Preliminary Round of The Search for Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2017 – Out For Blood!

VNDS2017_WK1-226This is by far my most painful and excruciating coverage of any drag competition yet. Writing this article makes me wince at times. Going thru a thousand photos for release took days and a lot of breaks due to discomfort. I’ve decided prior to the event to skip coverage this year but later changed my mind after a casual exchange with a local queen in social media. No, the agony has nothing to do with the competition or the contestants. But it has a lot to do with a bad accidental fall on snow that badly broke my right wrist just days before the competition. Since I’m right handed, everything I do is such a mess. So with my right arm resting on the elbow upright, like trying to order a drink in a bar, my left hand is doing its’ best to get all the work done … this month. Now enough about my pain … let’s talk about some queens. And remember, it’s nothing personal it’s just an opinion. And I will be preachy from time-to-time!

The Search for Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2017!

Here we go again! It’s that time of the year for snatching tiaras. The Search for Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar (VNDS) is back on its’ sixth cycle to crown that one queen who slays all the competition. The event is sponsored by Celebrities Nightclub, Cruisey T, and TFD Presents. The panel of judges includes Tommy D of TFD Presents, Raye Sunshine, one of Vancouver’s top makeup artist and drag entertainer, and Mila Dramatic, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2016 winner. The event is hosted by Jane Smoker, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2015 winner. Music is provided by DJ DomTop.

VNDS2017_WK1-200Fourteen queens vie for the much coveted title and the opportunity to take part in the finale party of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9! Five returning contestants: Eva Scarlett, ILONA, Kendall Gender, Salem Witchburn, and Synder Starr are joined by nine first-timers: Molly Poppinz, Sherrie Blossem, Jo Durée, Beth Amphetamine, Cleopatra Compton, Rory, Anna May, Cheryl Trade, and Marianne Toilette. Who will buckle from the critiques? Who will fall short? Who has the least number of fans (it’s a popularity contest too, where audience votes are combined with judges’ scores)? Who will set themselves on fire? Who will take on the judges head on? Who will lash out? Whose wardrobe reveal will show more than needed? Will this year be a Drag Race Season 6 or 4? So many questions. Well let’s get on with it!

Pre-Show
I didn’t mingle much backstage with the contestants prior to the first runway challenge because I want their first impression to come from their debut walk. Without stage direction, each contestant must take it upon themselves to make the most of the time allotted to them. They need to showcase themselves … perform for the judges, the audience, and the media (press and/or photographers, etc. You won’t get a good photo for posterity if you rush) … and most of all… find the light, project, and remain poised every time they’re on stage – like Jane Smoker.

First Challenge
For their first runway challenge, the contestants were asked to come up with their best dress.

Most of the newcomers came across as shy, looking sad, low energy, and in a hurry to do their thing. Some didn’t even bother to walk to each corner of the stage to pose and smile. Each one I was like, “Gurl, wait up!” For the returning contestants only ILONA, Kendall Gender, and Synder Starr remembered their notes from last year. For the most part, the first runway walk was like a police line-up. Most of the contestants were in a hurry to fall in line, hands clasped together like they’ve committed a misdemeanor, and looked sad to be there. What happened to hands on the waist, smile, poise … like a beauty queen? RuPaul once said, “fake it until you make it.”

Molly Poppinz, a newcomer from down under, is bubbly and engaging. She looked great in her black overall jumpsuit and teal hair. Her strong Australian accent was a nice touch. She seems promising. When asked by Jane Smoker, “Why do you think you should win?” She rambled about being Australian and apologized in advance for having a potty mouth and said, “I just wanna slay Vancouver…

Sherrie Blossem, another newcomer, was nice and cute in her leather and lace outfit. Was she channeling the shy cotton candy girl of S&M? Her hair was thirsty for a weave, and her mug wasn’t quite there – concave lips looks sad, brow bone paint was one dimensional, and no nails. She entered in the Legends Calendar contest, which was the first time she did drag. When asked what she could bring to the competition that she didn’t in the past competition, she replied, “I wanted to bring better version of myself to this competition.” And said she’s excited to bring her best self to the competition.

Salem Witchburn, *sighs*, why is she so literal? She competed last year and got eliminated early. Her makeup has improved but I think she needs to rethink her whole look and branding strategy. We don’t always see Pink wear pink hair, pink t-shirt with a big bold “Pink” printed over it, and a purse that says “Pink!” Come on! It’s fine to do drag as a witch but at some point one needs to add some sophistication to it – there’s no need to look goth and wear witch RTW! She needs to look for a better inspiration. When asked what she learned from competing in last year’s VNDS and Miss Cobalt, she replied, “Be less of a mess.” And continued on to say that she’ll just do her best and have fun. Ok, she needs to work on her self-esteem too.

