Nine weeks ago, when I found out about the call for contestants for The Search For Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2016, I went on Instagram and posted an update with a simple wish, “I pray for some serious #Showgirls drama.” And so far it has come true each week, one shocker after the other. What’s crazy is, with the exception of one, the rest weren’t produced … they’re simply life unfolding on its own, like the Brazilian beauty contest coronation brawl … shit just happens.
For the semi-finals, it’s not just about talent anymore, since at this point all of the contestants have demonstrated that they all have exceptional talent. Now it’s beyond that, it’s about persistence, sportsmanship, professionalism, and fan base. As the competition enters its last leg, the remaining contestants are pulling all the stops to snatch the much coveted crown. Aside from the honor of being crowned as Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2016, the winner will also have the opportunity to attend the much anticipated RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Eight Finale party in New York – it includes round-trip air fare and hotel accommodations for two!
The competition is sponsored by Celebrities Nightclub, TFD Presents and CruiseyT. The semi-finals panel of judges was composed of Tommy D, co-founder of TFD Presents, Jane Smoker, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2015 winner, and Evilyn13, an international alternative model, fashionista, and is best known as one of the DJ’s at Sin City Fetish Night and Vancouver Fetish Weekend. Iona Whipp, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2012 winner, was the emcee of the night, and music was provided by DJ DomTop.
Semi-Finals, Cosplay and Roast – All T, All Shade
For the third week of the competition it’s all about cosplay – costume play, where a cosplayer (person who does cosplay) wears costumes and accessories to represent a specific character, usually from video games, anime, cult movies, etc. – and roast – a term which means making good-natured jokes at the expense of an individual.
Tangent time: Up until May 2014, I never heard of the word “cosplay” until I meet a Vancouver photographer who was into that sort of thing. I remember when he asked me if I know cosplay, my exact reply was, “I’m not familiar with that band.” Get it? I was then only familiar with wearing costumes in Halloween, when kids dress up to go trick-or-treating or adults don costumes for Halloween parties – back in 2001, I donned the full costume of the ghost face killer in “Scream” (1996) for my company party. I’m telling you, riding a sportbike while wearing that hooded black robe and drape sleeves is a spectacle on the freeway but dangerous, so don’t do it!
Eleven contestants competed in round three: Adam Zapple, Coco Klein, Eva Scarlett, Glitteris, ILONA, Karmella Barr, Lea Ven Detta, Mila Dramatic, Owen, Shay Dior, and
The semi-finals didn’t have any runway walk, the competition immediately jumped to the cosplay performances. Unlike in the last two rounds where the contestants seemed more “relaxed” and cheerful, this time around some looked a little bit on edge. Backstage, one can feel the tension just by being in their midst. The contestants were busy making last minute tweaks on their costumes, rehearsing, and going over cue cards.
Trixie Mattel Impersonation Challenge
For the semi-finals social media challenge, the contestants where instructed to make a video of their best Trixie Mattel impersonation. The video were posted on TFD Presents event page. The one with the most likes won the challenge. Trixie Mattel was also asked to watch the videos and her favorite received an extra five points. Glitteris won the challenge (watch the video) for the most likes, and ILONA was Trixie Mattel’s favorite (and also my personal pick) (watch the video).
The struggle is real, for me … with this review … because it’s anime lol. Anime, cosplay, and video games … talking about fish out of water. Okay, let’s do this!
Teayana opened the cosplay performances, cosplaying Mulan in her lavish production of the songs “Reflections” and “Be a Man” from the animated Disney film classic, “Mulan” (1998). It was a well thought-out and a very clever interpretation of the movie, complete with spoken word, song, dance sequences, choreographed fight sequences, and drama. Excellent choices and use of props, outstanding choreography, and great use of backup dancers – case in point, the very creative embodiment of the Matchmaker character by three male dancers; where two guys, who stood sideways, served as the eyes and moving mouth, and one guy, with his back towards the audience, served as the eyebrows and nose. Teayana’s transition to multiple stages of Mulan’s character was flawless, from the fragile daughter to the pseudo male warrior. I was fixated with the story being told rather than the nuances of costume change. If anything, her performance is worth repeating as a stand-alone show or part of a bigger ensemble in a special drag event.
