Canada's Drag Race first look serves Canadian bacon with a side of fish
In fitting Canadian fashion, Brooke Lynn Hytes kicks off her latest interview by apologizing.
“Oh, I’m soar-y,” the (super polite) queen of the north tells EW with regards to an adorably inconsequential matter, in advance of spilling exclusive details about her upcoming stint as a permanent judge on Canada's Drag Race. "I don’t even know I do it. I apologize for everything, all of the time. It’s in my blood."
One thing the Toronto native doesn’t have to apologize for, however, is mercilessly gagging us with her history-making gig presiding over the RuPaul's Drag Race spin-off's panel alongside equally powerful co-judges Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (UnREAL actor) and Stacey McKenzie (international supermodel). After finishing in second place on the American version's 11th season last year, Brooke holds the distinction of being the first Drag Race alum to hold down a fixed gig as a panelist on any of the series' four international editions, which McKenzie says, at long last gives Canada a major voice in the ever-expanding mainstream drag industry.
"Canada’s got it going on. We’re a sleeping beauty, and we’re waking up. Everybody is going to be like 'Oh s—, you’re here!' We’re the quiet storm," McKenzie says of the show's soon-to-be-revealed cast of competing queens, who will receive further tips and guidance from resident "Squirrel Friend" and TV personality Traci Melchor. "I can’t wait for the world to see the next Drag Race. It’s unapologetically Canadian!"
Below, check out an exclusive batch of first-look photos from the Canada's Drag Race set, accompanied by the judges' in-depth walkthrough of the ferocious season (premiering this summer in Canada on Crave, and around the world on the WOW Presents Plus subscription streaming network).
Manifesting for Maple Leaf Nation
Before her season of RuPaul's Drag Race even aired, Brooke spoke her ascension to superstardom into existence. During an impromptu trip to the World of Wonder offices (with her season 11 sister Silky Nutmeg Ganache) in early 2019, the 34-year-old tells EW she half-jokingly told employees at the Drag Race production company she dreamed of hosting a Canadian extension of the biggest drag pageant on earth. Weeks later, she was doing screen tests (completely hung over one day after living her best life at Toronto Pride) to secure the gig of her dreams.
"When you get on Drag Race, the clock is ticking," the former professional dancer explains. "You’re given 15 minutes of fame and you have to do something with it or not, it’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to make this last for yourself and turn it into a huge career."
Finding the right Judgy Judies
As the judging panel came together, Bowyer-Chapman and McKenzie weighed their relationship to the art form as well, with both personalities having honed a deep appreciation for the craft prior to boarding the project.
"I’m a quintessential superfan. I’m like the rest of the viewers who sit at home, who completely know every season, has binged from start to finish, and knows every queen inside and out," Bowyer-Chapman explains, noting that his past work as a talent scout gives him an edge when it comes to spotting A-list talent.
"I thought it was important for me to share my experience [with the queens]," McKenzie — who's appeared as a judge on America's Next Top Model and Canada's Next Top Model in addition to frequenting the old-school New York City ball scene back in the day — adds, referencing her own boundary-pushing career as a model who disrupted fashion's rigid beauty standards with a distinct look unlike anything the industry had seen before her debut in the 1990s. "I let them know that we have to fight a lot more than the norm. We’re not your typical, everyday people, so we have to fight harder, we have to be stronger, more resilient, and more confident."
They're mighty as individuals, but together they wield a single prong of power over Canada's Drag Race, which was produced by Canadian media company Blue Ant Studios, follows the same general format as its American counterpart by tasking the queens with mini challenges, maxi challenges, and fashion-focused runway duels.
"We’re all RuPaul, put together," Brooke says. "Not one of us has all the power. It’s a team effort. We all take turns sharing duties, and we all make decisions together!"
The chemistry that ensued, Brooke says, is electric, with McKenzie recalling her "territorial" and "tough" approach while flexing her "mommy-type" muscle, while Bowyer-Chapman admits he treated the queens with a "stern and strict" attitude as he whipped them into celebrity shape across a season filled with drama and jaw-dropping artistic excellence.
