After a tumultuous ten weeks, Toronto native Priyanka was coronated as Canada’s first drag superstar, etching her name into the illustrious Drag Race canon with a historic and well-earned victory. With a prior gig as a host on children’s channel YTV, Priyanka led a double life that saw her attending to her more conservative day job, only to make a radical transformation into a fierce female alter-ego at nightfall. An undeniable stage presence, coupled alongside killer comedic chops, allowed Priyanka to rise in the ranks of Toronto’s drag culture, cementing her position as a force to be reckoned with.
Upon being cast in the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race—an offshoot of the lauded American edition hosted by RuPaul—Priyanka captivated the judges and her fellow competitors with her forthright competitive demeanour and irresistible personality. While her path to the crown may have treaded uneven terrain, her steadfast determination recalibrated her desire to succeed. S/ recently sat down (virtually) with Priyanka to discuss her career trajectory, the politics of forming a television persona, and what being the first Indo-Caribbean champion means to her.
I remember seeing you at this venue in Hamilton called This Ain’t Hollywood a little over 2 years ago, which I can imagine was during the infancy of your career. How did your trajectory from small local bars to an international stage in the Drag Race franchise go?
“The way that I exploded in Toronto is truly like no other, I didn’t even know it was happening. The one thing that really put me on the map is the video of me falling through a shelf, that was it for people. Because when I came on the scene, dancing to pop songs, the other queens could see that I could somewhat flail around the stage to a rhythm, but the fact that I was able to make fun of myself when I fell through that shelf, that was the moment people realized that I had greater potential because it was a marketing move to show that I can brand myself.
“Afterwards, the ‘What’s my name’ and ‘Say my name’ catchphrases started, and then I won Miss Crews and Tangoes after only eight months of performing. I have always been interested in competitive drag, and gaining recognition this way eventually helped thrust me into notoriety, which then gave me the confidence to apply to the biggest stage in the world, Drag Race.”
Your run-on Drag Race included memorable highs and crushing defeats, do you feel that this uneven path to the crown helped you discover more about your art form?
“Absolutely, I feel that if I flew the whole way through faultlessly people wouldn’t have cared as much about me. Personally, I think that I learned that it’s okay to be bad, which is something I knew, but in Drag Race you want to go in and knock it out of the park. Juice Boxx thought I was going to win Snatch Game…no wonder she went home first.
“Being around Rita, Bobo, Jimbo, Ilona, Lemon, and all these incredible drag artists taught me so much about myself. When I did fall, I had them to confirm that I’m not bad, but that I didn’t do my best in that one challenge. For the audience, it was really amazing to see me have a chef’s kiss storyline, where I started strong, fumbled my way through the middle, only to emerge victorious in the end. However, when I was in the bottom, the lip syncs were so much fun. Both performances were so different, yet so iconic, for both of us.”
Your confessionals during each episode were particularly hilarious and revealing without being caustic, did you find it difficult to speak so bluntly about your competitors, knowing that they would eventually see the clips in the future?
“For me, the confessionals were therapeutic because I finally got to be in a space as me, Mark, speaking about gay people things. The last time I was on camera as me, I was talking about Spongebob Squarepants, so I was excited to be able to yell ‘Go off Jimbo!’ or ‘Take Jimbo down!’. I was just happy to be in those moments, my heart was so full of gratitude to be able to engage in conversations like that. I honestly didn’t say anything too bad about the girls, so I think I’m okay.”
Do you feel that watching previous seasons of the franchise prepared you for the drama, criticism, and workroom dynamics you experienced as a contestant?
“It did, because I think naturally, being a contestant on any reality program, makes you want to be the loudest person in the room. I could have sat back and zipped my mouth shut, or I could have taken the camera time to flesh out what kind of individual I wanted to present to the general public. Watching a bounty of Drag Race seasons really helps understand your potential not only as a competitor, but as a public figure, and how to represent your brand as honestly as possible.
“With that being said, if you want to come off as loud, argumentative, and dramatic, that is exactly how you’re going to be painted. Don’t blame the editing, you are in the footage that they are piecing together, own your words!”
How does it feel being the first performer of Indo-Caribbean descent to not only to make it as a finalist, but also win the coveted spot as a drag superstar?
“Well, would you look at that, make room for the Brown girl, she’s in town! It feels incredible! I’ve answered this question a lot, and each time I become more and more proud. The fact that you just said that, that’s the statement.
“I see what others think of Brown people; they call us the Uber drivers, they say that we own convenience stores, we pump their gas. I know exactly how Brown people are perceived, so it’s nice to know that we can do those things with pride if we so choose, or we can go and take the crown on Canada’s Drag Race as well, while being outwardly gay.”
In the final episode, you spoke about how Mark, your non-drag persona, and Priyanka were two separate entities that eventually converged into one dynamic whole. What elements of your drag alter-ego influence or affect your day-to-day life?
“Well now drag is everywhere, it oozes out of my ears. Although I think it’s very important to find a balance for time spent out of drag, because it can really mess with your head with regards to issues around identity and being overwhelmed by the makeup, costumes and wigs. While the energy you emit on stage is very important, especially when in front of a live audience who feed off your presence with a need to escape reality, it is also important to feed your soul as well. That was one thing I learned post-Drag Race after wrapping filming was how to balance the two.
“In the past, I was busy with my children’s television persona on YTV during the day and then changing into drag at night. I had no balance, it was always on, all the time. Now I’m happy to announce that I am one person, not two since I quit my previous post to focus solely on being a drag performer. My energy is now balanced, which I love.”
Now that you’re recognized on a national and international level for your excellence as both a fierce performer and a relatable personality, how do you intend to use this elevated platform to influence the culture at large?
“I will always keep hustling, putting out content nonstop, engaging with my fans in any way possible, and staying active on Instagram and social media. Also, I’m not afraid to take risks; if I wanted to go and release a book, I will go and do that, if I want to put out a visual album, I will try my hand at that as well. I will always follow whatever my artistic inclinations tell me to do.
“This is what will change the face of drag, turning to the mainstream. The fact that drag queens are now selling out amphitheatres and stadiums proves that we’re taking over—we aren’t going anywhere. I want to be someone that adds to that.
“With that being said, I do love a good Crews and Tangoes gig. I have performed there a couple of times throughout the season during socially-distanced viewing parties, so it’s nice to interact with audiences and supporters even during a pandemic.”
If you were to battle against any Lip-Sync Assassin, who would it be and why?
“I would want to battle against Brooke Lynne Hytes to ‘Black Velvet’ by Alannah Myles. I feel that we would either end up making out or killing each other on the stage. I think she’s so fierce, and I look up to her so much, but I would love to show her who the true Queen of the North is.
Are you excited for the new drive-in tour?
“Absolutely! It’s giving audiences a taste of what the Werq the World tour could have been. Also, I get to show up as the winner, which is so exciting. I feel so lucky that I get to be that bitch.”