One show in particular sticks out in Priyanka’s mind. The drag queen was performing a Bollywood number at The Lookout in Ottawa when she noticed a South Asian girl watching from the bar.
“In that moment, I felt like I changed someone’s life,” she recalls. “Performing drag in that moment—knowing you are performing this one little snippet of a song that is Bollywood, that you don’t normally hear in these spaces—that’s what drag is. It’s that visibility and that representation.”
Priyanka, who was born in Whitby, Ontario and now lives in Toronto, made headlines in 2020 for winning the first-ever season of Canada’s Drag Race (an offshoot of the iconic RuPaul show). Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but she’s holding hers high, and is using her fame to create a more inclusive and representative mainstream society—especially for queer folks of color.
This mission is what drew her to become the impact director for hard seltzer brand Vizzy, and what inspired her to launch the Vizzybility Project. Created in partnership with Toronto-based non-profit Queer Collective, the grant program will award four winners with a prize valued at over $35,000—including $5,000 in cash to fund their art, plus one-on-one mentorship with Priyanka herself, and other resources and collaboration opportunities.
“Visibility is literally what we’re doing,” Priyanka asserts. Via phone, she discusses the Vizzybility Project, drag as escape, being a Gemini, and what she’s most proud of.
Congrats, first of all, on winning “Canada’s Drag Race” last year. That must feel like 100 years ago at this point.
Honestly, it does. It’s such a major life change to happen. I’m still living in the old part of my life, while this new part of my life is happening—but I feel like I need to level up to the crown, be a queen, move to the castle.
How has your life changed since you won?
It’s monumental. Winning Canada’s Drag Race was not only such a victory for me personally; it was a victory for the entire world, because they got to see this brown queen named Priyanka win the first-ever season of Canadian Drag Race. It means so much to the country, it means so much for me personally, and it means so much to people out there who want the representation. And also, I’m a good time—so we all just get to celebrate and feel like we won something together.
How did it feel to win the crown as a person of color?
I didn’t actually ever think about it until I was on set with Ilona Verley, and she was being so vocal about being two-spirit; she really educated me on what being Indigenous means, and what being two-spirit means. I was like, “She makes me more proud to be POC, because she’s educating all of us and she wears her culture on her sleeve.” Someone like me being POC, Indo-Caribbean, West Indian, and part of the LGBTQ+ community, I was like, “This is important. I’m doing something important here.” I grew up in Whitby, where I was around a bunch of white people and lived my life not realizing how important representation is. But now that the crown is on the head, I’m realizing that I’m this mascot, and this representation of visibility for everyone. I feel honored. I actually feel like a queen.
What drew you to drag in the first place as a form of self-expression and art?
I was going out to the gay bars here in Toronto, and I used that as an escape. I was doing my full-time job at YTV’s The Zone, and I loved that job—and I still love that job, and I truly feel lucky that I was able to have that job—but as an artist, you move on from things.
I knew I wanted something else, and that’s when drag came into my life. My drag mom Xtacy Love was the reason why I started drag. She came to my birthday party; I booked her because I wanted to create that escape in my apartment. She was the one who said, “You should do drag.”
I used drag as an escape, and now I get to be that escape for people.
Once you decided to start doing drag, how did you go about discovering Priyanka?
I remember going out for sushi with a friend who was like, “What’s your name going to be?” And I was like, “It needs to be Priyanka, because there’s not really a brown girl right now on Church Street in Toronto drag, and I want to be that brown girl for people.” Priyanka Chopra at the time was on Quantico, and as it was the first time that I saw a brown person lead on a major network—you know, for just a crime show. And I was like, “White people already know the name Priyanka because of Priyanka Chopra. She’s paving the way, she’s opening the door for us here in the mainstream media.” So I took her name.
So we’re almost in June, which is Pride Month.
Happy Pride! And tomorrow’s my birthday. [Editor’s note: this interview took place on May 27.]
Tomorrow’s your birthday?
I’m turning 30 and flirty, baby.
Happy birthday! My birthday is on Sunday.
You’re a Gemini, too.
We’re Gemini twins.
Do you like being a Gemini? I feel like I have so many different sides.
It does play well into drag performance.
It really does. I have the two sides and always have, but drag is the thing that melds them together. So, you need to start doing drag now.
Okay, but I’ll need help coming up with my name.
Your name should be Yvonne La Roche-Posay.
I actually use that skincare. I love it.
It’s like I knew. I’m a fortune-teller.
Going back to Pride, it’s of course a big celebration of the LGBTQ2S+ community. For you personally, what are some of the things that you’re most proud of about yourself?
There are so many things I’m proud of. I honestly feel like the reason why I get to live the life that I’m living is because I’m lucky. And there is some luck, but also, I’m proud that I was able to work so hard to achieve all these things that I’ve wanted to achieve.
I’m honored to be the face of hard seltzer brand Vizzy—a major brand. They hired me to be their impact director, and I was like, “What? Do you want me to do an Instagram post, hun?” They were very vocal about having the whole promotion campaign of the launch of this major alcohol brand be my vision. They were like, “What do you want to do?” So I pitched them the Vizzybility Project where people can get grants, and they approved it. I got to hire all my queer friends to do all the photos for the national campaign. I got to hire my friends to do the videos. I got to really give my community work with such a major brand. And now I also get to do what my drag mother did for me and give back and mentor people with the Vizzybility Project. And that’s something that I’m proud of.
I’m also proud of the music and the album I’m about to release, because I took my real-life traumas and put them into pop music, as an artist does. I just feel like everything that I do now is more artistic, and not just work-based. I get to really express myself, and I’m proud that I have the confidence in myself to do so—because there are some hard days, some ups and downs. But I’m happy that I’m able to push through, and I’m proud that everyone loves me for it.
What will make someone’s Vizzybility Project application stand out?
I think that what I want to see is kind of what I see in myself: you can tell whenever I talk about my art that it lights me on fire, so I want to see somebody who’s really passionate about their own art. They have full confidence that they’re going to be iconic and amazing, and they want the money to give themselves the visibility.
I loved your “Montero” cover.
Oh, thank you. I got ripped online for that.
It went viral on TikTok. All the fans like, “What the fuck is this?” I loved it, though. I was like, “Great, people are talking about it.”
What does it mean to see a member of the queer community in mainstream hip-hop?
It’s huge. I mean, it was the reason why I covered that song in that pink bedroom. I remember being a kid, and there was nothing that I wanted more than a pink bedroom, and to be performing in it with my girlfriends. Performing that song that is such a gay anthem, and making my childhood dream come true with me in drag with a full band in a pink bedroom—it’s that representation, it’s that visibility that I’m fighting for. Now kids growing up are always going to know that Lil Nas X was this artist who had the number-one song the world, and he’s this gay Black artist. It’s incredible.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.