BY Eric Rezsnyak
“Canada’s Drag Race” Season 4, we hardly knew ye. Literally, I feel like that season just whipped by, and that is not really a compliment. This season had fewer episodes than any other season of “Canada’s Drag Race” — just 9. Seasons 1 & 2 each had 10, and Season 3 had 12. To be honest, you could feel it. The season lacked impact. I feel that now, and I think once it has some space, it will especially feel that way in retrospect. In terms of memorable moments, you have Melinda Verga’s infamous Vivienne Westwood…inspired…”Untucked” meltdown, and her excellent Manny Pacquiao Snatch Game. The Golden Beaver twist, for sure. The lipysnch smack down, I guess? And…Sisi Superstar falling off a chaise lounge and not wearing shoes on a runway? But in terms of actual challenge performances…not great. Not good at all.
Part of that was certainly due to the truncated episode count. Part of that was probably due to this season airing over the course of the holidays (it started the week before American Thanksgiving and is ending not even two full weeks into the new year). But I think a big part of it is that the queens this season — by and large, as a collective whole — do not measure up favorably to the previous casts. They’re all lovely in their own way. But ultimately, do you think they delivered the way the previous casts have done? I do not.
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But let’s get into this finale. Overall I thought it was solid. They packed in a lot for our four finalists, Aurora Matrix, Denim, Nearah Nuff, and Venus. That included a photo shoot/interview with S3 winner Giselle Lullabye (LOL at Nearah Nuff being completely oblivious to the boat set coming in; stay iconic Nearah!), each queen writing and recording the lyrics to their own songs with Canadian pop royalty Nelly Furtado (who looked STUNNING), =choreography with Hollywood Jade, mainstage performances, a final runway featuring coronation eleganza, a mini-reunion with the eliminated girlies, and then a crowning. It honestly was a lot!
Broadly, I will say that I disagreed with some of the judges’ criticisms on the individual songs. They lavished Aurora with praise, and I thought her lyrics were among the weakest of the group, and her performance not at the level we have seen from her in the past. I thought Denim’s lyrics were actually pretty compelling, but the performance was shaky at best. The judges and the edit made sure to stress that Nearah had too many words in her song, but honestly, she performed them all flawlessly and I thought she did a great job in the performance; it felt like they were bending over backwards to say to the audience, No really, she doesn’t deserve to advance to the end. And Venus had both solid lyrics and a performance, but wasn’t the best in either category.
On the runway, I absolutely loved Denim’s look, which was beautiful, a representation of their story, and a real statement. Aurora easily looked the best she has all season in a stunning Chinese-inspired look that evoked the phoenix; it was flawless, truly. Speaking of flawless, my god, Venus looked incredible in a black and gold Old Hollywood-style gown — her beauty was breathtaking. I love Nearah, but her finale gown was not my favorite. Beautiful color, but it had a lot going on, and the styling was off.
After final critiques, the F4 got a chance to reunite with the eliminated queens this season, almost all of whom looked stunning. I want to single out Sisi Superstar, whose look I absolutely adored — THAT is how you make a return appearance after being first out. Kiki Coe also slaughtered the girls with her demon look. There was a lot of beauty in that room.
Back on the mainstage, Brooke Lynn Hytes announced that Denim and Nearah were eliminated, leaving us a Final 2 of Aurora and Venus. I think it was the correct call. They had to lipsynch to Nelly Furtado’s “Try.” It’s a beautiful ballad, as so many contemporary “Drag Race” finales tend to feature as a final lipsynch, I suspect so the editors/producers have more leeway to crown whichever contestant they want, no matter who “won” the lipsych. If a queen is out there serving splits and tricks and another queen is not (*ahem* “All Stars 7” *ahem*), it’s a lot harder to fudge that footage. But in all honesty, I thought Aurora won that lipsynch. She was living the song, while Venus was performing it. Performing it very capably! But performing it, not living it.
But, ultimately Venus won, and is Canada’s Next Drag Superstar. I am not surprised. Going into the finale, I felt strongly that Venus would be the season champion. It has felt preordained since the very first episode, when Venus walked in wearing a modified cheerleader outfit and still got a rose for it (what was that even about?). That is not to say she did not earn her title. Venus has consistently exuded star quality. She has a presence most of the queens this season did not. While it is true that the first episode was Venus’s one and only episode win, she never performed poorly the entire season. That is notable, because these S4 gals were flopping left and right. Venus was reliable in the comedy challenges, which were a huge weakness for many of this cast. Venus gave us some of the season’s very few stand-out looks — the diamond face mask, the bridesmaid bouquet look. Her sewing challenges were among her weakest, but even then, there were always people who legitimately did worse. She has an It Factor that very few other queens had this season, and even if she only had one win under her belt, I do think she was the best queen of the season.
Venus also brings something new and different to the Winner’s Circle. She’s indigenous — a population this franchise has not always done particularly well by, to say nothing of modern history in general. To have a reigning queen representing that community is HUGE and that’s worth celebrating. Venus is also very open with her mental-health struggles, and I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to right now. I think she is the right queen for this moment.