Jo Durée, who started doing drag in April of last year, look very elegant in her black and white gown. Her hair and makeup was great. She floated on stage … albeit quickly. But nonetheless, it was when the competition really started. When asked why she deserves to win the title, she said, in a gist, that she likes to challenge herself to do new things and grow.

Beth Amphetamine, from Nelson, BC, is a nice plus-ish queen. A decently well put together queen but her outfit seemed casual for a first impression … and the fact that she was not wearing any nails. She was a bit preoccupied trying to keep her wardrobe in place.

Cleopatra Compton, who also entered in the Legends Calendar contest, is such a striking beauty with a striking drag name. She relied on her body in her just-cashed-the-cheque-pinup look. A very fishy queen whose facial features reminds me of Raja. There wasn’t too much material in her outfit, aside from her open jacket, but it all looked great on her. When asked what she’s excited to learn during the course of the competition, she replied to challenge herself creatively because she loves art.

Rory, who is new to drag, is another very naturally fishy queen, but unfortunately, her outfit was very casual. It was like going to the mall look or just stay home. Her makeup was very minimal. Her hair was blah. When asked to describe her drag, as a new queen, to the audience, she replied, “It’s something new, something fresh.” From what I saw, I respectfully disagree.

Synder Starr, a three-time VNDS contestant (not five, my photography record says so), looked elegant and great. A famous drag queen once said, “if at first you don’t succeed just become a legend, Hunty!” She could set the record as the contestant who competed the most. She took her notes in previous years and nailed it. Her look has definitely improved from last year, well done! But is it enough to win the competition? “What do you think you’re gonna bring from last year and the year before? How have you grown?” Jane Smoker asked. She said, she took notes from the judges’ critiques and learned from other queens and hoped it will take her further this time around.

Kendall Gender competed in VNDS2015 under drag mononym “Kendall.” Her new drag name is a smart move. Since “gender” is such a hot topic this past few years and her new name is a play on one of the popular Kardashian sisters. She’s Jane Smoker’s drag daughter. A rising local drag star and drag entertainer. Her stewardess costume was amazing. Her makeup was great and hair was gorgeous. It was a very charming first impression. When asked why she think she deserves to win the title, she said, when she competed for the first time in 2015 she overestimated herself and didn’t know better. And since then she has changed her name, she has learned a lot and wanted to share what she’s learned and her passion. She’s very happy to be part of the community, and continued on to say that “whoever wins the competition we’re all sisters.” Very pageantry indeed.

Anna May, another fresh blood, is cute. She’s the drag daughter of Gia Metric. It’s her second time ever doing drag. I like her drag name, it’s simple and easy to remember. She is one fishy queen. Her look was ok … not so polish but was good enough. But can we agree that we’re done with stuffed toy costumes? Again, no nails. When asked to explain to the judges and the audience why she’s ready for the competition and to possibly win it, she said she has so much passion for drag, she loves to sew, and wanted to show what she can do.

Cheryll Trade is a lovely queen, resting bitch face look (remember Pearl?), but lovely. Her first runway look was very good. Jane asked, “Could you describe your drag aesthetic and why you decided to enter this competition?” She said she wanted to try different types of makeup, not just beauty but crazy makeup, and to meet other queens.

Marianne Toilette is an interesting queen. She could use a little bit of silhouette but it was an okay first look. And props to her for working the stage. When asked to describe her drag aesthetic, she said it’s camp and burlesque. And when asked why she should win the competition, she replied she’s in it to entertain people’s asses off, whether they’re ready or not. She hoped to be this year’s burlesque queen winner and make herstory.

Eva Scarlett, a returning queen, walked on the runway ready to slay the competition. She may fall short in exuberance but she packs a punch on creativity and talent. Her look was amazing, period. When asked what she has learned since last competing for VNDS and how she has grown, she said, “I learned not to flip my hair as much.” And said she has learned a lot about makeup and not to hold back as much. And when asked by a judge if she’s ready to get rid of drag family, like when she slayed ILONA in a shocking lip sync twist in last year’s competition, she replied, “Excuse me, who?

And last but not the least, we have ILONA, period. Ok, for the sake of completeness, let’s. This is her third time competing for the title. She takes notes, lots of it, and she acts on it with much determination. After competing for the first time in 2015 and lost, she took makeup lessons. Last year, after almost snatching the crown, she took dance lessons, took up photography, and god knows what else (I suspect she’s coming for Tommy’s gig, based on her reason in the twist, if that happens I could collaborate with or work for her, lol). She’s not a triple-threat, she’s plain dangerous – figuratively speaking. She’s a very cerebral queen. Strong personality … what else, … she’s basically a diva – in a good way. Her look was fantastic. She worked the stage, the audience, judges, and the lenses. She was asked how has her drag evolved, what has she learned, and how has she grown since the two year she competed for VNDS. She narrated enthusiastically that the first time she competed she didn’t know anything about drag, but since then she learned the basics and improved her skills. She thought that was enough and competed again last year where she lit herself on fire on stage, but that wasn’t enough either. So she took dance lessons and think she’s now a fully realized drag entertainer who’s ready to have fun.

