Bow Down, Bitches: Naomi Smalls Just Proved She’s No Underdog

Naomi Smalls

After a lip sync tournament that saw each remaining All Star secure her place in the competition — and Latrice Royale fight her way back into the running — RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 4 returns to essentially, the same competition we have had three weeks ago. The top seven All Stars remain and Gia Gunn, Farrah Moan and Jasmine Masters are now officially out of the competition with no hope of making like Jason Voorhees and coming back to slay.

While Latrice Royale may have fought her way back, her lip sync (while strong) was not the standout of the night. That goes to the legendary (emphasis on leg) Naomi Smalls, whose “Adrenaline” performance against Gia Gunn showcased exactly why Smalls is a threat for the crown, despite not yet winning a challenge.

 

At first glance, Smalls doesn’t seem to have made too large an impact on the course of All Stars 4 events. Three times in a row, Mother Ru named her one of the top three queens of the week, but she fell short of top two each time. Fans threw around the word “robbed” more than once when, back to back, the judges overlooked her performances in “Snatch Game of Love” and “Jersey Justice.” (I still laugh thinking about Smalls holding up her stuffed pet dog and screaming, “His name’s Panini!”) And her runways, especially last week’s Prince-themed outfit, have elicited admiration and applause for the contestant that, even at the beginning of season 8, didn’t always seem like she could go all the way.

During her tenure on the show, the infamous Drag Race subreddit has slowly begun to pivot to Smalls standom as, week after week, in the words of one post, the judges “sleep” on her talent. They bemoan her lack of screen time, especially in comparison to eliminated queens, and how AS4’s trio of “friendship storylines” — Monique and Monet, Trinity and Valentina, Manila and Latrice — has left Smalls sidelined. Several Smalls admirers have used their Twitter fingers to appreciate their unheralded queen and BuzzFeed even wrote about the criminal lack of love for the season 8 queen.

Drag Race remains one of the best shows when it comes to crafting narrative arcs for each of its queens. And this week, the underestimation of Naomi Smalls came into play when Gia Gunn chose Smalls as her lip sync opponent despite a history of drama with Trinity. 

Well, America, that backfired in what was possibly a surprise to even Smalls herself who commented on the fact that Gunn hails from the House of Edwards, which is known for performance. But Smalls’ lip sync was not only a technical KO — which, I might add, was not hard given how good Gunn was — but also a great narrative moment for the queen.

For context, Smalls was not known as much of a lip syncer during her season 8 run. She only had to lip sync once, against Acid Betty, whose performance was hampered by a prosthetic pregnancy belly.

Her head-to-head with with Betty was Smalls’ sole competitive lip sync until this week’s against Gunn. She did lip sync to “The Realness” with Bob the Drag Queen and Kim Chi at the end of season 8, but the stakes were low, given no loser would pack her bags. While she does OK against Betty, she doesn’t really slay.

But her lip sync performance tonight showed an elevated version of her season 8 lip sync skills. In the words of Tyra Banks, she took ho and made it fashion. Her poses were elevated and, at times, gravity defying. Her victory wasn’t just a victory against Gunn, but also a victory against any final hesitations Smalls naysayers may have harbored.

Let this be a warning to the contestants and viewers alike: don’t let Gia Gunn’s mistake be yours. Smalls has proven she can succeed in comedy challenges, musical performances and more. And now that she’s secured her spot in the top seven — for good, this time — there’s a string of wins somewhere in her future.

Related | It's Time to Admit that Returning Queens Isn't 'Drag Race's Best Twist

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