Meet The Judges: Brooke Lynn Hytes, Stacey McKenzie, and Jefferey Bowyer-Chapman
RuPaul’s Drag Race (RDR) has officially arrived in The North to celebrate all that is drag. Canada’s Drag Race (CDR) began with twelve of the fiercest queens from across the country vying against one another in a creative battle to capture the title of Canada’s First Drag Superstar!
CDR contestants take part in a series of challenges designed to eliminate one per week, until there’s only one queen left, who walks off the runway with a $100,000 grand prize. While most viewers are aware of the show’s basic competition framework of fashion, pose, and authenticity, what often manifests through each season is the peer-to-peer pep rally of encouragement. This is often seen in the form of critiques that push the queens beyond their comfort zone. Which is precisely what the entire franchise is all about, pushing buttons, opening doors, and shinning a spotlight on what makes each of us truly unique.
CDR is full of boundary-pushers, including the power judge trio of Brooke Lynn Hytes, Stacey McKenzie, and Jefferey Bowyer-Chapman, who each bring a potent dose of moral courage and humility to their work. theBUZZ had an opportunity to connect with each of these individuals to find out how the show goes beyond just the notion of providing entertainment.
Toronto’s own Brooke Lynn Hytes was the first Canadian to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, finishing second overall. Professionally trained in ballet, she is a former dancer with Cape Town City Ballet, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, She also won Miss Gay Toronto 2013/14, which has had an obvious impact on her career. “It definitely took my ‘pageant-ness’ into the competition, which was good for me, but was also a little bit to my detriment,” she says. “The critique I kept getting on RuPaul’s Drag Race is, you need to loosen up, we’re not really seeing you, you’re not really showing us personality. And it’s true, I was trying to be the perfect proper pageant queen all the time, but it wasn’t until I finally learned to let go of that and just be silly and goofy, and not be afraid to make an idiot of myself, that I kind of broke through that shell. This is such an important thing for Drag Race, because you always want to be told, wow, that was a lot, thank you, but we need you to scale it back a little bit, as opposed to wow, you just didn’t give us enough,” she added.
Joining Hytes at the judge’s table is Stacey McKenzie, who is internationally recognized for her impact within the Canadian fashion and entertainment industry, yet she acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. “Pay us properly! I love what’s going on right now in terms of diversity and modelling in the fashion industry, but when it comes to us getting paid, especially black models and black entertainers, we don’t get paid what we should, and what we’re really worth. I would love to see our black models who are getting those advertising campaigns get paid like the white girls. That’s what I want to see. In the beginning, I wanted to see diversity and get paid what we’re worth, but now it’s payout,” she states.
Rounding out the judges’ table is Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, he is a model, actor, TV personality, and righteous advocate for being the change he wants to see in the world. He grew up in the predominantly white small town of Rimbey, which is nicknamed “Texas of The North”, and for good reason. His younger brother is a famed defensive for the Toronto Argonauts, so Jeffery’s life is in sharp contrast to the world around him. “I wish that somebody had told me three things. Be yourself, know your worth, and understand the power of the word, No. I feel like I compromised myself, and my integrity, time and time again from my first years in the industry. I took jobs that didn’t really align with who I was, or weren’t a positive representation of blackness or queerness. You do it because so much of it plays into segregation and racism in the entertainment industry, “There are less jobs out there for black models and actors than there are for white models and actors,” he explains. In many ways what he’s describing is akin to the kind of complacency that comes from years of being denied, overlooked, and outright ignored. The old adage that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, is true, and Jefferey is proof of that. What he describes as once being a detriment, has now become the fuel that fires his life, and it shows. “Those are things we just learned to accept as fact, and the fact that we learned to accept that as fact, makes me so sad to think back on that now. That I allowed myself to be used in this way, to be complicit in playing small within the industry,” he adds.
What also makes CDR uniquely Canadian is the diversity of the contestants themselves, which included two-spirit Indigenous artist Ilona Verley, reigning Miss Black Continental, Anastarzia Anaquway, and Toronto’s Priyanka, who originally chose her name because she wanted, “queer people of colour to have someone repping for their culture.” The inclusion of people who have been marginalized by mainstream media is just the first step in pushing the entertainment industry to see beyond its colonialist roots. Bowyer-Chapman surmises,
“It’s no longer enough to not be racist. To be an ally in these times means educating yourself. Do what Brooke Lynn is doing, along with so many of my friends and family, and EDUCATE yourself. Pickup books, Google, have conversations with your white friends, and listen to podcasts. Educate yourself in every possible way, because that is the job!”
Sometimes fighting the good fight is not about joining a larger movement, but more about pushing for change as it appears in your own life. In many ways, it’s what qualifies these three judges and twelve contestants to be morally courageous in their willingness to say what needs to be said, yet still have fun. As Hytes confirms, “It’s also important to not take yourself too seriously. You can be beautiful and poised, but you can also make a fool of yourself, and that’s okay too.”
With this kind of fire and beauty, Canada’s Drag Race contestants will have their work coutured out for them! Watch on Crave.
Photo courtesy of Crave/Matt Barnes
Originally published in theBUZZ Magazine, August 2020