World of Wonder
From the moment children’s-TV-show-host-turned-drag-queen Priyanka sash-eh‘d into the first Canadian Werk Room, the running joke of Canada’s Drag Race has been an infectious repetition of her iconic entrance quote. Come on, say it with us: “What’s my name?”
On Thursday night’s grand finale, however, the Toronto stunner heard her name called for a different reason, as judge Brooke Lynn Hytes repeated the quip before answering her own question by proclaiming the 29-year-old as the winner of the Emmy-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise’s inaugural Canuck edition.
“That’s why I scream my name all the time,” Priyanka explained before taking the title. “So you know that a girl named Priyanka can be successful.”
And success she’s enjoyed. Within the last 14 hours since taking the crown, she’s gained tens of thousands of followers on social media, inspired countless memes, and garnered hordes of supportive comments celebrating her seamless balance of camp comedy and charisma with nods to her Indo-Guyanese culture — like the jaw-dropping outfit she wore during her coronation ceremony, which ensured that the literal crowning moment for Canada’s first drag superstar would forever be remembered as draped in traditional garb.
Following her victory, EW spoke to Priyanka about courting fans around the world, being the narrator of the season, coming out to her father, and where she sees her future in the drag world. Read on for the full conversation, and be sure to tune in to EW’s Queening Out Instagram Live talk series next Thursday at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT for a candid discussion with Priyanka.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Priyanka! How are you?
PRIYANKA: I won! I did it!
Should we just take turns screaming back and forth for this whole interview because I feel like that’s the level of excitement we’re at.
I know! What was your reaction?
I was so thrilled! I screamed, just like that video someone posted from outside their window last night of the whole gay block in Toronto screaming so loud you could hear it from hundreds of feet away. That was me!
Isn’t that wild? I’ve been crying all morning, just crying all by myself.
Girl, you’ve been tweeting since 7 a.m. Did you get any sleep?
I got two hours, but I feel okay. I think adrenaline is pushing me through. Like, poor me, I have to do press because I’m the winner!
Such a hard life! I’ve loved every minute of this show because of you, but also because you’ve been so sweet to everyone online, just saying hello to random people every day on Twitter, you’re such a light. But is it hard to maintain in an online culture that can be as vicious as the Drag Race fandom?
It’s tough because you have to look through all of your comments to respond to the ones that are positive. The one where I won the makeover challenge and Jimbo was “robbed,” it was like, “How did she win in a leotard? She should go f— herself.” It was the first time I experienced the Drag Race backlash.
But today I see you @-ing people who didn’t like your leotard. Did you just keep a list of people who criticized your leotard so you could @ them today?
I saved the tweet because I couldn’t wait for today to tweet at him to let him know that I won. I just think there’s no payoff to hate. None. You not liking me doesn’t do anything for anyone. I still won the crown! You know what I’m saying? He was like, oh God, I’ve got to block my tweets now! It’s important for people to know that they have to take ownership of their words. I know it might seem like calling these people out might be a little bit too much, but they don’t think I’m going to see it. And I want them to know that I saw what you said. You have to own your words. It’s the same way that on last night’s episode I said, “Hey Kyne, behind your back I called you the villain. Are you the villain?” Just own your words!
i know you hated my leotard so much but i wanted to let you know i won canada’s drag race
— hi it’s me priyanka (@thequeenpri) September 4, 2020
People have to be held accountable! But you did feel the love on social media last night though, and I love the video of you just breaking down on stage at the viewing party. What went through your mind at that exact moment you watched yourself win on TV?
I said to myself in my brain, “If you don’t win, you won because of the impact, the “I Drove All Night,” “Hello,” the runway, what you’re wearing right now, you completely won the season, so don’t you worry, baby girl!” That’s what I was telling myself.
Brooke said it best, you have an intangible “it” factor. But this win is also so important for representation, and to confirm, you are Indo-Guyanese, is that right?
We call it Indo-Caribbean because my parents are from Guyana, but their ancestors are from India. Growing up, we grew up Hindu and we have a lot of Indian culture within our own culture. But Indo-Caribbean is the way to umbrella it.
So that makes you the first person of Indian descent to win in the franchise’s global history. What does that mean to you and how does representation like this really helps, people seeing you in this position?
Growing up, there weren’t a lot of people like me on TV. It’s kind of interesting now to be Canada’s first drag superstar, because now someone who looks like me can be like, oh, I guess I can do that too! We’re normalizing people of color winning things. Shea Couleé. Jaida Essence Hall. That’s normal!
That ties into you saying, “what’s my name?” was more than just as a funny tagline, it’s so that people could see that a girl named Priyanka could be successful. Since you were also open about your struggles with identity, I’m wondering if asking people to say your name over and over, was that also a self-confidence mantra for you as you transitioned into this phase of your life as a drag artist as much as it is for other people to see that a girl named Priyanka can be successful?
Yeah! I think that was about reassurance. Instead of waiting for the audience’s applause, I just made them say my name until I felt loved!
Priyanka Chopra was found shaking in a ditch. She’s not famous.
Like, nice try, Priyanka Chopra, you thought you were going to be the one! [Laughs].
Your sentiment of “just be gay” is also powerful. I like that you do these things and say them in a comedic way, but there’s usually a deeper meaning. Why is that such an important combination for you?
