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Canada, Start Your Engines: IN Chats With The Judges Of Canada’s Drag Race

IN chats with the judges of Canada’s Drag Race about what makes the Canadian series different from its American sister, their favourite moments with guest judges, and what it means to celebrate Pride in 2020…
 
By Bianca Guzzo
Publicity photos courtesy of Crave/Matt Barnes
Onset photos courtesy of Crave/Jackie Brown
 
For years Canadian fans of drag have been tuning in weekly to watch RuPaul introduce them to the world of drag, and fierce, albeit mostly American queens. During her run right to the finale of season 11, Toronto’s own Brooke Lynn Hytes made a splash as the undeniable Queen of the North. Brooke Lynn was just a taste of the incredible talent that Canadian queens have to offer to the global stage of drag, and it’s finally time for Canadian queens to have a chance in the spotlight! Now Canadian drag superstar Brooke Lynn is back along with the talented actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and the forever fierce Stacey McKenzie, to judge an entire season made up entirely of incredible Canadian queens.
 
IN sat down with the judges ahead of the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race, and talked all things from the show’s celebrity guests, to their first-time experiencing drag, and even how this year’s pride in quarantine have made a lasting impression on what it means to celebrate.
 

IN: The trailer for season one was released, and it looks like it’s going to be an unforgettable season. How did you react to finding out you would be a judge on Canada’s Drag Race?
 
Brooke Lynn Hytes: I definitely screamed after I hung up the phone. It was a lot like being told I was going to be a contestant on season 11 honestly. I hung up and I definitely jumped up and down and screamed and ran around my apartment a little bit. It was such a cool thing, and something I dreamed about but never thought it would come to fruition, so just to have this opportunity, and I get to help show the world what Canada has to offer has just been a dream come true.
 
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: I felt similar when I got the call to come be a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s my favourite show on television. It’s such a beautiful celebration of queerness. There’s no other show that exists quite like it, and it’s so revolutionary. It was so much more exciting to me than booking an acting job because as much as I love acting, and love to do it when you book acting jobs, you’re pretending to be somebody else. And there’s nothing more exciting to me as a 35-year-old black queer man that was raised in Canada, who is now able to turn on the television and see representation of queerness, and black queer men, and black queer men being themselves, and being celebrated for it. So, to have that opportunity to step into that role, where I can do the thing was such a dream come true.
 
Stacey McKenzie: I screamed while I was on the phone when I got the news. I lost it! I thought it was a joke at first. I thought they only wanted me just to be a guest judge, and then when they said, permanent judge I was like “what?”. I just freaked out I couldn’t believe it. What made me even more happy was the fact that he thought to have me on the show because it’s a very inspiring show, and I’m usually doing shows that are pertaining to modelling, and high fashion. I’m definitely honoured, and I’m excited that I could help mentor these queens to better themselves, and to better their craft. It’s definitely exciting, and I’m blessed, and I’m thankful.
 
IN: Many have applauded Canada for its diverse drag scene. How is this reflected in the show?
 
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: There are queens from coast to coast that are representing Canada. There are queens of many different ethnicities, with diverse backgrounds. We have a Desi queen, we have an Indigenous queen, we have black queens, we have different representations of white queens, we have queens representing all of their different styles. It’s like a rainbow of diversity. It’s such a beautiful and real representation of the multiculturalism of Canada.
 


Canada’s Drag Race keeps a lot of the essence of its cool older sister (the original Drag Race) while adding in little nods to Canadian iconography is what Bowyer-Chapman says makes the show “quintessentially Canadian”. “It does stay very tried and true to the Drag Race brand” he says. “Because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. We just got to add a little bit of our Canadian bacon and maple syrup to the mix.” Although the show does stay true to its roots, including what the judges say is one of the best Snatch Games in Drag Race herstory, something that sets it apart is the absence of a formal judge. “We have special celebrity guest hosts every week, but it is the three of us each week making the decisions. And it is very much as a team. Nobody has more power than the other person. Every decision is made by the three of us together” says Hytes.
 

IN: Brooke Lynn, as a former contestant how was it getting to be on the other side of the judging table?
 
Brooke Lynn Hytes: It was a job I think we all took very seriously, and I was able to really relate with the queens because I knew very well what they were all going through. That being said it was not as difficult as competing on the show. I much prefer being on this side of things getting to sit there and watch and help the girls.
 
