The queens share lessons, career reflections, behind-the-scenes stories, and how Drag Den shaped them to become their best selves.
We’ve come to the end of what’s become a cultural phenomenon that introduced the barefaced and brazen Filipino drag to the world. These queens became darlings of the community and beyond and fed us fierce fashion, laughter, tears, drama, and vitally important social commentaries throughout the season.
If you were to look back at your Drag Den journey, what would be the most rewarding thing you would find? What made this all worthwhile?
LADY GAGITA: Nabigyan ako ng chance na mag-explore. Nagkaroon ako ng freedom sa creativity kasi sa ilang taon na pagda-drag ko nag-focus lang ako sa impersonation, so, ‘yung Drag Den ‘yung nagbukas sa’kin ng opportunity na ma-challenge ‘yung sarili ko na ma-explore kung ano talaga ‘yung drag na gusto kong ma-achieve.
BARBIE-Q: Sa akin ‘yung episode six, ‘yung about sa transwomen killings and powerful women. Transwomen are women. Kaming mga transwomen ay powerful women.
MARIA CRISTINA: I got the chance to rediscover myself along the way. Matagal ‘yung journey, pero masaya. Also painful because I’m a very sensitive person. I always overthink and over rationalize things.
O-A: ‘Yung support ng fans. Grabe ‘yung love na binibigay nila.
PURA LUKA VEGA: The learnings. I really did learn a lot. I’ve learned how to improve my craft as a drag artist. Observing other queens and also the mentors and the Drag Enforcers enriched my drag. I think I became better after Drag Den because I was able to really play around with, like, for example, I was able to color my beard well, and I was able to really explore different makeup styles. My makeup was shitty. My makeup was terrible, but I loved it anyway!
What have you learned during filming and after watching the show?
BARBIE-Q: Natuwa ako sa sarili ko kasi funny pala ako. Akala ko ‘yung pagkabaliw ko is nakakainis pero hindi, ang daming nag-love sa’kin. Pati ‘yung family ko sobrang proud sila sa’kin. Ang natutunan kong bago ay dapat pala hindi ako mahiya. Kasi mahiyain ako sa camera, eh gusto ko mag-artista, so dapat hindi ako mahiya.
MARIA CRISTINA: How to be resourceful, how to survive, how to depend on myself, feeling ko ‘yun ‘yung natutunan ko sa show. After filming, there are also people na who will accept you when you show your vulnerability to them. Sa mundo talaga ng mga bakla you will be judged pero at the end of the day, your sisters will make you feel na you are validated. My Drag Den sisters will always have a place in my heart. May mga private moments sila with me na ite-treasure ko super.
O-A: Laban lang. Mas okay na ma-disappoint ka sa resulta kaysa hindi mo malaman kung ano ‘yung magiging resulta.
ARIES NIGHT: I deserve to love myself even more.
LADY GAGITA: Be humble (and) kailangan makinig ka sa instinct mo. And also ‘yung “know when to peak” hindi siya applicable sa Drag Den kasi kailangan ibuhos mo lahat.
Drag Den gave us many unforgettable moments that became part of our cultural zeitgeist; what are some of yours?
PURA LUKA VEGA: My favorite moment would have to be whenever we’re about to go on the runway. Hindi pwedeng lalabas kami na hindi kami ganon kaganda. So, sometimes we would, like, change the shoes or give lashes, or sometimes I would borrow wigs from my sisters because their wigs are better than mine. We bonded in many ways. Siguro ‘yun din ang na-appreciate ko sa format, because if it’s too competitive, there’s a chance na every woman for herself.
BARBIE-Q: Pinaka-favorite kong moment ‘yung episode three, ‘yung Aswangang Bayan, kasi doon ako nanalo. Tapos sabi nila, ‘yun ang pinakamagandang dragdagulan kasi nilaro ko sila ng bonggang bongga.
LADY GAGITA: The musical episode kasi siyempre doon ‘yung winning look ko and then ‘yung episode na ‘yun kasi, doon nasubok ‘yung teamwork namin, ‘yung pagkakaibigan namin, and of course, doon din kami na-challenge sa pagsayaw and pagkanta. Nakakatuwa kasi lahat ng creative juices namin nilabas namin doon.
ARIES NIGHT: My last two redemption episodes and the sisterhood behind the scenes when we would get together at someone’s hotel room every night.
MARIA CRISTINA: Kapag gumagawa ako ng drama. Kapag nage-airtime ako. I think that’s what I do best. ‘Yun ako, eksenadora.
What was the most challenging part of the show?
