Arguably one of the most iconic Canadian Drag Queens, Queen Priyanka blew us all away with her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent on the first ever season of Canada’s Drag Race last year. With over 15 year of experience in the entertainment business, Mark Suknanan – aka. Boyanka – started his career in television as the host of YTV’s popular kids show The Zone.
Post-Drag Race, Priyanka has continued to take Canada by storm hosting Toronto’s 40th PRIDE Anniversary this month, and through her newest creative grant program, the #Vizibility Project. I had to opportunity to sit down with her to talk all things drag, PRIDE, and life in The 6ix.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about who Priyanka is, and how she came to be?
I am a Canadian, iconic, global superstar and the winner of the first ever season of Canada’s Drag Race. But I also used to host YTV’s The Zone, which is an after school program on YTV which is a Canadian kids station. That’s what a lot of people know me from back in the day, and now they all know me as Priyanka.
I became Priyanka because I had a drag queen perform at my birthday party – she was like, “hey, you should try drag” and I was like… I should try drag! So I tried it and snatched up all the crowns in Toronto, then I [became] the first ever queen to walk into the workroom on Canada’s Drag Race and then I was the last one to walk out with the first ever crown! I would say that that’s a journey for all.
2. How did you get connected with Xtacy Love? Can you tell us a little bit about that relationship?
Being somebody in the LGBTQ2S+ community, you often have to try to find your safe space, and I found a safe space at Cruise and Tangos in Toronto. I would go there multiple nights a week just to watch a drag queen perform and be around other gay people. Because I wasn’t getting that at work, I didn’t have a lot of gay friends but I was making a lot of gay friends.
Watching Xtacy Love perform – she’s a plus sized girl – and just completely own her skin and love who she is I was like, “wow she’s really representing for the big girls out there”… It really inspired me to be representation for other people as well. Having her as my drag mom, our relationship is more than that; she’s family. She saw my rise, she was there for all my big moments, she is so supportive and so proud of me.
3. I consider Drag Queens to be some of the most well-rounded performers on the stage. What aspect of Drag performance is your favourite?
My favourite part is partying with the audience. Being a drag performer is very, “it’s all about me, my costume, my wig, my this, my that”. But when you hit that stage and you’re singing along with an audience member, they’re living their best life and you’re making them feel like they are at an Ariana Grande concert, that’s why I love performing in drag.
4. You are one of the few South Asian Queens to be featured on Drag Race. How has drag influenced the celebration of your Indo-Guyanese heritage?
When I was competing on Drag Race, when we would go back to the hotel I would share the same van with Ilona Verley… she was so patient, and so willing to teach us all about her culture and her heritage, just everything that a lot of us don’t really take the time to teach other people. That’s when I realized wow, I’m proud to be who I am, I really really am, but hearing the way Ilona talks about who she is, it’s making me feel like I need to be more proud of who I am!
So, post Drag Race and all the things that I’ve done since, I really wear my culture and my heritage on my sleeve because I’m the representation and visibility for people that a brown person can be successful.
5. You recently launched the #Vizzybility project in partnership with Vizzy Hard Seltzer and the Queer Collective, can you tell us about that initiative and why it is important in the LGBTQ2S+ space and more specifically, the drag community?
It was so unique to work with Vizzy Hard Seltzer and Queer Collective to come up with like – my tagline is “what’s my name” and now we want artists to be able to scream what’s my name? And have others know their names too…I was around these people who paved the way for me and paved the way for others that I wanted to do that; I want to give back to my community who has given me so much.
We came up with this program that is the #Vizzybility grant program that’s valued at over 35k per person, for local artists who are going to get 5k to fund their art. And that’s from a place of like, I know what it’s like to not have any money to do the things you want to do. So here it is, pitch to us, we are going to help you out. We’re also going to give you some promotion, you’re also gonna get mentorship from me, you’re also going to be put into an incubator program with Queer Collective to learn and grow in other aspects of art.
Art nowadays, isn’t just about doing art. Art is like, how are you going promote it, where you gonna post it, what time are you going to post it, who’s gonna share it? All that matters and we’re here to give those tools to the artists to help them out. While all enjoying a really great can of Vizzy Hard Seltzer.
The deadline to apply for the #Vizzibility Project is June 14th, so make sure to get your applications in before midnight! This is an opportunity that you definitely don’t want to miss.
6. Can you describe your experience in the Toronto drag scene? Is it overly competitive or more close-knit post-pandemic?
