Priyanka
Priyanka headlines “Canada’s Drag Race: Live at the Drive-In” Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media
Canada’s Drag Race
17 min

Hail Queen Pri

Shantay She Slayed: Canada’s herstory-making drag superstar came to represent

Priyanka is literally in the closet. The Toronto-based drag artist has joined our video conversation sitting in front of racks of clothes—black, metallic, leopard print. She greets me with the same level of energy we associate with her brand, but this time, she’s even more excited. Today, Priyanka is a winner.

The Indo-Caribbean performer, also known as former children’s TV show host Mark Suki, has made history for a couple of reasons. On top of being Canada’s Drag Race’s first winner, she is the only non-All Stars winner to be in the bottom two twice and win the season. She is one of only two Asian winners (the other is RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 3 winner Raja) and the first South Asian winner across the entire Drag Race franchise.

I spoke with Priyanka the day after her coronation about the prize money, queer people of colour representation and what’s next for the out and proud Queen of the North.

How does it feel being the winner of Canada’s Drag Race?

It is my biggest dream come true. I feel like I’m still dreaming and honestly, I am hungry.

What came to mind when the judges announced you’re the winner?

That moment before the judges call your name is so tense because you’re sitting there and you kind of have this [feeling], you know how they say your life flashes before your eyes? Sitting there, I was seeing all the great things I did, and then seeing Snatch Game and then seeing the lip sync and then finally hearing them say “Priyanka.” I was like, “Oh, wait, me? No?”

It’s so surreal because it’s that triumphant moment of thinking: “I rose up, even when I was in the bottom. Go fuck yourselves, everybody!” [laughs]

What did you learn from your time on Canada’s Drag Race?

I learned how to be the greatest designer on the show. I don’t know if you saw my paper dress but, um, it’s a “couture,” as they say. I learned how to be the greatest improviser ever, my Snatch Game performance was incredible. I was robbed.

All jokes aside. The cool thing about Drag Race is that it is a playground for you to get better at doing drag with the support of the best drag queens in Canada, and I would say the world. You get to learn so much and people really help you out. For my lawyer commercial, Scarlett Bobo gave me her wig, for one of my runway looks Rita Baga helped me with my wig. You learn so much from your competitors because they’re also people that you look up to.

You’ve only been performing drag for a couple of years. What did you learn from competing alongside more seasoned queens like Tynomi, Anastarzia and Rita Baga, and from being judged by Brooke Lynn Hytes? 

You learn so much! You learn about polish. You learn about wearing better hair, you learn about how to respect where drag has come from. I think a lot of new drag queens come into the scene and just want to be stars and they wanna be the ticket and they want to be the girl. But I think that competing against people that I look up to, like Scarlett Bobo and Juice Boxx and Tynomi, it’s just crazy. It’s crazy because although I am new, I fit in with them. It feels natural, which is a good reminder to me that I’m like doing the right thing here.

Do you wish you would have listened to Tynomi when she told you not to do Miss Cleo for Snatch Game?

Wasn’t that so funny? When she said, “I told you not to do that. You’re the worst Jamaican ever!” I’m happy that I did Miss Cleo because the “I Drove All Night” [lip sync happened]. Are you kidding? It’s so undeniably good that I’m okay with it, I’m at peace.

In the finale, you talked about finally being able to be Mark and Priyanka at the same time. How does it feel being able to finally allow yourself to do that?

You don’t realize how much trauma you put yourself through when you try to live two lives. So Drag Race was that big eye-opening experience for me to be accepted as both in one place. That never happened to me before and now it feels so fulfilling. I wake up happier. I’m nicer to people, I appreciate things more. It just makes you better! t’s so important to find yourself because once you do—baby, you feel like the ticket!

Priyanka
Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media

You’ve showcased a lot of iconic looks on the runway. What was the story behind your gorgeous final runway look?

I wanted to show that Canada is an incredible place for people of colour to live, and that was the way to do it. By choosing red and white and putting it all together and just being the Belle of the Ball. It was perfect. That’s how I thought about it, it’s so good. It’s so good.

You proudly showcase your culture and heritage. Was this a deliberate choice since the beginning?

Yes, my whole plan was to sprinkle Bollywood throughout the season and then hit it at the end. It worked in my favour because I think it’s important to try to figure out some sort of throughway when it comes to the runways. And the only thing you know for sure is that you’ll be wearing something to the finale. [Because even] if you get eliminated, hopefully, they’ll bring you back. No matter what, you should make a statement with your entrance.

From the start, you spoke about wanting to represent queers of colour. Do you think you represented well?

