IN Magazine chats with drag sensation and Toronto native Brooke Lynn Hytes…
Brooke Lynn Hytes is the queen of firsts. First of all, she will forever have the legacy of being the first Canadian contestant to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Known as the “Queen of the North,” the Toronto native made it to the finale of Season 11, coming in second place after losing the title to Yvie Oddly. She was also the first professional ballet dancer to walk Drag Race’s runways, winning praise for her polish and professionalism, which she credits to her background in classical dance. And, she was one half of the show’s first ever “showmance,” garnering tons of attention for her on-air romance with Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo.
Read on as I chat with Brooke from her hotel in Montreal while on tour about all things RuPaul’s Drag Race, her thoughts on the upcoming Canadian spin-off show, being a giddy schoolgirl for Justin Trudeau, and what’s next for her.
So, how have things been since the season wrapped up?
So good, honestly. Just crazy busy. I’ve been working, working, working nonstop since everything wrapped, so it’s been a really, really good time.
That’s great! What have you been working on lately?
Right now, it’s honestly all just touring. I am just traveling around, doing a lot of different gigs. That’s pretty much what I will be doing for the rest of 2019. Just travel, travel, travel, which I love.
Where are you looking forward to going to on your travels?
In October, I’m going to South Africa for two weeks. I’m super excited about that one.
Let’s talk about your experience on the RuPaul’s Drag Race. What was it like for you?
It was a crazy experience. It was amazing. I had a really, really good time. I had a really good experience overall. It’s a very difficult environment to be in, and it’s very stressful, and it definitely brings out the best and the worst in you. It kind of breaks you down to build you back up. But, it’s an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
What were some of the highlights for you?
I think some of the highlights were… anytime I won [laughing]. But, I think the first episode was definitely a highlight for me. I actually even say the Snatch Game episode week was a great week for me, even though I did bad in the Snatch Game, I had a great runway and I had a great performance, so I look at that as a highlight as well.
Is there a moment from the season that you’re particularly proud of?
I think I’m really, really super proud of that runway I did for the Snatch Game episode, when I did the reveal, and also the next week, when we did the improv challenge, I was really proud of that because I was able to kind of just really let myself go and just enjoy myself and be in the moment and not take myself so seriously.
What were some of your favourite looks from the season that you wore?
Oh gosh, I loved my “Orange Alert” look. I loved all my looks, honestly, but I loved my “Orange Alert” look a lot. I loved my “Gold” look and I loved the first look, the “Detox” look, that I made.
You garnered a lot of attention throughout the season because of your showmance with Vanjie. What can you tell me about your relationship with Vanjie nowadays?
It’s good. I’m actually on tour with her right now. We just had a bunch of us back together. It’s good. We’re in a good place. We’re friends. Yeah, there’s nothing really to tell. We’re moving on with our lives.
What were some of the lessons that you learned from your experience being on the show?
Gosh, I learned to not take myself too seriously, for sure. I think I have a tendency to do that, especially when it comes to drag. I take it very seriously. I learned that I have to relax a little bit, enjoy it, and it’s okay to mess up and make mistakes. That’s probably the biggest lesson I learned.
You’re a classically trained dancer, which is so cool. How do you feel that your background in dance comes into things? How has that shaped you?
It’s shaped me so much. Like it really sets me apart from other performers. It’s like that extra little thing I have, like my specialty, I guess you could say. So it kind of sets me apart and it kind of gives me an upper hand in that way, because it makes me unique as a performer. And even just like the training from ballet comes in handy so much in my day to day life, in terms of like being disciplined and being professional and being punctual, like all those things that are drilled into you in the world of classical ballet really have spilled over into my career as a drag queen, and have been really, really helpful things to have in my back pocket.
How do you feel to have the legacy of being the first Canadian to be on the show?
It’s incredible. I mean it’s such an honour to be able to represent my country. It feels like I’m at the Olympics. It was just incredible. It was a dream come true, really. I had always wanted to be the first Canadian. And I was.
What do you think the differences between Canadian and American queens are?