For the first runway challenge, my top picks based on overall presentation and stage presence are: ILONA, Kendall Gender, Jo Durée, Eva Scarlett, Cleopatra Compton, and Marianne Toilette.

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Second Challenge:
The contestants were asked to perform the best song that represents them.

Molly Poppinz performed “Pussy” by Iggy Azalea. Her black costume and knee high boots was fine for starters. But her reveal wasn’t so good. A Fifth Element inspired outfit that looks unfinished, too revealing, and a size too small. The pussy was trying to be sexy but it wasn’t convincing.

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Sherrie Blossom performed “Touch Me” by Katherine McPhee. Her costume was like she just got out from the shower and now she’s ready to go to bed. She could definitely use a little bit of silhouette. I don’t know which part of her body she want touched, maybe her hairy pits. I don’t know what’s up with queens who go for fishy but not all the way. Details, details… Her entire performance could use a little bit more energy and choreography.

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Salem Witchburn performed “Witch” by Notic Nastic and Wreak Havoc. I so want her to do well, but she’s stuck at being to literal. Her shoes where too big, she wore a beanie with a big bold “Witch” print, her jacket and shorts look regular. Her tank exposing her abs was ok, but it wasn’t enough to make things palatable. To top it off she had a broom and a cauldron. The song was okay, but she could’ve gone crazy with it… like some interpretative dancing shit, with crazy makeup, barefoot, and wear a torn black dress like she just escaped from being burned at the steak. But no, she had to carry a broom and pretend it’s an uzi… and then she stuck her hand in the cauldron for some ketchup. No! I don’t think there’s any point talking about the lip sync.

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Jo Durée performed “Running with the Wolves” by Aurora. Speaking of “interpretative dancing shit”, this one did it. With white antler horns on her head, full length lacey dress, and a piece of white chiffon … and a big electric fan in front of her for practical effects, she killed it. The choreography and commitment was there. It was so beautiful to watch. She simulated being attacked by wolves, with the help of her two backup dancers, which was also great. But she could’ve done the whole number by herself. I don’t think the extras added anything. Frankly, I prefer to watch contestants compete on their own … that’ll really show what they’ve got. Anyway, it was a great performance.

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Beth Amphetamine performed “Flawless” by Beyoncé. The look was okay but it wasn’t a home run. When you aim for a performance so high like that, gurl, you better be able to move like her and know the words. She had trouble with her top. I don’t know, it was ironic that the song was entitled “flawless” because her performance was anything but.

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Cleopatra Compton performed “Formation” by Beyoncé. The stage was dark during her intro. A backlit would’ve enhanced the presentation. Her outfit was amazing! Lacy leotard, leg nets, and a fedora … it was simply perfect. Her hair was great. She flipped it like a pro. The choreography was fantastic. She was no longer the shy queen who walked on that first runway challenge. Quite a turnaround.

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Rory performed “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande. Her whole performance was underwhelming. She barely moved her lips. Her reveal look was a short nighty black dress that was loosely fitting. She was not cinch and looked boyish. She’s fishy-looking, but her makeup was very minimal making her face look really bare. Her energy was low, except for that one time she interacted with an audience, someone she knows I presume. She dropped her fur coat for her reveal. Then she did the one thing I’ve never seen before … unrevealed – later in her song she picked up the coat laying on the floor and put it back on again. What just happened? She tried flipping her hair, it wasn’t sexy. I think she just overheard the feedback Cleopatra Compton got from the judges and tried to incorporate that last minute. It didn’t work.

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Synder Starr performed “I Am What I Am” a song in the musical La Cage aux Folles. It was a good performance but not great. She could’ve picked a song she knew by heart, for starters. Her whole look was as polished as I’ve seen her in VNDS, but I wish she took the performance a bit further, more grand. Maybe try something other than cocktail dress and short hair? Perhaps next time. I’m just glad to see her improve this time around.

