With last season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars barely in the rearview, there’s hardly a milli-moment to catch our breath before we head to the Great White North for the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race.
Some of you may be a few weeks deep into the latest addition to the RCU (RuPaul Cinematic Universe). The series premiered on the Wow+ Presents app, but began airing last night in the U.S. on Logo.
So, some folks, like me, are already several episodes in, which may impact the recaps below. I’ll keep spoilers out for those who are watching for the first time, but I can’t promise my foresight won’t impact my impression of the standings week to week. You know what they say: “You can’t put the Shangela back in the box.” (Or: “Hindsight is twenny-twenny, henny.”)
The formula is familiar, with a couple key twists. Similar to RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, there’s a charming, chintzy quality. The sets and work room look like they were 3-d printed for a very gay science fair and could blow over at any time.
Rather than cheapen the experience, the trappings only up the overall camp value, giving the series an almost punkier edge contrasted with the sleek flagship series.
The biggest distinction here — other than geography — is the absence of RuPaul. Sure, she does some voiceover and maybe a pre-recorded video here or there, but when it comes to the mainstage, Mama Ru is nowhere to be found.
Instead, we get a sort of gorgeous Canadian Cerberus in the series judges: Top Model Stacey McKenzie, Drag Race alum Brooke Lynn Hytes and actor (and one of the best looking people to grace my television) Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. They jointly share responsibility for coaching, delivery critiques and
making the elimination decision reading the decision from the producers.
The guest each week is the “host,” which means they do Ru’s runway opening schtick and not much else. It’s an unnecessary complication (just have McKenzie/Hytes/Chapman host and judge, like Ru, with the typical guest judge role). I didn’t think the show lacked any credibility without RuPaul, but I did miss the zingers between Ru and the judges on the runway. These three are charming, but their quips can’t compete.
And what of the queens? Well, the good news is, Drag Race continues its stellar casting run with a unique crop of high-caliber, big-personality divas. It’s a very likable bunch.
We begin after the traditional entrances. We won’t pick apart each look here (I’ll touch on more notables in the rankings), but stand-outs include sexy Riddler Priyanka, Jimbo (dressed as a black-and-white classic cartoon with an S&M twist) and BOA’s udderly bizarre alien abduction. The gals — who all seem mostly familiar with one another’s work — are gagged to see BOA, a queen with a reputation for being more than a little messy.
The queens are also all agog (can we make “agog-worthy” a thing?) to see well-respected queens, Rita Baga and Tynomi. In fact, another young queen, Lemon, admits to actually working as a backup dancer for Tynomi earlier in her career.
The cast’s first mini-challenge tasks the girls with scaling a scaled-down Rocky Mountain to take a photo atop its peak. Of course, once they get there, a powerful fan kicks in with high winds.
I like these silly first photoshoots. Each gal gets to ape and pose while cracking jokes for the judges, and it’s got a built-in slapstick piece for everyone to get their little lovable moment. Priyanka made a memorable sprint to the top and stood in defiance of the gale-force winds in her face; Rita unleashed a conquering roar at the mountain’s peak; and Jimbo played the squeaky, vintage cartoon character the whole time, perfectly transitioning from giddy naïveté to shrieking panic.
Somehow, the judges — whose sides were just splitting over Jimbo’s performance — choose Kyne as the winner for a pretty, Liza Minnelli-esque victory pose. Wait, was the point of this to have the prettiest picture or have the most fun?
Let’s not dwell, because it’s time for the main challenge. As part of her prize, Kyne gets to assign each gal a Canadian-themed box of materials to construct a runway lewk. The themes really run the gamut from Anne of Green Gables to … sports? Just sports. Since everyone just met, and the box themes aren’t all easily digestible, there’s not a ton of strategy at play.
The boxes all have a combination of materials, including some limited fabric and lots of bric-a-brac. All the girls get to work, with Kyne boasting about her sewing skills and Juice Boxx expressing some concern.
There’s a real benefit to a cast with so many pre-existing relationships. It really feels like these queens know each other, perform together and come with histories. The result is more genuine interaction and less reality-TV “strategy” theatrics. Instead, we get deeper conversation and character development.
Ilona, in addition to discussing her proud First Nations heritage and Two-Spirit identity, opens up to BOA about how she’s trying to prove she’s matured since returning from Los Angeles. BOA, whose own reputation already preceded her, relates. She’s sober now, and she’s eager to prove she’s moved beyond her earlier antics. From across the workroom, Juice Boxx confides that she feels crowds stopped coming to her shows when she sobered up.
It’s an ominous warning to anyone battling the idea that their identity is wrapped up in drinking. More than anything, it made me sad for Juice Boxx, but that’s her journey. BOA seems confident continuing on her own.
Plus, Juice Boxx has other worries. She’s got a bunch of CDs to work with, and she plans on … hot-gluing them onto a miniskirt.
On the runway, guest host Elisha Cuthbert is a solid opening episode pick. She’s got plenty of U.S. credits to be familiar with stateside audiences (some future judges, not so much), and she’s got solid comedic delivery.
We’ll touch on more individual outfits in our rankings, but the judges put Jimbo, Rita and BOA in the top. Rita’s frigid high-fashion ode to “Quebec Froid” (Quebec Cold) revealed even more delightful details the more you studied it. She rightly gets the top honors of the week.
