Arts·Queeries

All hail our queen: A conversation with Canada's Drag Race winner Priyanka

What's her name? The former YTV host has gone all the way from Whitby to the throne of Canada's first ever iteration of Drag Race.

What's her name? We all know it now, and it's only the beginning of her reign

Priyanka. (Crave/Jackie Brown)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. 

After years of waiting, Canada finally got its own iteration of Drag Race this summer and now we have our first official drag superstar. Just a week ago, Canadians — and countless fans around the world — came together to say her name loudly and proudly: Priyanka! And herstory was made. 

Born in Whitby, Ont., Priyanka has impressively only been doing drag since 2018 (before drag, they were the host of the YTV kids series The Zone) — and yet she beat out the 11 other contestants of Canada's Drag Race to win $100,000 and the inaugural crown for the true North strong and fierce. After a week of nonstop attention from celebrities, government officials and drag performers from all around the world, Priyanka hopped on the phone with me to chat about what it's like to basically be on top of the world.

Priyanka. (Crave/Matt Barnes)

Thank you for taking this time. You must be sick of doing all this press by now.

Are you joking? No, hold on. I just get to be like, "I'm the winner, woohoo!" I love it.

Has it been basically a week of that non-stop?

Like, the day after [the finale] I sat in front of my laptop from 7:30am to 6pm. But I honestly don't mind at all. There's the worse position to be in, which is not having to do press because I didn't win.

Totally. And I should have led with just saying congratulations. I was so excited when you won, and I think you winning and the season altogether just brought so many people joy in the middle of, you know, whatever this summer was.

Yeah, it was like Canada's Drag Race was a little beacon of light during these really hard times.

So let's start by just talking about this past week. You deservedly got attention and shoutouts from all the around the world. Celebrities, government officials ... What were some of the highlights of that experience for you?

It was really, really cool. Shea Couleé FaceTimed me and I died inside. And then I called out Kristyn Wong-Tam for building condos on Church St. Those were the two highlights of that entire experience. Oh! And also the guy who plays Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls messaged me. He was like, "Hey, I just want to say congratulations! I'm in Canada shooting a movie. Once my quarantine is done let's get together and talk about creating content." I was like, "Oh my goodness, I'm famous!"

I mean, you are legitimately famous.

Isn't that crazy? Do you think it's going to change me?

I think that's really up to you.

But you know what? The cool thing about all this attention I'm getting is that I thought I was going to get this attention when I was hosting shows on YTV. Hosting TV for kids, and only kids really caring, was very humbling for me because it made me go, "Listen, you have to do this because you want to entertain people, not because you want to be famous." But ... now I'm famous so thank you. [laughs]

From left: Priyanka, Scarlett BoBo and Rita Baga on the finale stage. (Crave/Jackie Brown)

So going back to the Drag Race season itself and the unprecedented context in which this season released, what was particularly challenging about having this big moment for you come out during, you know, a worldwide pandemic? I feel like just having a season air is already nerve-wracking, and then there's this wild added element.

Reliving the show week-to-week is quite an emotional and mental journey to be on because you remember it a certain way and then you see it. But thank god, because truly what I watched was what I went through. So it was nice that there wasn't any Frankensteining happening. But definitely overall there were bad moments and good moments. We still got to do viewing parties and we were able to watch it with fans. And then toward the end the capacities in Toronto got a lot bigger, so we had bigger crowds. We got to feel all that Drag Race love that every Drag Race girl wants.

But it was interesting. It was definitely tough to get into watching myself struggle during Snatch Game and the other improv challenge. You're sitting there trying to be like, "Woohoo, me!" but then you're like, "Oh god, I'm so bad."

Well, you won, so who cares now!

Exactly, I won! Joke's on you.

I'm glad that things in Canada were reasonable enough that you got to enjoy it a bit, though.

I did an Instagram Live with Nicky Doll from Season 12 [of the American version of Drag Race] yesterday, and they were saying, "I just can't believe that y'all in Canada are being more smart. You guys are open and you get to do gigs!" I feel really bad for the American girls because they're really, really, really getting the shit end of the stick, as you would say.

For us Canada's Drag Race girls, we just announced a big drive-in tour. Myself, Scarlett BoBo and Rita are going on tour with Brooke Lynn Hytes and other select cast members. We get to go to Calgary, Saskatchewan, Toronto and Montreal. So I really feel for the American girls because they didn't get the full experience they wanted. But for me, my life has always been so busy and I always piled my plate too high. So I was thankful that I kind of got the best of both worlds. I got to kind of, like, slowly ease in to the craziness of being a Drag Race girl. So I feel very spoiled that I was able to do both.

I also feel like — it appears at least — you were quite spoiled with the other queens this season. You all seemed to have such love for one another, on the show for the most part but then definitely also on social media while it aired and you all had each other's backs when some folks got nasty. Please tell me that was all real?

Oh yeah. It's all real. I mean, we definitely are a little shady to each other for fun. We have a group chat on Instagram where sometimes we make bad jokes to each other and someone gets offended, but we're all good friends. And I got to be with Ilona, Lemon, BOA and Juice Boxx for the finale. And like, we are truly each other's number one fans. Which is very rare because walking into work room for the first time, I would see someone like Lemon walking in and I'd be like, "Ugh," and now I'm completely in love with her and I have such a great friendship with her. It's really cool that the competition has stopped and we're all here supporting each other, especially with all the hate that we all got online.

That's so great. And, assuming there's a Season 2 — which there better be because I can't see why there wouldn't be —

There better be!

I mean, there's got to be. This is the most attention Canadian television has got internationally, save Schitt's Creek, in like a decade.

Yeah, it was the most talked-about show in the world and I can confidently say that.

So what would be your advice for the performers in the second season?

I would tell the Season 2 girls to give up the opportunity just so I can reign for another year.

And say they choose not to adhere to that advice?

No, in all seriousness, the advice that I would give is do Drag Race not to reinvent your drag — do it to show your best drag each and every single time you hit the stage. You'll take chances in the mini and the maxi challenges, but on the runway, do things that you know you're good at. If you know you're good at reveals, do reveals. If you know you're good at makeup, show that. Because when the judges look at you and say, "You're not really giving us Priyanka today," it's like — I shouldn't have taken that risk. I should have come here to show me ... not something else.

That's definitely where a lot of the queen stumbled.

That's where I stumbled!

Priyanka with her fellow queens. (Crave/Jackie Brown)

Finally, what good do you want to do with your crown?

I think it's kind of continuing what I've already been doing through the season — sticking up for our community and being a voice and being, you know, the representation that people need to see on TV. Just being that person to give people hope that they can do it too. It doesn't matter what your skin colour is; you could be as successful as anyone. And also calling out all the haters and making them own their words. That's what I will do. Oh, and run for mayor.

Please run for mayor. I would vote for you in a heartbeat.

I'll run on, like, "Everyone gets free tequila at 2pm every day!"

You can see Priyanka on tour with her Canada's Drag Race family at drive-ins across Canada starting on September 18th in Calgary

This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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