“We're Here”'s New Stars Recall Spreading 'Joy and Sparkle' amid Drag Ban and Finding 'Purpose' in Season 4 (Exclusive)

The new season of Emmy-winning HBO show features drag queens Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall, and Latrice Royale and filmed in states where drag performances were banned

<p>Greg Endries</p> Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Latrice Royale of

Greg Endries

Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Latrice Royale of 'We're Here' on HBO

We're Here is back for season 4!

After three Emmy and Peabody Award winning seasons, the HBO series returns with a new cast — RuPaul's Drag Race alums Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall, and Latrice Royale — and the same mission: spreading love and connection (and makeovers) via the art of drag across small-town America.

But the cast isn't all that's new (replacing Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and Shangela) in the season premiere that drops Friday.

In 2023, Tennessee became the first state to ban drag performances in public spaces. Texas, Montana, and Florida followed. While the law was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge a few months later, it did have an effect.

<p>Courtesy of HBO</p> 'We're Here' on HBO

Courtesy of HBO

'We're Here' on HBO

Related: Anti-Drag Legislation Is Sweeping the Nation: Here's Where Each State Stands on Drag Bans

Anti-drag sentiment spread across the country. Drag queens became a third-rail conversation. The zealots grew even louder in small towns like the two featured in this season of We're Here: Murfreesboro, Tennessee — where Pride was canceled last year — and Bartlesville, Oklahoma. But as the show was filmed, the law in Tennessee was in effect.

Prior to the premiere, two cast members, Priyanka (known for winning the Canadian version of Drag Race in 2020) and Latrice Royale (the first season of U.S. Drag Race and season 4 All Stars) spoke to PEOPLE about the new season.

<p>Greg Endries</p> Priyanka on 'We're Here'

Greg Endries

Priyanka on 'We're Here'

Related: 'We're Here' Drag Star Eureka O'Hara Comes Out as Trans: 'I Know Who I Am Without Question'

According to Priyanka, a former cast member was incredibly welcoming.

"We got like congratulations and stuff from all the previous cast," she says. "But Eureka was, I mean, she's still Texas. Every single day she was like, 'Hey, girl, like wishing you the best.' Or, 'It must be press week, good luck!' She just knows everything."

There is a lot of fun in the show, which is one part heartwarming human interest spotlight, one part makeover, and one part drag show. But the political climate, which put drag into conversation as a possible illegality, brought the show into the zeitgeist like never before.

Priyanka, who grew up in Whitby, Canada and got her professional start in Toronto, admits to being scared. "I was like, 'Wait a damn minute. This is actually pretty f---ing crazy that I'm going to a state where they're banning drag,'" she recalls.

The fear sunk in, she says. "But then, I get this from my mom and my dad, I remembered that my purpose is to help. It ain't about me."

<p>Greg Endries</p> Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Jaida Essence Hall of 'We're Here'

Greg Endries

Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Jaida Essence Hall of 'We're Here'

Priyanka says being in places like Tennessee, where half the season was filmed, and Oklahoma, allowed her to look at communities that are largely assumed to be entirely anti-LGBTQ+ a little closer.

"At first I was like, 'I don't live there. I get to like, come here, shake my a--, have some hard conversations with some Republicans, and then I dip out.' I did walk in with the mentality of, 'Well, why don't they just move?'" she explains. "But then I met people who are so proud of where they're from. They said, 'I want to live where I grew up. I don't want to have to run away. Running away is not the answer.'"

She says she also learned how to have a conversation with someone whose belief system is fundamentally different.

"I had to take time to educate myself and learn to stay calm when having these conversations with opposing voices," she shares. "I often want to argue and be like, 'What are you talking about?' But then I realized that some good thought-provoking questions will do a lot more work than a raised voice."

But still, months later, she still finds it hard to believe that she and her co-stars had to be worried about being arrested for simply dressing up in drag. "It sounds like a fake TV plot. But it was real," she notes.

<p>Greg Endries</p> Latrice Royale of 'We're Here'

Greg Endries

Latrice Royale of 'We're Here'

Related: Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O'Hara and Shangela Laquifa Wadley on the Power of Pride

For Latrice Royale, she says she's wanted to be a part of We're Here since it premiered in 2020. "I waited patiently for my turn and the opportunity came," she says.

She also feels that the idea of the show — drag showing how we are all much more alike than we are different — is perfect for right now, in these divisive times.

"Drag expresses so many things," says Latrice, who grew up just outside Los Angeles, in Compton. "But the first thing drag does is to disarm a person from thinking that we take ourselves too serious. Like, I know that I'm a man in a dress. This is not breaking news, I'm not trying to fool nobody. I'm six foot four, over 400 pounds of Black man. I know what I look like, in and out the dress."

<p>Greg Endries</p> 'We're Here' stars Latrice Royale, Sasha Velour, and Priyanka

Greg Endries

'We're Here' stars Latrice Royale, Sasha Velour, and Priyanka

"So, I'm not trying to fool you. But this is how I choose to do my craft," she continues. "This is how I choose to reach my people, my community. My ministry is through this art form. And you can't catch gay. It's not contagious. But you can fall in love with drag, even if you're not gay."

"Drag is how I survive," she adds. "This is how I pay my bills. This is how I live. I pay my taxes. You know, I'm a productive member of society. This is all through the art of drag. And I'm not leaning on the system, I'm not trying to cheat the system. I am a person of faith. I believe in God. I spread joy and love and happiness and sparkle."

"What's wrong with that?" she quips.

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New episodes of We're Here air Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and can be streamed afterward on Max.

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