If you’re a drag fanatic like me, then you might agree that the influx of online drag content has been the best part of quarantine. Whether you’re watching your local crew do an Instagram live or eating up how platforms like Zoom and Twitch are enabling show producers to bring casts from across the planet together more accessibly, the way that drag artists have tackled industry changes amidst social distancing is nothing short of admirable.
By this point, however, we’re all getting a little squirrelly. I’m finding that my need for queer content is practically insatiable in the absence of my usual easy access to tangible queer spaces and my communities in real life. To summarize: I miss the hell out of my friends. Imagine how excited I am, then, about the fact that Canadian drag history is about to be made!
Canadian drag is coming to your screen!
That’s right: the Drag Race franchise is expanding, and this time the queens of the north are the ones who get to stomp the runway. Naturally, there could never be a Canada’s Drag Race without our precedent-setting first Ru Girl Brooke Lynn Hytes. That’s why this new batch of Canadian drag superstars will be strutting their stuff for the Original Queen of The North herself!
Brooke Lynn won’t be sitting on that panel all alone, of course. She’ll judge alongside two fellow Canadians: model Stacey McKenzie and actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (no, Brooke Lynn is not “our Rupaul“; this judging panel sits equally, with no figurehead having more pull than the others. That wouldn’t be very polite and Canadian)!
Since you’re probably already familiar with Miss Hytes after how well she did on the American iteration of the show, I’ll save you from my gushing about how well-qualified I think she is for this role (…for now).
Instead, I’m here to walk you through the amazing Canadian contestants you’re about to fall in love with!
Meet the Queens
Canadian drag is a different ballgame. If you’re not familiar with a lot of Canadian talent yet, then you’re in for something subtly distinct and very clearly its own. To generalize a little, Canadian drag is filled with hardworking marathon performers, diverse and unique experiences brought centre stage, and a particular brand of humour that uses stereotypically polite language (listen, we’re self-aware) to read you the house down without cutting you down.
Dig out your brightly coloured, plastic money (yes, it actually smells a little bit like maple and no, I don’t know why) and get ready to hand a minimum of $5 CAD (I forgot the bucket for the loonies and toonies) to each one of these stellar artists!
Anastarzia Anaquway is a true pageant queen. She’s well decorated when it comes to respected drag systems and holds several titles, including Miss Black Continental at Large. Originally hailing from the Bahamas, Starzy (as you’ll hear her affectionately called) is located in East York (that’s a piece of the Toronto area, for those across the border). Let me describe the kind of power this queen holds in the spotlight: I once saw her perform at the Miss Gay Toronto pageant (another title that she holds). She stepped onto the stage as I walked into the loud bar and a hush fell immediately over the crowd. That respectful silence was maintained until she was good and done.
Anastarzia holds 15 pageant titles in total and has been doing drag for 17 years (which is a pretty impressive ratio, if you ask me). She’s got experience in sewing and costume design. She also frequently incorporates her cultural roots into her work, so expect custom finery! The only time I ever had the pleasure of speaking to Starzy, she called me “darling” and greeted me with a calm, welcoming attitude. She emanates this sense of patience as though she knows that, even if you don’t know who she is quite yet, you certainly will in good time.
In short, BOA is a total goof. She might not actually be a self-proclaimed “comedy queen”, but you will leave her show laughing. Based in Toronto, BOA is a quirky host and an upbeat performer who isn’t afraid to pull a stunt here and there (ask her about the time she fell clear out the window at Garage). BOA is also the kind of person who takes a concept and commits to it; if you’ve never seen her mockumentary in which she actually competes in a local pageant exclusively as the Grinch, then you are missing out (homework assignment: watch it here).
Besides being almost nonsensically entertaining, BOA is also authentic and very kind offstage. She’s sensitive enough to pick up on whether you’re having a bad day and she will make you laugh, even if she’s not feeling so hot herself. I once let her borrow a costume piece she didn’t even end up using and she returned it to me in better condition than I’d left it; that’s the mark of a professional, if you ask me! Trivia fact: BOA’s drag name technically stands for “Bitch on Arrival”, but it’s also actually her real last name.
Ilona Verley isn’t just a member of Canada’s first ever Drag Race cast; they’re also a first when it comes to representation within the wider franchise. Based out of Vancouver, BC and raised Nlaka’pamux, Ilona is two-spirit indigenous and speaks eloquently about their intersecting identities and experiences. They’re also not afraid to speak up for themself whenever necessary (which is an essential drag skill in my books)! Even so, they’re as sweet as their drag visuals look.
Ilona’s attention to detail is nothing short of breathtaking. Every single look they turn out is put together with a complete cohesiveness the likes of which I could only dream of pulling off. A simple glance at their impressively curated social media teaches you two interesting things. The first is that they have a strong affinity for pastel colours and apply them so satisfyingly monochromatically that their Instagram grid looks like a box of mochi ice cream. The second is that their clean, careful makeup is so well-applied that when they’re in drag, you can’t even tell they have facial tattoos underneath!