LADY GAGITA: Budget. The time na shinu-shoot namin ang Drag Den nasa kalagitnaan tayo ng pandemic and ECQ. Nag-PM kami ng mga designers, sila din walang maibigay kasi siyempre wala rin silang income. Talagang kumuha na lang ako sa sarili kong savings. ‘Yung ibang outfits ko sa Drag Den recycled. Buti na lang din andyan ‘yung jowa ko na may passion din sa art, so nagtulungan kami noon.
ARIES NIGHT: The time pressure. We would only get one hour to prepare, and at that time, hindi pa ako sanay sa mabilisan. The emotional rollercoaster that we went through, it was overwhelming, and a lot of deep feelings surfaced that I didn’t even know I had.
BARBIE-Q: Ang pinaka-challenging for me is ‘yung episode two kasi takot ako magsalita sa mic eh, so ang dami kong hiya na naranasan noon. Madaldal ako sa personal pero ‘pag may hawak na akong mic, natatahimik na ako.
MARIA CRISTINA: After episode four, I don’t know who to trust na, I don’t know how to respond to them kasi hindi ako plastic. Kapag hindi ko bet mag-reach out or nahihiya ako, I tend to show what I feel. So, parang doon ako nahihirapan, how to cope and how to adapt.
O-A: Less than a month before Drag Den, si Mama nagpabalik-balik na sa hospital. Nahati ‘yung time and budget ko, so lumapit ako dun sa sikat na mananahi ng mga drag queens. Ilang looks na siya ‘yung dapat gagawa, hindi niya nagawa. As in wala siyang nagawa. Ang ending, nganga ako sa show. Wala akong dala halos. Isipin mo na ‘yun pa ‘yung time na kakashegi lang ni Mama. Nilaban ko lang talaga siya para mabayaran ko ‘yung bills, pero kung hindi ko kailangan magbayad, hindi ko itutuloy [ang pagsali sa Drag Den.] Hindi ko pa kinukuha ‘yung pera dun sa mananahi kasi naaalala ko ‘yung nangyari. Minura-mura ko siya sa show pero hindi pinakita.
Dragdagulan was wild. Somebody should donate that wrecking ball to a museum someday. I want you to describe your version of a dragdagulan.
O-A: Parang okay ako dun sa may wrecking ball tapos may lip sync talaga.
MARIA CRISTINA: Gusto ko ng Dragdagulan with a Lip Sync For Your Life. Pero ‘yung song hindi lang isang song, pwedeng pagpatungin ‘yung dalawa o tatlong songs. ‘Yung andami nang nangyayari, kailangan mo magpatawa, isipin na kailangan mo manalo, I mean, ang daming layers. ‘Yung wrecking ball gagawin nating tatlo. Ang saya nun!
PURA LUKA VEGA: I think maganda kapag merong body of water na may buwaya. Alam mo ‘yun? May real threat! Or may apoy, why not?
BARBIE-Q: Gusto ko ‘yung nasa balance beam tapos may malaki kaming parang cotton buds!
The viewers applauded the show for taking jabs at people in power without fear. With the heightened publicity around drag, why is it important to use your art to voice political statements?
ARIES NIGHT: Drag at its roots is political, especially right now that drag is going mainstream. It’s sort of this obligation that we should abide by that no matter how you do drag, we all have this platform or voice that can reach miles.
LADY GAGITA: Super helpful siya kasi ako noong nagsisimula pa lang ako, akala ko wala akong boses eh. Akala ko hanggang ganda-gandahan lang kami until such time na sumali ako sa pride march, rally about SOGIE Equality Bill, then napunta rin ako sa mga advocacies ng HIV. Sobrang important siya for me kasi navo-voice namin siya through our performances. Kahit na sobrang liit lang ng ambag niya pero pag nag-perform kami na-a-uplift ‘yung mga taong nanonood sa amin.
MARIA CRISTINA: That every queer kid out there is being heard and represented. Their stories matter. The beautiful thing about this is to use learning and put it into good energy, share it with other people, share your story, and help other people who are also struggling. It’s you being part of a greater community and using your purpose for the greater good.
PURA LUKA VEGA: I think people never really understand drag if they don’t see it as political. I feel like it has always been political. Kaya nga tayo nagda-drag because we’re sending a message that we want the same things that these cisgender hetero people are enjoying. And drag is a way to actually push for this.
Being on TV comes with a price. Social media is a double-edged sword. How do you handle it?
