Let me share my experience of watching this week’s episode of Canada’s Drag Race: I have an absolute blast for the first 40 minutes or so, watching the queens prepare for and perform in a rap battle challenge. I love how clever the queens’ raps are, and am impressed at how the top 10 were tackling a challenge often reserved for the top 4. I think the cast aced the challenge itself—sure, a couple of queens miss their steps and drop words in their lip syncs, but the overall impression is strong. I even have a top three identified, and sure enough, they’re all called out for critiques!
Then as the judges start with Kiara, the first I pegged for the top dolls, the fun hits the brakes. “I lost you a little bit in the challenge,” Brooke Lynn Hytes tells Kiara. “It’s hard to stick out on that stage, I know, but…”
Canada’s Drag Race judging panel is a problem, one that the fandom is largely in agreement on. Unfortunately, unless the judges get sharper—fast—this problem will be around for seven more episodes. That’s a shame because this fantastic cast deserves better! As it stands, it’s a disorienting experience to watch this show, enjoy so much of it, then suddenly experience the whiplash of confounding critiques.
It’s not about me disagreeing with the judges—hell, I disagree with the judges regularly on RuPaul’s Drag Race. t’s about the kind of criticisms the queens receive. Kiara gets lambasted for offering “basic” runways by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and between critiques and deliberations, he says “basic” three times. How much can Kiara really do about that to improve? “Basic” is inherently an undescriptive term, one that just marks something as insufficient without offering specifics on how it’s insufficient. There’s a reason Michelle Visage and the RuPaul’s Drag Race judges don’t pull out “basic” that often, while Canada’s Drag Race’s panel is using it with alarming frequency. Stacey McKenzie said in the premiere that the judges are there to help the queens, but feedback like this ultimately won’t do that.
Apologies for starting with critiques about the critiques, particularly after I went long on them last week. I wanted to get it out of the way so we can focus on what is otherwise a very good episode, probably the best yet of this spinoff. Let’s just consider it a blanket understanding that the judges need to work on their skills—or at least, that they need to be restructured. For my money, Stacey does the best in offering actual critiques, Brooke Lynn does with the host dialogue, and Jeffrey is probably the best at the on-set work with the queens. You could easily change their roles to such that Brooke Lynn is the Ru, Stacey the Michelle, and Jeffrey the Ross Mathews, ideally with a rotating fourth judge like Carson Kressley.
That’s an issue for potential future seasons, though. For now, we’ve got a top 10 of excellent queens who tackle this challenge with gusto. And it’s appropriate that I offered apologies for my rant, because in stereotypical Canadian tradition, this rap battle is all about saying sorry that you’re not sorry. After a news anchor mini-challenge that Lemon and Priyanka ace, the two are made team captains of rival girl groups. Ilona Verley gets picked last for the second time in two weeks, amplifying her insecurities. If it’s any consolation to her, Violet Chachki got picked last twice in a row in Season 7, and look where she ended up!
Both groups do well in their recording sessions with Ralph, a Canadian singer-songwriter who nicely balances offering critique and support when needed. She’s not quite as instructive as MNEK was on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, but that’s an impossibly high bar to clear. More importantly, she doesn’t needlessly make things difficult, as some on Drag Race have done in the past. She gets a great vocal out of Tynomi Banks by pushing her to create more of a character, and patiently works with Anastarzia Anaquway despite the pageant queen’s nervousness.
Choreography sessions with the talented Hollywood Jade, on the other hand, are much rougher. Only a couple of the queens—trained dancers Lemon and Tynomi, naturally—pick up the steps instantly. Nearly everyone else struggles, with Jimbo managing the worst in the first group, and nearly the entirety of Priyanka’s team struggling. Anastarzia predicts doom, saying they all need to be prepared to lip sync for their lives. I suddenly get flashbacks to the six-way lip sync. Never again…
Like I said up top, there are some missed steps and a concerning number of queens who opt to not lip sync whole stretches of the song—including some of their own verses!—but the overall impression is very good. The verses are fun, a mixture of disses of the whole opposing team and of particular queens. Priyanka, Scarlett Bobo, and BOA earn the highest marks, while I personally preferred the former two, Kiara, and Lemon. But the edit of the episode is not shy about who’s going to win: It’s Priyanka’s day to shine.
