A year ago this month, drag queen Priyanka was crowned the inaugural winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race spinoff Canada’s Drag Race.
It was a moment to thoroughly bask in having only done drag for 3 years at the time and for spotlighting her South Asian heritage on such a massive platform. However, being the hustler that she is, Priyanka knew she was only as good as a her last gig.
“When you’re on Drag Race, all of your engagement, all of your fame is so high. Whether you get eliminated first or whether you win like I did, you have to create your next Drag Race,” she says. “What is my project for people to care about? What do people want to see?”
That project is Taste Test, a visual EP that debuted in July with music videos continuing to roll out over the coming months that will eventually make a full mini movie. It’s a sizable endeavor that Priyanka hopes will continue to stretch the limits of “drag music.”
Priyanka released two singles in 2018 and 2019—”Say My Name” and “You Look So Good,” respectively—but “it almost feels like I hid it from people,” she admits. “It’s almost like I was ashamed to say that I could sing, because drag queens don’t sing. Drag queens release the catchy catchphrase bops.”
For some time, music from Drag Race alumni would mainly comprise a few references from their stint on the show over a club beat. This, no doubt, has been driven by the popularity of Drag Race‘s songwriting challenges that have queens writing their own cheeky verses to RuPaul’s songs. Should said verse be iconic enough, you could go viral, become a meme, or at the very least have a recognizable song to lip synch to at post-show gigs.
There have been a number of Drag Race stars including Trixie Mattel, Blair St. Clair, Jujubee, Adore Delano, and Shea Coulée who have created singles and albums breaking rank of “drag music”—and Priyanka aims to take things even further with Taste Test.
“I remember sitting down with [my co-writers], and I was like, all these songs right now sound like drag queen songs,” Priyanka says of Taste Test‘s early development. “And I know that I’m a drag queen, but I want to talk about my breakup. That’s where ‘Bitch I’m Busy’ came from. And ‘Come Through,’ I wanted that to be about the guy who tried to date both Lemon [a fellow Canada’s Drag Race contestant] and I—and who dumped me right after my uncle died.”
Accompanying Taste Test‘s five tracks are music videos that seamlessly blend into each other to tell a full narrative of a murder mystery, ultimately answering the question: Who killed Priyanka?
Shooting what’s essentially a short film musical was, of course, an ambitious project that did not come cheap. “Don’t get me wrong, the diva won her [Canada’s Drag Race prize] money. But you have to get sponsorships to help pay for your art because my ideas are bigger than my bank account,” Priyanka says. “I still had to put a lot of my own money into the videos. But there is something about investing in your own stuff that makes it much better.”
That make-it-or-break-it mentality dates back to when Priyanka was more famously known as Mark “Suki” Suknanan, the host of Canada’s kids show The Zone and the reality competition series The Next Star.
Before starting her drag career in 2017, Priyanka saw herself as an entertainment-TV personality and was clearly on the right path. But there always something missing.
“There are TV-show hosts who are just workers. They come in, host a show, they go home. I have such big ambitions and such big goals,” Priyanka says. “I was trying so hard to find my thing. I had my bread-and-butter job. But do I have a YouTube channel? Am I trying to be a musician? What is my extra sauce?”
Priyanka did start a YouTube channel while working as a TV host but only averaged a couple hundred views per video. On top of that, she felt trapped being a not-so-out public figure attached to a major kids’s brand.
“I wanted to be myself. I wanted to talk about boys. I wanted to talk about being gay,” Priyanka says. “I was finding myself while I was at YTV, and I didn’t have an audience to share it with. It was all these kids just watching me be a closeted SpongeBob Squarepants host.”
Eventually Priyanka found her “thing” in drag when a queen she hired to entertain at her birthday party saw her potential.
“It’s one of those life-changing moments where somebody says, you should try this, and then everything inside of you tells you, ‘Yeah, you’re right,” Priyanka says. “I was a face of a national brand. I had so much to risk, but still, with this opportunity presenting itself, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ ”
Priyanka did start her drag career—and it was an issue with her TV company.
Someone sent a video of Priyanka performing in drag and her boss wasn’t thrilled. She called her mom for advice and was surprised to hear her say, “‘Well, you gotta do what makes you happy,'” Priyanka recalls. “And I was like, mom aren’t you going to tell me to quit drag and do YTV? That’s a smart decision to make. And she was said, ‘No, you can do both.'”
Priyanka told her boss there was no reason that a TV host couldn’t also be a drag queen, and, to her surprise, he changed his initial tone and agreed with her. “It was really empowering standing up to my boss because, as a person of color, you just play the game. You feel thankful for all the opportunities you get,” says Priyanka who is of Indo-Guyanese descent. “But I think what a lot of people forget is that you don’t have to take the crumbs. You can take the whole motherf—ing cake.”
Priyanka eventually quit her TV hosting jobs to focus on drag full-time and compete on Canada’s Drag Race.
But her ambition of wanting more for herself remains unchanged—and Taste Test is evidence of that.
“This EP, these music videos, are me saying just how you got excited when I turned the corner in that beautiful [Canada’s Drag Race] finale eleganza is the same way you’re going to be excited when you’re counting down to watch my music video the next day,” Priyanka says. “Because I’m an entertainer. I’m not just a Drag Race girl.”