With many world tours cinched to her waist, bringing her brand of drag to the rest of the world, Manila Luzon comes home to give us a show that is truly worthy of a double all-star.
If there’s one thing we absolutely detest is a cliché, but sometimes you just can’t help it when it especially rings true, right? See, one of the most thrilling things about getting to do the job that we do, aside from having to turn our passions and long-held dreams to a living, for which we are eternally grateful for), is that no two days are ever alike. Sure, you’ve heard that before, but it really is a fact of the matter. So much so that it takes quite the larger-than-life moment to really jolt us to a spine-tingling surprise, which is what the universe managed to pull on us when in the middle of what was assumed to be just another day in the office was hijacked by the presence of a seasoned drag queen swathed in a silky robe, legs crossed and perched against the light from the business district skyline.
From the far view of our conference room-turned-dressing room, there was a swirl of calm, atypical of a tempest that is expected from the preparations on steroids we see depicted on reality television. Instead of yards of tulle flying around, wigs and makeup in disarray, or luggages bursting open as if it were the insides of a digestive system, everything was in tidy order as it could possibly be, with whispers and muffled conversations draping over the scene. Right in the center, a robust, hearty fit of giggles interrupts the scene, “I love the makeup, it makes me feel like such a lady,” says Manila Luzon in a signature animated manner as she fiddled with tubes of mascaras, palettes of eyeshadows, and what she really got into, boxes of triple luxe lashes all by Australian beauty brand and a proponent of the be yourself mantra, BYS Cosmetics.
The progression of watching someone turn from ordinary, everyday person to this almost herculean presence in towering heels, even bigger wigs, layers of makeup, piles of corsets, sequins, and rhinestones, and of course, an overdose of sass to boot, is always so fascinating, perhaps even a personal favorite part of the entire process. While others have a distinct shift of personality and character, with Manila Luzon, what you see is what you get, maybe just dialled up a few channels up. “The first time I saw Drag Race, it was something really special to me, because I love drag so much. And not just because I’m a drag queen, but because it’s just something that I find interesting. And watching it grow season after season, year after year, to become like a little show on a small network in the United States to see that it’s now syndicated all over the world. Now they have different franchises in Thailand, UK, and now, they have All Stars and even Celebrity Drag Race now. It’s just cool to see how many people just love it all over the world. And when I travel, it’s great because I get to see the people in real life that are watching us on the show and who are enjoying the show with us. It’s cool to meet the fans around the world, you know? And there’s so many now around the world, like little boys, little girls, even grandmas. Yes, everyone in the whole family is coming to my show.”
Manila Luzon is of course talking about her highly-anticipated homecoming show, La Reyna, which was perhaps the biggest one she’s mounted in the country to date. She’s done shows here before, all of which were a success, but this would be the first time back since her run in the recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, where she may not have won the crown, but she came out as a fan favorite and yes, a double all-star.
“I didn’t expect this, like ripples of Drag Race to have continued for this long, but I definitely understand why it’s so popular, because it’s something that I saw and something that still interests me. And so why won’t it interest everyone else? It’s such a fun show that follows people who are brave enough to express themselves against the grain of society,” she explains. “And I think that it’s inspiring to a lot of people. It’s inspiring to watch, you know, the outcasts, the weirdos, the freaks, you know, the people that you wouldn’t necessarily think show how creative they are, show their amazing personal personalities, show off their humor, and I think people are really attracted to that and they are inspired to you know, infuse that into their lives.”
Once you’ve sat down to think about it, wading through the stacks of wigs, glitter, and tongue pops, you’ll realize that what drag has successfully done to what is honestly a society in exponential degradation and decomposition is to shoot back a sense of liberty and democracy of humanity to the voids being created on the daily. The humor, the politics, and the impassioned middle finger of drag to the world has not turned the world on its head, as misinformed conservatives and closed-off traditionalists are led to believe. Instead, drag has in effect steered humanity back on the course of progress that we have careened out of in recent years. With every reality offshoot, post-show musical release, and conquering of the world’s stages, drag is essentially reaching out to the spaces and corners that have long been maligned by society. “You know, the perfect drag for me is that I love and still enjoy the creative process. I like to conceptualize a look and performance, but the live performances still, you know, give me a little bit of stage fright when I have to go out into a crowd, especially a place that I’m not as familiar with, or I’ve never been there before. I get very nervous, but it’s exciting. I still have stage fright, and I think that you know, a lot of performers will admit to that. There is something about getting scared or getting like a little fear of getting kind of just stuck that is really motivating, you know?” she details. “Yeah, because it’s the thrill of doing something, and especially in front of so many people, it’s a thrill of stepping it up and challenging yourself. And when you are done and you hear that applause, I feel like a sense of accomplishment—and it’s exciting. It’s like a roller coaster, you know? Like, you’re standing in line waiting and nervous, biting your nails in the situation, and when you’re clicking up that first hill, you think like: ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to make it through?’ But you once you hit that first drop, and then your heart goes up into your throat, once that’s happens, you’re like: ‘This is the scariest thing ever, and then you’re like: ‘Okay, I got this.’ Eventually, you can really enjoy the ride and then before you know it’s over, and then you just want to go back and do it again.”
