Many Canadians were already familiar with the artist behind Priyanka’s drag persona, Mark Suki, who juggled hosting duties on the children’s network YTV with working nights as a drag performer in Toronto’s Gay Village. Suki kept the two worlds completely separate, even if Priyanka’s off-duty gig was the worst kept secret in Canadian drag.
As the first winner of Canada’s Drag Race, it’s safe to say Priyanka’s secret is officially out of the bag. The morning after her big win, Priyanka joined FLARE on Zoom to discuss representing queer POC, coming out to her dad, and what it’s like to be Canada’s Hannah Montana. Read our chat here.
The last time you spoke with Flare, we asked you lots of nosy questions about your personal finances. How does it feel to have $100,000?
“It’s amazing. I honestly can’t believe this. Obviously the money’s great, but this title! I’m the first ever queen to walk into the Werk Room on Canada’s Drag Race and I’m the first ever queen to win Canada’s Drag Race. How do you make history twice in one season?”
Real talk though, you quit your job to go on the show. How will this money change your life?
“Now I can be an adult, I can invest and actually pay my taxes.”
Speaking of your job, for years you were a children’s television host on YTV. What’s it like being Canada’s Hannah Montana?
“I love it so much. I did a music video this summer to “The Best of Both Worlds” by Hannah Montana. I started crying when I saw myself beside myself, in and out of drag. Obviously, there’s a bit of a dark side of being the Hannah Montana of Canada because you’re not being your authentic self. But it’s cool people can relate to me—we all have a secret.”
For years, you kept your drag and YTV identities very separate. What’s it like now that the secret’s out?
“It has all come together so nicely and Canada’s Drag Race is what brought it all together. They let me be the narrator of the season, so I got to be Mark, then they let me be Priyanka and I got to strut down the runway and write an original verse to “You Wear It Well” and be that bitch. I feel so fulfilled. It’s so cool to see us together. Now I don’t have to be two people, I’m just one person.”
Have you heard from many of your old YTV fans?
“So many! They watched me when they were younger and now they watch Drag Race. They still call me Suki, because that’s how they know me from YTV, so they’re like, ‘Suki, OMG you looked so good last night on the episode!’ It’s crazy that that’s their norm, they grew up watching this show and now the person they watched as a host in their childhood is a drag queen. It’s so cool.”
Was your fear about keeping your two identities separate warranted?
“The fear came from my grandfather saying, ‘Be careful because people might not hire you because you’re a POC, or because you’re this or that.’ The fear was a little warranted [because] it’s good to be aware of racism and homophobia in the world, but it also wasn’t warranted because it’s so important to be unapologetically yourself and to just BE GAY!”
I saw you posted a new family portrait on Instagram with Elton from the makeover challenge. Is Elton an official member of your drag family, the House of Love?
“He will always be my drag baby. On the finale, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman said to me, ‘It’s like your batteries got replaced in the middle of the season.’ That was because of Elton. Elton brought me the good juju I needed. Elton was my lord and saviour in that moment. Before he left he said, ‘Now you go get that crown.’”
It was cool that Elton was a fan who knew you from the bars.
“Right?? I cried when I watched that episode. For someone to say to me, ‘You’re the reason I feel safe.’ Come on! That’s what drag is all about.”
Your drag mother Xtacy Love opened up a prominent drag competition in Toronto, Crews and Tangos Drag Race, to drag kings, assigned female at birth performers, and drag artists of all genders. If there’s a second season of Canada’s Drag Race, should it do the same?
“Why not? If we’re pushing an agenda of acceptance, why not?”
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How would it change the competition if there was, say, a drag king competing?
“It wouldn’t change the competition. Look at the top three—Rita, Bobo and me. Those are three completely different drag performers. It’s really hard to compare. It’s all about who does the best, but at the end of the day we’re all the best at what we do.”
You weren’t out to your father before the show.
Where do things stand with your family now?
“My dad is so proud of me. He is still in shock that I won. He’s still processing me being a drag queen and me being gay, but I’m giving him his time. It’s important to let your parents process. They’re humans too and they have feelings.
“My dad’s eldest brother, who is in his 70s, when he was watching the Rainbow Railroad episode and I won, he was beside himself. That’s so cool. And that helps my dad, because he can see his brother supporting me and that normalizes it for him too.”
Your finale outfit was a beautiful tribute to your heritage. What’s that style of dress called?
“It was technically a bridal lehenga but we had to buy two, chop it up, and Frankenstein it together to make a gown.”
You’re Indo-Caribbean. What will your win mean to your queer POC fans?
“Representation in any industry and any part of the world—especially in drag—shows POC they can do it too.”
Have you heard from a lot of queer POC fans throughout the run of the show?
“So many! A lot of them have filmed their reactions of me winning. I watched them all sobbing. It’s crazy—they don’t even know me but they’re so proud of me.”
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman got raked over the coals this season by the fans.
“Poor guy, eh? Like, come on. Be nicer. We have a show about love and acceptance and all of y’all are so mean.”
Scarlett Bobo tweeted that Jeffrey gave weekly pep talks to the contestants. Were there softer, gentler moments from Jeffrey the audience didn’t see?
“First of all, there are so many soft moments in the show, but people decided [not to focus on them]. Jeffrey-Bowyer Chapman is so good at what he does and is such a sweet, genuine guy. It breaks my heart that all this backlash happened, and it sucks because it took away from the queens competing on the show. I think people need to give him a chance and I don’t think it’s fair to take down the gay Black judge. What’s wrong with you?”
Do you think there was an element of racism that played into the fan backlash?
“There honestly always is—and people don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s how people are built because of society. Yes, of course he could have said things a bit nicer, but Jimbo could have not torn down Rita for her crusty-ass wig and I could have not told Kyne she was the villain of the season. We could be a bit nicer, but at the end of the day we’re human and sometimes we’re a bit mean.”
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How did the pandemic affect your experience of the season?
“It breaks my heart the world is in shambles and people have lost their lives to this virus. It’s awful. As a person who tries to see a silver lining to everything, a lot of people got to slow down, take a break, and breathe a little bit.
“Having Canada’s Drag Race during this pandemic helped people learn more about drag culture, acceptance, the trans community, Two Spirit people because of Ilona, and queer POCs because of me. Canada’s Drag Race was a gift to the world in 2020.”
I want to get nosy about money again. Did COVID restrictions hurt your earning potential over the past few months?
“It did. It wasn’t a struggle, but it was definitely scary because you didn’t know when work was going to start up again. I’m OK to be broke for a minute, but how long are we going to be broke for? It was fine. I ate a lot of 7-Eleven taquitos during the pandemic. They’re so good. That’s where my money went.”
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The fans are calling for an international All Stars season. If that were to happen, who from Canada’s Drag Race deserves a spot on the cast?
“There’s a girl named Priyanka who would probably be on it and win it all. Again! The other girls? Forgettable!
“Really though, I’d love to see Scarlett Bobo, Juice Boxx, and Jimbo.”
Are there performers you’d love to see on Canada’s Drag Race in the future?
“Nobody! I want to be the only reigning queen, forever! Next question.”
OK, one last question. What’s your name?
“PRIIIIIYANKA! Winner of Canada’s Drag Race.”