weekly test, for which every contestant prepares, is an entrance exam to the actual competition: the lip sync. For instance, in this week’s episode, the 10 contestants were fighting to get a spot in the lip sync so that they could compete for money and the win. The challenge is not, then, actually the maxi challenge, but a playoff. It’s a rest stop on the way to the true thunderdome.
In many ways, that reverses the format of the regular Drag Race seasons. In a Lip Sync for Your Life, contestants who failed the week’s challenge get a chance to stay in the competition. The format lights a fire under their asses. There’s no such fire in the “legacy” format. Just look at the lip syncs across the board from the last two seasons of All-Stars. Overall, they’re pretty good; they are all stars, after all. But the lip sync of the past two All-Stars seasons that stands head and shoulders above the rest isn’t a “legacy” lip sync — it’s Tatianna and Alyssa Edwards’ “Shut Up and Drive,” which was a LSFYLife.
So “legacy” lip syncs on some level lack the passion of the “life” format. And they also often reward the wrong person, making the challenges seem a little less than important. But, on the other hand, they do add a lot of value. By getting rid of the “life” lip sync, All-Stars adds room for the drama of strategery and workroom fuckery, which is always fun to watch. It also spares any All-Star the embarrassment of feeling like they “lost” the competition. Instead, a fellow queen sent her home.
I’m not saying the format has to be done away with. Instead, there should be something in place to add what is really missing from the “legacy” lip sync: stakes. If a queen loses, she is “safe” instead of getting $10,000. Maybe, as my colleague Kevin O’Keeffe suggested in an episode of The Kiki, the queen who loses the lip sync can join the bottom two and then the queen can choose to send home the person whose name is on the lipstick in their bra or the lip sync loser. (Of course, this argument shoots my own in the foot. If a queen like Aja or Tatianna went from robbed winner to straight to the bottom, I’d have a meaty tuck of a conniption.)
Rather than saying “Lip Sync for Your Legacy” is completely broken, I’m saying that it’s rough to see for the umpteenth time the truly deserving challenge winner lose out on a tip. I wanted Aja, Tatianna and Monique Heart to get their checks! Legacies are great, but you should tip your truly winning queens.