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After becoming the first runner-up on the third season of the critically-acclaimed TV show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, Manila Luzon is now one of the hardest working queens out there but also a role model in a crucial era for the LGTB community. She has taken time out for Toonari Post during her hectic schedule to dish on her newest projects, what it takes to be a queen these days and her mentor, the reigning Drag Queen-turned-mogul RuPaul.
Toonari Post (TP): A lot has been said about the nature of Drag. Some do it for art, some for the money – How and why did you create Manila Luzon?
Manila Luzon (ML): I started because dressing up in fancy women’s clothes seemed like fun! I kept doing it because I looked good! I’ve always considered myself a visual artist, so I’ve always considered my drag an extension of my art. Drag is definitely an art, and like most masterpieces, this work of art goes for a ton of money!!!
TP: At what point did you introduce Manila Luzon to your parents, family & friends?
ML: I’ve been sneaking in my mother’s closets since I was a child, so she always kind of knew. But it wasn’t until I moved to NYC several years ago that I told my mother to ship me a box I had left in my closet at home with “MANILA” scribbled on the side that she really knew what was going on… My mother is very supportive, and loves looking at photographs of me as Manila.
My father was very reluctant, although after witnessing all the attention I’ve been receiving from all over the world, he seems to have opened up to the idea of me in drag, especially since he’s realized how successful I’ve become because of it!
TP: Most people know you from the TV Show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ where you became first runner-up. The experience has obviously thrust you into Drag royalty but what did the show mean to you personally?
ML: When my boyfriend, Sahara Davenport, became a contestant on season 2, I was thrilled for him! But when she didn’t make it as far as I knew she could have, I thought that I would try and get on the show and finish where she left off! And besides, it looked like a lot of fun to do! I really loved challenging myself creatively, it’s something I don’t have the opportunity to do often.
I became part of a select sisterhood of fabulous queens, all who I love like family. And I made some of the closest friends while sharing in a very unique experience (hey Heather)! It’s one of the biggest highlights of my life, it continues to effect my life every day.
TP: Manila Luzon is now a well-known Drag Queen and has tons of fans (fanilas) on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But how hard was your struggle in NYC before RuPaul?
ML: I’ve always loved doing drag, but I never really pursued it beyond a hobby. I had a day job as a graphic designer at a design firm, and it just didn’t seem logical to try to support myself solely on drag, so I didn’t really try. When I worked in drag it was extra money that went right back into my drag, to buy a new costume or wig. Before I would do drag just for me; I think that’s why I have such a strong sense of who I am as a queen and I believe that was reflected on the show.
TP: Browsing through your many performances, it’s easy to tell you’re not a typical Drag Queen. How is Manila Luzon different from the rest of the girls?
ML: Even back in high school, I have never been one who wanted to blend in or do what everyone else was doing. So when I started drag I never wanted to be like anything I’ve seen before. I didn’t want to be another girl doing a version of Beyonce or Britney. I love the theater and costumes so my approach to drag is like a musical; the costume helps tell the story.
TP: Do you think people are aware of the incredible amount of work and level of expertise and talent a Queen has to manage? (do your own make-up, costumes, choreography…)
ML: After watching all of us contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I think that most people have an idea of just how much work goes into what we as Drag Queens do. Being able to come up with a concept and then executing it takes a lot of talent. I do my own make up and hair. I design most of my costumes and have a talented dressmaker construct my garments. I make my own mixes to perform.
I design most of my graphics including my website. I don’t really dance much but when I do, I have Sahara right there coming up with some fabulous choreography to teach me. I’m a perfectionist, so I want every detail to be exactly how I envisioned it. If I could, I would do everything myself, but I can’t, so I have to entrust my small team of people to help me create my vision.
TP: ‘Hot Couture’, your first single, debuted November 8th. How far will you take your music career? Do you worry about people’s reaction?
