November/December 2021 Cover Story: Brooke Lynn Hytes Really Is The Queen Of The North!
The beloved queen spills the tea on her reign as Canada’s biggest drag superstar…
Story by Christopher Turner
Photographer: Peter Tamlin
Fashion stylist: Amber Watkins
Hair: Kirsten Klotz
Makeup: Viktor Peters
Fashion assistant: Aram Eginliyan
Canada’s Drag Race photos by: Aleksandar Antonijevic
Brooke Lynn Hytes captured an entire country’s attention when she strutted into Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race as the first Canadian contestant to appear on the hit drag competition series. The Toronto native (known as Brock Edward Hayhoe out of drag) may not have snatched the Drag Race crown back in 2019 when she finished as the first runner-up of the season, but it’s pretty safe to say she came out a winner, cementing herself as an iconic runway queen (with a ton of costumes inspired by her home and native land) and lip-sync assassin.
A graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School, Brooke Lynn rose to the top of Toronto’s drag scene in the mid-2000s; her name, a play on “Brooklyn Heights,” was given to her by her drag mother, Farra N. Hyte. She won multiple pageants, including Miss Continental (the largest female-impersonator pageant in the US) in 2014, and in 2008, she travelled worldwide performing as a principal ballerina with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (an all-male drag ballet company). Of course, Drag Race was a game changer and ultimately led to her history-making gig presiding over the RuPaul’s Drag Race spin-off Canada’s Drag Race in 2020. Today she holds the distinction of being the first and only alum from the cultural phenomenon to hold down a fixed gig as a panellist on any of the series’ international editions.
But, as the ever-expanding mainstream drag industry has continued to rapidly evolve, so has Brooke Lynn. These days she’s living in Los Angeles, but she’s clearly determined to continue taking the Canadian queer stage by storm. Later this year, she will host 1 Queen 5 Queers, an update of MTV’s hit show 1 Girl 5 Gays, which will bring together a group of diverse LGBTQ voices to speak openly and honestly through fast-paced, no-holds-barred conversations.
We spoke with Brooke Lynn Hytes just before Season 2 of Canada’s Drag Race premiered on October 14. Here’s what she had to say about life, her music endeavours, where she finds her inspiration, the pandemic, hosting 1 Queen 5 Queers, and, of course, all things Drag Race…including All Stars.
Hi, Brooke Lynn! Let’s kick things off and chat about Canada’s Drag Race. It’s back! What should fans expect from Season 2?
Definitely an elevation; the production and the lighting, for sure! Much better lighting this year. And I think the queens are just incredible. Honestly, right out of the gate with the first episode, I couldn’t even believe the level of drag they were bringing to the competition. There are lots of twists and turns and surprises, but I think everyone’s going to be very pleasantly surprised with Season 2.
And you filmed the entire season during the pandemic.… How was that experience?
Not an experience I would like to have again. It was fine, though. I mean, thank God, everyone took it very seriously and we had our lovely COVID officers on set, making sure everything was safe and wonderful. We’re all very appreciative of them for the hard work they had to do. Which was really a horrible job – telling people to wear masks, pulling people apart and all that kind of stuff. But it was good. I mean, we made it happen. Everyone came together and we were able to make a great season.
Were there any guest judges that you were super excited to meet or work with?
I was super excited that Gigi Gorgeous was coming up and was able to be on the show. She is an icon and a good friend of mine. And she was a great judge. There were some judges I didn’t really know a lot about that I ended up falling in love with, like Emma Hunter, for example. She was so funny, gave such good critique and feedback, and we just had the best time.
Has it surprised you how much the show has caught on outside of Canada?
Yeah, a little bit. I mean, you never know with these things how it’s going to go and how much people are going to enjoy it, but I think Drag Race in itself is such a phenomenon. It also just speaks to the amazing talent we have in Canada, that they’re able to connect with people all over the world.
Thinking about the international editions of Drag Race…which country do you think really needs to launch next?
Antarctica! I want to see a Drag Race: Antarctica – I’m sure it’s coming. A country that I would like to see launch next is France. There are amazing drag queens in France who I follow on Instagram that I would love to see on TV.
