BY Eric Rezsnyak
Real talk: “Canada’s Drag Race” has never had a bad season. I think it kind of floats under the radar, not getting as much attention as the RuPaul-hosted versions, or the seemingly constant influx of new international editions. But Canada has produced three terrific winners, three exciting and memorable seasons, and as of tonight, four top-notch casts. Based on the strength of the Season 4 premiere, I think we have another winning season coming in from the north.
Brooke Lynn Hytes is back as our host. I’ve said this before, but Brooke has grown into such an accomplished host. I truly think she is right up there with Ru in terms of star presence and a firm, but loving, guiding hand to the contestants. And her judging outfits? Next level. I think Brad Goreski is a solid choice for the fashion judge (and I deeply covet the suit Brad wore at panel this episode), and god bless Traci Melchor’s agent, let’s just say that.
Brooke promised both the contestants and viewers that Season 4 would be full of twists and turns. That started right off the bat, as the entrance looks were part of the main challenge — the Premiere Ball. Viewers are familiar with this twist, as we saw basically the same thing on UK5. But I actually thought it was deployed more successfully here. For one, the three categories were completely distinct from one another — First Impressions (work room entrance), Shimmering Showgirls (a great multi-set interactive presentation), and Me, Myself & I (signature drag). For two, the majority of the cast brought it in a way that I’m not sure the UK5 did.
I’ll also quickly say that I didn’t understand the point of the “rosebud” twist after the first part of the challenge. Was it just a wink to “The Bachelor”? Did the winning queens receive some kind of benefit? Was it strictly to create drama among the queens? Very strange.
Let’s go over our Season 4 queens, their performance in the ball challenge, and my initial thoughts:
Aimee Yonce Shannel: Aimee originally hails from the Dominican Republic and is steeped in Afro-Caribbean vibes projected through a regal Beyonce-esque drag style. I thought it was a strong premiere for Aimee. She has a personality nearly as big as her costumes, but I did find myself concerned that the execution wasn’t always living up to the concept (for instance, the massive shoulders on her entrance look were flopping around in a way I can’t imagine was intended). She received Brad’s first-impression rosebud, although I personally was more captivated by at least a few other queens. But obviously Aimee is here to compete and overall I liked what I was seeing.
Aurora Matrix: Aurora is one of our three Asian queens this season, and I’m thrilled to see that level of representation. In Aurora’s case, she has Chinese roots, and you could easily see those on display in all three of her looks. I thought her Shimmering Showgirls was the most successful look, and I thought her presentation was also entrancing (she is a theater kid and it showed). The other two looks were both interesting, but the first did feel a bit unresolved, and the third too heavy on the dragon side of the costume. Still, very intrigued by Aurora and I have high hopes for her this season.
Denim: An instant standout. Denim is a trans man, and their drag is ultra high-concept, campy, with pronounced genderfuck elements; it almost borders on “Dragula” in its out-of-the-box approach, and I mean that as a compliment. Denim also got one of the judges’ first-impressions rosebuds, specifically Brooke’s. I liked looks 1 and 3 the best, but all of them were good. I also loved Denim’s energy both in confessionals and with the other queens. Denim is a terrific casting and one of the cast members that make me the most excited about this season.
The Girlfriend Experience: The Girlfriend Experience didn’t necessarily grab my attention with her looks in the ball, but she absolutely did with her sensual presentation in the Shimmering Showgirls segment, and with her candor in the work room about suffering harassment and death threats after being targeted by an anti-trans American politician. (Sidebar: It’s sobering, as an American watching this series, to have my country being categorized as some backwards-sliding political hellscape by more than one queen on this episode, but also — absolutely correct. I think living in it every day, it’s like the frog in the boiling pot. You don’t even realize how unbearable it’s gotten. So it’s helpful, but also awful, to see that pointed out so bluntly by our neighbors to the north.) The Girlfriend Experience has a minimalist approach to drag that I think will prove challenging for her in the coming weeks, but I was grateful to be exposed to her and her story in this episode.
