It’s a week before the semi-final round in Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar, and the contestants are stepping up their game. This week, the queens and kings were tasked to perform in both a group number and in a solo show.
To begin the night, Janessa, this year’s wild card contestant, was presented to the crowd and competitors in a hot pink box.
Janessa returns for another year. (Layla Cameron)
Janessa has competed twice before in the competition. In her second year, she was the first one sent home.
But tonight, Adam Zapple shone as a top contender.
Zapple says drag tests his creativity and that the enthusiasm he receives from the audience is addicting. But while his family supports his work, he says some of his friends don’t understand it.
“Vancouver is a very open community and there’s a lot of queer culture here. Back where I went to university, in small-town Quebec, the homophobic nature plays into fear of the unknown,” he says. “My best friend had a lot of problems because she thought it was changing me as a person.”
Adam Zapple is giving barbarian realness. (Layla Cameron)
And being a drag king makes things that much harder. The drag community is small enough — even smaller for kings — and infighting can be rampant.
“I know that there’s a lot of political culture, rightly so, within the East Van kings and drag kings in Vancouver,” Zapple says. “There’s a lot of issues with cultural appropriation, but we’ve lost the idea of cultural appreciation.”
But speaking of queens, Ilona proved to be the star of her group number with Teayana and Owen.
A make-up artist by day, Ilona says she got into drag because of her appreciation for female fashion.
And what sets her apart from the competition? She’s “actually good at makeup.”
Ilona gives good face. (Layla Cameron)
Her solo number to Mariah Carey’s “Open Arms” was incredibly emotional. Ilona says the song relates to her current relationship status, as she is seeing someone and would like to be more public about it, but that “he’s not really into it.”
Teayana’s solo number, Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart,” was also personal. She says she has loved this song since she was a child, and that her mother used to play it on Sundays while they cleaned their home.
She says her family supports her drag career, seeing it as a natural progression from her other interests: dance and men.
Her best advice for aspiring young performers is to “absorb as much as possible, try everything, and then figure out what you want.”
Teayana puts it all together. (Layla Cameron)
Zapple suggests reaching out to older queens and asking for help.
For the young queens who were eliminated last week, Zapple says “there’s nothing worse than feeling isolated . . . There’s so much shade in this community. As soon as someone says something negative, it’s so easy to turn around and feel disheartened.”
Unfortunately for Janessa, her luck wasn’t any better this year. Her return was cut short after she found herself in the bottom two, losing the lip-sync battle to Coco Klein.
To echo one judge’s sentiment, the fact that Coco was in the bottom four was “total bullshit.” Coco was one of the top performers, slaying both her group Lady Gaga performance and her solo number, in which she held a real pig’s heart seemingly ripped from her chest.
The semi-finals will be held next Thursday, Feb 18.
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