With the premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race only a day away, it’s time to meet our last queen, the magnificent Manila Luzon! This fierce, funny Filipino is taking her glam from the red carpet to Drag Race! From the busy streets of the Big Apple during the pre-Christmas shopping rush, Manila took some time out of her busy schedule to chat about how she made it to Drag Race 3, her fabulous life in heels and makeup and her special connection to a season 2 standout!
Socialite Life: Where are you right now? In New York?
Manila Luzon: Yep, I’m walking the streets and Santa’s Salvation Army is ringing their bells! Sorry, it’s so loud!
SL: You are the successor to Ongina and Jujubee in being the Asian queen this season.
Manila: I am glad to represent the Asian community here in America, in the trans world! So, I’m happy to do that.
SL: You’re from Minnesota, right?
Manila: Yes I am. Born and raised! I spent the first part of my life there before I turned to bigger and better places – like New York City!
SL: Is your family from the Philippines?
Manila: My mother is originally from the Philippines and she moved to the States to pursue her education and she met my father here, he’s from Minnesota – just a jolly little red-headed white boy – corn fed! So I’m actually a mix. The genes managed to make two beautiful children – well, three if you count Manila!
SL: How did you end up choosing Manila Luzon as your drag name?
Manila: I chose Manila because I wanted to celebrate my Filipino heritage. Growing up in Minnesota, where it’s mostly white people, I thought that bringing my Asian-ness to my drag would be fun. So I chose the name Manila because I think it sounds pretty and that’s where my mother was born, that’s where she’s from and Luzon is an island that Manila is on in the Philippines. It’s kind of like the equivalent of calling yourself “Albany New York” if you’re a queen from New York. So far, from the feedback I’ve gotten, some people love it and some people think it’s ridiculous. Whatever, it’s a drag queen name! Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything funny, like Rhubarb Pie or some funny, pun name that drag queens come up with. But I love my name and I think it suits me really well!
SL: When did you get started doing drag?
Manila: When I first came out of the closet, I decided that I would start doing drag, pursuing it for real. I’ve always loved it and been intrigued by it and as a child, watching RuPaul and Dame Edna on TV – I’ve always been very interested in it. And I love the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and my mother took me to the opening of To Wong Foo and I loved it. It was just something I really, really wanted to do all my life and any excuse that I could get when I was a little kid to put myself in a wig and my mom’s lipstick and some dresses she had in her closet – I would jump at that opportunity. So, when I came out of the closet as a homo boy, I thought what better way to come out than to go full out and be a drag queen?
SL: What do you enjoy most about performing?
Manila: Well, actually I don’t perform on stage that much, lip-syncing numbers because I live in New York City and there really isn’t that much opportunity to do it. I do like getting dressed up and going out to parties. I use it as a way to express myself creatively. I love to doll myself up and make myself pretty and I love the attention people give me. And, when I go to parties, all I have to do is drink alcohol and talk to people in the clubs and not even learn one song! It’s easy because I don’t have to lip sync. I do occasionally perform but I don’t – like most drag queens that I know, where they have a show and they do a weekly thing, and they do numbers – I don’t actually do that. I have when I started in Minnesota but when I moved to New York City it’s just a different environment here.
SL: I saw some of your red carpet pictures with Sahara Davenport (from season two of Drag Race – and also Manila’s boyfriend), and you two make a great couple!
Manila: That’s what I mostly love doing – getting glammed up, I’ll spend all my time and energy putting my look together and we jump in the cab, we go to the party and we just mingle with people and have a good time, drink, dance, laugh and stumble our way home at the end of the night – or morning!
SL: I love Sahara. Did she give you any tips before you went on the show?
Manila: Well, honestly, having Sahara going before me really wasn’t that much help in the competition; but I did kind of pretty much know the workings of post-show, like what’s happening now. The challenges are all different, the girls are all different, Ru had some fiercer looks this season and she asked so much more of her girls this year, so in the competition I really had no more of an advantage than any of the other girls who had talked to their girlfriends who had already been on the show. Not girlfriends – I mean like, “Hey, girlfriend!” Like that! (Laughs) It was anyone’s game. We were all getting the information that day, that moment at the same time. So Sahara being on the show wasn’t that big of an advantage.
SL: Would you wanted to have competed against Sahara on the show?
Manila: Well, I think that we would have ended up becoming a tag team and we probably would have kicked some girls’ butts if we were on the show together and then we would have probably gone all the way to the end and then it would have been a free-for-all! We do have a little bit of a rivalry between us but it’s out of love of what we do. So, when we’re getting ready for a night on the town, and she’s putting some rhinestones on her face, I’m going to put some rhinestones on my face – I’m going to put on extra ones! If she’s going to jack her hair up, I’m going to jack my hair up! So, in that aspect, we like to compete – but once we hit the club, we are so done that people don’t know what to do. We are so sickening because we’ve been sitting in front of the mirror getting ready, trying to one-up each other!
SL: How long does it take you to get ready?
Manila: You know, the actual process is hard to measure because, for me, there’s a lot of preparation time, but if someone called me up and said, “Hey, there’s a party tonight”, it would probably take me about two hours to jump in the shower, shave, throw my makeup on, style a wig quick and find something in the closet.
