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For Priyanka, joining the cast of We're Here was extremely personal

For Priyanka, joining the cast of We're Here was extremely personal

Priyanka on We're Here season 4
HBO

"A lot of kids who watched me on The Zone on YTV have grown up to become fans of my drag," Priyanka tells Out in an interview for We're Here. "We're not a threat, honey."

simbernardo

While competing in the first-ever season of Canada's Drag Race, Priyanka shared her story about being of Indo-Guyanese descent and not coming out to her parents before entering the werk room. Priyanka would go on to win that season, becoming the OG champion of the Canadian series and a global superstar.

Since Drag Race, Priyanka has released incredible original music, starred in a rom-com as the lead character, attended various red carpet events, and even appeared as a Lip Sync Assassin on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 8. In 2024, she's made her debut on We're Here as one of the new cohosts for season 4 alongside Sasha Velour, Latrice Royale, and Jaida Essence Hall.

During an interview, Priyanka tells Out how she approached cohosting We're Here despite being born in Canada, the tactics she's learned to apply while dealing with conservative folks, and how it feels particularly difficult for her to go from hosting a TV show made for kids to now being a drag queen accused of "brainwashing" children.

Out: We're all so happy and excited about you being on the show. When did you first get the call to join We're Here, and how did that go?

Priyanka: I was dead. Dead, done, finished. You know how some people are like, "Oh my god, it was meant to be. I always thought I would get this call one day." I did not know that they were looking for other people to do We're Here. I had no clue. So my agent, Daniel, said, "Hey, so I got off an interesting call [about] We're Here. They're looking to freshen up the cast, and they want to talk to you." I was like, "Oh, sh*t."

This is the perfect way to help people and do the thing I love to do. I love investing time into other people through mentoring, and just being there, and being a voice. Having seen all those videos about banning drag, it was [interesting] to see it firsthand. I was like, "Is everyone okay?" Spoiler alert: no, they're not okay. But we do make a lot of change in the season, and it was cool to be a part of it. In the drag world, being a We're Here host is very coveted, so I feel very excited that I was able to be a part of it.

Most fans know Priyanka the pop star, superhero, and supermodel. But we have these little moments on We're Here that show a different side of you. You're on the show feeling afraid and vulnerable and trying to figure out what to say or do next. Was that experience sort of mind-boggling, or did it come naturally to you?

It came naturally. At first, it was like, "What's the direction? Are we trying to find something out? What are we really trying to do?" But [producers] were always just like, "Experience it and be curious. You're not hosting a TV show. You're not on Drag Race. You're just experiencing it as you would as a human being."

It was really cool to just be myself and not have any pressure of having to win a competition, host a TV show for kids, or deliver a line while acting. It was totally a slice of life of what's actually going on in America. (…) The show has been shining a light on what it's like to be a queer person in the world. So when everyone's like, "You're from Canada. Wee!" I'm like, "Honey, It's the same sh*t." And that's why it's so scary.

I'm lucky enough to do this show. I'm happy to be one of the hosts because, like, how iconic for me, personally! But when I think about the show, it's not really about the queens who host it. It's about the people and the communities that we speak to. All drag performers have different perspectives. It doesn't matter where you're from. We're all struggling, as queer people, because of what's going on in the world.

Priyanka on We're Here season 4

HBO

This anti-drag rhetoric has been growing around the world, but We're Here does focus on issues that we're currently experiencing in the United States. Having grown up in Canada, what was it like for you to visit these cities and tackle these issues from the standpoint of not being born in the U.S.?

The most shocking thing about being Canadian is that everything is just the same. The hate's the same. They all speak the same language. They all protest the same drag brunches. I was like, "Oh, sh*t. I thought Canada was safe and nice and cute and fun." But I was like, "No, it's the same shit." I'm certain it happens in Brazil, it happens in the U.K., it happens everywhere.

And it's almost like, "You're all saying the same thing…" It makes you wonder what's the actual tea here, because if everyone is spewing this [hatred] all over the world [despite] us fighting back, does it end? Is it ever going to end? But we're going to keep fighting until it ends. That's what we do. We're resilient.