"I love Stacey so much. She reminds me of Alyssa Edwards or Vanjie, because she just doesn’t know how funny she is. She’s feisty and very honest, so I feel Stacey is the Michelle Visage of the group," Brooke observes. "Jeffrey was the old pro, because he’d judged the American version twice, so he was there helping us with little tidbits and advice on things. He’s an actor, he’s used to being on set, he’s professional, and keeps it together. He was the stern father figure!"
Snatching stars and Snatch Game RuDemption
Brooke is well aware her own Drag Race track record isn't spotless. "Can you believe it?" she jokes of the Canadian version allowing her to oversee a maple-infused take on the fan-favorite Snatch Game challenge after she mounted a "horrible" but "iconic" impression of Canada's princess, Celine Dion, on last year's American edition. But the pain she felt after falling on her (pristine) face helped inform the way she herded her Canada's Drag Race children with maternal warmth.
"A good piece of advice I’ve been given about judging is to always try to see yourself in the contestants, and that was easy for me because I’ve been there, done that!" Brooke says. "I had empathy for them. When they’re standing up there in front of us, I know what’s going through their minds, I know the anxiousness and fear — especially if they did poorly that week. It’s important to uplift the person and give them a little something and let them know they’re not complete trash and garbage because they didn’t have a good week!"
But, Bowyer-Chapman observes, the competition is no less stiff despite a quintessentially Canadian dedication to kindness.
"I think that the essence of the challenges is similar to RuPaul’s Drag Race, but they’re specific to Canada," he says. "There are instantly recognizable Easter eggs for Canadians, but they’re universally comedic enough that other audiences won’t be left out of the joke. Seeing these queens perform, this isn’t Drag Race-lite, this is Drag Race full-stop!"
Casting Canada's finest queens
After wrangling egotistical fashionistas on Top Model, McKenzie found welcome placidity in the wide-eyed ambition of drag queens competing — without being cutthroat — for Canada's first queer crown.
"You know how they always say Canadians are nice? I have to agree with that! [This cast] is different in terms of the diversity and the different types of ethnicities that you’ll see. They bring their culture to the table," she says. "I’m sure you’ve seen me have an issue with a model or two on the other shows, but it’s like, you need to chill! You’re in a competition and I’m here to help you. What I love about Canada’s Drag Race is the queens take critiques and they’re hungry to learn. It wasn’t frustrating to work with queens who didn’t give me too much attitude!"
Bowyer-Chapman promises a crop of contestants who craft "campy fashion" and exude "bold," "artistic," "authentic" vibes — enough so that it was "so challenging from week to week deciding who could stay and who could go, because there’s not a weak link in this season."
"So many of the qualities and characteristics in the Canadian queens will be instantly recognizable to American audiences. It’s similar to the U.S. version in that there are different styles of drag from coast to coast in Canada, and it’ll be instantly and immediately recognizable to the audience that we have a very diverse representation of drag talent from across the country," the 35-year-old says, adding that his fascination with the queens rekindled feelings from the first time he attended his first drag event — a drag king performance — in Vancouver during his early modeling days. "To see people playing with gender in the way that these drag kings were…. I was so fascinated, and I was hooked from that point forward," he continues.
So, will there be a drag king on the Canada's Drag Race cast?
"I can’t say," Bowyer-Chapman responds with a laugh. "But I think that’s a fascinating question and a fascinating idea!"
Making the motherland (and Mama Ru) proud
"Nothing has been done like this before in Canada. There are no big goals like RuPaul’s Drag Race in Canada…. unless you move to the States and uproot your whole life, but now there’s something for queens in Canada to strive for, and motivation is so important," Brooke concludes, promising that fans around the globe are in store for "drama" as well as "cool looks and performances" that made her proud of her homeland sisters.
"Ru has given me lots of advice over the years. We talk so frequently; I feel like I glean wisdom from every conversation," Bowyer-Chapman adds of the trio receiving RuPaul's blessing to carry his legacy beyond another international border. "The biggest piece of advice was: Be yourself and go in there and prove yourself!"
In other words: Don't f— it up, eh?