There are plenty of drag performers who refer to themselves as clowns but in Jimbo‘s case, that’s the truth. Jimbo literally has a background as an actual clown! That influence is clear in her drag style, which is exaggerated and campy but not without glamour. One minute you’ll see a unconventionally coloured face paint from Jimbo, and the next you’ll find yourself staring at a stunning floor length gown… accompanied by a comedically large breast plate, just to keep things within the realm of the wonderfully ridiculous.
Besides being campy, Jimbo- who is based out of Victoria, BC- is also a diverse performer. She’s a hilarious host with all kinds of experience in the world of standup comedy and she’s also a live singer. Her shows are usually cabaret style and her outfits are everything you’d expect from d-r-a-g; sparkles, head pieces, accessories dripping off every limb… the whole shabang! I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Jimbo in person yet, but I have this feeling I’ll spend half the time giggling like an idiot when I do.
Simply put, Juice Boxx is a sparkly little unicorn princess with the kind of sense of humour you’d expect from a dorky sibling who makes you roll your eyes and laugh until you snort, only smarter. Her looks alternate between glittery and adorable, sultry and intricate, or character and cosplay themed, and you’ll be obsessed no matter what. Juice has a BFA and is a professionally trained makeup artist with an affinity for colours, which contrasts pleasingly with the fact that she’s also a muscly gym buff. She’s like 5’4″ max, but she could totally kick your ass if she wanted to.
Juice puts all that strength to good work on the stage in a way that commands attention, even when she’s standing still. She’s usually not, though- Juice is the unchallenged hair flip queen of Toronto. My friends and I love to play this game at her shows where we count how many times she flips her hair in a number for an amusing total at the end. What’s the best part of the game, you ask? Well, she knows how to place those hair flips so well that the entire crowd eats them up-every single one. I used to attend Juice Boxx’s Drag Race viewing parties and cry when I saw my American friends on the screen. Now I get to happy-sob over her instead!
Coming to you from Montreal, Quebec is Kiara! This beauty is built like a fashion sketch and thoroughly wears her looks, not the other way around. Kiara is a strong but well-informed personality who has no qualms about repping POC artists in her community. She might be a little newer to the game in the grand scheme of things, but she’s justifiably confident in her drag and is actually already doing it full time; a feat not everyone can pull off with success (myself included) even with years’ more experience under their belt.
Kiara does more than just look like she’s got an interest in fashion; she’s actually directly inspired by runway lines and fashion magazines. In fact, that’s what helped her overcome insecurities. At the same time, she’s not afraid to get quirky and unique here and there, just to grab (and keep) your attention. Kiara comes from the generation of drag who grew up watching Drag Race, so seeing her cast on such an important season is a very cool thing! She can lip sync, she can make people laugh, and she’s not afraid to put those skills to good use.
You might not expect to find a relationship between drag and math, but Kyne is here to prove otherwise. This queen, who lives and works in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, has been going viral on TikTok for using math to explain everything from simple life facts to voting and politics. Kyne also already had 100K YouTube subscribers even before CDR! She’s known for making drag tutorials that teach people to paint, sew, and style wigs. In fact, she’s been doing them for long enough that, despite her young age, I know working drag queens who accredit their foundational skills to Kyne’s videos.
Kyne knows how to employ a one-liner with expert precision, but without really sounding like she’s even trying. You might miss it if you’re not listening, but standing near her is a surefire opportunity for smart, subtle entertainment. She also gives off an innate curiosity, making sure to ask you all kinds of questions about yourself and your work when you speak with her. Fun fact: just in case you didn’t think she has enough skills already, Kyne also plays the flute!
Just like Miss Hytes hopped across the border for her season of Drag Race, so did Lemon! The difference here is that Lemon is coming home rather than exporting her skills- she’s been living in NYC but she’s actually Canadian. Like a few of her CDR sisters, Lemon is no stranger to a colour story or a detailed look. Her drag paints a whole picture and always has a strong aesthetic (often in bright neons, which thrills me). In fact, her sense of fashion is so solid that she was hand picked last year by Drag Race s9 winner Sasha Velour to walk in New York Fashion Week for Velour’s collaboration with Opening Ceremony.
Despite being the contestant with the shortest time in drag, Lemon is no stranger to performance. She trained and worked as a professional dancer growing up in Toronto and that control shows very well when she lip syncs. She’s a great example of someone who has honed in on the skills they already have in order to use them in a new venue. Lemon might be adorably sassy in what you’ve seen so far but don’t let her sour name fool you; my few interactions with her have been incredibly sweet each and every time.
