We’re officially t-minus three days until the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race, arriving just in time for Canada Day. Happy Dragtastic Birthday Canada! This week, we’ll be counting down with some very special content including interviews with the judges, spotlights on the queens, and an in depth look at the first season of our very own Canadian version of RuPaul’s Drag Race! Are you excited? Because I am!
Three Captains on a Maiden Voyage
It’s 8am (a time I am normally unconscious) and I’m being connected to a three-way call. On the other end, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Brooke-Lynn Hytes sound surprisingly alert and energetic. “I’ve realized that I’m actually a morning person,” Brooke informs me. “I love the morning,” she says. “Like if I have to get in drag or film anything, I literally get up at like 8 o’clock, jump in drag, and get it all done. I’m so productive.” If quarantine has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not a morning person. Or an afternoon person. Or an evening person. I’m just a Neftlix and napping person. Once Stacey McKenzie joins us a few minutes later, we’re ready to get started.
Do you remember that CBC special called, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? The one about finding the next star of A Sound of Music? When it was first announced that there was going to be a Canadian version of Drag Race, we also learned that RuPaul wouldn’t be judging this version of the show. So, the question that was in all of our minds was, How Do You Solve a Problem Like RuPaul? Without Mama Ru in the driver’s seat, there were some large heels that needed to be filled.
Turns out, there isn’t a person who can fill Ru’s pumps. There are three: Season 11 runner-up, Brooke-Lynn Hytes; star of UnREAL and RPDR guest judge, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman; and runway legend and supermodel, Stacey McKenzie.
“We’re all RuPaul, put together,” says Brooke-Lynn in Entertainment Weekly’s exclusive. That makes sense. No single person could ever replace RuPaul, but three people put together might have a shot.
It is, however, a serious responsibility. One that RuPaul has entrusted them with for the launch of her Canadian franchise. So who exactly is this anointed trio, and what do they bring to the Drag Race table? This week, as part of our Canada’s Drag Race coverage, I’m profiling all three judges, beginning with…
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman: Superfan turned Drag Race guru
Before landing Canada’s Drag Race, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman launched his career as a model when he was 15, appearing in campaigns for Levi’s and American Apparel. From there, Jeffrey transitioned into acting and soon appeared on shows like The L Word, Stargate Universe, The Skinny, and even recently in American Horror Story: Apocalypse. His most notable role, however, was as Jay Carter in UnREAL, a scripted comedy about the behind-the-scenes world of a fictional Bachelor-esque TV show called Everlasting. In fact, it was this very role that first introduced Jeffrey to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
What was interesting about Jay Carter is that the pilot originally called for him to be a womanizer. But after seeing Jeffrey in the role, the show’s creators and producers decided to rewrite the character as a gay man. In an interview with IN Magazine, Jeffrey says, “to have [them] accept and value who I am as a human being enough to shape a character around me, was just an extraordinary dream come true. It was validation for me to continue following my instincts, because that is what led me to be myself behind the scenes.”
Being a gay isn’t the only thing that Jeffrey is known for (although his “Personal Life” section on Wikipedia begs to differ). However, Jeffrey is aware of how important it is for someone like him, a black, gay actor, to be on screen, something that he never had growing up. “I started playing gay characters. I started talking to my team and made it clear that my intentions were to align my personality with my full calling, and have a positive representation of an openly gay actor,” he says in a HuffPost interview.
In fact, spotlighting those neglected in Hollywood’s representation is part of Jeffrey’s most recent project: Conversations with Others. It’s a podcast where he has candid conversations with celebrities like Janet Mock, Jen Richards, and Susan Sarandon in a space where “no subject is off-limits or taboo”. The podcast came out of Jeffrey’s appearance on RuPaul’s “What’s the Tee” when a producer pulled him aside and asked him if he wanted a show of his own.
Part of the inspiration behind Jeffrey’s interest and passion for representation comes from drag queens. Born in Edmonton and growing up in rural Alberta (which Jeffrey has referred to as the Texas of the North), Jeffrey admitted that it was a very limiting environment. “I was always taught to stay within the box of my binary. I’m a boy so I have to operate in this way and wear blue and play sports and do all these things,” he recalls. “It just never felt real or natural for me to do.”
Eventually, Jeffrey moved to Vancouver where, when he was 19 or 20, a friend of his took him to see a drag king show in the downtown eastside. Needless to say, it was an awakening. “I was just so blown away,” he says. “I’d never experienced that sort of, you know, messing with the binary in that way. It was just such a wild and wonderful optical illusion right in front of my very eyes.”
It’s a reaction that most people have to drag, a f-cking with gender that one never thought was possible. And for someone who didn’t always fit in, it was a world of possibility. From that point onward, Jeffrey was hooked, and would go to see drag performances whenever he could. “I fell in love with people who had the courage to step outside of the binary and blur the lines that have been so heavily ingrained in us from birth.”
This obsession and a passion would eventually lead Jeffrey to become a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9, All Stars 3, and next week’s episode of Snatch Game! He was also of course, the contestant for probably one of my favourite challenges, The Bitchelor.
Here comes the man of the hour: @JeffreyBChapman! ðŸ˜— RuPaul's Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) February 8, 2018
Snatch up a sneak peek of tonight's episode! ðŸ‘‰ https://t.co/tKrxTO8RHp#AllStars3 is ALL NEW tonight at 8/7c on @VH1â€‹! ðŸŒŸðŸŒŸðŸŒŸ pic.twitter.com/fQKORyfAfL
Now, over a decade later from that very first drag king performance, Jeffrey now sits on the permanent judging panel for a show that he absolutely loves. But when I ask him how it feels to come full circle, he corrects me.
“I think that my circle is not complete. I learn so much every single day from the boldness and courage and audacity of drag queens just to be themselves.” It’s this deep appreciation for the art of drag and for the courage of the queens who do it that really exemplifies the way Jeffrey views his role on the show. He’s aware of drag’s history, its role at Stonewall, and its ability to create safe spaces for those who don’t fit in. “I’m just blessed to be in a position where I can help, not judge them, but guide them to become even more well rounded human beings that they already are.”
Next up: Stacey McKenzie.
You can watch the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race on Crave TV this Thursday.