I love that you get it. When things are a little too serious, people tend to turn off because they don’t like being vulnerable. So screaming “What’s my name?” and “Just be gay!” is digestible. It’s easier for people to eat that. If I was to say [speaks in monotone voice], “It’s very important for you to come out of the closet and really be who you want to be,” people would be like, “Too many feelings!” But everyone gets it [this way]. Just be gay and live your f—–g life!
Speaking of eating, you ate the runway so much this season. I know it’s significant culturally, but how did you get the idea to do your finale look for the runway?
It was actually the first thing I thought of…. I love finales! I remember watching Kelly Clarkson win American Idol and losing it in my living room. I was rooting for Fifth Harmony during X Factor and when they didn’t win, I was pissed! Robbed! When I thought of the finale, I was like, ok, people get it, you’re a Bollywood season, you can nod to Bollywood throughout the season. Then, at the finale, I want to turn that corner and explode culture onto everybody. You’re watching me now, this is who I am, and I made it white and red because I wanted it to be Canadian. Being a Canadian, we’re so accepted here, and there’s a safe space for POC and queer people here, so I wanted to emulate that in the outfit and we did it!
I love that you mention Kelly Clarkson winning American Idol because today is actually the 18-year anniversary of her season 1 victory! You and Kelly Clarkson won basically on the same day.
No. Are you joking? Oh my God. You’re going to make me cry. What in the Miss Cleo is happening today!
No, we can’t curse the conversation with Miss Cleo!
[Laughs]. Can somebody call Miss Cleo and ask if she saw this one coming?
She’s dead, Priyanka.
She is dead. I’m so sorry. Just like my Snatch Game performance.
I want to go back to something personal for a minute: You’d been open about your issues with your dad and coming out, but you tweeted recently that you told him after the show started airing. How did he react to you winning last night?
He’s in shock! His inner saboteur, as RuPaul would say, tells him that boys can’t dress up as girls. That’s not normal [to him]. Now his brain is like, so my son just won this show dressed up as a woman and now has $100,000 in the bank. It’s that ultimate reassurance for him that this is normal, this is what the world is about, drag queens are the real deal, gay people can get jobs! A parent’s fear for their child is if they come out of the closet or are different, they won’t be accepted. A lot of that is instilled in both of my parents, and the last thing they want is to have their kid not belong in the room. Now that he sees that I’m the Empress of the North, he’s having an easier time with it! Parents need time to process these things and you have to let them take that time.
That’s true of parents across the board. When there’s money involved and you get a big check, they shut up. That’s enough for them!
Exactly. Shut up, mom! Shut up!
I’m also curious about some of your runway looks this season. You were read last week for the paper skirt. What did you end up doing with the skirt after the episode?
I still have a little piece of it. BoBo has a piece of it. Rita took a piece of it. Everyone has a piece of that paper skirt because the fact that Michelle Visage came in the room and took me down, she said it was her pet peeve, and when she interrupted Stacey’s critique, that’s when I knew she was mad at me!
So you Mean Girls-ed the paper skirt and gave a piece of it to everybody!
It was like the Mean Girls ending! I said, “You get a piece and you get a piece! ConDRAGulations, everyone!”
Well, Jimbo came for you in the press saying you should’ve been in the bottom. Did you genuinely think you were going to be in the bottom, and do you think Jimbo deserved to be there?
Jimbo is an icon and I love that he has no qualms to call us all out. I’m sitting here celebrating top three and I see all these headlines…. Let me have my moment! [Laughs]. It’s hard to know how the judges weigh each look in the ball…. I think it’s how all three came together. Because all three were so different and as Michelle said, I was selling it. I think that’s what put me into the finale. At the end of the day, she presented two great looks and one great presentation!
I’ve also gone back and watched some clips of you on the kids’ TV show you were on. You were doing psychic readings and going to children’s’ homes to decorate their houses for Christmas… What was the wildest thing you did on that show and how did being on that show help prepare you for Drag Race?
They made me go bungee jumping once, and when I tell you I jumped off that bridge and blacked out and didn’t come to life until I was hanging upside down… it made me make a fool of myself on camera! That’s what Drag Race is all about: Let your hair down and be like, just having fun! I was improv-ing every single day, so I don’t know how I bombed the improv challenges! But, it’s fine! I’m crowned, thank God!
Jumping off a bridge and failing Snatch Game, equivalent feelings!
Truly it was the exact same feeling. I blacked out!
Outside of your own excellence, there’s been something happening online with this show. Jeffrey Bowyer Chapman was bullied off Twitter. A lot of the fans have been vicious to him recently. Do you think the fans have the wrong impression of him? What are they misunderstanding about him as a person that’s frustrating to you?
The fans don’t understand that they had to build trust with the judges. That’s what happens. They saw these three new judges and were like, oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about…. At this point, they just have to give the judges a chance. Jeffrey is the sweetest and was so invested in our growth and gave us great advice. Of course, you want to see the shady comments from the judges because that’s what makes for good TV! It doesn’t mean that he’s a bad judge and an awful human being and should go kill himself. They have to be nicer to people and stop being so evil!
Right! We should only @ people when they don’t like our leotards!
Thank you! I agree!