SL: I heard that you brought 1,000 pairs of eyelashes with you to the show, how true is that?
Manila: Well, I think 1,000 might be an exaggeration! But, because I stack all of my eyelashes on top of each other, it maybe was 500 pairs – and I was probably also counting individuals!
SL: What beauty secret can you share with us?
Manila: My beauty secret would be…well, I could give you this whole “beauty comes from within” spiel, but a lot of pancake makeup really helps! And powder yourself, you don’t want to be shiny!
SL: When you were told you were going to be on the show, what was your first reaction?
Manila: Well, I felt bad because I was at the office – I have a day job – and I got the phone call and I was trying to be really quiet because I didn’t want to start screaming in my office and I’m trying not to draw attention to myself because I needed an excuse to leave work for a while. So, I was really, really quiet. I was really relieved. I was screaming in the inside but I was trying not to make a scene at work. The producer who called me was like, “You don’t seem very excited” and I was like (whispering) “I’m sorry. I’m at work!” and that’s why I wasn’t jumping up and down and screaming. But later that night, I was jumping and screaming and running around in the streets in Times Square, just ecstatic. I was relieved because the audition process was really, really long!
SL: What is your day job?
Manila: I am a graphic designer and I work for a design firm here in New York. So, I am a creative person, I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up and the career I chose as a graphic designer just seemed like so much fun and I enjoy doing it a lot. But, when you’re working in an office job and you have clients – and you’ve got to answer to them and working in a company, it’s not your own artistry all of the time. So I like to use my drag as my creative outlet, despite the fact that I work in a creative field. During the day, I make fun pictures on the computer, and at night, I get to make fun pictures on my face!
SL: What was it like working with RuPaul?
Manila: Oh my God, it was totally amazing! She looks exactly the same as she does on TV, it’s creepy. When we first walked up on the runway and saw her sitting there, I was like, “Am I watching TV?” because she was so beautiful and so nice and genuine. And she has so many positive things and life lessons to teach, which was so weird because in “drag queen land” we’re all fighting to find a bigger and better place and she’s been there and she’s really willing to share her stories and give us advice and life lessons – and it applies not just to drag, but to everyday life as well – which I thought was great. She’s just a Very sweet person and very beautiful.
SL: When you were starting out in drag, who did you look up to?
Manila: You know, that’s a tough question because there’s not one particular person that I’ve tried to emulate. I love getting my inspiration from different kinds of places and from different people. I think I get a lot of my style from my mother, she used to dress me when I was a little kid and everything was always “matchy-matchy”, like I’d have a pair of green pants to go with my green shirt. I have to say my mother had a little bit of a costume designer in her because she’d put me and my sister in themed outfits for holidays. My sister and I would always be wearing red and white with little heart pins on Valentine’s Day and she’d always buy me a pair of white pants to go with my green sweater for St. Patrick’s Day and she loved making our little costumes for Halloween. One of my earliest memories is the smell of my mother’s lipstick – I don’t know, lipstick smelled different in the 80s than it does now. I had it all over my face when I went as a clown one year, I loved that particularly. So as far as getting my style, my mother I’d have to say, but I also really like finding inspiration in completely random things. Like, I go to the dollar store a lot try looking for cheap things like, “Oh, look, cotton balls are on sale. Let’s make a cotton ball dress!” It’s interesting because you’ve just got to be crafty. You don’t make a lot of money as a drag queen so you’ve got to find ways to make glamour out of sometimes nothing and it was really helpful when I went on the show and they were asking us to make some crazy things out of crazy things! I can’t go into any more detail than that, but you’ve seen the show before!
SL: What are you looking to do as far as your drag career after the show? Are you going to release any music like Sahara did?
Manila: I am no one’s singer, I can hold a tune but if Ke$ha can have an album, I suppose I could if I wanted to but…I don’t know…I’m just going to see the response I get from being in the show. I won’t know until I see it on the show. I do really want to pursue my drag now. It’s a promise I made when I sent in my tape – if I make it on the show, I’m going to try to see if I can pay my rent doing this because I enjoy it so much and being on the show would really give me the opportunity to do that. I’ve been at my day job for going on six years now and it was my first job out of school. I need any excuse to find a new thing to do and this is a godsend, honestly, because it’s something I love doing and I’m good at it. I think! It’s helped me keep pushing myself to excel at it. In my drag, I always leave room for improvement. When I get home at the end of the night and I look at my face in the mirror – and the makeup’s all melting off after drinking and partying, I always think that my next time in drag is going to be even better than this one – and that’s what I was doing on the show. I was trying to push myself to do something extra, pushing myself creatively and pushing my drag further. I have come so far from when I first started that I can only imagine how amazing it’s going to be – and feel – down the road.
SL: How can fans stay in touch with you?
Manila: I have a website, ManilaLuzon.com and there you can find links to my Twitter and I have a Facebook fan page, so follow me! Hopefully, after the show, I’ll have a lot of gigs in the future and be traveling the world so maybe I’ll come to a gay bar or Ramada Inn near you! If you want to see me, go to your local gay bar and say “Come up with the coins and call Miss Manila!”
This article was originally published on January 23, 2011.
Manila will be one of the returning queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 4 that premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.