I would say, like in terms of drag culture, like we have a very diverse drag scene in Canada. I feel like there’s club drag, there’s bearded drag, there’s drag queens, there’s drag kings. I think the one thing that we don’t have a lot of in Canada is pageant drag. I guess it’s not a big thing in Canada. There’s no national pageant. There are like bar pageants in every city but it’s not like one big national Canadian pageant. So I think that is probably the biggest difference between Canadian and American drag.
And pageants are a part of your experience, right?
Yeah, pageants are a big part of my experience.
What were those experiences like?
They were great. I credit pageant for getting me where I am today in drag. Like they kind of taught me everything I know about how to be a drag queen. I give pageants a lot of credit.
How do you think the Toronto drag scene compares to other cities? What what makes it unique or special?
There are so many different kinds of drag. There are so many different scenes, more so than in other cities. I mean there is a really good alternative scene, there is a really good non-alternative scene, just kind of regular run of the mill drag, and I think that out of any city in Canada, Toronto has the most pageant drag.
Where are your favourite places to perform or watch in Toronto?
I love going to Woody’s. It’s my favourite place to perform in Toronto. It’s one of the places I perform the most, definitely, so I think that would probably be my favourite.
What are your thoughts on the recently announced Drag Race spinoff show coming to Canada?
I’m so excited about it. I think it’s amazing. I’m so happy that the queens in our country are finally getting a little taste of Drag Race, and having something to work towards and aspire to be like, because right now there’s just nothing in Canada for queens to do, really, except working the bars. There’s no real thing to aspire to, which I think is needed in any profession. You have to be working towards something.
Yeah, definitely. Are you gonna be involved at all?
I have no idea. I have not been asked. In true TV fashion, I found out when everyone else found out. So, kind of at the last minute.
Who do you think would make a good host?
I would love Dan Levy. I think Dan Levy would be a great host.
I don’t know, I guess I just think he’s very charismatic and charming. And handsome. He’s my little celebrity crush. I was thinking Jeanne Beker would be great top. Or or at least have her on ike the judges panel, because she’s so knowledgeable about fashion and she’s such a Canadian icon. That would be amazing.
Which Canadian queens would you like to see competing?
Oh my God, there’s so many from across the country. I would love to see… No, this is a tricky game [laughing]. Someone’s gonna get mad if I don’t say their names. I’m just gonna say there’s a lot–I’m not going to say anybody in particular, but there are a lot of different girls that I think would make excellent TV. Let’s just say that.
What would be a totally Canadian challenge to feature on the show?
Oh my God, let’s do like canoe racing. Let’s really take it there. Polar bear racing. Snowmobiling. Wood-chopping. Wood-chopping blindfolded, there you go.
Okay, perfect. Let’s do it. So, where do you draw inspiration from for your performances and looks?
A huge portion of my inspiration comes from ’90s supermodels, from that heyday of the supermodel back in the day. That’s kind of like where I draw all my inspiration from for my looks. I want to look like Linda Evangelista. I want like Kate Moss. I want to look like Cindy Crawford. Those are the women that I aspire to look like. Those are my goddesses and my amazons. So I kind of want to look like a larger-than-life-don’t-fuck-with-me supermodel at all times.
What is drag all about for you at its core? What does it mean to you?
Besides the fact that I love women’s clothing and I love dressing like a woman, I love my job so much because I am my boss. I am my own boss. I call all the shots in my life. I make my own decisions about everything. Everything essentially comes down to me at the end of the day. There’s nobody telling me what to do. There’s nobody telling me how to Brooke Lynn Hytes or what Brooke Lynn Hytes should be like. She is 100 per cent created and curated by me. Like I’ve said before, the most important thing in my life for me is my freedom, and the freedom to do whatever I want when I want to do it, how I want to do it, and so having this job means everything to me because it means I get to live my life on my terms and I don’t answer to anybody else.
So you posted a little photo and video clip of you and Justin Trudeau on your Instagram, which was really cute.
Was that the first time that you met with him or did you know him from before?
On the record, yes. I’m just kidding, that’s the first time that we’ve ever met. It all happened the day before [the Pride parade.] I was with my agent in Toronto running around doing a million things. And all of a sudden, he stops and looks at his phone. He looks to me and goes: “So we just got an email from Justin Trudeau’s secretary and he would like to meet you tomorrow before the parade.”