Aurora is a worthy runner-up, but ultimately, I never felt she had winner energy. Is she talented? Of course. And she is a fierce, fierce lipsynch performer. I was captivated by her in the Lipsynch Smack Down — although even there she was outperformed by someone else. Is she gorgeous? My god, an absolute stunning beauty. Is she likable? For certain, she has an innate warmth that comes through in her talking heads. But Aurora lacks presence. Aurora doesn’t seem sure of herself — she even alluded to this in the finale — and it translated on screen. And I know this is a hot take, but I had issues with many of her runways — which, admittedly, she designed and I believe made herself. That takes a great deal of skill and effort, and I applaud it. But I consistently found that although she had good concepts, especially the ones that incorporated elements of her Chinese culture, the execution was frequently off. They lacked finesse, there were issues with detail, and in some I questioned her taste level. Her final runway is obviously an exception, and if she made that, kudos to her. I think perhaps she needs a little more time to bake — which I think is true of almost ALL the Season 4 contestants — and I’d love to see what she can do with a few more years under her belt.
Moving on to the semifinalists. Nearah ended the season as one of my favorites in the competition. One of the best lipsynchers I’ve seen on ANY “Drag Race” (Aurora is up there too!), stunning beauty, and most of all, absolutely hilarious talking heads. And when it came to drama, she understood the assignment. I desperately hope we see Nearah in an “All Stars” or a “Vs. the World.” She’s great TV and a dazzling performer, but her weaknesses in the comedy and construction challenges were just too overwhelming to ignore, and her overall track record was not great. But at least she has that absolute god of a fiancee to go home. So really, Nearah is winning at life.
And then there’s Denim. Denim is one of the most polarizing contestants of the season. The judges clearly loved them — I was quite enamored of Denim and their drag as well — but many viewers, from what I saw, were highly critical of Denim, and specifically what they perceived as blatant judging favoritism. It was difficult to hear Denim speak in this finale about their drag being invalidated either because of her trans identity, or being dismissed as only getting opportunities because they were trans. I think people overall have been overly harsh on Denim. They reliably served looks. Even if they weren’t to your taste, you cannot deny that Denim was giving us something INTERESTING every time they came down the runway. I was inspired not only by Denim’s openness about being a trans man, but also about being on the neurodivergent spectrum. It’s rare to get a reality competition contestant who is so candid about that journey, and I was grateful for Denim’s perspective. I do suspect some viewers of the show may have had a difficult time connecting with Denim via their talking heads, and I’m sure the perceived judging bias didn’t help. But here’s my hot take: the judges were overly kind to almost every queen this season at one time or another, and I’m not sure why Denim was the one who took most of the brunt of the viewer backlash.
Ultimately, I think the most memorable queens this season didn’t make it to the finale. Melinda Verga is unquestionably THE queen of the season, and it was fascinating how little attention was given to her even in the mini-reunion. I think Melinda managed the very difficult task of escaping her initial meme-queen popularity, becoming a genuinely beloved reality-TV star who people are hungry to see again, and soon. Kitten Caboodle is the other one who had a tremendous amount of fan support, and who went home way, way too soon. (I know more than a few people who just gave up on the season after she was axed in that double elim — which some people interpreted as a roadblock to make sure to get the older queen out no matter what.) Kitten was an inspiration, not only for being an over-50 “Drag Race” contestant when U.S. “Drag Race” has barely cast a queen over 40 in YEARS. But also because she was genuinely great at “Drag Race” in a season where most of the queens weren’t, and yet remained humble and likable the whole way through. We must have a Kitten comeback, and soon.
As we close out the season, I am reminded of my recap for Episode 1 of Season 4. In it I said, “‘Canada’s Drag Race’ has never had a bad season.” I’m not sure that’s entirely the case any more. I don’t think Season 4 is BAD in the way that, say, “Italia” or “Down Under” first seasons were bad. But it just never felt fully formed. It seemed like it was ending before it ever got off the ground. In my opinion, they cast primarily for personality and likability — which was high across the cast — but a lot of these queens were too green to be on “Drag Race.” You can get away with one or two of those per season, but when it’s half the cast or more, it’s a real problem.
I also do wonder why we only had 9 episodes. And that was with TWO non-elim episodes. I know “Canada’s Drag Race” can do better because it HAS done better every season up until this one. And I believe it can achieve those heights — they run in Brooke Lynn’s family — in the future.
My suggestion: instead of doing a whole new crop of queens for Season 5, just do an “All Stars” season. Not another “Vs. the World” (rumor has it there’s a second one of those coming this year), but a full-on Canada-only “All Stars.” You have oodles of options to pick from in Seasons 1-3. Off the top of my head I would bring back Tynomi, Scarlett, Ilona, BOA and Lemon from S1 (Lemon deserves another shot, “UKvs1” was bullshit); Synthia, Eve 6000, Suki, Kimora, and Adrianna from S2; and Jada, Kimmy, Vivian, Bombae, Boom Boom, and — if you can get her, which, good luck — Fiercalicious from 3. From 4 you’d make everyone happy bringing back Aurora, Nearah, Melinda, and Kitten. Give the girls (and your casting department) an extra year to mine for fresh talent that is ready for “Drag Race,” and give the viewers what they have come to know and expect from “Canada’s Drag Race” — fierce queens, eye-popping runways, hilarious moments, and shocking drama. Although I’ll say this for the S4 cast: they gave us the drama, mama…