Kiki Coe: Kiki is giving us DRAG, honey. A costume designer whose work has already been featured multiple times on previous seasons of “CDR,” Kiki served up three memorable, maximalist looks. The detail on every one was stunning. Brooke clocked Kiki on having a resting bitch face, which I thought was good advice. I think Kiki is going to have to push herself to not recede into the background, because based on this episode she does seem to be on the quiet side. At least in terms of personality. Her looks are SCREAMING.
Kitten Kaboodle: Instantly obsessed with Kitten. At 57, she is our oldest ever “Drag Race” competitor, from any franchise. And the bitch looks GOOD. I really mean it. In and out of drag, if you told me that was a person rapidly hurtling toward 60, I would not have believed you. Kitten has been doing drag since 1981. That’s incredible! And she did well this episode! The first and third looks had old-school camp whimsy, but I thought her second look and presentation was especially successful. I am rooting so hard for Kitten to succeed. Instant icon for me.
Luna Dubois: Luna totally took me by surprise. I found her so elegant, so poised, so polished, and I enjoyed every one of her looks. A lot of queens talk about serving fashion, serving beauty, etc. Luna is actually doing it. Her drag is edited and executed beautifully. Might it end up being drowned out a bit in a sea of big concepts and bigger execution? That’s a very real concern for me. But I was very much vibing with Luna this episode, and I wish her the best. And that face! My god, what a stunner.
Melinda Verga: I think it’s safe to say Melinda had the roughest premiere, or at least one of the roughest. I enjoyed Melinda as a person. There’s a clear determination to do well — she’s our first queen from Edmonton — and I was impressed by how well she took Brooke’s constructive criticism on the runway. But based on the drag she showed us in the ball, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Melinda. Brooke called her entrance look “pedestrian,” and I don’t know how better to describe it. I thought Brooke was being generous with her evaluation of the third look. Ladies, illusion netting is almost always going to look off — there was no illusion there — and I beg of you to look at your fabric choices, look at your lives.
Nearah Nuff: Nearah also had a rough premiere, with wardrobe malfunctions on 2 of her 3 looks. The bow fell off of her Marilyn Monroe-inspired entrance look, and apparently a piece of her second costume wasn’t…there?…which meant she came out with granny panties for bottoms. I thought the judges were kind in their evaluation of her Shimmering Showgirl presentation, because all I could see was nerves. I did like the third look quite a bit, and minus the bow issue, the first look was also lovely.
Sisi Superstar: Rounding out our struggle-bus section, Sisi also had a bad go of it. Sisi’s first look was her most successful, again giving me “Dragula” vibes. The second look was fine, but Sisi’s flailing about on set made it almost an afterthought (I truly felt awful for her). I didn’t mind the third look, but I absolutely understood the judges’ critiques. I liked what Sisi was serving up while hanging with the girls, but she definitely needs to bring that confidence to the runway. I just wonder if it’s moot, given the relative lack of polish we saw this episode.
Venus: Venus was our winner of the episode (it was a Top 2 lipsynch between Venus and Denim, which Venus won decisively). I’m intrigued by Venus. She is Metis and two spirit — again, the diversity on this season is spectacular — and I was impressed by the confident energy I was seeing, which was backed by up by her performance in the challenges. I thought Venus’ looks got better as they went along, with that final red runway being a real Moment. Venus is captivating both in and out of drag. I was a bit concerned with what I thought as awkward movement in the Shimmering Showgirls presentation, but based on the lipsynch, there’s nothing to worry about there. Venus is for sure one to watch.
Although there was a Bottom 2 — Melinda and Sisi — nobody went home this episode. Brooke teed it up as another of the twists this season, but news flash: it was because yet another contestant got cut right before filming started due to pre-show allegations, so they needed to build in another non-elim episode unexpectedly. Name a more iconic duo than 11-queen seasons and 2023, I’ll wait.
Did you enjoy the premiere? Which “Canada” 4 queens stood out to you? Let us know in the comments!
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