PURA LUKA VEGA: I handle it by not making a big deal out of it. It’s never really about fame. I get it, yes, you get known, but that’s not the objective. The objective is to be heard. The most important thing is to know your purpose in the community. What is the purpose of your drag? If you can answer that, then that’s already enough.
O-A: Sabi nila ‘pag may bashers ka, you’ve made it. I made it!
LADY GAGITA: Sa tagal ko sa industry, [I realized that] may mga tao talagang hindi ka maiintindihan kahit anong gawin mong kabutihan or pagpapa-impress. Kung ayaw nila sa’yo, ayaw nila sa’yo. Minsan pumapatol ako pero may mga times na ibo-block ko na lang. Mas nagfo-focus ako sa mga taong nakaka-appreciate ng ginagawa ko.
BARBIE-Q: Hindi ako nagbabasa ng comments nila (bashers), tapos nire-replyan ko na lang sila ng “heart” para lalo sila mainis. Kill them with kindness sabi nga ni Selena Gomez.
MARIA CRISTINA: What I like the most is ‘yung mga taong nanonood ng viewing parties. I value [physical] interaction more. Ang importante may mapag-relay-an ng message. You don’t need a lot of followers. You just need people who are ready to listen to what you have to say.
Where do you see yourself after Drag Den?
BARBIE-Q: Feeling ko magiging artista ako. Ima-manifest ko ‘yan. ‘Yung bestfriend ng mga bida, gusto ko ‘yung mga ganon.
O-A: May plano akong bumalik sa YouTube. Goal ko rin makapaglakad sa fashion shows.
LADY GAGITA: Touring the world!
ARIES NIGHT: I see myself still doing what I’ve been doing since the start. Hopefully, I will get to be one to provide platforms for other artists.
PURA LUKA VEGA: I’ll still continue telling queer stories through my drag. I’m just thankful lang for the doors that were opened because of the show. I don’t think I’ll be ending anytime soon, but I think I found, like, a deeper meaning and purpose to why I do it in the first place. You get to understand your role in the community. You get to understand how you inspire other people. It encourages me, and it excites me to create more as an artist. I really just want to create more, you know?
What’s your message or advice to queer kids who look up to you and want to pursue drag?
O-A: Huwag na kayo mag-drag at magastos ‘yan! Pero kung bet niyo, maghanap kayo ng mag-ga-guide sa inyo.
LADY GAGITA: Use your resources. You don’t have to do drag na expensive agad. Nagsimula ako sa wala. Nagsimula ako sa basura. Nagsimula ako sa makeup ng nanay ko. Kung anong meron kayo sa bahay niyo, [use them.] ‘Yung talent niyo mismo ang makakapagpalabas ng spark mo. And isa pa na sobrang essential for me is to always be visible on social media. Matuto rin maging humble, matutong rumespeto sa mga nanuna, at huwag natin gawing personality ang pagiging bitchesa.
PURA LUKA VEGA: The best way to find yourself in terms of expression is to really explore and keep on doing what you’re doing regardless of how other people might make you feel.
MARIA CRISTINA: It’s a very cruel world. It’s not what Disney made us believe. It’s not about happy endings. It’s not about finding the right love. In this industry, you will meet a lot of people na kokontra sa’yo rather than support you. You will experience a lot of heartbreaks, a lot of downfalls, a lot of reassessing yourself, pero use that learning and always believe na hangga’t may buhay, you will flourish. Ang importante is to believe only in yourself and to believe in those people who believe in you.
Anything else that you’d like to say?
BARBIE-Q: Gusto ko lang mag-thank you sa lahat! Sa love and support ng mga barbielattes, ng friends and family.
LADY GAGITA: Hindi man ako pinalad maging top three dito sa Drag Den pero I think God has a better plan for me and that is Mudrakels. Mudrakels is a drag show about drag mothers and daughters. We have eight pairs and itong mga drag daughters na ‘to, sila ‘yung tipong medyo may insecurities at hinahanap ‘yung confidence nila through the art of drag. Lahat sila may istorya. Lahat sila may bubog sa puso. Ang format niya, super dogshow, super kanal, sobrang palengke, pero may puso kaya sana abangan niyo. It’s produced by ABS-CBN Digital.
O-A: (expletive) mo (name of designer)!
Photography by SUPER SONIC SIOMAI
Creative Direction by ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA and JUJIIN SAMONTE
Art Direction by BRIE VENTURA
Additional styling by GEE JOCSON assisted by ANGELO VASALLO
Shoot Coordination by KZ FRANCISCO and ERICA LUNA
Shot on location at PAK! STUDIOS
Special thanks to ROD SINGH, CORNERSTONE