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Drake wins on 'Saturday Night Live'

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 12:21 PM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
"Saturday Night Live" veteran Maya Rudolph took on playing everyone from LaToya Jackson and Whitney Houston to Donatella Versace during her tenure from 2000 to 2007. She has appeared on TV with "Up All Night" and in films like "Bridesmaids" and "Grown Ups." On May 19, she tried her hand at the TV variety show with a special on NBC. Click through to see the other female SNL comedians through the years: "Saturday Night Live" veteran Maya Rudolph took on playing everyone from LaToya Jackson and Whitney Houston to Donatella Versace during her tenure from 2000 to 2007. She has appeared on TV with "Up All Night" and in films like "Bridesmaids" and "Grown Ups." On May 19, she tried her hand at the TV variety show with a special on NBC. Click through to see the other female SNL comedians through the years:
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The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The Women of 'SNL'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
The women of 'Saturday Night Live'
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rapper Drake hosted and performed on "SNL" January 18
  • It was also new cast member Sasheer Zamata's debut
  • Drake impersonated several stars, including Jay Z and Lil Wayne
  • Critics were pleasantly surprised

(CNN) -- It took Drake only one try to become one of "Saturday Night Live's" best hosts.

On the January 18 episode, the rapper dusted off his acting skills -- honed on "Degrassi: The Next Generation" -- and seamlessly brought "SNL" back from its hiatus with its newest cast member, Sasheer Zamata.

Zamata was recently hired after the NBC sketch comedy show was criticized for its noticeable lack of African-American women, and made her debut on January 18. Behind the scenes, "SNL" has also added two new African-American women writers, LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones.

On Saturday, viewers were trying to figure out how "SNL" would address its highly publicized hire -- would the show again poke fun at itself by making her take on everyone from the first lady to Beyoncé to Oprah in one sketch, as Kerry Washington did when she hosted last fall, or would it slowly introduce her with just one or two scenes?

In the end, "SNL" went with a third option: It used Zamata liberally throughout the show as a supporting player, but her debut was virtually overshadowed by the night's host, Drake.

In addition to performing, the 27-year-old artist participated in nearly every sketch and nailed them, from his opening monologue that recalled his bar mitzvah ...

... to his impersonation of comedian Katt Williams, and his spoof of colleagues Jay Z and Lil Wayne in "Before They Were Stars."

In fact, the one person who won the episode more than Drake was Kate McKinnon and her impersonation of Justin Bieber in the cold open:

We weren't the only ones who thought so.

"(G)ive credit to host and musical guest Drake for shifting through characters as if he'd always belonged on the late-night sketch show," the Los Angeles Times said in a review. "Drake showed he had a deft comedic hand on Saturday."

The Huffington Post's Mike Ryan was also pleasantly surprised, saying in a review that Drake reminded him of Bruno Mars from last season: "An energetic host that's been given so-so material that he's able to elevate -- to a point."

And the fact that "SNL" fully integrated Zamata into the episode (versus trying to break her out as a more prominent star) also meant there was more time for Drake, Entertainment Weekly noted, "and Drake was really, really great," particularly in the "Before They Were Stars" sketch.

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