When I first hit the Toronto scene, everyone was very weary of me. They were like who’s this? But once they saw how hard I was working, how I made fun of myself for all my wig lines that were too far back, and my eyebrows that were lifting, and how bad I just wanted to entertain people, everyone got on board. I truly am a product of the Toronto drag community.
It ties back to me wanting to do [the #Vizzybility] program and give back to my fellow artists who have given me stuff. Because drag world can be super clique-y there’s someone who does the bookings, there’s someone who’s the queen who always gets the bookings, and there’s somebody that only gets booked for this and only gets booked for that. But it’s about accepting and sharing the space and knowing that like people are going to pave the way and there’s going to be new ones that come because you paved the way. The Toronto drag community is really unique in that way, and I feel like I’m the little baby they watched grow up and win the crown.
7. Where are your favourite places to buy wigs, clothes and make-up in The 6ix?
There is a place on Gerard, Ragga Wigs. The reason I like to go to Raga is because it’s black-owned, owned by a gay person it’s not owned by a big company. It’s very important to support a local business.
Also Mikah Styles, when I first started drag he was the one I would always call if I need a wig like this, a wig like this, and he helped me out so much. He actually made the wig that I wore for the Celine Dion lip sync from Canada’s Drag Race.
For makeup, I use a lot of makeup from online, I use Juvias Place which is owned by a POC for all of my foundation and my eyeshadow today is by them as well. I try to find those kind of brands to work with. You know, MAC Cosmetics is amazing and they make great stuff, but there is so much variety out there now and they’re owned by people like me and I want to be able to support them as well.
8. Having worked on YTV prior to drag, it’s clear you are comfortable (both in heels and out) in front of the camera. Do you have any plans to get back into television in the future?
I really, really want to do a TV show where I am in drag and out of drag. I’ve auditioned plenty for plenty of shows. I think that I am going to be the one to break the mainstream and be on a really big network and host a show in and out of drag. That’s what’s in my cards. I’m a TV host at heart, that’s how I started my whole career. I’m good at it and I love it. I love being Mark on camera, I love being Priyanka on camera so, there’s gonna be some sort of Hannah Montana, best of both worlds or something one day. We are going to make it happen, of course!
9. What has the evolution of Priyanka taught you about Mark?
Being a drag queen now has made me more confident out of drag. I remember being called feminine and girly in elementary school, and I truly feel like me being Priyanka is the ultimate like F-you to the people that called me a girl. You wanna call me a girl, I’ll show you a girl! It truly made me more confident out of drag because I feel like I found myself. I can confidently day that our of drag I’m He/Him, in drag I’m She/Her and that’s just the way my life is and I love that, I love it! I love that I don’t care being called a girl.
10. Have you faced any stigma in your career as a BIPOC creator/Drag Queen?
My winning Canada’s Drag Race, in that finale gown – the most gorgeous gown you could ever see in your entire life – me winning Canada’s Drag Race as an Indo-Guyanese person who quit their job to compete in the drag competition show, silenced a lot of that. People were very like “Oh…she just proved to us that no matter what her skin colour is she can take a risk and make a great career out of it.
I luckily have not been a victim to any of that post-drag race, and even pre-drag race the drag community in Toronto is very open to POC performers. It was all of us POC performers headlining all the Saturdays, all the Fridays. I’m very fortunate that I hadn’t come across that, and me being so proud of who I am and me winning such a big coveted show, and then developing this program with Vizzy to give back to the community, there’s no denying that no matter your skin colour we can support each other.
11. What does PRIDE mean to you? How do you celebrate PRIDE month in your life?
PRIDE to me means remembering this community exists 12 months out of the year, and PRIDE to me also is the time that I really want everyone to educate themselves. I’m hosting the 40th anniversary of PRIDE Toronto – which is a HUGE deal – but like, 40 years is not a long time. I’m excited that more people are becoming very educated and more open and more accepting to people of all shapes, and sizes, sexualities, genders, races.
Personally for me, the way I am celebrating is I get to sift through all the artists that apply for the #Vizzibility Project, so now I get to see people that are excited about their art. That’s what PRIDE means to me being an artists, having your art go out for everyone to see and celebrate.
12. What is your favourite restaurant in Toronto for takeout? Dine-in? Patio?
For takeout, it has to be Silom in the Village. And my favourite patio is definitely O’Grady’s on Church.