If there’s anything we can learn from The Search For Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2016 second round, is that the contestants this year are not just hungry, they’re starving (for the crown)! This batch of contestants really knows how to take notes, process them, and come back swinging. In a nutshell, all the contestants stepped up their game this week. But is it enough to win the title? The winner of the competition will enjoy a full year reign as Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar, and the opportunity to attend the much anticipated RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Eight Finale party in New York – includes air fare and hotel accommodations for two!
The competition is sponsored by Celebrities Nightclub, TFD Presents and CruiseyT. The panel of judges was composed of Tommy D, of TFD Presents, Jane Smoker, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2015 winner, and Raye Sunshine, one of Vancouver’s top makeup artist, drag performer, and former Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2014 contestant. Iona Whipp, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2012 winner, was the emcee of the night, and music was provided by DJ DomTop.
Group and Individual Challenges
For round two, the contestants competed in groups (performing to a song of their choice) and individually (performing to a song picked by the judges). The contestants were split into four groups, Group 1; ILONA, Owen, and Teayana, Group 2; Synder Starr, Jack Slayer, Glitteris, and Lea Ven Detta, Group 3; Shay Dior, Dynasty, and Karmella Barr, and Group 4; Coco Klein, Adam Zapple, Mila Dramatic, and Eva Scarlett.
For the whole week leading up to Thursday’s event, each group was instructed to promote their group in social media, and the group with the most cumulative points will win the challenge. Group 1 won the social media challenge with a total of 638 points.
Zodiac Inspired Runway Look
For the runway walk, each contestants were assigned signs of the Zodiac as the theme of their runway look. Their Zodiac sign assignment are as follows: Adam Zapple, Taurus; Coco Klein, Sun, Dynasty, Capricorn; Eva Scarlett, Gemini; Glitteris, Virgo; Ilona, Aries; Jack Slayer, Aquarius; Karmella Barr, Scorpio; Lea Ven Detta, Libra; Mila Dramatic, Virgo; Owen, Pisces; Shay Dior, Moon; Synder Starr, Cancer; and Teayana, Sagittarius.
Some contestants had fully realized look and some could use a little bit more imagination. My top four runway looks are: Ilona – her Aries outfit was well thought out and had so much detail to it, it was amazing. Note the head piece with curled horns, amour bustier with fur lining on the cup, shoulder pads, hip pads, buckle with Aries dagger of some sort, knee high fur leggings, long red hair, a spear with a huge arrow, fur wrist band, heels with rivets, and Aries symbol painted in all the pieces … there were just so much detail. Of course, her makeup was flawless. She definitely slammed dunked this challenge.
Adam Zapple’s take on Taurus gave me hints of Norsemen and nomadic tribes. His head piece which was made from a greater kudu skull and horn with feather adornment was impressive. A fur and fabric cape, bull whip, and huge leather embellished groin guard complete his look. Teayana’s archer look for Sagittarius was pretty good. Although, I think she didn’t need the leather jacket she wore over her shoulders. Shay Dior’s moon was very literal, but it worked for me. Glitteris’ and Coco Klein’s interpretation of their assigned signs were worth mentioning, but there’s only room for four.
A surprise twist was revealed last Thursday. Anyone who watches RuPaul’s Drag Race, especially season three and four, should be familiar with this twist. In true drag competition fashion, out rolls a pink box … and Shangela popped out! No, not Shangela, but Janessa. Yes, a new contestant was added mid-way in the competition. It’s a familiar twist but still jaw dropping. Now, fifteen contestants vie for the title.
Janessa competed in the second iteration of the competition as Lucy Lube. She lost the title to Anita Wigl’it in 2013, but she put on a great show with her amazing choreography and very competitive drag look. This time around, she brought that same energy and style to the competition. She opened the night’s performances portion with a lip-sync performance to an extended Britney Spears medley, along with half a dozen backup dancers … of course. The judges read her for her hair and the length of the song. I have nothing but praise with her performance, but I wish her makeup was heavier – like that of a drag queen. For a drag queen, to me, it was leaning towards the subtle end. And, yes, the song was too long.