To be honest, you probably already know this next queen’s name: it’s Priyanka! She might have only been in drag for two years, but Priyanka is a force. She’s used her time in the Toronto scene to build a solid support base, establish respect in the community, and prove that she’s basically a marketing genius. It makes sense that she would be; Canadian viewers might recognize her from her years working as a host on the kids’ channel YTV! Since then, she’s created two music videos, won three local competitions, and been awarded the title of “Toronto’s Favourite Drag Queen” by NOW Magazine.
Besides an incredible professional toolbox for Drag Race, Priyanka is also has a glowing, quirky personality that practically makes audiences eat out of her hand. In fact, I’ve literally seen that happen (long before quarantine, obviously). She will have you gasping in laughter before you’ve even made full sense of what she said; she’s just that wonderfully random and weird. Priyanka can dance, spark intelligent conversation (she frequently speaks about queer POC representation and beautifully incorporates her culture into her drag), and I’m absolutely convinced that she could make friends with literally anyone.
Good news: s1 has more than one French queen! Rita Baga is from Montreal and she packs a punch in terms of previous TV experience too; she’s no stranger to French networks. Rita is a community advocate and show producer with a name that people recognize for production value. Her numbers feature concepts, mixes, dancers, and I once even saw her be lowered onto stage from a terrifying height on a hydraulic crane. Rita’s name is also already well-circulated in the world of Ru Girls thanks to her leading role in putting on some of the biggest Pride shows in the country.
Rita’s drag is very intentional but her analytical tendencies don’t rob her acts of imagination. This is actually the first time she’s ever competed as a contestant; usually she’s the one hosting local competitions! Rita is adaptable and thinks on her feet. She once made a beautiful speech to me about the need for gender inclusivity in drag at a French show. The moment she realized from my terrified face that my high school French is very rusty, however, she seamlessly switched gears to an easy melange of French, English, and gesticulation that even my forgetful ass could understand and cheer for.
The circus is in town and Scarlett Bobo is the acrobat, fire eater, clown, and ring leader. I’m serious; Scarlett Bobo can eat real fire. It is extremely impressive and absolutely terrifying. She makes it look so easy that the first time I saw her do it, I wasn’t expecting it and got a stress fever. That theme continued over the years as I watched her incorporate aerial arts, borderline reckless roller skating, fast dance lifts, and countless other tricks into her drag. In addition to being a skilled performer, Scarlett is a talented producer. She’s the Energizer Bunny of drag; always juggling a million things while she’s planning ten more (which she does while running up and down the street from gig to gig with sets of about 18 numbers at each).
After winning almost every local Toronto competition, Scarlett created one of her own shortly before moving to Vancouver. The Empire’s Ball is a diverse and fully inclusive event. Scarlett has 12 years of drag experience and has well-honed her ability to speak up for the freaks and outsiders. Even if she reads the snot out of you, however, she’ll probably find you later to give you a hug, tell you you’re talented, and cry- something she’s not ashamed of and that really resonates with me. She’s another one whose Drag Race viewing parties I used to cry at weekly, so catch me sobbing the moment she hits my screen as well.
Have you ever known someone who minds their business but is still an integral part of the community? That’s Tynomi Banks. Have you ever met someone who oozes confidence without actually bragging about their accomplishments, but then they’re suddenly on a billboard and no one’s surprised because it feels right? That’s Tynomi. Have you ever met someone who isn’t trying to be funny but you could listen to them read the phone book because every word they say is just hilarious? That’s Tynomi. She’s the queen who taught me how to make men stop heckling me by looking them dead in the eye and calmly stating “You are not allowed to speak to me”. I’ve seen her do it, I’ve tried it myself, and I’m thrilled to report that it works!
Besides being one of Toronto’s most well-travelled and highly respected drag queens (she’s no stranger to working in LA, NYC, and Puerto Vallarta), Tynomi is also a trained dancer. She frequently pops up in music videos and brand campaigns, and no Pride stage is complete without her choreographed productions. Tynomi’s professional attitude and extremely personable manner have landed her opportunities in just about every facet of the entertainment world, but she’ll still ask you how you are before she talks about any of that.
Get into it July 2nd (that’s today)!
In case you haven’t heard the whole Canadian drag scene shouting it from the rooftops, Canada’s Drag Race premieres tonight! You’ll be able to see these queens slay (and get your fill of Canadiana puns, if the sneak peeks we’ve seen so far are any indication) every Thursday at 9 pm EST. You can watch on Crave in Canada, on WowPresents+ in the US, and on BBC Three iPlayer in the UK (every Friday instead thanks to the time change. Sorry, UK babes; you’ll have to wait until tomorrow, July 3rd).
If, unlike myself, you’re the kind of person who’s been feeling a little inundated with drag content lately, then I beseech you to set that aside and watch this series anyways. I promise that these queens, and the wealth of diverse drag talent that Canada has to offer in general, are worth risking non-fatal exposure to “drag over-saturation” for. The fact that Canadian drag is finally getting its time in the sun will enrich your knowledge of the art and give you a plethora of new icons to appreciate!