Karmella Barr followed with her cosplay of X-Men’s Storm and lip sync performance of the song “This Ain’t Over” by Silly Boy. I understood her concept, and I think she had all the elements she needed for her performance, but I thought all of it could use a little bit of refinement to make it good. I wasn’t familiar with the song but it didn’t matter, if only she made it work for her character. I like her costume, but her reveal was too slow. She didn’t connect much with the audience. Her hair covering her face or when she kept facing away from the audience added to the disconnect. The two characters she incorporated, Wolverine and some soldier, didn’t really help her production since they were either not fully understood or didn’t have enough stage presence. The choreographed fight sequences I thought was neat and I like how she utilized the whole stage. Although she went off the stage, and was carried by a backup dancer, as some sort of flying illusion, unfortunately the execution was poor that it hurt her performance instead of adding to it. I think as an artist, one is allowed to take a popular idea to different directions, but the challenge is selling it to the audience. I don’t think she accomplished that.
Lea Ven Detta cosplayed Bellatrix Lestrange, a witch character from the motion picture “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007). For her cosplay performance, she lip-sync “I Put a Spell On You” by Bette Midler. Her costume and makeup was great. But it’s something I expect her to deliver easily as a professional makeup artist. Even though she didn’t have any backup dancers, I thought her choreography has improved since the last two rounds, and this time she nailed it. I didn’t saw the funny Lea Ven Detta, I saw a serious performer channeling a witch character. What I don’t understand is what is it that she was trying to do? Okay, “cast a spell,” that’s a no-brainer, but that’s not the whole story isn’t it? Since Salem Witchburn and Mila Dramatic have already done witches, I thought it’s a bit overkill to take on another witch character for week three. I still believe it’s a great act, but not for semi-finals, maybe round two but then Mila Dramatic killed it so maybe round one and slay Salem Witchburn.
Shay Dior cosplayed Poison Ivy, a DC Comics character made famous by the motion picture “Batman & Robin” (1997) played by the sensational actress, Uma Thurman. For her cosplay performance, she lip-synced “Poison” by Rita Ora. I think Shay Dior had the potential to really sell the character. She already got the bone structure to make it look sensual yet deadly. She had a great concept and pacing. But everything just seemed to fall short. Her Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley character would’ve been a little better had she wore her hair in a pony tail, then let her hair down as Poison Ivy. It’s a very common hair do for female transformation from geek to sexy. She had a costume malfunction during the reveal, where her right breast cup came off when she took off her white lab robe. Unable to replace the cup, she went topless. Her interaction with the Batman extra, played by the muscular Dynasty (out of drag), was pretty good. Batman wearing denim didn’t bother me so much, because the mask sold the character. Even though the competition has already seen a topless muscular guy carry a queen at the end of the performance (Coco Klein and Strongjaws in week two), her’s was alright. But one can’t help but say, “seen it already.”
Coco Klein cosplayed Mia Wallace, a character from the Academy Award winning movie by Quentin Tarantino, “Pulp Fiction” (1994). She lip-synced to the song “My Medicine” by The Pretty Reckless. Her solo re-enactment of the character’s drug overdose and revival scenes was amazing! In the movie Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, injected … no, stabbed, a big dose of adrenaline directly to her heart. Her look, dance routines, and the unfolding drama were perfectly executed. Her costume was not extra ordinary, but it was nonetheless … spot on. She sold her performance and the character perfectly.
