There’s something about the glittering Philippine drag scene that makes it distinct from other drag cultures, and drag royalty Manila Luzon has witnessed and experienced it firsthand in Drag Den Philippines, a show that’s made for Filipinos by Filipinos.
Ahead of the Drag Den Philippines finale, the Drag Race alum revealed the things she learned about the local drag scene during her stint as the host and head judge of Drag Den Philippines.
“I have learned that—well, I kind of knew this—drag in the Philippines is the best drag in the world,” Manila shared with some members of the press during the Drag Den Philippines press conference on January 24. “I have no idea how good the drag scene is here in the country. I know that the Philippines is jam-packed with entertainers, dancers, singers, and comedians, and I’m so happy that we’re now opening up a new category for Filipino entertainment, and that is drag.”
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The Filipino drag queen then added that while she has traveled the world and performed with some of the world-renowned drag queens, nothing is up to par with our homegrown drag queens’ dedication, talent, and beauty.
“The drag out here is anything beyond,” Manila said. “I’m so proud to showcase them and let the audience I’ve garnered over the years around the world see how amazing the drag culture out here is and also to showcase it to the Filipinos who might not know anything about drag.”
“Now, I’m so excited that everyone is intrigued and entertained by our queens,” she added.
Manila has become a household name in the world of drag after she rose to international stardom when she competed on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, finishing in second place. She became the second Filipino-American to grace the competition, following Ongina who appeared in the inaugural season.
She went on to compete for the crown in the first and fourth seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars, where she finished seventh and sixth place, respectively.
With all of her experiences in the drag reality competition series, one would think hosting and judging a Filipino drag show would be much easier for Manila. However, the Drag Lord herself—who is a Filipino-American—admitted that keeping up with the Filipino-isms in the show was among the things that had challenged her during the filming of Drag Den Philippines
“It was definitely a challenge, but it was a challenge that I welcomed full-heartedly,” Manila admitted, adding that it took watching the show to really understand half of the things the queens are saying.
She then continued how she was willing to unlearn her existing notion of drag and learn about the Philippine drag culture.
“I was just excited [to host the show] because I was ready to learn. I was ready to be an outsider. I was the eyes of the rest of the world,” Manila explained. “Coming in and sitting here in a light-centered throne and watching real Filipino drag—not just a copy of what some other countries are doing with their drag, I had to unlearn what I learned in order to judge these queens. I took [this role] very seriously.”
Despite the challenge, Manila said that she had enjoyed every single moment of the opportunity that was given to her by Drag Den Philippines, and among those was to experience and see the power of the Filipino LGBTQIA+ and drag communities. For Manila, the show captured the power these communities hold by being unapologetically political.
“What’s really cool about what Direk Rod Singh (creator, producer, and director of Drag Den Philippines) is that she provided us another level of drag, and that’s putting out messages that speak to people who don’t necessarily do drag. [Drag Den Philippines has made] everyone think, learn, and open up their minds,” she said.
With Drag Den Philippines coming to a close, Manila expressed not only her happiness to be part of the show, but also how proud she is for the show’s success and for giving Filipino drag artists a platform and opportunity to tell their stories on the international stage.
“I’m so excited and proud for everyone who’s involved in the show, including the people that are watching, because this is changing the entertainment scene here in the Philippines,” said Manila. “[To the queens] I’m so excited for every single one of you, and I’m so proud to watch all of you shine so bright and inspire many people including myself.”
“These queens are going to have a very, very successful career in drag moving forward, and I’m so excited [for it],” she continued.
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Drag Den Philippines is the first ever Filipino drag pageantry reality competition series which sees the journeys of eight Filipino drag artists—Pura Luka Vega, O-A, Lady Gagita, Barbie-Q, Aries Night, Shewarma, NAIA, and Maria Christina—as they compete to be the first Filipino Drag Supreme.
The show is heavily inspired by the street gay pageants in the Philippines. Drag Den Philippines is hosted by Manila, with content creator Sassa Gurl and beauty queen Nicole Cordoves as the show’s co-hosts.
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