‘Canada’s Drag Race’ series premiere recap: Queens of the North

‘Drag Race’ comes to Canada for another regional edition, bringing with it some new faces

First, there was RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12. Next, we got Secret Celebrity Drag Race. And before we could even finish celebrating Jaida Essence Hall’s win, we were launched into All Stars 5, which is still very much ongoing. But Drag Race is a machine that waits for no human—or All Stars finale—and so we press on with Canada’s Drag Race. How can Canada’s first installment of its regional Drag Race brand stand out in a crowded market?

The answer, if the premiere is any indication, is to lean into its Canadian identity with great relish, cast a dozen utterly delightful, talented queens, and have a blast. Canada’s Drag Race’s series premiere is a breath of fresh air in the Drag Race world, offering just enough twists on the format to keep viewers interested while not throwing out what works in the franchise.. It feels very classic in some ways: the first maxi-challenge is a design task, while the mini-challenge is a Canadian riff on Season 2’s opening photoshoot (complete with wonky eyelashes flapping in the wind). But the cinematography is a touch more naturalistic than on Drag Race’s American variant—it looks more like Drag Race UK—and the workroom and runway look quite modern.

Perhaps the premiere’s biggest strength is in its cast, nearly all of whom manage to stand out in a crowded crew. You’ve got Priyanka, the excitable former kids’ show host who’s been doing drag for two years. You’ve got Ilona Verley, an Insta-loving queen who’s ready to play a bitch on TV. You’ve got pageant legend Anastarzia Anaquway, carrying a proverbial stack of titles into the workroom with her. And you’ve got the New York City convert, Lemon, who makes what might be the biggest entrance look impression with a giant yellow cape, and a simple tagline that befits her name: “Pucker up, motherfuckers.”

The judges of Canada’s Drag Race

Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media

Two things stand out most about this cast, beyond just how game and fun they seem. First, this cast is a good mix of Canadian legends and girls incredibly new to drag. The variety of perspectives is to the season’s credit since you’re getting a nice breadth of the classic and the modern. Second, these dolls know each other. I know we see a collection of New York queens walk into the workroom nearly every season of Drag Race—cue Yuhua Hamasaki saying “FIVE New York girls!”—so the scores of Toronto queens familiar with each other isn’t that surprising. (Although it is funny to see them shook that the notorious BOA, a.k.a. Bitch On Arrival, is joining them.) It’s the less obvious connections that stand out most. Kiara and Rita Baga are both Québécois queens, and the latter gave the former her first gig. Kiara also learned how to style wigs from Kyne, a social media queen with over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.


Kyne gets off to the best start of the group, as she wins the photoshoot mini-challenge. At first, it just appears to be a snowy mountain backdrop with a little climbing element to it. Tricky, sure, hiking in heels is never fun. But that’s not all the shoot has to offer: The queens must pose for photographer Matt Barnes while being blown by a “cold snap,” a.k.a. a strong fan. It’s like the Gone With the Wind-themed photoshoot mini-challenge from Season 2, and like in that task, it’s the queen who keeps her composure best under pressure who wins the day.

The judges of Canada’s Drag Race

Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media

I’m somewhat surprised another queen doesn’t take it, though. That’d be Jimbo, a queen who I’d not quite describe as “off-the-wall” as I would “doesn’t-acknowledge-the-wall-exists.” She is bizarre in all the best ways, narrating her own entrance (“I’m going to spin in a circle!”) while dressed in a black-and-white clown getup. During the mini-challenge, she’s calm at first, but explodes into a scream when the gust begins. It’s side-splittingly funny and has the judges in stitches. The final photo isn’t as good as Kyne’s (nor Lemon’s nor Toronto queen Scarlett Bobo’s), but I thought her work on set might clinch the win for her.

Speaking of our judges! We’ve got three, and they are a self-identified judging “throuple.” Season 11 runner-up Brooke Lynn Hytes will be the most familiar for Drag Race audiences, though those who watched Season 9 and/or All Stars 3 will also remember UnREAL star Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman for his guest judging and his role as “The Bitchelor.” (Fans will also see him tomorrow on All Stars 5 as a guest judge, in a bit of stars-aligning I have to assume was planned.) Stacey McKenzie rounds out the set, and so far, I’m most impressed by her. The fashion model has reality TV experience, having served as a judge on Canada’s Next Top Model (and doing guest judge and runway coach duty on America’s Next Top Model as well). She’s got a natural gift for both mentorship and criticism; I think she may be Canada’s Drag Race’s greatest strength when it comes to the judging this season.

The cast of Canada’s Drag Race

Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media

Unlike on RuPaul’s Drag Race, where Ru is the ultimate arbiter, Brooke Lynn, Jeffrey, and Stacey will be making their decisions as a group. This somewhat locks out the guest each week—not a guest judge, but pointedly a guest host, fulfilling some (but not all) of Ru’s duties. It’s odd later on in the episode when Brooke Lynn says that the three of them have made their decision, while first guest host Elisha Cuthbert sits among them. But I generally like the more democratic approach to Canada’s Drag Race: It makes the decisions a bit more transparent, and even the choices that a viewer doesn’t agree with get a fuller explanation.