Oh my goodness!
It was so, like…what!? I think like the weirdest part of the whole thing was that they reached out to us. They were like hey, we want to meet you. It wasn’t the other way around. It was so surreal. I was just like…okay!
So what was it like?
It was amazing! It was so lovely, and he was so lovely, and the whole staff… It was such a relaxed environment. Like we went up there and had a couple of security guards, but I was never searched, no one did a background check, they weren’t dogs, like all the things you expect when you’re about to meet the president or the prime minister or the head of a country. It was just like: “Hey, come on in!” And all the staff were like lovely little gay men in booty shorts like “Heyyyy!” I have a feeling it wasn’t so much Justin that wanted to meet me, it was the rest of the staff that wanted to meet me. Once I saw his staff, I was like “Ohhhh, I see what’s going on here. Justin don’t give a fuck, but you guys, you’re all about it.” But he was so, so sweet, and really engaging, and just like really interested in talking to me. We talked a little bit and then he did the whole “Okay, well let’s get a picture” thing, and I was like “Okay, cool, so that’s the end of the conversation. We’re gonna do a picture and that’s gonna be our goodbyes.” So we took our picture, and then he turns back to me, and goes right back into the long conversation. I was like “Oh, okay!” It was just really nice. Yeah, it was really nice. He really put in the effort. He’s very charismatic and engaging for sure. I was like a giddy little schoolgirl trying to keep my shit together. I totally like “Ahhhh ooooohhhhhhh Justin!” And he gives great hugs.
Oh my goodness, okay, good to know.
Yeah, good hugger.
So what do you have planned for the future? What’s next for you?
I’m thinking of getting into porn. I’m just kidding!
Um, I don’t know [laughing]. I have a million things planned for the future. I’m kind of at that point right now where this show has been such a great door opener for me, and I have a bunch of little projects in the works, and things I’m exploring, that I can’t really talk about. There are a lot of irons in the fire right now, and I’m working on a lot of different things, and I’m kind of saying yes to everything right now, cause essentially, I don’t know what I want to do. Drag and dance has been my life, so I’m seeing where all these opportunities can take me, and like what can happen next for me. So, I definitely would love to do some modelling. I would love to do some acting. Maybe be on some game’s show, I dunno, be on the Amazing Race, who knows. Like I’m really open to anything.
Right?! I’m just anything and everything, so I’m just kind of exploring all my options right now.
Which queens do you look up to as role models and why?
I always really looked at Alyssa and also Shangela, just because of their fierce work ethics. Like, those girls are hustlers. They’re out there all the time. They’re everywhere. They are working so much and have been working for so long after their seasons. That’s the kind of legacy and longevity I want to have. Really, I look up to any queen from the show who — like, look at Detox for instance. Like girls like that like 4, 5, 6, 7 years out of their season, they’re still fully booked and they still work as much as they want to. That’s the kind of legacy I want to have and the kind of longevity I’m looking for in this career.
What is your advice to aspiring drag queens?
Find what makes you unique and then learn how to capitalize on that. I feel like there’s so many drag queens nowadays, especially since RuPaul’s Drag Race has become so popular, so many people have decided they want to do drag, or try it out. It’s amazing, but it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out as a unique individual in this industry, and that’s really what’s going to set you apart. So I say it’s wonderful to be inspired by other people, it’s wonderful to take inspiration from them, but you have to figure out a way to make it your own the end of the day and make it something unique to you and something unique that only you can do that you’re known for. That’d be a big piece of advice. Also, always just watch, listen, and learn. You learn from everybody. You learn from the people who are doing well, you learn from the people who are doing bad. Notice what people do well and what makes them successful, and notice what they do badly and what makes them not bookable or what makes people not like them, and learn what to do and what not to do. And don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment. Like I’ve been doing drag for a long time and one of my favourite things about this job is that there are always so many new things to learn. I’m learning a new trick everyday. I’m learning new things about my makeup everyday. I’m constantly improving on myself and constantly getting better, so you really really should never stop learning in this profession.