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‘Queen of the North’ Mark Suknanan sits on a throne of firsts for the drag community

Mark “Suki” Suknanan has never forgotten his time at Niagara College. In fact, the Broadcasting — Radio, Television, and Film alum, who graduated in 2012, said it’s the time he spent at NC that set him up for success.

“The thing I loved about Niagara College that I’ll say until the day I die is, I love how hands-on the experience was,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was getting up for school. I felt like I was going to work.”

Suknanan, whose first foray into television led to becoming a host and writer for the YTV series The Zone Weekend, was also the first-ever winner of the reality competition series Canada’s Drag Race, competing under his drag name Priyanka.

It was something he wouldn’t even have imagined just six years earlier when he came out as gay to his mother at the age of 23. On his 26th birthday, after hiring a drag queen to help him and his friends celebrate, Suknanan decided he didn’t just want to enjoy such performances. He wanted to do them.

Soon after, Priyanka was born.

“I was already going out and watching drag queens and seeing how free and confident they were,” Suknanan said. “It was being in the audience and feeling like all your problems went away and I wanted to be that person for someone else.”

In the years that followed, Suknanan worked hard to get his alter ego known and it paid off when she was voted Toronto’s best queen in Now’s 2019 reader poll.

“You have to work so hard that you give your dreams no chance but to come true. You have to fight for it.”

Then came the chance to participate in Canada’s Drag Race.

“I knew in my heart my life was going to change,” Suknanan said of the audition.

In addition to the $100,000 prize that came with the crown, the win provided opportunities that would have taken much longer without the exposure provided by performing on national TV.

In 2021, Priyanka was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Web Program or Series for her appearance in Pride Toronto’s online Drag Ball in June 2020, where she performed to Marina and the Diamonds’ single “Power and Control.” Later that year she co-hosted the 2021 Canadian Country Music Awards, where she performed her recently released country music single “Country Queen” during the opening number of the award ceremony.

She was the first drag queen performer to host and perform at a major televised music award show.

That same year, Priyanka was the first drag queen to grace the cover of Elle Magazine—which was the highest selling issue ever.

Of his success over the years, both in and out of drag, Suknanan credits his instructors at Niagara College for their unwavering support and encouragement to chase his dreams. And his advice to others is to put in the work to get to where they want to be.

“You have to work so hard that you give your dreams no chance but to come true,” he said. “You have to work hard. It’s not just going to land in your lap. You have to fight for it.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.