I think that I represented queer people of colour, very well. Honestly, drag aside, I want any queer person to just literally live their fucking lives, and just be gay. I said that in one episode. You know I see everyone fighting so hard, like hearing Rita’s journey and Bobo’s journey. And Bobo is actually the first drag queen to ever put me on stage in Toronto, and she was the first one to ever say my name. Just so y’all know.

I think representing just the LGBTQ2+ community is what we all do this entire season and for people of colour, specifically, I want to show them that you can be good. You can be at the top. It’s not just white people that win or are always good at everything. So I think it’s really really cool. I’m very proud that I’m that person and that I was born brown because I’m happy that way.

Why is using your platform to voice awareness on social issues important for you?

Being a drag entertainer, whenever you’re performing on stage you see the way people are. You see who’s hitting on who, who’s not hitting on who, who looks at the person of colour differently, who thinks someone’s gonna steal their drink, who’s falling in love, who’s having a fight over here, who’s cheating on who. And I think that literally being on a platform in front of all these people, seeing all these issues happening in front of you, you realize that you could be the voice to make a change, and you can be the voice to normalize things to make people feel comfortable.

There was a situation in the past when a brown guy came to one of my shows. He was so excited. You could tell he was so glad I was doing a Bollywood song and he was like, “I’ve never seen this before at a drag bar.” And then I said, “what’s your name?” and then [a white guy in the venue] yelled “Ranjeep” or something like that. So, I asked him again, “What’s your name?” and he was like “My name is Adam!,” so I read [the white guy] down, because how are gonna say that these spaces are supposed to feel safe if there’s behaviour like that in them? Get out. Leave. Right now. It’s the end of you and me!

I ended up posting the story on my Instagram and it blew up. And then a couple of days later, [the white guy I had called out] messaged me. When I had called him out at the event, he had said, “How dare you! You’ve embarrassed me.” But in his message, he said, “You know what, I want to thank you for calling me out because now I’m more educated on what not to say,” and I was like, “That’s the point! You learn the lesson, boom.”

Priyanka
Credit: Courtesy of Bell Media

You mentioned the guys who blocked you on Grindr when they introduced the Pit Crew earlier this season. Why did you say that?

I said that because there is this culture on Grindr that’s like a catalogue where people put what they want: No Black guys or they’re only into Black guys. They want no brown guys or they’re only into brown guys. Or no feminine guys, they want more masculine guys. And so the reason I said that is because, you know, I spent some time on Grindr, I won’t lie to you.

But being a person of colour on Grindr is different than being a white person on Grindr. And that was kind of my way of bringing light to the situation. Me saying that was a way to say that people on Grindr are racist. It was a way for me to deliver hard news with little sprinkles on top.

You tweeted about little boyanka when you made it to the top three. If you could talk to him now, what would you say?

Honestly, there are so many things that I would say. As I said on the runway, “just be gay” is definitely one thing I need to say to that little boy, because he loved the Spice Girls, and he would dance in his room to the Pussycat Dolls. He is so feminine and so fun and so fabulous and so free. As a kid, you’re so innocent and you are like the most yourself because you don’t realize that you could be judged and you don’t realize what gay is and you’re just so yourself. You want to play with Barbie dolls and you want to put on a dress and you’re just so innocent. I wish that I got to keep my innocence longer [instead of] going in the closet so early in my life.

How did your experience on Canada’s Drag Race change your relationship with your dad?

It changed it because Canada’s Drag Race pulled me out of the closet. I was like, “Oh, here I am. Okay. Yep, it is happening.” It’s made the relationship better because everything’s out on the table. My life is fully out, everyone knows I’m Priyanka that I do drag and I’m gay. Everything’s out, there are no more secrets.

Now that you’re officially the Queen of the North. What are you planning to do with the money?

I have no clue! I’m just sitting here in my closet and it just hit me, I’ll hang up with you and then will probably sit here and be like, “I won a hundred thousand dollars.” So, I don’t know

In addition to that, a year’s hotel stay! In a world without COVID-19, where will your first stop be?

Bora Bora! I don’t know why, it just came to mind!

What’s next for our new queen?

Wow. Well, Brooke Lynn is shaking because I’m the Queen of the North now. I want to put on live shows, I want to keep tweeting in all caps to people. I want to keep making dumb Instagram stories and I want to keep making people feel accepted. That’s all I wanted to do!

And finally, one word to describe your time on Drag Race.

Unpredictable. Unforgettable. Gay. Fun. Edgy. Thrilling. Exhilarating.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.