While no show is ever alike, even with tours that go on to the farthest reaching club and corner of the world, something that Manila Luzon has done a lot of this year alone, seeing more airports and hotels than the actual home in the United States. “Really? We did all that this year? Gosh,” exasperates Manila as husband Mic Alvarez recounts the miles upon miles they’ve clocked in prior to dropping their current location geo-tag in Manila, Luzon (the actual city this time). “Wow, every show that I do I just count as such a blessing, and I’ve always wanted to, you know, do my best. And, you know, if I’m not feeling completely 100%, I don’t I don’t feel like it’s the same. I mean, I’m a seasoned performer performing in drag all over the world for so many years now that luckily, hopefully, the audience doesn’t see it. But yeah, I want to give my best every time, especially coming back to the Philippines.”
And you best believe Manila Luzon put on a show in Xylo at The Palace, with throngs of Fanilas trooping to the club on a Sunday night, amidst a fear of getting rained on, all eager to get a glimpse of one of the country’s drag superstars.
“You know, I grew up in the States. And so, what I knew of the Philippines was everything that was told to me, what was shown to me, and when I come here, I feel like I’m getting it from the source, right? And so that’s great for me. It’s cool to come back to the Philippines because it recharges me. And I feel like I’m around people like myself, right? So, when I go back out into the world and I tour, or I go on TV, I know I’m representing an authentic Filipino-American,” she say, beaming. “The more I come here, and this holds true for other part Filipino out there, you become more authentic and in tune to your heritage. Also, I think that it’s fun because whenever I come here, my Filipino accent gets a little bit thicker.”
The humor of Manila Luzon aside, coming to Manila every chance she gets becomes more and more of a personal journey for her and the man behind the Fineapple Couture, Karl Westerberg. In those moments, they get to reclaim a piece of themselves that has been understandably diluted over the years. This way, not only does the representation of Manila Luzon to the world become as close to the source as possible, it becomes an anchor that moors them to a part of a conceivable, self-fulfilling whole. This time, she even took The Manila Luzon Show to the queen city of the south at SM City Cebu, a first for any global Pinay drag artist. “I love getting to perform here, because when I started doing drag, and I wanted to name myself after the place where my mother was born and was raised, it means so much to come here every single time. I have so much fun making this show, and my time here in the Philippines is even more special than everywhere else. It maybe is because I’m a little biased, or it just might be because you know I’m named after the city,” she laughs. “It is fun and it’s nice to go around the world and represent my Filipino heritage. So, coming here, I get to see the real thing and try authentic food and wear Filipino fashion, go shopping at the Filipino stores…Most importantly, whenever I come back here, I hope that I’m making all of you proud.”
If the decibel-deafening turnout at La Reyna and The Manila Show were any indication, then it is safe to say that the Philippines is definitely proud of Manila Luzon. And it doesn’t look like we are going to let up on that anytime soon, because as early as now, there are stage murmurs of potentially wrangling all the Filipino Drag Race alums together to hopefully, finger crossed, put on a super show together here on Philippine soil. “Never say never. I would love to do that show as Filipina drag race sisters since day one, you know? You know, I it’s just a matter of time. There’s a lot of us so it you know, it’s going to be a big show, and we need to get a big venue for all the fans. It has to be done right, but yeah, it’s going happen for sure. Hopefully soon, I know it would.”
Whatever the prospect of a performance would be, Manila Luzon is only so thankful to be able to just live her passions and dreams and thrive in it every single day. “I’m so grateful for every single time that I’ve been working since I was on my first season of Drag Race. It was like, almost 10 years ago. So, the fact that I’m still growing and expanding, and the fan base is bigger than ever is amazing to me. And you know, I don’t ever really try to imagine what it’s going to be like in the future, because I never know where it’s going to go. So, who knows? Who knows what it could be? But what I’m sure of is when I can, you know, give more and more and more I want to, but I would, whether that means 1000 dancers, maybe get some Filipino inmates to do the Thriller, and I don’t know, maybe I’ll be, you know, come out of a volcano, like in showgirls, or maybe I’ll be lowered from the ceiling. Who knows? I don’t know. I just think that for me, I like to concentrate on each performance individually and trying to make it my best and to make that performance special, for all of you here and all over the world.”
It sure sounds out there and crazy, for sure. But if there’s anything to expect from Manila Luzon is that it will be one hell of a show—and best believe the Philippines will be right there, rooting the strongest and cheering the loudest, because hey, we are kind of really good at that, when it matters.