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  • Writer's pictureJT Wedell

Pandemic Pick-Me-Up: Canada’s Drag Race


Spoilers For: Jimbo’s Journey on Canada’s Drag Race

By JT Wedell

I hadn’t imagined that while planning a move to a different apartment, Canada’s Drag Race would be my go-to weeknight show. Episode 1, “Eh-laganza Eh-xtravaganza,” aired in Canada several weeks before the finale of “Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5”, which, in turn, began just one week after the finale of “Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 12.” Even acknowledging the Drag Race fandom’s seemingly inexhaustible appetite for content (as evidenced by the cottage industry of YouTube recaps, podcasts, interviews, and live performances hosted by show alumni), it seemed that a brief respite might be good for the Drag Race brand. But, at the behest of my boyfriend, we started Canada’s Drag Race in the midst of arranging meetings with leasing managers, coordinating furniture pick-ups, and boxing up mementos. Rather than being exhausted by the new parade of drag queens vying for fame, fortune, and free stuff courtesy of the show’s sponsors, I found I was delighted.

Not only did the show reinvigorate Drag Race with new faces and a scrappy bunch of contestants more rough-and-ready than the main show has seen for years, the show made a case for Canada itself as a beacon of LGBT rights.

For those not familiar with the original show, the Drag Race format: It is a curious amalgam of weekly challenges inspired by the likes of America’s Next Top Model, heart-warming camaraderie à la The Great British Baking Show, interpersonal conflict from shows like Big Brother, and a lowbrow, slapstick mode of humor reminiscent of John Waters’s movies with Divine. This admixture results in bizarre, amusing scenarios such as the first episode’s opening challenge, in which contestants posed in drag garb atop an in-studio mountain while being blasted by heavy-duty fans.

(Jimbo’s screams of mountain-top fright captured the judges’ attention early-on.)

Jimbo, akimbo. We live.

Canada’s Drag Race features in place of Rupaul three Canadian judges: erstwhile “Drag Race” contestant Brooke Lynn Hytes, dreamboat Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and former supermodel Stacey McKenzie. Additionally, each week a prominent Canadian serves as the guest host (with an emphasis on prominent in Canada; I hadn’t heard of most of them). The judges and hosts all seem thrilled to be there; they have the distinct air of tourists at a theme park reenacting their favorite scenes on-set, repeating some of Rupaul’s most characteristic lines with a personal flair (“and may the best woman … win!”). The new suite of judges add an air of unpredictability to the week-to-week: Stacey notices things like walking styles on the runway that the more comedy-oriented judges on the main show might not comment on, while Brooke Lynn Hytes (a former ballet dancer) shines most giving dance and presentation feedback.

Image Source: World of Wonder

Stacey, Brook Lynne, and Jeffrey offer a diverse array of critique perspectives.

With that said, the judges might benefit from the crash course on “giving constructive feedback” the HR lady at my last office job made new members of management sit through.

Vague complaints such as “it just didn’t work for me” don’t give the contestants much to work with and left my boyfriend and I more perplexed than ever about why our favorite contestant (the aforementioned Jimbo) kept getting snubbed for victories.

As entertaining as the judges may be, the chief motivation for watching Drag Race is the contestants, and Canada’s Drag Race delivers a suite of drag queens as fascinating and diverse as Drag Race has seen. True, some timeworn Drag Race molds are filled: the successful pageant queen that may or may not be able to let loose and do comedy (Anastarzia Anaquway), the fashionable youngster that just started doing drag (Lemon), the charismatic but sloppy star-in-the-making (BOA). But many of the Canadian queens are absorbing, unique personalities in their own right: Jimbo’s drag blends clown-based aesthetics with a luridly sexual persona, Priyanka (a former children’s show host) specializes in runway strut and on-point musical lyrics, and Rita Baga, from Montreal, brings a tart, classy, French Canadian sense of humor that hasn’t been seen on the show before. The Canadian queens are a joy to watch, and if they don’t quite have the budget for runway looks now typical on the American show, they make up for it in personality. Just don’t ask them to read each other (the reading challenge, in which queens must craft comedic insults targeting each other, is an epic fail, befitting Canada’s reputation for niceness).

The educational asides on Rupaul’s Drag Race, in which the queens inexplicably bring up difficult social issues and past personal traumas while putting on makeup, have never totally fit with the rest of the show. Canada’s Drag Race rethinks this aspect of the show to focus on Canada as a worldwide refuge for LGBT people. Some contestants on the show (like the aforementioned Anastarzia) are themselves refugees from violence against LGBT people, while another challenge brings in additional LGBT refugees to Canada for a drag makeover. Some of their stories were truly harrowing, and the decision to highlight some progress distinct to Canada helped give this spinoff an identity of its own.

Follow the Queer Brick Road, y’all. Henny, you’ve got glorious RuPaul options aplenty.

I didn’t think Canada’s Drag Race was what I needed after a year spent inside watching several other seasons of Drag Race. However, as the pandemic continues unabated and anxiety surrounding our collective future mounts, I can unequivocally endorse it as a worthwhile pick-me-up. One other small tidbit that amused me to no end: in the final challenge of Drag Race, the contestants typically write lyrics and perform in a music video for one of Rupaul’s dreadful new songs. This being Canada’s Drag Race, the final contestants instead were asked to write lyrics for a club remix of an old single. Unfazed, they were as thrilled as any other final three to be creating verses for a remix of a song that itself sounds like a remix of a better pop song from about a decade ago. It seems they were too polite to be publicly disappointed in dubbing a remix.

Go Canada!

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