Not only is Priyanka a stellar performer this week, she also leads her team ably and encourages those who are struggling. She also shares her story about not being out to her dad, confessing she tells him she dates a girl named Priyanka. “Now, when he watches Canada’s Drag Race, he’ll finally be able to meet her!” Priyanka jokes. She keeps a positive disposition as she talks about it, but you can tell that not feeling able to be open with her dad is a real struggle. She wants to keep their supportive relationship but worries that her dad will be the one person to reject her.
That moment of sharing her pain is quickly replaced by a moment of triumph, though, as Stacey declares her the winner of the week, narrowly beating out Scarlett. The two of them, plus BOA, are sent to safety, while low-scorer Ilona is saved by her poodle fantasy look on the main stage. (The category is “Quebecky with the Good Hair,” meaning a hair runway, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t guffaw at that name.) Kiara narrowly avoids being in the bottom two, leaving friends Anastarzia and Tynomi in the bottom.
Both are guilty of missing a lot of their words in the performance, and while Tynomi at least turns the party with her dancing, Anastarzia falls out of rhythm repeatedly. They also both get critiques on thor runways, and with the looks accounting for so much on Canada’s Drag Race, it’s clear they’ll be lip-syncing.
The lip sync is to “Absolutely Not” by guest host Deborah Cox (much more on her in the final thoughts), and it is a show. Anastarzia goes with the focused, stoic interpretation, nailing every single word. Tynomi prefers to move about the stage, but crucially, she never stops hitting the words. You could argue that this lip sync is a bit slanted toward Tynomi, since she was a background dancer for Cox for years. But they both deliver quality lip syncs, and it’s a shame to see either go. Sadly, Anastarzia is asked to sashay away.
Again, this Canada’s Drag Race episode is probably the best so far, and I’d love nothing more than to give it a full-throated endorsement. I do think this spinoff series is largely quite enjoyable, and I hope Americans who haven’t been pulling double duty while All Stars 5 is on will consider jumping in when Canada’s Drag Race hits Logo. But it’s not a perfect show just yet: like Drag Race in its early days, CDR is a work in progress. And for a first draft, it’s a pretty damn good one.
✨There’s a great running gag in recording with Ralph, as Priyanka and Scarlett both brag about having singles on iTunes. (“Here’s the trick: anyone can have a single on iTunes,” Priyanka jokes.) When Ilona says singing is new for her, Ralph snarks, “You don’t have a song on iTunes?” Priyanka and Scarlett both crack up in unison.
✨I am somewhat dubious about “Canada’s Squirrelfriend,” Traci Melchor. She seems fun, if a bit overzealous (did not love her and Jeffrey pulling faces during the mini-challenge), but I don’t get her utility, particularly when there are already three regular judges who come into the workroom. Seems a bit redundant.
✨I appreciate that the show is incorporating French beyond just having Rita Baga and Kiara there, making the queens read French in the mini-challenge. It’s a nice nod to Canada having two national languages.
✨Hard to get a read on this BOA/Scarlett fight, and what exactly Scarlett’s beef is. BOA has the right approach, just apologizing to get Scarlett to move on. Seems like a non-starter for drama purposes.
✨Deborah Cox is the right kind of guest host, in my opinion. You need someone who has gravitas and can really deliver the hell out of the lines. She proves herself remarkably able, using this as a chance to really host as opposed to just judge by another name. Her quips during the runway walk are great, yelling “Bitch, get off the stage!” at Ilona while dressed as a poodle. Delightful! She’s also encouraging, like when she bucks Kiara up mid-critiques. If everyone called for that position has the gravitas Cox does, I could see it working. We’ll see how the rest of the season goes.
✨Speaking of, Priyanka’s reaction to Cox’s positive critiques is perfectly Priyanka: “DEBORAH COX I’M SO EXCITED!”