Group 1 performed to the song “I Fink You Freaky” by Die Antwoord. The group’s act was a throwback to “The Dating Game” show. They enlisted Brodie Hargreaves (a.k.a Vivi Milan) to complete the ensemble. Everyone’s look was pretty good, even with Owen’s droopy left mustache … yes, even. Some performance highlights for me were Ilona and Teayana playing in a pool of whip cream, Owen feeling up Ilona (for show), and Hadgreaves dipping Owen and feeding him a muffin. LOL It was fun and entertaining to watch, but I think the song choice made it a little confusing and chaotic. Ilona and Teayana both stood out in their group. (Facebook video)
Group 2 performed “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from the TV musical, GLEE (Note: I’m not a huge fan of musicals, so I have no preconceived opinion about the performance. I can only take it at face value). I thought their number was cute and fun. I was impressed at Synder Starr’s improvement since Round 1, and to me she wore the best dress – green sequined dress. They wowed the audience but I think it mostly had to do with the song – them GLEE fans in the audience. The hair spray and ruffled boa were good props to have, but all in all it wasn’t super great. (Facebook video)
Group 3 performed “Salute” by Little Mix. I’m not familiar with the song, but it didn’t matter, the group’s performance kicked ass. The S&M / glam / military costume references and the knee-high high heel boots were amazing. And like Group 1, they too had a story line, but theirs was more obvious – Karmella Barr’s drag transformation through drag boot camp, well that’s what I thought it was. It was well executed – great acting, just enough choreography, and lots of attitude. Most importantly, I give huge kudos to Dynasty for stepping it up after her tuck malfunction in the first round. Everything was safe and secured this time. (Facebook video)
Group 4 performed “4 Gaga” by Toddrick Hall. The song is a great cover of multiple Lady Gaga hits by Toddrick Hall. The song choice alone gives it great familiarity and appeal. The group definitely benefited from Lady Gaga’s very visual persona, not to mention her outstanding choreography. And the group definitely served it to the audience in a golden platter. And everyone ate it all up and craved for more. Coco Klein and Mila Dramatic killed it with so much intensity. Eva Scarlett and Adam Zapple were not too far behind. Each group member took turns taking the spotlight, each performing to a specific Gaga hit … with outfits to match and a reveal. Coco Klein’s “Applause” head cap reveal and Adam Zapple’s meat jacket, made of real meat, were big pluses to their individual performances and to their group as a whole. All of them did a great job projecting the song’s emotion with so much commitment and intensity. Mila Dramatic shined the brightest in their group. This group for me won the group performance portion. (Facebook video)
Tangent time: From an audience perspective, in order to captivate my attention, it’s important for contestants to pick references that are relatable – be it song choice or act. One will have plenty of opportunities to show uniqueness and diversity outside a competition. It’s great to show versatility in a competition, but not too much. As RuPaul said in Drag Race, “Fake it until you make it.” So if it’s not the song that is relatable, the act has to be, otherwise, call your performance the intermission.
For the individual performances, each contestant performed to a song picked by the judges. It became obvious quickly that the common theme for the night was emotional depth. Most of the contestants, if not all, were forced out of their comfort zone. A few performed songs they never heard before until this competition. It was meant to discover what else they can do aside from their usual routine. And it proved to be a great revelation for some.
Adam Zapple kicked off the individual performances with his performance of “Somebody to Love” by Queen. He felt this song, deep. He connected to the audience and maintained the intensity until the last note. Great use of the stage and microphone. I think Adam Zapple does yoga, lol, because of all the bending and the reaching. It’s not a read, just worth the mention. I’m not sure what to make of the leopard print onesie as an outfit for this particular song, but I didn’t mind it much.
Teayana followed with her sultry performance of “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton. She was introduced by Vivi Milan, in drag and off the stage. I think it was a very nice touch, and it begs the question, “Why didn’t Vivi Milan compete this year?” Teayan’s simple but very elegant gown was very appropriate for the song. Great lip-sync and lots of emotion. I like the very graceful arms and hand movements, it was awesome to watch. Her performance reminds me of an excellent Drag Race lip-syncer, Jujubee, of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season two and RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race Season one.
Eva Scarlett performed an all-time classic hit, “Diamonds are Forever” by Shirley Bassey from the 1971 James Bond motion picture of the same title. I’m a huge Bond films fan, and I’m very familiar with this song. So I was very keen on what she’s going to do in her performance. Her look was very fitting for a bond song. Also pretty good hand movements. She was able to project the song’s emotion very well. But I wish her reveal was better executed. It’s like what Sativa Divine did in round one, she clung onto her cape after the reveal. She pads for the gods, and serves great silhouette, so why not show it? Effective reveals should be sooner, faster, and total – think Violet Chachki’s plaid runway reveal on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Seven.
Owen performed “Marry You” by Bruno Mars. The song is okay, and there’s nothing really much anyone can do with it. It’s neither a dance song nor a ballad. It’s more of a karaoke song, if you ask me. So I can appreciate what he did with his performance. I like the suite and hat, and the microphone prop. And unlike in round one where his face was covered by his ball cap most of the time, this time his face was actually visible! I’m on the fence whether his suit was a tad too big for his figure. I do think it was a pretty good performance.
