Let’s face it: 2020 has been rough. That’s why we’re looking to find moments of joy and pleasure this summer with our new series, Summer’s Not Cancelled.
It's time to gather your squirrel friends, start your engines, and let the music play! After 12 seasons south of the border, Canada's Drag Race is finally coming. On the all-Canadian judging panel: Season 11 runner-up and official Queen of the North Brooke Lynn Hytes, model and super strutter Stacey McKenzie, and actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. I sat down with RuPaul's designated proxies (well, actually, I had a four-way conference call) to get the tea on the TV event of the summer.
Hi guys. This is my first ever four-way. I guess we’ll start with the obvious: What are you wearing?
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: Ha! I’m wearing the same pair of grey Calvin Klein sweatpants that I’ve been wearing throughout the entire pandemic. They’re loose, they’re comfortable, and the colour is representative of my state of mind.
Stacey McKenzie: I’m wearing a long army fatigue dress with a racerback and a long slit on one side. I have Rasta beads around one of my ankles, a bright yellow head wrap, and gold hoop earrings.
So, just a low-key chilling outfit...
Stacey: Right, this is my chilling style.
Brooke Lynn: Stacey will always win the fashion challenge.
Stacey: Maybe that’s true, but I bet Jeffrey will get a Calvin Klein campaign based on this interview.
At Refinery29 Canada, we’re doing a series called Summer’s Not Cancelled to celebrate finding moments of joy in a really tough year, so I’m hoping you’ll complete this sentence: Other than the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race on July 2, the thing I’m most excited for is…
Brooke Lynn: The finale. I can’t wait. Other than that, I live in L.A., so I’m planning to go visit a friend who has a place in Palm Springs. We’ll probably just hang out the two of us. I know places are opening back up but the number [of COVID-19 cases] are going back up too, so I guess I’m looking forward to people getting their shit together.
Stacey: I would say the thing I’m looking most forward to other than the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race is season 2!
Jeffrey: I'm most looking forward to when the Canadian border re-opens and I’m able to come home and celebrate with our Canadian Queens. Brooke Lynn and I are in Los Angeles and Stacey is in Jamaica.
Stacey: Wait, can I change my answer? I also can’t wait to come home to Toronto. I have been at my home in Jamaica. I was supposed to come back on March 15 and then corona hit. Look, I’m not complaining. It’s been 85 F here everyday and my house walks onto the beach. But I miss my family in Toronto, I miss being downtown, I miss walking around Kensington Market, I miss taking the Queen streetcar.
Anyone have any plans for Canada Day?
Brooke Lynn: Jeffrey and I live pretty close to each other so maybe I’ll go over to his place and shoot firecrackers on the front lawn.
Speaking of the show, Drag Race obviously has a strong built-in fan base, but what do you want the newbies to know?
Jeffrey: Drag Race newbies are my favourites! Coming in with a blank slate is so exciting. Drag Race started out as a show made by queer people for queer people. All of my queer friends have watched from the beginning, but in the last decade it’s become adored and embraced by heteronormative society. It’s so cool because obviously the series is so fun and so entertaining, but it’s also a way for people to learn about drag culture.
Brooke Lynn: It’s so fun watching someone discover the show for the first time. Their mind just explodes and it’s like, What is this?
How will Canada’s Drag Race be different from the OG?
Brooke Lynn: The main difference is that RuPaul will not be there. He has appointed the three of us in his place. We all share the power — the final judgments about who stays and who goes are a team effort.
Stacey: It’s a good thing we all get along.
Did you know each other before?
Stacey: I think Brooke and Jeffrey had met, but they didn’t know each other well. We all met together for the first time like the day before shooting and we just totally hit it off.
I’d like to play a little game called “Judging the Judges.” I’ll ask a question and you guys say which one of you fits the bill. Let’s start with fiercest strut.
Brooke Lynn: No question. What kills me about her walk is that normally Stacey is the first one to crack up, to joke around, but when she’s on the runway she is un-fuck-with-able.
Stacey, what’s your secret?
The secret to a good walk is confidence. I got my confidence early. I was walking on a runway for Jean Paul Gaultier — the show where Madonna had the dog. I was looking out into the audience and there was Lenny Kravitz, who I was totally obsessed with at the time. So I walked out into the audience and sat on his lap and gave him a little kiss. I was worried Gaultier would be mad, but he said, "Stacey, that was très magnifique." That experience taught me to follow my instincts.
Wow. Okay. Which one of you is the biggest COVID cop?
Brooke Lynn: Jeffrey.
Jeffrey: Ha! I was going to say me, too. Even before COVID, I’m someone who appreciates a super-clean, calm environment. My dressing room on CDR was full of crystals. I burned sage through the entire studio. Partly to get rid of bad juju and partly to get rid of bacteria.
Which one of you is the “mean” judge?
Jeffrey: I’m probably the strictest.
Brooke Lynn: I was pretty harsh at times. I think we all have different things that we’re really focused on. As an actor, Jeffrey really honed in on the improv and acting challenges; Stacey, obviously fashion; and for me just drag in general.
Does your experience on the show make you a better judge?
Brooke Lynn: I think being on the show myself meant I understood how these girls are getting in their own heads and getting in their own ways. I spent so much of my time as a Drag Race contestant being so stressed out. The acting challenges in particular were the worst. I wish I had just calmed the fuck down. At the time I was thinking I have to win an Oscar, but now I see that you just have to have fun and be fearless. Balls to the wall — so to speak.
Jeffrey: That’s the thing, as much as drag is about what’s on the outside, it’s really about showing the judges who you really are. We were looking for someone who is real and authentic.
Which one of you is the tightest with RuPaul? If you all texted him right now, who would hear back first?
Stacey and Brooke Lynn: Jeffrey!
Jeffrey: I’ve been a guest judge on Drag Race three times now, so I’ve known Ru for many years, and I’ve appeared on his other show What’s the Tea. We have bonded over our shared spirituality. As a Black queer person, I didn’t have the blessing of somebody to look up to who I could see myself reflected in. RuPaul was that person to me from afar, and now to have that personal relationship is amazing. He’s the glamazon supermodel of the world. But he’s also my friend Ru.
Jeffrey, you played a reality TV show producer on the scripted series UnREAL. How does the real thing compare?
Jeffrey: I played a reality TV producer on a TV show for five years and also spent time with real reality-show producers. So much of what we see on most of these reality shows is fabricated. Producers plant the seeds and then the editing turns more minor things into massive drama that can be quite negative. On Drag Race, producers don’t do that. These queens are celebrated for being themselves. The audiences and judges fall in love with them for who they are. Drag Race is wildly different from most reality TV shows.
That doesn’t mean there will be no tea, does it?
Stacey: Oh, there is tea. Our queens are such an amazing and diverse group and of course things are going to happen.
Brooke Lynn: We’re excited, too. We spent time with the queens on the main stage and in the work room, but we weren’t there for the behind the scenes. I can tell you that as long as a drag queen breathes, there will be tea. That’s a guarantee.
Canada’s Drag Race airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on Crave.