Canada has two new drag superstars to add to its growing list of local queens with international success.
Jimbo the Drag Clown and Lemon are on their way to becoming drag queen royalty, after a brief but impressive makeover to the newest Drag Race franchise — RuPaul’s Drag Race: England Versus World.
This is an all-stars style spin-off that was popular with the original RuPaul Drag Race series, which brings together nine veteran queens from around the world to compete for drag dominance. And unlike franchise spin-offs Canadian Drag Racethe series is led by Mama Ru herself.
Lemon, a multi-talented performer with strong dancing skills and polished contest appearances, was kicked out of the competition reality show in its first episode, after she sang and danced to her own original—and performed a split from a set of charts. He feared an early elimination from the show could end his career.
“[I thought] everyone is going to watch this and be like, ‘Oh yeah, Lemon is actually boring, and we’re never going to pay to see it or we’re never going to want to buy the music,’ said the Toronto-based queen. It was a tough year trying to get out of that headroom.”
But fan response has been swift — and supportive, he says.
“I have several touring plans for the whole of 2022, so I’m pretty much booked into next year, which is really awesome,” said Lemon.
Jimbo, the self-described “pull clown” with a larger-than-life appearance, distinctively large breasts, and sour wit, sticks around for a few more episodes.
The new BBC show format has veteran transvestites compete and choose who goes home. That means anyone can basically go home at any time, and any minor misstep in a challenge can mean elimination—even if a queen has performed well.
That’s what happened to Jimbo, even after the odd but captivating talent show the judges loved. Jimbo, wearing a white latex suit, opened the box marked “talent” and found nothing inside. Then, he found bologna in his latex suit and started throwing it at himself and the judges.
“We’ve all been like, ‘I’m not good enough, or maybe I just don’t have the talent.’ So I wanted to look straight in and say, ‘What would happen if I really didn’t bring talent?'” Jimbo said.
“Of course, I’m a clown, and I’ve packed my bologna, and my talent is what’s inside of me.”
The other queens lip sync, dance and sing their own songs. The judges are pro-bologna.
However, a few episodes later, Jimbo’s colleagues sent him packing.
“People were disappointed that it was the end of it for now. But I really wished my time success on the show – you never know,” said Jimbo.
“To be seen by RuPaul as someone who is talented, someone who deserves a little microphone – that’s absolutely incredible.”
‘All eyes are on the queen of the North’
Even five years ago, it would have been difficult to name a Canadian drag queen who was internationally renowned—even though drag fans have had their local favorites for decades.
“Brooke Lynn Hytes was the pioneer for that. She was the first [Canadian queen] ever ride RuPaul Drag Racewhich is amazing,” said Sofonda, a Toronto-based queen who has been performing for more than 20 years.
“She’s open, you know, maybe we should see the Canadian queen, for sure. All eyes are on the Queen of the North, which is good.”
Brooke Lynn will host season one and two Canadian Drag Race, who created another Canadian drag superstar, Priyanka. The former YTV host won the first season and is now an international success.
“Priyanka, her representation for different cultures is amazing,” said Sofonda. “The more barriers you see in the mainstream helps all the local queens. You know, their win is our win, really.”
Lemon says in the past Canada has had little “younger brother, younger sister” roles in the drag world.
“We’re sweet and charming, but we don’t really get the same budget. We don’t really get the same kind of production,” she said. “I think girls like Priyanka and Jimbo and Brook Lynne Hytes are really pushing that and making sure that people can look at Canada and think, ‘Wow. They have some of the most talented artists in the world.'”
However, Lemon said there was no specific “Canadian drag”.
“Every drag artist is very different. I use this example a lot, but look at me and Jimbo being two representatives for Canada. You really can’t get more opposing ideals in drag,” said Lemon. “You know what Jimbo wants people to think about Jimbo is the opposite of what I want people to think about me.”
‘A transvestite is born every minute’
The Queen of Canada is gaining an international platform — especially one as big and significant to the drag landscape as Drag Race — pushing art further into the mainstream. That means more shows for the local queen, Sofonda said.
He said he is now booking shows at venues well outside of Toronto’s Church and Wellesley area, where most of the city’s LGBTQ bars are located. And where he had previously felt there was stiff competition for the show, more talent scouts were hungry for the queen.
“They love having a queen in the club,” said Sofonda, who teaches a class on how to drag for the City of Toronto. Right now, everyone seems to be the queen. There drag queens are born every minute.”
But the queens who have been around for Sofonda and Jimbo have suffered heavy revenue losses due to the pandemic, with indoor performances not an option and spectators slow to return to clubs.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s going to pass, I’m going to get back to work,’ and then there’s the fact that we’re not going to work,” Sofonda said. He organizes shows online and even gets a busking license to allow him to perform outdoors.
“It was crazy, but we survived… We definitely came back full strength and everyone was excited.”
Support your local queen
Jimbo thought the show came at the right time.
“In times of struggle, it’s the artists who really help us — comedians, and art is a struggle. It’s a struggle to get your art out. It’s a struggle to hone your craft,” says Jimbo. “I am so grateful to be a gay man from Canada who was able to have the courage and support to live the real me and to share it.”
Outside of the audience, Lemon wanted this season’s popularity to give local queens a boost across the country.
“People need to remember that we are not the best transvestites in Canada. That’s not true. We are the ones who make reality television shows,” said Lemon.
I think that is something we need to highlight when we watch Drag Race is thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing. And if I like this, I’ll probably be happy to go on a Friday night and throw all my money away on, you know, one of the queens of the show.'”
Last episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: England Versus World airs March 8 In Canada, you can catch the show on Crave.
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