Talking with you about We're Here makes me think about how you started your showbiz career as the host of a kids' TV show. You then start doing drag, and you win Canada's Drag Race, and we're now in this era of conservatives claiming that drag queens are huge threats to children. Excuse my French, but does that feel like a huge mindf*ck for you to experience?

It is a mindf*ck. It's a mindf*ck where a lot of kids who watched me on The Zone on YTV have grown up to become fans of my drag. And they tell me, "You were my childhood. I love you so much. I'm so happy that you're doing drag." We're not a threat, honey. We're inspiring the youth. I think there are definitely shows that are more appropriate for children than others, but it depends on what parents allow their kids to see.

I always say that the loudest people are usually the ones who are hurt the most. But with the people who are spewing all this hate, there's [also a sense that they're] trying to deflect what's actually going on here. You saw it in Tennessee, at City Hall, with that father and daughter. The father was speaking over his kid and telling her what to say, and that is grooming. We also meet a mother and daughter [who] talk about how they put their kids in pageants… but they'll never let their kids be in drag.

Jaida Essence Hall, Priyanka, and Sasha Velour on We're Here season 4

HBO

I'm just like, "Wait a second. You're forcing your kid to be in pageants, but you don't want your kid to just go watch a drag show?" And, by the way, no one's also [forcing] you to go see a drag show. You have the choice to go, or not.

There's no mandate.

Yeah. If your child wants to go because they're curious about drag, by all means. When I asked my mom where babies came from, she took me to the library and got me a science book. I found out the hard way that it wasn't a f*cking stork that just dropped off a baby on your front porch. I was looking at this book like, "What's a vagina?" My mom was like, "If you ask, I'll give you the real answer." So [this anti-LGBTQ+ movement] is triggering. It's wild.

I've rewatched that confrontation in Tennessee a few times; that scene has really stayed with me. The three of you talk to a father and his daughter, and you point out that he starts the conversation calling you 'sir.' When you ask him about that, he just doubles down. He doesn't even try to be nice or understand what you're saying. What was going through your head?

I just couldn't believe that was real. There were two main things going through my head.

[First, this] didn't get shown, but I was like, "So if I was to take the wig off, take the makeup off, take the dress off, and look more male-presenting, would you be more comfortable with that?" But there's something in his religion where he can't ask me to change my physical appearance, so he wasn't able to say yes and kept avoiding the question. I was like, "I'm going to ask again: if I was male-presenting, would you be more comfortable?" Because I am a guy. I'm not a trans person. So, is that what you want?" But he couldn't fathom that I was giving him an option. He was like, "I don't know. I'll get to that."

The other shocking thing going through my head was how this is a father-daughter combo. The daughter is a famous Republican TikTok girl, and the father is a stage dad, I guess. You look over, and the mom and their other kid are just staring at us. They look over it, like it's just another day and another City Hall meeting. You can tell the kid just wants to go home and watch some TV, you know what I mean?

Priyanka on We're Here season 4HBO

I think about that often. Like, who's actually doing the brainwashing that these people are speaking of? It's also really interesting that you gave him an option and he didn't know how to react. It shows how they're following such a strict playbook that, when you offer them some new alternative, it's like they malfunction.

Yeah, they do.

They don't know what to do. You gave them too many options. It's interesting.

That's why I [approach] these hard conversations with opposing voices and Republicans in a calm voice, just giving them the facts. I ask, "Okay, so you want me to take this off and look like a guy… and that would make you feel more comfortable?" When they say say, I'm just like, "Okay, that's good to know, thanks." And they're like, "We're not fighting? We're not arguing?"

We're not going to change their minds. An argument never changes anyone's mind. (…) I've learned in many of these conversations while doing this show that it's not going to happen. So what impact do you want to leave on that person when you walk away from them? [For me], it's to get them thinking about the choices that they made, like a therapist would. For them to be like, "Why do we hate these people? I actually don't remember."

Watch Priyanka's interview with Out below — and tune in for new episodes of HBO's We're Here season 4 every Friday on Max.

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Bernardo Sim

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.