Mila Dramatic’s performance, no … production, of “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway musical Wicked was amazing! Okay, again, I’m not a huge fan of musicals, and I do think this song is overly used but what Mila Dramatic did was … beyond. I mean, it’s still giving me goosebumps just thinking about the intro … and the flying … and the jumping. She showed a lot of depth with her talent … and as a drag entertainer. She’s a dancing queen, and having seen her perform in drag competitions doing the same thing, it’s easy to write her off as just that. But this performance has definitely pulled her out of that “rut,” for the lack of a better term – and I use that loosely. She got rid of the hair she used in last year’s competition, as the judges pointed out in round one. She wore a witch costume, but unlike Salem Witchburn’s costume in round one, hers didn’t look costumy. Using a pin light to illuminate her face, which was covered with green makeup and cloaked in a black veil, was genius! Perhaps this is how it is done in WICKED, I don’t know, but it was an excellent creative direction on her part. Enlisting a couple of men in black, covered from head to foot, to carry her around on stage giving that flying illusion was amaziballs! She is one very talented queen.
Jack Slayer, for his solo performance, performed “If I Had You” by Adam Lambert. It was amusing to watch. This drag king definitely knows how to make a mess on stage, there’s no need for a story line connection, just make a mess, lol. I like how he tried to incorporate a little bit of story line in his number, but it seems like a repeat of his performance in round one but using different props … to make a different kind of mess on stage. At least he helped clean it up after. I was entertained, but it wasn’t the best.
Glitteris performed Beyoncé’s “Ring The Alarm” (Freemason Radio Edit). Even though she held onto her cape like a blanket in the beginning of the song, nevertheless, she did a quick reveal and got rid of it. I like her pointy shoulder pads, and her mug was flawless. Unfortunately, Beyoncé’s songs are either ballads or dance songs, and this one is a dance song. There wasn’t a lot of choreography in her performance, although there were where plenty of stage stomping. So let’s talk about the props. The fan was a cute addition but really not necessary for the song. Maybe it would’ve worked better if it where in a color that matched her outfit. Her outfit was mainly black and brown but the fan was red, so it was sort of a distraction. Okay, enough of the fan. When she stood on the cube seat and a black fabric was attached around her waist by a couple of handlers, with the ends stretched across the full width of the stage to create a wave, … it was spectacular! But was it enough to boost the whole performance?
Coco Klein is one of the contestants in this competition that has really improved so much since round one. For her solo performance, she was assigned “Out of the Woods” by Taylor Swift – she whose songs I find annoying for some reason. I like Coco Klein’s Red Riding Hood take on the song. It was subtle yet dramatic. Her outfit was cute and appropriate. Her performance was convincing and entertaining. She used a real pig heart for a prop, I thought it was interesting. And of course, enlisting the chiseled Dan Bevan (a.k.a. Strongjaws) to play the big bad wolf, was a nice touch … but did he stole some of the spotlight away from her? I say, yes, some. You put a half-naked attractive man on stage in a gay event, guess where the audience’s eyes will focus? Exactly. So Strongjaws was good for the audience, not for her.
Ilona performed “Open Arms” by Mariah Carey. She’s one of the local queens I consider to be very creative. Her avant garde take on drag is refreshing. But unlike some, who rely on the shock factor, going for crazy looks just for the sake of, her’s actually make sense. Like she’s trying to make a point with her peculiar aesthetics. And this is obvious in her drag choices throughout in this competition. She’s shown a lot of versatility, case in point, her solo performance. Yes, her mug is perfect and her outfit was amazing, but she didn’t stop there. She incorporated a sable boa (or as I call it, “road kill” LOL), which was a nice touch. And it wasn’t enough, she brought her own smoke machine and fan for that wind effect on her hair – if wind effect was really her intention, do what Derrick Barry does, use a real blower of at least 1HP. She just stood in one spot lip-syncing on her microphone on a stand, and a team of people (lol, two to three) worked the smoke and wind special effects … it worked! Whomever she was channeling during her performance, it came through. But I have to mention, her helpers working the fan to get the desired wind effect was a bit distracting … the breeze coming from the fan was just not strong enough no matter how close they position it. Luckily, she was on stage and the fan was off stage, so we could still see her face as she emotes.
I give props to Synder Starr for taking her game up a notch. She performed “Venus” by Lady Gaga. She has definitely improved since round one, but I don’t think it’s enough to keep her in the competition. She wasn’t familiar with the song, and I’m not shocked by this, so she didn’t know the lyrics – that was her excuse, and messed up the lip-sync. I thought her costumes didn’t made any strong reference to either song or singer. I like it how she work the stage and interact with the audience. She kept going, and that’s something I can appreciate.
