Brooke Lynn Hytes on ‘ugly’ Canada’s Drag Race backlash and what needed ‘fixing’ for season two
Back in the summer of 2020, Brooke Lynn Hytes made herstory as the first Drag Race alumni to step into RuPaul’s shoes, as the host of Canada’s Drag Race.
Along with co-hosts Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Stacey McKenzie and a cast of 12 queens, the Queen of the North proved to the world that Canadian drag is up there with the best of them.
The spin-off was well-received by fans and critics alike, however, the inaugural season was undeniably marred by the racist bullying endured by Bowyer-Chapman at the hands of the Drag Race fandom. Accused by some of being overly harsh and cruel to the competing queens, the social media harassment eventually drove the actor to deactivate his Twitter account, and he subsequently left the show.
Shortly before filming on season two was due to begin, his fellow judge Stacey McKenzie announced she would also not be returning to the panel due to COVID-related challenges.
The controversy and change in personnel could easily have sunk the fledgling spin-off, but Canada’s Drag Race bounced back with a new line-up, a new cast of queens, and a new level of polish. “We figured out what needed to be fixed, all the glitches and everything,” returning judge Brooke Lynn Hytes tells PinkNews, and it shows: season two has been welcomed by fans as one of the best Drag Race seasons of recent times.
Good news, then, that the full season just dropped in full on BBC iPlayer as a 10-part boxset. To celebrate, we caught up with Brooke Lynn Hytes (coming to us live from a gas station toilet in Oklahoma while on tour) to find out more about the new run, what she learned from the negativity surrounding the first season, and her ultimate Christmas lip-sync song choice.
PinkNews: Hi Brooke Lynn! We’re super excited to dive into the new series of Canada’s Drag Race. We all got our first taste of what Canada has to offer last season but, in your opinion, what is it about Canadian drag that sets it apart from UK or US drag?
Brooke Lynn Hytes: I think we really breed some fantastic performers in Canada just because of the amount we perform. We do a thing called “marathon drag” in Canada, especially in Toronto, where we probably do 16 numbers in a night, so that’s how I really learned how to perform. The amount of trial and error, I think that’s something that sets Canadian drag apart. And honestly, we’re just really nice, wholesome people.
To be honest though, I never really know how to answer this question because I’m like, drag is drag. It’s kind of the same everywhere and I don’t think we are that different from American drag. It’s not like you cross the border and something magically changes, you know? Drag queens are drag queens, everyone’s kind of the same all over the world. I mean, it’s a little different in the UK because there’s such a cabaret scene, but in terms of America vs Canada, there’s not really much of a difference.
When Drag Race UK reached its second season, a lot of queens admitted they wanted to see how the first season went before applying for the show – do you think the standard was higher on Canada’s Drag Race this time because queens were biding their time?
Oh, absolutely. I think the standard was way higher on season two than season one. I think season one of any show is where you’re figuring things out, what works and what doesn’t. Everybody involved had never really worked on the show before so it really was a very big learning curve for everyone, myself included. In season two we figured out what needed to be fixed, all the glitches and everything.
I actually know a lot of season two queens did wait to see how season one turned out before auditioning. I know that for a fact because they told me.
In the first episode, we learn that some of the queens this season were good friends before the show and a ‘clique’ quickly emerges – how does that sort of dynamic change the game?
I think it can help you and hinder you. It can help you obviously because you have some emotional support there and you have a built-in team almost. But also, Drag Race is not a team sport, so it’s like a weird balance of wanting to be there for your sisters and your friends, but also wanting to compete for yourself.
Another new dynamic this season was the new judging panel. We know some of the changes to the panel came quite last minute – how long did it take you to find your groove with Traci, Amanda and Brad?
We found it literally the first day, honestly. You’re right, it did happen very last minute and with things like that you never know how it’s going to go. We just got so lucky that we all naturally got along so well, and we all felt equally comfortable with each other. That’s what it takes, if you can feel comfortable with somebody that’s when you can read them and have fun with them. Like me and Brad, we just felt so comfortable with each other right off the bat, and we just started making fun of each other – it was perfect.
Some fans were disappointed to learn that Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Stacey McKenzie were not returning this series. Do you keep in touch with them?
I do. Jeffrey lives right by me in LA actually, I run into him walking his dog all the time. There was a period of two weeks where I ran into him everywhere – the bathroom at LAX, at a premiere, walking his dog – we just kept bumping into each other! And Stacey, we text message all the time she told me she watched this season and she loves my looks. She’s doing really great too, I miss them.
After leaving the show, Jeffrey said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he immediately felt there was a very different atmosphere on set in Toronto than on the US show – would you agree?
