Words: Will Stroude
As the All Stars 5 battle continues to be waged weekly, one queen who's already earned her place in a different kind of RuPaul's Drag Race Hall of Fame is Ms. Brooke Lynn Hytes.
Just a year after she finished runner-up to Yvie Oddly on season 11 of Drag Race, Brooke, real name Brock Hayhoe, has the unique accolade of being the first ever contestant to head to the other side of the judges' table for Canada's Drag Race, which arrives in the UK on BBC Three today (3 July).
Along with her co-judges, actor Jeffrey Bower-Chapman and model Stacey McKenzie, Brooke will be deciding which of 12 hopeful Canadian queens sashay away each as they search for Canada's Next Drag Superstar. And as always, the road to glory is never simple...
With RuPaul's involvment limited to challenge announcements, Brooke Lynn has some pretty large stilettos to fill on the fledgling series, which promises all the sick'ning looks and lipsyncs of the beloved original.
When we hit her up for a transatlatic Zoom call to find out more about the series, she's been busy dealing with faulty plumbing in her apartment (it's not all glamour for a drag queen in lockdown, you know) - but given that Canada's premier drag queen is also friends with many of the Canadian queens strutting into the workroom this series, it might not be the last waterworks we see over the next 10 weeks...
It's such a huge step becoming the first ever RuPaul's Drag Race contestant to be fronting a spin-off. How are you feeling? Nervous, excited?
I'm feeling 'C', all of the above! I'm feeling very excited, obviously. I am a bit nervous - it kind of feels like I'm competing again. It's that nervous anticipation. But I think people are really going to enjoy it. I think we created soemthing really amazing. Not everything is oing to be perfect, but it's everyone's first time working on the show, so I'm excited for the show to grow and become the well-oiled machine that RuPaul's Drag Race is.
Is there anything that sets Canada's Drag Race apart from the RuPaul's Drag Race we all know and love? Or is it a fairly faithful spin-off?
I think obviously the main difference is that we don't have RuPaul, that's going to be the big difference everyone notices. But we have me, Jeffrey and Stacey in his place and it works really really well. We have really great chemistry. And besides that, we very much kept the same tried and tested formula that people love with the American and the British show. The only difference is that Ru's not that there. His presence was obviously missed and we would love love love to have him come up one day if he has the time. It was such an honour to be picked by him to help fill his shoes - it takes three of us to make one RuPaul!
Did you have any conversations with him beforehand? Did he have any specific advice for you?
The last time I saw him was at the Emmys, I think in like, August, and it was such a crazy whirlwind I completely forgot to ask him for advice! We were just chit-chatting and stuff and I totally forgot!
Meh, who needs it!
Right?! I know how to judge, I'm a gay man. [laughs] But I'm friends with Michelle Visage so I called her she gave me some great advice. She said 'Always try to see yourself in each contestant and always be honest with them'.
We know Michelle makes an appearance later in the series, what was it like to welcome her back? Did it feel like teacher was back and you had to be on your best behaviour again?
Oh it was sublime. Honestly, Michelle is just such a gem and such a consumate professional. She's so good at what she does and she really is an excellent judge. And and excellent judge for TV - she's able to get her point across in a very clear, concise little soundbite which they can use. The hardest thing for me, honestly, was figuring out how to give a critique they could use for TV - I would go on these rambling tangents because there was so much I wanted to say to the girls and pass on, but having Michelle there was really like a masterclass in getting your point across. And the queens flipped the f**k out when we told them [she was coming].
Here in the UK people might not be as familiar with the Canadian drag scene - are there differences from the US one?
It's pretty similar, we're a little more influenced by American drag. But I like to say it's somewhere between the UK and America. I think the biggest difference is that we don't really have a big pageant scene in Canada, so I think drag can be a little more alternative. And it's very performance-based. Canadian queens are performers. They definitely deliver some fatanstic lipsyncs, I have to say.
As you mentioned, the judging set-up this season is a first for the Drag Race franchise. You, Stacey and Jeffrey describe yourself as a 'throuple' in the first episode, so I guess I need to know: What's the dynamic of that throuple?!
We were laughing about this earlier. We decided Jeffrey is Simon Cowell, Stacey is Paula Abdul and I'm Randy Jackson [laughs]. Stacey's a goofball and off-the-cuff and crazy, and then Jeffrey's such a professional and knows what he's doing, and fatherly, I guess you could say. And I'm somewhere in the middle, where I'm professional but also love setting Stacey off and making her laugh. So I was kind that balance between the two fo them. But all our personalities melded so well together.
Obviously decisions about who's going and staying would fall solely to Ru on the normal series - was it tough to make a group decision? Were there any disagreements?
There were weeks we did not agree, yeah, but we had to come to a decision. Some weeks it was literally five minutes, like 'This person? Yep' and we all agreed. Other weeks Jeffrey was like 'This person', Stacey was like 'That person', and it was like 'Okayyyyy'. There were definitely some disagreements, but we all had mutual respect and everyone's opinion was heard. We had charts and graphs and pros and cons, we had lists, we had everything. We took it very seriously [laughs].
Was there ever a part of you that wished you were on the runway competing in the challenges, or were you very much glad to be on the other side of the table?
[laughs] I was SO glad to be on the other side of the table. SO glad, you have no idea. I really felt for them, and I understood exactly what they were going through. When I saw someone up there having a bad day I felt for them personally in my heart, because I know what that feels like, when you've had a bad week and you know it's coming. I did not expect it would be so hard to send people home to be honest. I thought it would be kinda... fun [to make the decisions], but then when you're sitting there you're like 'Crap, I'm about to crush someone's dreams'.
Well, you did crush a few dream during your season 11 lipsyncs.
I did, I know! But it's different facing them and seeing it happen. And you know how hard they worked to get on the show. Having to say 'Sashay away' was like a knife in my heart.
Did you know many of the queens before, either socially or professionally?
Oh yeah, I knew like, all of them [chuckles] We have a good number of Toronto girls on the season and I was friends with a lot of them and I'd worked with all of them.
That must make it even tougher.
Yeah, but at the same time, the girls were great. I was never disrespected and they were never there trying to kiki with me and be my best friend, expecting special treatment. Everyone was super respectful of my role and understood what the dynamic had to be. And I wasn't there to be bitchy or mean to any of them, I was there to help and give contructive criticism. I certainly wasn't playing favourites - if anything, I think I was harder on the people I knew than the people I didn't because I knew what they were capable of, so when that wasn't met I was kind of like 'Why aren't you giving me what I need, I know you can do it'.
Well as long as there are no ruined friendships, that's the good news we need.
No, I don't think so. Well, I haven't actually talked to any of them [yet] because I'm not allowed to!
I guess we'll see in 10 weeks then...
Exactly, right?! [laughs]