You served so many incredible looks during Season 1 – and, obviously, outside of the show as well. I’m wondering, where do you draw inspiration from for your looks?
Oh, I honestly just peruse through Instagram, red carpets and all of that stuff. I send my designers about a zillion different screen shots of things I’m inspired by and looks I want to kind of recreate and make my own. So, honestly, social media is where I got all my inspo.
Would you ever return to the Drag Race stage south of the border for All Stars?
I don’t know. I get asked that question a lot and I don’t think it makes sense right now being as I’m a judge. I think it would be a little odd if I returned as a contestant, and I also feel like I’ve kind of moved beyond that a little bit. So yeah, I don’t know. I have no plans to at the moment.
You released your debut single, “Queen of the North” featuring (What’s my name!?) Priyanka earlier this year. Is there more music on the way?
Oh, maybe! I don’t know, music’s not something I’m super focused on. I might do one single a year, if I feel like it, but safe to say I’m sure I will do something.
So many of the queens have gone the music route following their appearance on Drag Race.… Who do you think has really done an amazing job with it?
Honestly, Priyanka has really knocked it out of the park for me. Drag queen music, I find, can be very hit or miss, but I think her songs are so catchy. And the visuals that she paired them with have just been so incredible and well thought out. I think she’s really done an incredible job.
Let’s talk about 1 Queen 5 Queers. Tell us about it.
Yeah, I’m so excited about this project! So 1 Queen 5 Queers is a reboot of 1 Girl 5 Gays, which was an MTV Canada cult classic series from back in the early 2010s. I loved the show and I know so many other people did too, and I wanted to bring it back with more inclusivity and diversity. Representation in the queer community has been, rightfully, a huge conversation in the last little while and I wanted to see lots of different forms of queerness represented in this show. I wanted to create a safe space for any kind of queer person to come on, to talk about queer shit and just have the platform, because I think that’s something that’s really missing in the media and entertainment today.
Did you watch the original 1 Girl 5 Gays series?
I did, yes.
Obviously a lot has changed in the past year. Let’s talk about the drag scene now and how it has had to quickly adapt and change.
Yes, I mean, there have been lots of online performances. I think this past year was just a testament to how adaptable drag queens are. I mean, the minute everything shut down, we saw online performances popping up and people organizing Twitch parties or whatever they are. You saw how drag queens navigated these different ways to make money and make art, which I think was incredible. Thankfully, we’re seemingly heading back into a world where we can perform live again. So for myself, I hope that the online is kind of a thing of the past because it’s just not the same as doing it in person – we as entertainers feed off the audience’s energy and love so much that it’s really hard to do that when you’re in your living room with your cats watching you perform.
Which queens do you look up to as role models, and why?
Oh, gosh, there are so many! Bianca Del Rio is a huge role model for me because she’s kind of the Queen of Queens. She’s somebody who was on the show and just really made an empire for herself out of it. She’s a really smart businessperson and she’s a great friend as well. I know she would cringe if she saw this but she’s a really good, helpful person and a real friend, which I love. Ru Paul also, obviously! What Ru’s created is incredible. He’s created this empire and industry. He’s the reason that drag is now kind of seen as a legitimate art form and a career where you can make actual money.
What is your advice to aspiring drag queens?
I would say, ‘Watch, listen and learn.’ You can learn a lot from watching people, seeing what they do – what they do that you like and also what you don’t like. Also, finding out what makes you, you – and then learning how to kind of capitalize on that. There are so many drag queens nowadays that it’s important to find the thing that really sets you apart from the pack. Besides that, always remember the importance of professionalism. Showing up on time and being easy to work with goes a very long way.
What is drag all about for you at its core? What does it mean to you?
It’s self-expression. At its core, that’s what it means to me: self-expression, showcasing a different part of you.
If you weren’t doing drag right now, what would you be doing?
Oh my God! Prostitution? I have no idea! I’d probably still be a dancer or something. I literally think about that all the time – I have no idea.
So what do you have planned for the future? What’s next for Brooke Lynn Hytes?
I would love to keep producing shows and making money. Honestly, just as long as I’m making money, I don’t really care what I’m doing, so who knows? I’ll say yes to everything.
CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN Magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.