Owen cosplayed Simba, with special appearance by Zazu (as a puppet) – with the assistance of Jack Slayer. Both cosplay characters were based from the Disney animated feature “The Lion King” (1994). Owen lip-synced “Just Can’t Wait to be King” also from the same motion picture, and “Get Down” by the Backstreet Boys. Owen is a small person, and Simba was an excellent choice … because he can capitalize on “cuteness” to the fullest. His makeup and outfit was okay, though I had trouble trying to see Simba at first. Had I not known what he was going to cosplay, I would’ve guessed Bernard the mice from the Disney animated feature “The Rescurers” (1977). His performance of the first song was pretty good. He utilized the whole stage, leaped off the stage and strutted onto the center aisle, and hopped back onto the stage – just like a playful lion cub. He moved around with so much energy that I wish he’d slow down a little bit so we can catch a breath lol. It was fun to watch him interact with Zazu, and I thought Jack Slayer did a pretty good job puppeteering (?). Then the song switched to “Get Down,” and I thought, “well, maybe this song is in the sequel when Simba was partying at a club.” Obviously, it’s not. This is a case where no matter how much you sell it, it just won’t fly. No matter what creativity spin you use to justify it, it’s just not going to work. He tried to justify it with the judges, occasionally cutting them off, and came across as a bit defensive. I didn’t think it was weird, even with Simba grinding on the stage floor. It just seemed very disconnected from the character. So the second song kind of killed it, and not in a good way.
Mila Dramatic cosplayed Ash Ketchum from the popular video game Pokémon. Ok, I’m not a gamer … and I’m not going to start getting into it at this point in my life, because I have no patience to sit down and play from level one to infinity all day, so my description of her performance with respect to her cosplay will be limited to things I already know. If I recall correctly, I asked Mila Dramatic backstage if her costume was “Super Mario” lol – that shows my depth in gaming. After doing a little bit of Googling about her character, I thought she did a pretty good job with the look overall. Although Ash Ketchum wears pants, her take on the character, where she wore shorts, was still pretty good. She’s a dancing queen, so I was expecting backup dancers. I’m not sure about the reveal if it’s accurate, where she walked on stage in a black cloak and took it off to reveal Ash Ketchum. A couple of her backup dancers first came up on stage and did something, not sure what that reference was, but the succeeding choreography and game play sequences was very entertaining to watch. One of her backup dancers was dressed as Pikachu. It was nice to see her and Pickachu … uhmm, did their thing. Then she reached into her backpack and pulled out a bedazzled Poké ball – it’s a type of item that is critical to a Trainer’s quest, used for catching and storing Pokémon (this flew over my head). Mila Dramatic flashed a big sign that says, “Look It’s Team Rocket!” (Team Rocket are villains of the Pokémon game), then enters the said characters. Pikachu held up a sign that says “Pika! Pika!” then fighting choreography ensued. I seriously don’t know anymore (sighs). There was so much energy coming from the audience, apparently it was game con night too. If I discount the feedback from the audience, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the performance. It was a video game performance and she won.
Eva Scarlett cosplayed Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show. She lip-synced “Snack-cersize” which was performed by Miss Piggy on the same television show. Ivana Phoque (out of drag) was her exercise company and snackssistant :). Throughout this competition, Eva Scarlett has served great curves with her excellent padding, and her makeup is among the best of the bunch. For her cosplay, she stepped up her game by using prosthetic to bring Miss Piggy out! In fact, she was the only contestant who used such a technique, and she definitely stood out in that regard. Her lip-sync to the song was great. She and her assistant did a great job at keeping the flow of the performance even and smooth. There was no reveal, no big surprises, and no big risks. It was a safe number but very well executed. I was definitely amused.
Glitteris cosplayed The Riddler, a popular villain character from DC Comics. She performed to Rhianna’s hit song “Disturbia.” This is one performance that I also truly like. Her makeup and two outfits were great. She did a perfect reveal, it was a very quick strip from a two-piece suit into a green jumpsuit. Her The Riddler costume was spot on – the hat, cane, and ginger hair were all accurate. Her black boots was a neat drag tweak for the look. Her performance and lip-sync was amazing. Her sole co-performer, a captured and bloodied Batman, played by Anuar, was a very great addition to her number. She pulled him onto the stage with his hands bounded by chains. Her grabbing Batman on the shoulders and hovering around him while giving a sinister look was amazing. It was intense. Her cosplay character is disturbed, and she portrayed that perfectly. And to top it of, as a climax to the performance, she executed Batman with a lethal neck snap and down he fell onto the ground. Perfect!
