Canada’s Drag Race: Start Your Engines

S1/Ep 1

Photo: Bell Media

It took us over a decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but Canada’s Drag Race is finally happening, and the queens up north are just as fierce, talented, and messy as the contestants on the original. Lucky for us, our premiere season of Drag Race gets to skip out on that horrific-but-legendary season one filter from the original.

Hello, production value!

Starting off with the contestants, children’s TV-host-turned-drag-queen Priyanka spends her first moments screaming as she walks around the werkroom (understandable). The new, Canadian version of the werkroom is basically the same as the older one, except without the massive photos of RuPaul plastered on all four walls.

Next up, Ilona “I’m a f***ing bitch” Verley, who arrives with a nose ring that’s wider than a cereal bowl; she got in 12 seconds of screentime under her belt before insinuating that Priyanka’s social media followers are fake.

The cast fills in: Kiara, the first Montreal Queen to make an entrance, Toronto drag it-girl Juice Boxx, and pageant superstar Anastarzia Anaquay quickly fill the room.

Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala dress decides to make an appearance on Lemon, the next queen who enters. Lemon is very quick to announce to viewers that she’s a dance queen, and a queen who’s walked New York Fashion Week, which is great, except I was focusing on her obnoxiously perfect teeth.

Scarlett BoBo shows up next, looking like she was cast as “background gang member #3” for the upcoming West Side Story reboot, followed by Kyne, a self-described “social media queen” with no-filter-needed eyebrows.

BOA (all caps) waltzes in, and the camera cuts to the Toronto girls; Scarlett’s jaw practically drops to the ground before explaining in confessional that “BOA has a bad rep in Toronto”.

Like I said, Canada isn’t holding back on the messy.

Rita Baga takes the stage with a gloriously heavy Quebecois accent, and I couldn’t help but think of Nicky Doll, a contestant from France on the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race who was unable to overcome the language barrier. Canada’s a bilingual country, and so between Baga and Kiara, it’s great to have that duality represented on screen.

Following Baga is Jimbo, an uncomfortable-looking clown queen, and finally, Tynomi Banks, a Toronto drag legend who electrifies the werkroom the moment she steps into the arena.

Within moments, the queens are met with a message from Ru herself, before meeting the judges: Season 11 fan-favourite and resident Queen of the North Miss Brooke Lynn Hytes herself, unREAL star Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and supermodel Stacey McKenzie.

The queens are thrown into a cute mini-challenge, where they have to climb a stage version of the Rocky Mountains and pose in a man-made blizzard for a photoshoot. Kyne-the-YouTube-and-Instagram-baddie wins and gets to take a lead on the Maxi Challenge, assigning themed boxes to the queens; they have to create a Canuk Couture look based on the theme they received.

Right to left: Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Stacey McKenzie. Photo: Bell Media

Part of the Drag Race magic is the show’s ability to bring to the forefront topics that aren’t talked about on television. Ilona Verley may have announced herself as a bitch from the beginning, but it was a revelation to see an Indigenous, two-spirited queer person on TV. Speaking to the camera, she not only defines the meaning of “two-spirited” to the audience, but she does so openly, with the understanding that Indigenous people are woefully underrepresented in the media.

The Maxi Challenge brought a few surprises.

Anastarzia Anaquay in the Maxi Challenge

Anastarzia kicked things off with what can only be described as a shiny red puffer cloak. It’s a strong, distinctly Canadian look, and it's sad that it doesn’t get much attention from the judges.

The phrase “a gorgeous potato crown” is one I never thought I’d hear, but the judges love BOA’s Anne of Green Gables-ish (???) themed outfit. Kyne served the crowd dollar store Diana Ross, while Jimbo went for a rainbow-themed outfit.

Meh. Nothing amazing.

Lemon’s anime sports girl getup was a complete miss with the judges, although guest host/judge Elisha Cuthbert noted she had done her makeup well. The obvious standout was Rita Baga, who embodied the cold Canadian winter in an elevated Cabaret-style outfit that was complete with snow-stained boots and a subtle pair of Roots mittens. She’s the winner of this week’s challenge, and immediately becomes the one to watch.

It was clear who was going to be in the bottom, but Kyne snapping back at every single one of the judges’ critiques was hilarious to watch; she practically popped a vein when Brooke Lynn told her she looked like she “came from a Grindr hookup”. Her whining in the werkroom about losing to BOA? That got old really quickly.

Jeffrey (who, like Lemon, has perfect teeth), tore into Juice Boxx in a way that would make even Michelle Visage feel bad, throwing out words like “messy”, “unfinished”, declaring that there was nothing about the outfit that he liked. I don’t blame Juice Boxx for having a literal panic attack on stage, requiring a PA to come on screen and hand her a glass of water.

Lemon and Juice Boxx lipsync to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You”, and it’s easily the highlight of the episode; Lemon pulls out all her dance-school training and it shows — both queens are very strong performers.

When Juice Boxx is told to sashay away, you could almost hear the Toronto gays gasp in unison. Canada’s Drag Race is not playing around, and these judges aren’t afraid of sending home fan-favourites.

We started off with quite a bang, but already the season is shaping up with BOA as the “underdog” and Kyne as the “villain”. Season one is going to be one hell of a ride.

Canada’s Drage Race airs 9 PM EST on CraveTV

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