Two-thirds of the way through the final Canada’s Drag Race at the Drive-In tour presented by Voss Events and World Of Wonder Sunday night at the Cityview Drive-In, Scarlett Bobo started to get visibly emotional. The Vancouver-based drag queen, nee Matthew Cameron, was hosting the show. “I knew I was gonna have a hard time in Toronto,” she said.
Bobo grew up in Ottawa, moved to Toronto in 2009 and then to Vancouver in 2019, but Toronto claims her as theirs, and the feeling is mutual. She started getting attention in Toronto at shows like Candice’s Star Search at Crews & Tangos drag bar, a defunct open-stage amateur talent competition hosted by the late Candice Kelly.
Her drag journey has had difficulties. Entertainment industries take time, work and perseverance to crack and nightlife is highly competitive, gig-based and unregulated. Bobo has also dealt with her share of detractors. The prospect of ‘haters’ and prickly fellow performers comes with the territory. “I used to never get booked for gigs, I used to get bullied and I drank all the time,” Bobo told Daily Xtra’s Arvin Joaquin in an interview earlier this year.
Bobo found her footing and spent a decade as a staple queen in Toronto’s queer nightlife, winning titles like Woody’s Queen of Halloween in 2013 and Miss Crews & Tangos in 2014, before being cast as a contestant on the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, a drag performer’s dream-come-true. She had a star-making turn, reaching the top three on the first season of the Canadian spin-off of the popular American show, which aired this summer on Crave, WOW Presents, VH1 and BBC3.
When Bobo said, “Never in the bottom, straight to the top” in her verse on the You Wear It Well remix, she was actually being modest. Bobo is the second queen in the entire franchise to not only never lip-sync for her life, but to never even place in the bottom three on any challenge; the first being Bianca Del Rio in season six of the American franchise.
Sunday she hosted the final show of the Toronto leg of the tour by Voss Events, who organize the big-budget American Rupaul’s Drag Race tours as well. “When I say this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done, I mean it,” she told the audience of cars filling the parking lot across from Rebel Nightclub through tears.
After season winner Priyanka and head judge Brooke Lynn Hytes tested positive for COVID-19 and contestants Tynomi Banks and Lemon had to self-isolate as a precaution, “it put a damper on the tour,” Bobo said. Some fans lashed out online, complaining about the altered show lineup, but Bobo asked attendees to encourage the missing performers online. “Flood their DM’s with love and positivity and tell them that they’re f****** amazing,” Bobo told them from the stage.
The five other queens able to take part in the show: Juice Boxx and Anastarzia Anaquway from Toronto, Ilona Verley from Vancouver and Kiara and Rita Baga from Montréal performed fantastic individual and group numbers making up the rest of the show.
Juice Boxx and Kiara kept thinks sexy with plenty of twerking, hair flips and crowd-pleasing ‘death drops.’ Ilona, as charming on the wet, rain-covered stage as she was on the TV show, slipped and fell endearingly as she walked on for her first number. Her outfits were just as sumptuous in person. Anastarzia’s performances were regal and gave audience members starved for live entertainment by COVID-19 regulations, everything they love about drag. Rita Baga showed both classic and futuristic drag styles in her numbers and got a big laugh by including her quote from the show, “This is not Toronto’s Drag Race,” in her number, despite the location.
Long-time followers of Bobo were no doubt proud to watch her show off her greatest hits to her new fans, from songs by her favourite singer P!nk to a detailed and dramatic Maleficent cosplay number. Duet performances like Ilona and Bobo doing Car Wash were also well received. “It’s finally our turn and we proved on season one of Canada’s Drag Race that Canadian girls do it better,” Bobo said.
The pandemic has complicated the aftermath of the TV show, in which contestants would typically tour extensively and internationally. Even the small, drive-in tour had to clamp down on regulations since the Montréal leg, the last stop before Toronto. The performers and staff no longer have free reign to leave their hotels or to do shows at smaller clubs while on tour, and they’re regularly tested to avoid further outbreaks.
The change in lineup put hosting duties on Bobo’s shoulders last minute for the Toronto leg of the tour. “I was so nervous, then I thought, What am I nervous for? This is what I do, this is what I’ve done forever, and as soon as I got out the first-show jitters I was good. Let’s do this,” she said. Performing at her highest-level yet, next to the drive-in’s perfect view of the downtown Toronto skyline made Bobo sentimental. “Turning around and watching myself projected on screen, I’m thinking, I’m doing everything I said I was gonna be doing over the last 13 years,” she says. She’s proud, and so is Toronto.
The final shows of Voss Events presents Canada’s Drag Race Live at the Drive-In take place on October 7th and 8th at 7pm and 9:30pm both days at The Drive-In Experience Ottawa.