Adam Zapple cosplayed the Swedish Chef, a Muppet character from The Muppet Show. To stay true to his Muppet cosplay, he enlisted an assistant to play the hand while he provided the voice and … head, just like a Muppet! But instead of a cooking demonstration he did a makeup demonstration on an actual model. So with a table covered in black canvas in front of him, his model seated to his right, the assistant behind him with arms sticking out his sides, and his hand behind his back, he started giving a makeup demonstration in the Swedish Chef’s voice. I laughed so hard it was nuts. The voice is funny enough, but as soon as he started to apply makeup on the model’s face and himself, it was done … over. It was a big ass mess and hilarious as hell. His look as the Swedish Chef was pretty damn good, and his voice mimicry was eerily accurate. In a way, it was simple, he just stood there, like a Muppet, and talk and let the hand do the physical work. There was no lavish production, choreography, or anything spectacular. But was is entertaining? Absolutely. Entertainment can be all sorts of things, and this is just one form of it. This is Adam Zapple’s shtick, he goes outside the box and he consistently delivers. Lastly, here’s one tiny question, did the hand assistant stole the performance? Oooohh.
Ilona cosplayed Homura, or Homura Akemi, one of the main characters in “Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” an anime television series. For her cosplay performance, she lip-synced “Breath of Life” by Florence & the Machine. Like some of the contestants, I asked Ilona about her cosplay. She explained it to me and it flew over my head like a jet. I tried to look up the character and whatever literature I found my brain resisted, mind you, it was all written in English. However, based on the illustrations that I’ve found, her cosplay were both spot on – the school girl and the one where she grew wings. Regardless of my ignorance of her cosplay, I can still appreciate the transformation of her character from what seemed to be a very innocent girl to a tormented dark angel, of some sort, who end up destroying those close to her. It is a huge risk, especially at this point in the competition, to lean on choices that are very niche. In one hand, it’s admirable to stick to choices you’re passionate about and do it well, but on the other, the possibility failing to entertain because your audience is confused on what they’re looking at will defeat its’ purpose. Ilona’s performance was borderline. It seemed very foreign to me, but her production value was very high. It’s like watching a foreign movie, which I sometimes do, without subtitles and still somewhat understand what’s going based on their acting, but I digress. I thought everything that Ilona did on that stage was flawless. Her lip-sync was great and the intensity of the emotion she was trying to convey came through. As well, she not only made her own two costumes but also four other for her ensemble … and including the props. So question is, was it entertaining? Definitely.
Based on entertainment value and cosplay accuracy, I rank the cosplay performances as follows: Teayana, Mila Dramatic, Adam Zapple, ILONA, Glitteris, Eva Scarlett, Coco Klein, Lea Ven Detta, Karmella Barr, Shay Dior, and Owen.
Good Old Spit ‘n Roast
Making good-natured jokes at someone without coming across as insulting or to take punches and not buckle takes a lot of balls. This competition’s roast challenge was definitely a game changer. Since it exposed who can keep their composure and act professional when the heat is cranked up.
For the roast challenge, all the contestants where called to the stage. And one-by-one they took to the makeshift podium and roast the other contestants, emcee, and judges. Iona took her hits very well, I’m familiar with her technique – instead of being defensive, accept the hits and in turn it will disarm the source. Majority of the contestants buckled in this challenge, probably because roasting can come across as confrontational, and kings and queens are generally nice people. It made some contestants visibly uncomfortable and awkward. In a related topic, someone said in a Facebook post that it’s better for drag queens to write reviews on drag competitions so it’s more accurate, I said, in a nutshell, queens don’t have the time and are too nice to point out the flaws of their comrades, regardless how bad it is. And the roast proved I’m right.
There where a lot of references to bad makeup, bad dental features, very white teeth, height, adultery, sloppy costumes, and old age. There were too many misfires to even remember. There were a lot of heckling. And it made some contestants even more nervous or defensive. Teayana did a pretty good comeback, when she mistakenly used the wrong pronoun on Owen, “she” instead of “he,” the audience yelled at her “He! He!” and she said “them” LOL. Aside from poor Teayana, two of the judges were favorite targets. There were jokes about Jane Smoker’s weight, and relationship – which to me were cheap shots. There where references to Tommy D’s manhood, his drag career and career in general, and his success. I had my fair share of run-ins with him, since I’m not the kind of person who cowers if I know I have a point to be made and a right one (find it on Facebook lol), and that’s why to keep the peace I keep my association at arm’s length. But I don’t think he deserved the personal attacks that where thrown at him. He has contributed a lot to the local LGBT community too. Yes, he is a character, but aren’t we all?