Lea Ven Detta to me means comedy, and with my unfamiliarity of GLEE, I’m relied on her to sell to me her performance. Her lip-sync to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” a song from GLEE, was a curious. I like her look and outfit, it was polished enough, however I’m not sure if it was appropriate for the song or to her interpretation of the song. She incorporated props, like a tiara and an umbrella which was nice. Aren’t those maybe a tad literal for the song? She definitely was channeling a lot of emotions and she was very animated. But I’m not sure which emotion it was to latch onto. Like, okay, she’s making funny faces when a line is supposed to be … serious? Funny faces I’m used to seeing her make all the time. You see my struggle here? She’s a comedy queen, and I think this song did it for her. Or maybe if the did a comedic spin of the song? But will that work though?
Karmella Barr performed “Alone” by Heart. I like the direction she took with this performance, even though I thought it was very literal. Her story line was nonetheless interesting. Great mug, and I like her outfit. She’s a queen who can definitely act, maybe if there’s an acting challenge next year, she’ll ace it. Her act didn’t need any explanation, I got it immediately — party girl got pregnant, lover was in denial and left her, she cried feeling all abandoned, he came back and made up, and then he proposed … happy ending. It was clear as crystal water. It was a good performance and there’s nothing else to it … well, maybe just one thing. Her character was clearly a very emotional woman. I mean, the guy already proposed, so stop crying already. #Emmys
Dynasty performed “California Girls” by Katy Perry. I thought his performance was pretty good. I like his bubbly and sunny take on the song, which is very California-appropriate. I enjoyed his dance moves and it was fun to watch. However, I thought her fruit headpiece didn’t really go with his first outfit (blouse and skirt) but it worked with the second outfit (one-piece bathing suit). I think a long blonde flowing wig would’ve worked better, like an up do to start and then during the reveal he’d pull out a long hair pin to loosen the hair and let it all dangle. That would’ve been a more fitting transition.
Lastly but not the least, Shay Dior. She performed “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summers. Her look, energy, and overall performance captured the essence of the song. Tearing up a paper with “VNDS WK 1″ written on it, implying she slayed it, was a nice touch. Her moves and use of a microphone was spot on. And I like how she got off the stage and interacted with the audience mid-performance and finished her number on stage. It was clean, flawless, and entertaining.
The judges this week were generally nice to the contestants. They almost seemed to agree with each other. Raye Sunshine, a drag performer herself, was more forgiving and kinder in her critiques (praises) compared to Tommy D and Jane Smoker. But then again, the contestants all did well in this round. They took their notes from the last round and fried it and ate it. So it’s just a matter of who improved the most. The drama this time around was with the audience, there was so much going on between the stage and the judges panel, it was too distracting. From people taking over other people’s seat, to mayhem, and heckling. Too much. Security!
After the audience’s votes where counted and the judges scores tallied, five contestants were up for elimination: Janessa, Jack Slayer, Dynasty, Synder Starr, and Coco Klein. Three contestants with the lowest score were eliminated immediately: Dynasty, Synder Starr, and Jack Slayer.
Coco Klein and Janessa fought for their chance to remain in the competition in a lip-sync match. Both contestants have different performance style, and were both slaying the lip-sync. Then one of the judges, Tommy D, stopped the match and called for an instant audience vote by cheer strength.
Apparently, it didn’t sit well with him that Coco Klein, who did well in round two, ended up in the bottom five simply because the other contestants, who weren’t as good, had more fans in the audience. He said that the audience should watch all the performances before casting their votes, and not just come to the event, vote for their friend and leave. Which is really an unfortunate situation for contestants who don’t have a huge following, since audience members are very likely to support their friend regardless if the other contestants are doing better. After calling out each of the performer’s name and the audience’s cheers assessed, Janessa end up leaving the competition for good.
Again, I have to commend all the contestants who made it to round two, since they all definitely made a lot of improvement since round one. It’s undeniable that they pushed themselves to make it this far in the competition. From my point of view, after round two, there’s no longer an apparent winner. It is a tight race to the finish. Since we’re looking for best of the best, based on Thursday’s performances alone, I rank the contestants as follows: Mila Dramatic, ILONA, Glitteris, Shay Dior, Adam Zapple, Teayana, Coco Klein, Karmella Barr, Eva Scarlett, Lea Ven Detta, Dynasty, Janessa, Owen, Jack Slayer, and Synder Starr. Which also means my top six has changed slightly, it’s now: Ilona, Mila Dramatic, Adam Zapple, Glitteris, Shay Dior, and Teayana.
Check out photo highlights from Thursday’s performances here (more photos to come soon, so check back whenever).