IN: All three of you have appeared on reality competition shows, whether it was guest judging, coaching, or competing. What advice did you all have for each other when it came to being a judge?
 
Brooke Lynn Hytes: Both Jeffrey and Stacey have judged a reality tv show before, and I have never. So I definitely leaned on them, and asked for their advice on things, and learned from them. So I think we all kind of learned from each other as the show went on.
 
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: Definitely, I don’t think I could put it any better. I think we all own our strengths. And in all respect stayed in our lanes based on our expertise prior to coming on the show. But we also fully recognize that we’re a team, and we’re a throuple. We are a chosen family of three who were tasked with making these very important decisions at the end of the day, and we all learned from each other, and leaned on each other. So much of the learning went unsaid. It was just learning by example.
 

The first season of Canada’s Drag Race features a lot of iconic, and amazing celebrity guests. Brooke Lynn cherished her time chatting backstage with actress Elisha Cuthbert, while Jeffrey said seeing actress Amanda Brugel dance down the runway was a memorable moment for him. Stacey McKenzie praised comedian Tom Green who she says was “a real sweetheart”, who took all of her runway walking tips to heart. All three judges agree that all of the celebrity guests brought great energy to the set, but one judge in particular does stand out. “having Michelle Visage there for an episode was for all of us just a master class on how to be a judge. She is the G.O.A.T, and she’s so good at delivering useful helpful critiques. So I think having her there really helped us a lot” says Hytes.
 

IN: With the expansion of Drag Race shows in different countries around the world, drag is becoming more of a mainstream and attracting fans that maybe would have experienced drag before. How do you hope Drag Race Canada changes the way drag is seen in specifically in this country?
 
Brooke Lynn Hytes: I hope we introduce drag to a whole new crop of people who have never experienced it before. I think the great thing about the show for me is that it humanizes drag queens. It lets us tell our stories. It lets us show who we really are to the world, and that we’re not just scary circus freaks, or whatever else mainstream society might think about us. We’re human beings just like everybody else. We all have stories; we all have families who love us. We’re people. I think being able to show that to people is really going to help inspire a lot of people to change their views about drag queens hopefully, or just realize that they actually like drag queens. But I’m also very excited about all the little kids out there who are going to be able to tune into a tv show and see a Canadian person who looks like them on screen and say “wow I identify with that. That could be me”.
 


While both Brooke Lynn, and Stacey both experienced drag for the first time as teenagers on Toronto’s Church Street, Jeffrey credits seeing drag for the first time to the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.
 
“That was just so incredible to see three straight cis-gendered men willing to do the very things that society has told them not to do, which is anything feminine. Don’t put on a dress, wig, heels. So that was very conscious expanding for me” he says. “Then in person my first drag show actually a drag king show. “I was seeing women exploring and breaking down the boundaries of the binary and stepping into that masculine energy. There was something so liberating seeing people who were so courageous enough to be willing to break the mould that society has forced upon us for many generations.”
 
Pride celebrations have looked different this year due to the global pandemic, but Brooke Lynn believes it has given us an opportunity to educate ourselves and recognize why it is we celebrate Pride. “It’s been a good chance for me personally to sit back and think about what Pride really means, and how it started. Which was as a riot, and as a protest” she says. “I think it’s been a really nice moment to sit and reflect on the true meaning of Pride to me. And I’m very grateful for that.”
 

IN: What would you say to your fans and supporters who will be celebrating from home this year, some of them even celebrating their first Pride?
 
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: Pride is a celebration of queerness, and the beauty of the LGBTQ spectrum, but it’s not something we can take for granted. Like Brooke Lynn said, Pride began as a riot, as a cry against the brutality of police violence on queer bodies, and the policing of black and brown bodies. That was where it all originated, and for people who are experiencing it for the first time, to know that to know the history of it to hold it as a foundation so that it doesn’t become something that they ever take for granted. Because as soon as you start to take it for granted, our rights are stripped away from us. We see it time and time again. It’s 2020 and yet still as queer people our civil rights, and our human rights as queer people are something that we constantly have to strive to keep because they are not guaranteed. So that is something to be proud of. To know that our community is that of activists, and revolutionaries who are destructing the frequencies, and forcing change for the better on a global scale. I’m extraordinarily proud of that.”
 

Starting Thursday July 2, you can catch Canada’s Drag Race every Thursday on Crave.ca.
 
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