I can’t really speak on that because I was never a judge on the American show. I can’t really speak on his experiences, but for myself, I quite enjoyed the season one filming. I mean, it was hard and the place we were filming in wasn’t the best location, but we all had a good time so I didn’t notice any bad atmosphere personally. But again, that’s just my experience, Jeffrey had his and he’s 100 per cent allowed and entitled to speak on it.
It seems like it all felt quite fun and friendly while you were filming and that the problems arose more so when the show was airing due to the extremely negative reaction Jeffrey received on social media?
Definitely. The fandom was just horrendous to Jeffrey – and to me too, quite honestly. I got a lot of backlash but that’s all really a learning curve. For me, I learned I had to watch the way I said things. I’m a very blunt, straight-forward person so the way I say something doesn’t sound rude or insensitive to me but it might sound that way to somebody else. That’s something I need to work on, although quite honestly, I stand by everything I said in season one. I don’t see the point in judging people and giving critiques if you can’t… judge people and give criticism. That’s why we are there. But I think definitely for season two I learned to maybe word things in a different way. I don’t know, I also think people are a little bit too sensitive. I mean, it’s a drag competition…
Jeffrey got a lot of backlash for being too harsh – were there moments during filming where you thought he went too far or do you think he was victim to a bad edit?
I just think it was a strange edit, honestly. He did say some harsh things, I said some harsh things too, but we also said a lot of really positive things. I think people get the impression we were sitting there just breaking these queens down, but we weren’t. We were saying positive, reenforcing things as well, you can ask any queen who stood up there. We didn’t just sit there and say, “You’re terrible”, we gave lots of positive with the negative.
A big learning lesson for all of us is that we’re making an hour-long TV show, and if we sit there and talk for 10 minutes to each girl, most of that is not making the edit. Something I learned for season two is to say what you need to say in less words so that it actually makes the edit.
But it was still a great season and people loved it. It was iconic, it was chaotic and it was so fun. At the end of the day I’m still really proud of it regardless of the negativity we got from it. You kind of have to go through a fire to learn a lesson sometimes. I just wish, especially for Jeffrey, it had not been so harsh and so ugly and so unnecessary. Especially during that time when everything was happening with Black Lives Matter, the pandemic and the election. There was just a lot going on, everyone was stuck at home, and everyone was very angry and intense and scared. I think people just needed a release to take out their frustrations and I kind of feel like we were the perfect target.
Were you concerned for Traci, Amanda and Brad coming on board?
Yeah, I mean, obviously I was concerned. I think they were probably all a little bit concerned too but everyone did a great job. This season there’s been a real shift in the online negativity. I really haven’t noticed anything near to what we were getting last year.
That’s such a relief to hear. And do you anticipate the Canada’s Drag Race judging panel will remain the same for subsequent seasons?
Yeah, I hope so! You never know with people’s schedules, that’s always something to take into consideration, but I very much hope the panel stays the same. Working with people you get along with and not having to figure out new people every season makes it so much easier. I really have no say on any of that though, I kind of just show up and do my job, so I hope so.
A new season means a whole new cast of guest judges. Who was your favourite guest judge to work with this season?
We had so much fun with all of the guest judges. My favourite from season two probably would have to be Emma Hunter who was there for the roast challenge. I loved her because I had no idea who the f**k she was, none of us did, and that was the joke of the whole episode. We were like: “Who is this person?” She’s an incredible comedy actress and comedy writer. She was just so funny, so much fun to work with and just really, really hysterical. She was the perfect person to have there for a comedy challenge.
Who is your dream Canada’s Drag Race guest judge?
Celine Dion, obviously. She is like the ultimate, ultimate that we all want – the dream guest judge!
You recently starred in RuPaul’s film The Bitch Who Stole Christmas with other Drag Race alumni, tell us a bit about that experience.
It was so much fun. We shot for about two weeks. I had never done a movie before, so I was like: “I’m totally down to do this.” It was great, it was a lot of work, super long hours. It was pretty intense shooting days but it was really cool to see it all come together.
Speaking of the holidays, if you could lip-sync to any Christmas song which would it be?
Oh god, none of them – I hate Christmas music!
You’re touring with the season two queens in Canada in January. Are there any plans to tour in the UK?
Not yet but I would love to bring the queens over. The UK is one of my favourite places to perform, period, because the audiences are just so die-hard and they’re just so excited for everything. So I really hope we get the chance to come over to the UK.
Beyond the tour, what else have you got coming up in 2022?
2022 is looking jam-packed! I’m booked and blessed and I’m very happy about it. I have some tours and projects. Nothing I can really talk about at the minute but… I’m busy!
Canada’s Drag Race season two is streaming now on BBC iPlayer.