Tangent Time: Someone asked what does “D” stand for, and what does “TFD” mean? Whatever you think “D” stands for, it’s not it. It stands for “Dolanjski,” Tommy’s last name, it’s French, lol no I just like to say that. I believe it’s German. You want to know for sure? Ask him. And what does “TFD” in “TFD Presents” mean? It stands for “The Flame and The Dame,” a reference to Tommy Dolanjski (aka Tommy D, The Flame – or flamboyant gay man or flamer, citation needed) and Anna Thorsen (aka Anna T. Fabulous, The Dame). Both of them co-founded TFD Presents back in September 2007. So you wonder, how do I know these things? It’s simple really, “know thy enemy.” LOL I’m kidding! It’s called Google!!! Google it!
There where only two contestants who did well in the roast challenge: Karmella Barr, who rap her roast. It was fun, just the right amount of time, witty, and it rhymed. And Mila Dramatic, who was witty and funny. Teayana was memorable because of her comeback after being heckled. And Coco Klein is worth noting because her roast was very long and for her British accent – is it? Some of the other contestants reminds me of Phi Phi O’Hara in the reading mini challenge, awkward or at times looking agitated.
The audience got used to the awkwardness and hearing the same punch lines, even Teayana seemed to get used to being the first target. But then one particular contestant basically gave up and went on a tirade directed at a judge and the competition. I said to myself, “Okay, so you don’t like him, we get it. Move on.” But then it kept going.
Rant: Anyone who don’t believe in the competition shouldn’t enter in the first place. It’s a roast, it’s nothing personal. It’s hypocritical to say you support your fellow competitors who were there standing behind you on stage while you demean the whole competition. We all deserve to live our lives the way we want and to express ourselves however we like, but one can’t expect support from a community, and a small one at that, if one can’t show the respect it deserves no matter what disagreements you may have.
As Owen went on with his diatribe against Tommy D, I asked myself, “is this produced?” At this point things were a bit hazy because it was totally unexpected. Basically Tommy D has had enough, got off from the judges panel, and jumped onto the stage. From where I sat, and from his gestures at Owen, I read “Ok. Go, you’re out.” And Tommy D went back to the judges table. But it didn’t stop. Owen questioned Tommy D’s qualifications as a judge since he isn’t really doing drag, or something to that effect. With that, Tommy D said to play some music, went back on a stage with a wig in hand, though he didn’t really used it, and started dancing. Owen and Tommy D was in a dance duel! I got up from my seat, dumbstruck. Tommy D was killing it! The bitch got some moves. Oh he used the whole stage alright, even the column – rubbing his back on it, making all sorts of sexy c’mere look, whipping his long flowy hair, pulling his hair back, the thrusting on the floor, … and the gyrations. Jesus! I was like, “what the heck is going on?!” Owen tried to keep up, but was all left in the dust. I kept wondering if it was something they produced, but it wasn’t, it was too random. I was stuck between retrieving my jaw that fell on the floor and finding my wallet to get money for tips, LOL. I wondered, why is he hiring people for his shows if he can dance like that? It was … sexy. So thank you Owen! Owen by the way left the stage after.
After the amazing highlight, the competition tried to resume with the roast challenge. Everyone could’ve used a few minutes to regroup, but it was really over. After the roast, the competition took another break while the audience votes were tallied along with the judges scores. Finally, the contestants where called back to the stage, surprisingly Owen was still there, which got me suspicious about the “produced” theory. Three contestants where called to step forward; ILONA, Adam Zapple, and Mila Dramatic, they were the top three. Teayana, Lea Ven Detta, and Karmella Barr were delcared as safe. And Glitteris, Owen, Shay Dior, and Eva Scarlett fell in the bottom four. Owen and Shay Dior had the lowest scores and where eliminated immediately and were asked to leave the stage. Glitteris and Eva Scarlett fight for their spot to remain in the competition in a lip-sync battle.