There was a lot to love about Jimbo’s rainbow gown, featuring Mardi Gras beads and tons of sewn together zippers. There was a lot of labor that went into the garment, but also a lot of thought.
BOA slayed her “Man of Green Gay-bles” potato realness, but it was her personality that really won the judges over.
Not so lucky: Lemon, Kyne and Juice Boxx. Lemon’s neon sports-themed outfit gave me some Betty Spaghetty vibes, but the judges were a little let down with the lack of vision on display. I agree it wasn’t my favorite up there, but I was surprised the judges disliked it so much.
Kyne’s critiques are harsher. She chose a Yukon Gold Digger-themed box, and crafted a disco jumpsuit that had issues from the start. I feel like these sort of gold, lamé disco outfits are regularly trouble on this show. Don’t do it, ladies!
Kyne’s bigger mistake is back-talking the judges. I’m sure there’s always broader context, but you gotta know going in how they always edit these exchanges. It’s never the host that ends up looking the jerk … Keep that in mind, Kyne.
The judges save their most vicious critiques for Juice Boxx, not that they aren’t warranted. They lay into her for a truly shoddy garment, but during their onslaught, Juice has a panic attack.
OK, OK, I know this might seem overly dramatic. However, during Juice’s meltdown, she mentions how cold she is. I didn’t notice this on first viewing, but after a few episodes it’s become clear that it is truly freezing on this set. The girls are always wearing jackets and beanies and snuggling under massive blankets backstage. Juice was nearly naked up there. I think the temperature was more than a little to blame!
Anyway, Juice pulls it together, takes her critiques with humility, but it’s undeniable she’ll be lip-syncing. Surprisingly, the judges opt to send Lemon against her, rather than Kyne (and her bad attitude).
After spending most of her screentime discussing her classic dance training, Lemon is a bit disappointing in this lip-sync. Performing to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You,” Lemon hits a few impressive jump splits, but there’s not much going on between stunts. I found myself much more drawn to Juice Boxx, but it wasn’t enough to keep her from getting squeezed out.
Lemon shantays for another day, and Juice Boxx sashays away.
How are this season’s queens shaping up after our first outing (and maybe a little insight into the next few weeks)? Check out our rankings below, and leave yours in the comments!
- Jimbo’s rainbow gown was a ton of fun, and a really great example of a successful unconventional materials outfit. I was concerned when Jimbo arrived as the bondage Minnie Mouse. It felt like the kind of alt drag that works as performance art, but not always a great fit for the Race. However, the way she played her Rocky Mountain photoshoot had me (and the judges) in stitches. Rita won in dominant fashion, but I’m more excited to see more from Jimbo.
- Rita’s look was also so strong. The ultimate praise in these unconventional challenges is to say you can’t tell it’s made from unconventional materials. Rita looked stunning, and she carries herself with the sort of confidence that is unmistakably earned. We’ve seen many “legendary” veteran queens flame-out on the show, but Rita seems to have the goods to go far.
- OK, Priyanka was merely safe with her cutesy crabby nautical runway. But, aren’t you just a little in love with her? Maybe it’s because she was a children’s TV host, but there’s something very lovable about her in drag and out. Her ambitious ascent of the mountain and crab walk off the runway tickled me. I loved the pop-art question mark with her entrance. Priyanka ticks my boxes.
- You can’t deny BOA’s strong first impression. The other girls’ reaction to BOA’s arrival signaled a potential troublemaker, but, as she later described, this is a sober, wiser BOA, eager to prove herself. The runway was weird, but it worked. (It killed me that the judges missed a “Hey, my eyes are up here!” joke.)
- For a design challenge, Anastarzia delivered. Hers was one of the most luxurious lewks on the runway, but was it one of the most exciting?
- Bobo brought big energy and a wacky outfit, but it felt a little thrown together. She sold it with the presentation, but if she stayed still long enough to get a good look, I’m not sure the clothes would stand up to scrutiny.
- I’m sure there were flaws with Kiara’s Babadook runway, but we didn’t get to see it long enough to notice. I was delighted with what I saw.
- Tynomi walked that runway like she was wearing a much nicer outfit than she was, and for that I applaud her. It was just sort of basic and boring and a little dumpy.
- What a rollercoaster this episode was for me and Ilona. When she first arrived, I recoiled at another “social media queen.” She won me over with her passion about representing her Indigenous culture and Two-Spirit identity. Then she walked the runway, and I was disappointed. I can appreciate the fit, but it was a snooze at best.
- I was surprised to see Lemon lip sync. Her runway wasn’t great, but it certainly wasn’t worse than Kyne’s, and it might have even been better than a few other girls’. Unfortunately, her entrance look didn’t inspire much more confidence. Hopefully her dance training and personality can help overcome some questionable taste.
- It should’ve been Kyne in the bottom two tonight. Those disco duds were a disaster. Worse yet, her backtalk on the runway is a surefire way to end up on the wrong side of tumblr fandom. (And don’t you ever speak to my Jeffrey like that again.)
- One of the better first-eliminated queens, Juice Boxx put up a helluva fight in that lip sync, despite wearing what I believe was just the middle part of a T-shirt as a skirt covered in shards of CDs. The outfit was inexcusable, but I’m glad the show gave Juice ample screentime to discuss sobriety and endear herself to audiences. She was likable in her interviews, and I think she did an admirable lip sync.