In a night of gags and sheer queer ecstasy, the 12 contestants caused a sensation at Nectar Nightclub pageant-style.
Drag Race and Dragula have explosively affected local drag artists and inspired a new generation to pursue the art form. Now that we have Drag Race PH and Drag Den, the shaping of our drag landscape and aesthetics have been at their highest. As I get past the line snaking outside Nectar Nightclub, I couldn’t help but wonder: Could the post-home-based-reality-TV-drag-competition era meet the high bar set by previous Drag Cartel seasons?
I had the absolute pleasure of judging the finals alongside Mega Drag and NYLON Manila Editor-in-Chief Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena, award-winning filmmaker and Drag Den creator and director Rod Singh, Nectar Nightclub creative director and Drag Race PH top 4 finalist Xilhouete, and Nectar Nightclub head honcho David Dennis. A judge’s role is never easy, but fun nonetheless. Difficult because, on top of enjoying a great show, we have to drop personal biases and score objectively, zooming in to find the littlest of details and stepping back to see the clearer picture. And fun because as a fan of drag and knowing the ins and outs of the local queer community, Poison Drag Cartel has a reputation for serving, honey!
A lovely, very becky, captivating, so exciting opening number!
The competition opens with a group presentation: a direct nod to Bb. Pilipinas, as they use the pageant’s new theme song by SB19 with matching choreography that completes the whole fantasy. In true baklaan pageant form, the girls introduce themselves with the staple, silly, and twisted proverbs that throw shade on others or just for the unseriousness of it all. This segment gives an informative glimpse of what the girls are about and indicates who the loud crowd is rooting for.
The one true queen of Poison and the queer nightlife’s royal highness can upstage anyone effortlessly just by sharing a space with her. Peabo enters the stage in a blinding long-sleeved kaliskis floor-length gown, and you can hear all the gay gasps, as well as of a chorus of snaps in the air. She formally opens the competition and presents the People’s Choice Award to Gersana Pilipina.
The first elimination round will determine the five contestants advancing to the next. The girls are divided into three batches that will each perform a different song to lip sync to. Scoring with several criteria across four individuals in one lip sync performance is challenging. Two eyes and two hands are not enough, but a star will always outshine and tower over the rest.
Round 2! Fight!
Before moving on to the next round, Peabo emerges back on the stage to announce the winners of the next set of special awards. Déja becomes the night’s hakot queen as she bags the Miss Photogenic and Best in Talent. Drag Den winner NAIA makes an appearance to present the awards.
The mistress of ceremonies has many Pinoy Big Brother and beauty pageant references injected into her spiels as she declares Miss Felicia, Regina Gorge, Maureen Biology, Margaux, and Déja the top five finalists.
“Once again, our top five finalists,” screams Peabo.
The unsatisfied crowd screams back the names of their favored candidates but is mostly drowned by Empy Radora’s fans.
“But wait,” says Peabo so regretfully, pulling a Steve Harvey. “I have to apologize.” The whole Nectar Nightclub freaks out as she adds Slaytina, Gersana Pilipina, and to the crowd’s mighty delight, Empy Radora to the list of finalists who will battle for the last two top spots. This is where the finalists need to trumpet their strengths as performers and will perhaps help dictate their drag trajectory. Reveals, stunts, and tricks are expected as they draw the most cheers, but overall brilliance and storytelling abilities trump those.
Straight out of the Netflix screen, Margaux materializes as Chang’e, the moon goddess from the animated movie Over The Moon. True to her celestial character, she lights up like Christmas. (Her intricately styled wig first, then her thigh-high boots, mirroring the scene from the movie.) But it doesn’t end there; she pulls two lighted ribbons on a stick out of nowhere and performs rhythmic gymnastics in the dark. Her costume lights up and appears like a dancing galaxy with swirling and twirling ribbons. Impeccable showmanship. Supreme extravagance.
Some songs will always be associated with a queen who’d done it so perfectly that comparisons are inevitable when another queen does it. That’s not a problem, but this could be a downfall or triumph in a competition setting. No one can top what the legendary Sasha Colby did with the song My Mind by Yebba, so points to Miss Felicia for being brave. Miss Felicia makes it her own by layering Viola Davis’ powerful monologue in Fences. Her gripping interpretation of the song with the monologue is a parade of deep, dark emotions. My eyes are locked. My heart is heavy. Bra-(expletive)-vo.
The final showdown!
Peabo devours the stage in an exquisite black side slit gown, looking like a million yen, as she announces the two girls who are making it to the final round. Gusto Ko Nang Bumitaw (the live version of Regine Velasquez and Morissette that went viral) is the last song Miss Felicia and Margaux must perform before we determine who wears the crown.
They are an incredible top two. Two different styles, but Margaux’s peaks-and-valleys delivery surpasses her opponent’s steady over-the-top execution.
Drag Race PH Miss Congeniality Lady Morgana shares the stage with past Drag Cartel All Stars winners (Drag Race PH top five finalist Minty Fresh and Drag Den contestant O-A) to crown this year’s winner. (Visibly absent is current titleholder Marina Summers who is rumored to be competing in an international franchise.)
And then, Margaux is crowned Poison Drag Cartel All Stars season four winner.
This batch of queens is on another level. Winning gets you the crown and the right to brag, but it isn’t everything. You win by showing up and being the best that you can be at a given moment. It’s a cliche for a reason: everyone’s a winner. Congratulations to everyone on a fantastic show. This is the product of post-Drag Race PH and Drag Den, where we saw contestants flourish in their drag careers. I cannot wait to see where these queens will take us. This is the future of drag in the Philippines!