Confession: I was surprised Glitteris was even in the bottom four since her cosplay and performance was one of the best that night. And so with Eva Scarlett, her Miss Piggy may not have been outrageous but it was flawless. Both of them shouldn’t be in that position. It goes to show that audience votes matter too much in the competition. Which is a sticky point since ideally the best, in terms of craft and skill, should win and not just because of popularity. But also, shows won’t really sell if you don’t have fans who root for you. Which is basically the same issue with some competitions, like American Idol – fans root for contestants during the competition but fail to support them in their career.
In round two, it’s the same issue, Coco Klein was in the bottom two with Janessa. Even though Coco Klein did well in her performances, she didn’t do well in the audience votes. The only difference with Glitteris is, Coco Klein didn’t gave up in the lip-sync, whereas Glitteris kind of throw the towel. Instead of lip-syncing, she just sort of hang out on stage and got some drinks, lol, while Eva Scarlett kept going. I wonder if her falling to the bottom four or the judges critiques got to her, or was she giving up to let a friend move on? It’s hard to say. I would’ve liked it if she tried to remain in the competition, after all, she’s one of my top two picks to win the crown. I think the judges was hoping she’d fight for her spot in the competition too, it’s just a feeling. But at the end of the song, it was Eva Scarlett who won the lip-sync fair and square.
The race for the crown continues. Eight contestants remain, who will step up their game and who will crumble?
- Adam Zapple – will his out of the box approach to the challenges be enough for him to snatch the crown and make history as the competition’s first ever drag king winner, or will it become too radical for audience appreciate? As long as he can continue to sell his performances, as he have since round one, he’ll remain a strong contender for the crown.
- Coco Klein – her gradual and steady rise in the competition is amazing. And she has proven that she can take on a challenge all by herself. She may be able to tune her craft at a level enough to slay her competition, but will her fans be enough to help her make it to the finish line?
- Eva Scarlett – she’s one of the queens who’s very polished with her makeup, her padding skill is excellent, and her persistence is admirable. But will she be able to showcase variety in her costume, and bring enough energy and passion in her performance to snatch the title?
- ILONA – one of my top two, is no doubt one of the fiercest and bravest queen in the competition. Her hunger for the crown is intense, and her passion for drag is outrageous. Her creativity and execution is almost unparalleled. I don’t think there’s any other local queen who is in full steam drag nonstop. But is she pushing boundaries too fast that her audience won’t be able to connect with her?
- Karmella Barr – she’s undoubtedly a very talented queen, and in round three she showed us that she has another great talent, rapping. Her performances are well thought out, but will she be able to polish them enough to win the title? Will she be able to deliver a performance with much success on her own?
- Lea Ven Detta – is another professional makeup artist. She is a very funny queen and a tall one. In round three she proved that she can deliver a serious performance if need be. Will she stop pulling her head back or look up so often when she performs? Answer: It depends on the performance in question. So will she be able to make better creative choices for the finale that will make use of her best attributes and kick the other contestants butt?
- Mila Dramatic – of all the contestants, she’s the one who surprised me the most, each round she comes back swinging. She’s definitely one of the very popular queens, and that’s a huge asset in the competition. She has proven she can do more than just choreography. But will she be able to sell her performance on her own? Will she stick to what’s familiar and hope it will be enough to win the crown or will she introduce enough variety to solidify her stake?
- Teayana – is perhaps the dark horse in the competition. Her creativity is just as intense as ILONA’s, the only difference is her choices are more relatable. Her makeup may not be as great as some of the queens, but there is no makeup challenge, so that’s a nonissue. And it’s a skill that can be acquired – case in point, ILONA last year. She’s got rhythm, she can be very feminine (drag), she can definitely emote, and she has the fan base. But will she be able to serve a very polished look and performance to match to win the title?
My top six is gone, I’m now down to top four: Ilona, Mila Dramatic, Adam Zapple, Coco Klein. It’s by no means a walk in the park, it’s a tight finish. If there’s one thing the contestants can learn from the semi-finals to improve their prospects of winning in the finals, it’s … bring your entire village to vote for you!
So who won round three? Tommy D. Tommy D won round three. If he performs in the finale, he may just win the crown himself! lol
Photos of round three will be up soon, so check it out here whenever!