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Kendall Gender performed “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. It was a very cute and fun performance. Her backup dancers were a distraction, since they were also very cute. I really think it’s too early for backup dancers. It would be great to get to know the queens more at this stage in the competition, and bring the full ensemble only in the finale. I would like to see a little bit of silhouette on her too. Her makeup was awesome. The choreography was great. I think she has the fans to help her go far. But … I think she needs to keep her confidence in check and really hold steadfast until the finale. Some of the other contestants are hungry for the crown, and I think affiliations with event folks can only go so far. What worked for her drag mother may not necessarily work for her. She’s got great potential, I think it’s a matter of tuning here and there – like be aware of over exaggerating expressions – and stay focus on winning.

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Anna May performed “Tears” by Clean Bandit. It was an okay performance. A little rough around the edges but it was entertaining. Her huge doll box was a nice touch. Her hair could use a little oomph. Again, no nails. Her outfit was cute though. But I’m not sure about her cake white makeup, perhaps it’s part of the doll look. I like that she worked the stage and had some choreography.

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Cheryl Trade performed “Focus” by Ariana Grande. Her look was very sexy. But she fell short on her performance. The song is high energy, which she lacked. Her choreography wasn’t so good. She incorporated Jo Durée’s fan, I’m guessing she wanted practical wind effects on her hair. Well that was a fail. The fan was too low, not strong enough, and her hair was too stiff. She end up having to squat in front of the fan to get the desired effect. So yes, she focused alright, on the fan and not her intended audience. I think it’s a bad move to add things last minute without even testing them out prior. Don’t do that on stage, do it at rehearsals. Just because the other contestants got praised for making it work, it may not necessarily work for you. So looks, yes. Performance, no.

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Marianne Toilette performed “Candy Man” by Christina Aquilera. Off the bat, her outfit and overall look seriously needed a lot of rethinking. Just because you’re doing a burlesque number, and that you’re going to take off your clothes, doesn’t mean you should wear barely anything to begin with. What are you going to take off? Where’s the tease? Where’s the suspense? Fortunately for her, her act was very entertaining. The fan prop on stage was distracting, and she barely used it. And when she did, the quick wind effect didn’t really add anything to her act. If she’s serious about burlesque, she should study BenDeLaCreme.

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Eva Scarlett performed “Touch It” by Ariana Grande. Her black gown made from garbage bags was amazing! It was better than Alaska Thunderfuck’s. She planned to add wind effect to her number and brought her fan. Luckily, now she has two fans. Her last minute fan addition worked, where Cheryl Trade and Marianne Toilette failed. She’s augmenting her prop and it worked fabulously. Her makeup and hair was amazing as well. She worked the two fans, she emote, and performed. Her reveal from black to white was awesome. The white fabric around her waist was also flowing in the wind … it was great! She could well be this year’s dark horse, once again. How far will she go?

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ILONA performed “Pity Party ” by Melanie Martinez. She set herself on fire last year. What is she going to do this year, perform heart surgery on stage? Maybe. Last year I cautioned her in the reviews about picking performances that are hard to relate, or too ILONA. I said, you can be you all you like after winning the crown, but for now, do something unique but relatable. It’s dangerous to only have one focal point in a performance and the rest of the number is flat – like what happened in her VNDS2015 finale performance. Well, this time she has stepped up her game once more. She worked the stage, popped balloons, emote, knew the words, and buried her face in a blue cake … and made a huge mess on stage as a result. It was a great song choice, had some significance to her and the competition. Aside from the tipper, who was a bit distracting while waiting for her to grab the tip while in a crucial part of her performance, her performance was great.

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Tipping is all about timing, You don’t want to stop the show so you can flash your money on stage, ain’t cool.

My top picks are for this challenge are: ILONA, Jo Durée, Eva Scarlett, Kendall Gender, and Cleopatra Compton.

Find the light, connect, and commit.
Contestants tend to stay close to the DJ table, like they’re scared to walk up front. The light is best in the center about two feet from the edge of the stage. So it’s important to work the whole stage, left, right, but return to the center. Some contestants also tend to look up almost the whole number. You want the audience to look at your face not your chin.

Judgement Time

After the scores were tallied, ILONA emerged as as the top contestant for round 1. Rory had the lowest score and was eliminated from the competition. Synder Starr and Salem Witchburn were up for elimination. Both fought it out in a lip sync battle, lip syncing to Cher’s “Believe.” After much deliberation by the judges Synder Starr moved onto the next round and Salem Witchburn got the chop.

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The Twist

The remaining contestants where divided into three groups, The Voice style, one for each judge. Anna May, Beth Amphetamine, Cheryl Trade, and Cleopatra Compton are team Raye Sunshine. Eva Scarlett, ILONA, Jo Durée, and Kendall Gender are team Tommy D — lol, the final four. And Sherrie Blossem, Molly Poppinz, Synder Starr, and Marianne Toilette are team Mila Dramatic. The judges will be coaching their teams.TeamRaye TeamTommy TeamMila

Check out more photos of the preliminary round here.

 

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