ML: Like many of us Drag Race alumni, we follow in RuPaul’s footsteps and try to dabble in music. I am no different. Although I studied piano most of my young life, I would never consider myself a musician — I’m no Christina Aguilera, honey. However, I have a love and passion for music, so I wanted to try to make a song.
Like I said before, I’m a perfectionist, so I wasn’t about to shut myself in someone’s bathroom with a microphone and a laptop and record a booger track. So I found an amazing team of producers, Brian Kierulf and Josh Schwartz from KNS Productions to work with.
They’ve worked with Britney Spears for several years and even have a Grammy Award for writing and producing a track with Lady Gaga for her album “The Fame”. But I’m never one to take myself too seriously, so my music is not to be taken too seriously. I’m not Mary J, Adele or Gaga…I’m more like Eiffel 65, Aqua or Kim Zolziak. I’m a drag queen after all.
TP: Who do you look up to professionally? Have you met any of your idols since you became a celebrity yourself?
ML: I of course look up to RuPaul, because she is a drag queen and has been very successful. And it was a dream to not only meet her, but to have been personally chosen by her to compete to be, essentially, the next RuPaul. I haven’t met her yet, but my most favorite celebrity is definitely Madonna. I’ve been idolizing her and been inspired by that woman for all of my life. Madonna is my queen! Maybe one day I’ll be cast in Madonna’s Drag Race!
TP: Drag Queens are known to be sassy, catty and snarky. Is that just a funny act onstage or does it get cruel backstage? How competitive is the Drag Queen scene?
ML: Getting in drag is like putting on a mask; you can feel like you have super powers. And your attitude makes a huge shift and everything is so much more over the top. As a drag queen you can get away with saying things that a regular person would be reprimanded for. Why? because it’s coming from a man wearing a dress; you can’t take it too seriously.
Of course, the more you’re in drag, the more you start to think and act like a drag queen and sometimes drag queens can go too far. But if the envelope is never pushed, where would we be now?
TP: RuPaul has been the world’s most beloved Drag Queen for more than two decades. Do you think you’ll keep Manila Luzon onstage that long? Does she have a back-up plan?
ML: I know a few who’ve settled on being a drag queen, actors, dancers or performers who turned to drag because they weren’t making it in Hollywood or Broadway. But trust me when they finally get that movie role or sitcom, they are quick to pack those wigs in a box…and then quick to put those pumps back on when their show is cancelled.
But I am like many drag queens who love doing drag. I plan on doing drag as long as I am able. I’m going to be the fat queen rolling out in a wheel chair when I’m 80!!! I may not do it to support myself, but I will be getting up in dragoons!
TP: You and your partner, the talented singer/Drag Queen Sahara Davenport, have been together for a long time now. Would you consider doing a reality TV show and become the Drag-dashians?
ML: Of course we would love to have a show about us. Many of our fans have expressed a lot of interest in getting to know more about Sahara and our personal and daily lives. And since reality TV is so fake these days already, why not have a show about two fake ladies!!!
TP: Now as a prominent role model we’ve seen you in different campaigns such as ‘It Gets Better’ or the red ribbon campaign for the National Association Of People With AIDS. Tell us a little bit about the social issues that concern you as a citizen.
ML: I am still getting comfortable with being referred to as a role model, but because so many people look up to me I have a responsibility to give back to our community. Because of all the glitz and make-believe of drag, it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy. I believe it’s very important to remind people of the very serious issues that our gay community has to deal with like AIDS and suicide. It’s great to be able to be in a position to raise awareness.
TP: What can your lovely fanilas expect from Manila Luzon in 2012? Any exciting upcoming projects?
ML: My Fanilas will be very happy to know that I will be releasing a spectacular music video for my song “Hot Couture” and that I’ve already recorded a follow-up single called “Best XXXcessory”. I really enjoyed making music, so I plan on recording many more songs. I have some TV shows I’ve been involved with including a very small role on a new television show coming out this spring on NBC.
TP: Thank you so very much Manila! we’re looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of you in 2012!
ML: It’s all my pleasure! Thank you! MUAH!