Canada has two new drag superstars to add to a burgeoning list of local queens with international success.
Jimbo the Drag Clown and Lemon are well on their way to becoming drag queen royalty, after brief but impressive turns on the latest Drag Race franchise – RuPaul’s Drag Race: UK vs. the World.
It’s a popular all-stars style spin-off to the original RuPaul’s Drag Race series, which brought together nine veteran queens from around the world to compete for dominance in drag. And unlike the franchise spin-off Canada’s Drag Racethis series is chaired by Mama Ru herself.
Lemon, a multi-talented performer with strong dance skills and polished beauty pageant looks, was kicked out of the reality show in her debut episode, after singing and dancing to her own original song – and did the splits of a staircase. She feared her early elimination from the show would end her career.
“[I thought] everyone is going to watch this and be like, ‘Oh yeah, Lemon is really boring, and we’ll never pay to go see her or we’ll never want to buy her music,’ the Toronto-based queen said. It’s been a tough year trying to get myself out of that mental space.”
But the response from fans was quick — and encouraging, she says.
“I have touring plans for all of 2022, so I’m pretty much booked through next year, which is really amazing,” Lemon said.
Jimbo, a self-proclaimed “drag clown” with a larger-than-life look, iconic big tits, and an acidic spirit, hung on for a few more episodes.
The format of the new BBC show sees veteran drag queens go head-to-head and decide who goes home. This means anyone can go home at any time, and any small misstep in a challenge could mean elimination – even if a queen performed well.
That’s what happened to Jimbo, even after a bizarre but captivating talent show that the show’s judges loved. Jimbo dressed in a white latex suit, opened a box marked “talent” and found nothing inside. Then she found bologna inside her latex catsuit and proceeded to throw it at herself and the judges.
“We’ve all had this, ‘I’m not good enough, or maybe I don’t have talent.’ And so I kind of wanted to look that straight in the eye and say, ‘What if I don’t bring any talent?’” Jimbo said.
“Of course, I’m a clown, and I had packed my bologna, and my talent is what’s inside of me.”
Other queens lip-synced, danced and sang their own songs. The judges were pro-Bologna.
Yet, a few episodes later, Jimbo’s peers sent her packing.
“People are disappointed that this is the end for now. But I really hope for the success of my time on the show — you never know,” Jimbo said.
“To be seen by RuPaul as someone talented, someone who deserves a mic for a while is absolutely amazing.”
“All eyes are on the Queens of the North”
Even five years ago, it would have been difficult to name internationally renowned Canadian drag queens – even though drag fans have had their local favorites for decades.
“Brooke Lynn Hytes was a pioneer for this. She was the first [Canadian queen] never ride RuPaul’s Drag Racewhich is mind blowing,” said Sofonda, a queen from Toronto who has been performing for more than 20 years.
“She opened up, you know, maybe we should look at the Canadian queens, definitely. All eyes are on the Northern queens, which is great.”
Brooke Lynn would go on to host the first and second seasons of Canada’s Drag Race, which created another Canadian drag superstar, Priyanka. The former YTV host won the first season and is now an international hit.
“Priyanka, her portrayal of different cultures is amazing,” Sofonda said. “The more drag you see on the general public, the more help all local queens get. You know, their victory is our victory, really.”
Lemon says that in the past, Canada has played a bit of a “little brother, little sister” role in the world of drag.
“We’re nice and endearing, but we don’t really have the same kind of budget. We don’t really have the same kind of production,” she said. “I think girls like Priyanka, Jimbo and Brook Lynne Hytes are really pushing that and making sure people can look at Canada and think, ‘Wow. They’ve got some of the most talented artists in the world.'”
Still, Lemon says there is no specific “Canadian trolling.”
“Every drag performer is so completely different. I use that example frequently, but look at me and Jimbo being the two reps for Canada. You really couldn’t have more opposite ideals when it comes to drag,” Lemon said. “You know, what Jimbo wants people to think about Jimbo is the exact opposite of what I want people to think about me.”
“A drag queen born every minute”
Canadian queens get an international platform – especially one as big and important to the drag landscape as drag race – pushes the art further into the mainstream. That means more gigs for local queens, Sofonda said.
She said she is now booking shows in remote locations in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley area, where the majority of the city’s LGBTQ bars are located. And where she previously felt there was fierce competition for gigs, more and more talent scouts are hungry for queens.
“They love that there’s 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 becoming a queen. There’s a drag queen born every minute.”
But queens who have been around as long as Sofonda and Jimbo have suffered major revenue losses thanks to the pandemic, with indoor performances a non-option and crowds slow to return to clubs.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this will pass, I’ll go back to work,’ and then there’s a reality that we’re not going to work in,” Sofonda said. She set up shows online and even got a street license to allow her to perform outside.
“It was crazy, but we survived… We’re definitely back strong and everyone is excited.”
Support your local queens
Jimbo thinks the series comes at the right time.
“In times of struggle, it’s really the artists that keep us going – it’s the comedians, and art is a struggle. It’s a struggle to get your art known. It’s a struggle to perfect your art. “, said Jimbo. “I’m so grateful to be a gay man from Canada who was able to have the courage and the support to live my authentic self and share it.”
Beyond the public, Lemon wants the popularity of the season to give local queens across the country a boost.
“People need to remember that we’re not the best drag queens in Canada. That’s not true. We’re the ones who created a reality TV show,” Lemon said.
“I think that’s something we really need to highlight when we look at drag race is to think, ‘Wow, this is amazing. And if I like that, I’d probably love to go on a Friday night and throw all my money at, you know, one of the queens that’s performing. ‘”
The last episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: UK vs. the World aired March 8. In Canada, you can watch the show on Crave.