Overall, the judgments of this week’s maxi-challenge are solid. The queens are each given a themed box of fabrics and materials from Roots Canada to design fashionable runway looks, and the results are pretty good! The only queen who goes wrongfully unrecognized, in my book, is pageant queen Anastarzia; the other top performers, Jimbo and Rita, earn their spots at the top. Rita takes the win for her winter wonderland look, though I preferred Jimbo’s gorgeous rainbow look (including a skirt made entirely out of differently coloured zippers). Toronto queen Juice Boxx and New York City’s Lemon hit the bottom two, each turning out minimal looks that the judges deride as “basic.” Kyne joins them as a low-scorer, much to her chagrin.

Each member of the bottom three takes her defeat differently. Lemon graciously accepts the critiques, while Juice has a panic attack upon realizing she’s failed to impress the judges. She’s embarrassed about losing her composure on the main stage, which I find deeply relatable: A panic attack is one thing, but realizing you’ve fallen to pieces, especially in front of people you want to impress, is another kind of trial entirely. She at least doesn’t fare as badly with the panel as Kyne, who talks back repeatedly and can’t take the critiques. Jeffrey speculates Kyne’s experience on social media may not have prepared her to deal with the judging since the positive fan response can overwhelm any criticism. (I personally don’t think that’s quite right; we’ve seen dolls with giant social media followings handle criticism quite well on Drag Race.)

BOA joins Jimbo and Rita at the top, prompting a great deal of consternation from the self-described “dancing diva of the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge tristate area.” Kyne throws a fit in Mini-Untucked (returning from Drag Race UK!), furious that BOA could’ve placed above her. Combined with her face-pulling during BOA’s positive critiques on the runway, it makes Kyne out to be a very sore loser. While I agree with her that BOA’s look isn’t top-worthy, Kyne’s absolutely is bottom-worthy. It’s a too-simple jumpsuit silhouette with gold balls glued to the bottom of her pants, resulting in an awkward walk and balls falling out all over the runway. In a particularly brutal cut, when she’s declared safe (though cautioned by Brooke Lynn about her attitude), Kyne tries to collect balls still falling from her outfit, only to lose even more, forcing her to scramble on the ground. The judges can’t help but giggle.

Lemon and Juice must make lemonade out of their lip sync song, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You.” How appropriate to start with the Canadian CRJ! Despite her repeated boasts about her dance ability, Lemon is more impressive for her pure lip syncing ability in this number. She catches a lot of ad libs and riffs in the song, while Juice does a more straightforward lip sync. Combined with a couple of splits from Lemon, and it’s clear who will be staying.

I appreciate Juice’s drag, and she’s nothing but a kind, fun soul all episode. Unfortunately, her panic attack, understandable as it is, likely throws up a red flag to the judges. She’s not quite ready for the rigours of this competition, and it’s best we say goodbye to her here and now. Only one of these queens can win Canada’s Drag Race, and as Brooke Lynn says in her runway speech, the journey will be difficult. But it’ll be so worth it for the queens—and, if this premiere is any indication, it’ll be a great ride for all of us watching.

The premiere starts with a lot of RuPaul for a show he’s not actually on: there’s a picture of him on the wall, a video message, and even his narration during the theme song. In what feels like a smart move to differentiate this show from the mothership, it slips further away from Ru as the episode goes on, and really bolsters the three judges.

Speaking of the theme song: It’s a remix! And a good one; it’s just different enough to make your ears perk up, but still familiar. Like most of this episode, it’s a welcome update.

“Splits, high kicks, death drops, jumps! I do none of it!” BOA may not be a dancer, but she knows it!

We get a lot of earnest mirror talk this episode, which had me worried at first. Too much of that can be overwhelming (see: Season 9). But, at least for this episode, it feels organic, and it’s not presented in a heavy-handed fashion. Even the music choices during the chat are relatively upbeat. It crystallizes that the issue with the mirror talk on the main show is about the presentation, not the actual content. Queer artists connecting about their experiences is good! Juice Boxx and BOA sharing their experiences with sobriety is particularly welcome; there was a similar chat on All Stars 5 earlier this season, and this feels like a continuation of that conversation.

Interestingly, Canada’s Drag Race goes with “The Realness” as the runway song. That was Season 8’s main stage tune. It’s a decent one, but I’d have loved a new track for this season.

Juice Boxx in her entrance: “Mmm, you like that?” Kiara, under her breath: “I like that.”

My biggest criticism of Canada’s Drag Race so far is that the guest host dynamic doesn’t work for me. If Elisha Cuthbert is really the “host” in this episode, why does Brooke Lynn do most of the host dialogue on the main stage, and lead the deliberations? The only bits Elisha does are the walk down the main stage and banter with the judges, the “Welcome back, ladies” salutations, and the speech before the lip sync. She’s half-host, half-guest judge. Maybe it’ll settle a bit as the season goes on, but the division of labour is a bit too messy at this point.

Lemon: “Have you ever played a sport?”

Priyanka: “I played European handball!”

Lemon: “So no, you’ve never played a sport.”

The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race premieres Thursday, July 9, at 9 pm ET on Crave in Canada and on WOW Presents Plus in the US.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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