Manila Luzon Talks Drag U With Socialite Life

Christine Fitzgerald 26 Min Read
26 Min Read
Manila Luzon
Photo via Manila Luzon/Instagram

Sharpen your pencils, because another season of RuPaul’s Drag U is here!

Before the first bell rings, let’s get to know one of the drag professors who is here to school some deserving ladies and help them find the diva within! 

“Asian sensation” Manila Luzon won the hearts of viewers – and nearly won the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” – on the past season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. With her outrageous costumes, her memorable turn as a shoe-crazed Imelda Marcos and her over-the-top sense of humor, she earned a well-deserved place in Drag Race history.

This summer, Manila joins the esteemed “fal-culty” at RuPaul’s Drag U to help biological women discover their inner drag diva! We got to talk to the globe-trotting glamazon in between stops on a cross-country tour about her Drag Race experience, her new role at Drag U and what exciting new projects are on the horizon. Don’t flunk it up!

Socialite Life: Hi Manila!

Manila Luzon: Hi! It’s so great to talk to you again! (If you missed it, revisit our first interview.)

SL: I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us this morning, I saw you were still out and tweeting just a few hours ago!

Manila: (Laughs) It’s true ’cause it’s funny!

SL: How has the Drag Race tour been going?

Manila: Well, I have been partaking in a few of the Absolut tour stops and I’ve also been touring by myself, getting to some of the places that didn’t get the tour stops. I am going all over the country right now and it’s so much fun.

SL: Do you ever get to sleep?

Manila: I am…it’s so funny because it’s like I get on the plane, I land, I get to the hotel, I start getting in drag, I go to the club, I put on a show, I drink some liquor and stumble home and I wake up an hour later to get on a plane to go to another city. It’s kind of intense, but it’s rock star and I’m loving it, I really am! My schedule clears up after June and gay pride kind of will simmer down…hopefully by next month I’ll get a couple of extra winks in, darling!

SL: Ah yes, a little beauty sleep…not like you need it!

Manila: Well thank God this (interview) is just being recorded, because my voice right now…I sound like Sutan! I sound like Raja, right?

SL: A little bit! Speaking of other queens you know well, how is Sahara (Davenport) doing?

Manila: Sahara’s great, she’s back in New York City, holding down the fort. This is kind of what happened last year. She went on tour and she was going all over the country and left poor me all by myself at home vacuuming and doing dishes and now the tables have kind of turned. Actually, she’s still touring a lot, honestly.  So now it’s like, “When are we going to be home at the same time?” “I’m getting home on Tuesday, are you going to be home on Tuesday?” “Oh, you are? Good, I’ll see you then.” – that kind of thing. (Laughs)

SL: Are you still working your “day job” as a graphic designer?  

Manila: I am, actually. Currently, I kind of worked out a deal with my boss who’s really nice – because he was really excited about my participation on Drag Race and he’s like “You do your thing. We’ll still be here when you get back.” So I’m taking a short leave of absence and I’m actually going to be going back to work next week, I think. I’m going to be exhausted, but we’re going to go back! (Laughs)

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Madame X-eyed

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SL: When we first met you, you were best known as a glamorous red carpet fixture and now you’re performing a lot more – has it been an easy transition for you?

Manila: Well, yes, it has been – because I’ve always been a performer in some way. I’m performing even when I’m not on a stage and there’s a song that I’m lip syncing to. Do you know what I mean? The art of drag is a performance in itself – like a walking, living performance. It’s always been easy for me. It’s just a little bit different getting on stages and I’m enjoying it a lot. I started out performing when I first started drag and it wasn’t until I moved to New York City that kind of stopped performing a little bit. I’d been performing pretty frequently before the show – just not as much as I am now. I love performing and it’s great.

SL: Your looks on Drag Race were my favorites. How do you pull together a look, like the fabulous pineapple dress?

Manila: I love outfits with a little bit of a theme to them. Whether I have a bunch of stuff laying around that I think would make a fun outfit or if it’s some kind theme that everyone will instantly recognize and should be made into a full outfit – like the Cookie Monster outfit I’m wearing on the first episode of Drag U. I wanted to pay homage to my Big Bird costume because that was such a pivotal point in my Drag Race experience that I thought I would just kick off Drag U with another Sesame Street reference. I promise you I don’t have some sort of crazy Sesame Street fetish! Those two are the only Sesame Street characters I have in my wardrobe right now.

SL: Maybe you could move on to Fraggle Rock or something…

Manila: No more puppets. I personally don’t want to have some puppeteer’s hand up my butt! (Laughs) This always happens when I put on that damn Big Bird dress – I don’t know! I don’t want to hear “Do you need me to put my hand in your butt?” (Laughs)

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SL: What was your favorite Drag Race look?

Manila: I think my favorite look from Drag Race is definitely my pineapple dress. It’s just one of my favorite dresses – and I’m so happy that it doesn’t wrinkle because I put it in a garment bag and I fold that thing up and I’ve been putting it in my suitcase and she’s been traveling around the country with me. And when I step on stage in that pineapple dress, people freak the “f” out! So, I love wearing it. I feel bad I’ve been wearing it so much – I feel like I should be retiring her but I can’t think of another pretty fruit to make a dress!

SL: There’s a lot of Emmy talk surrounding Drag Race – why do you think the show is so popular – and continues to grow in popularity?

Manila: I am surprised that this is the first time that it’s even been considered! Honestly, the show’s amazing. The first season, despite the fact that it was trying to find its way and didn’t have a big budget and really didn’t have that big of an audience, I freaking loved that show! I thought it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen on TV. It combines very, very creative people who also have really, really strong and amazing and different personalities. And it’s colorful and sparkly – who wouldn’t want to watch it? It’s just one of the most fun things to watch on TV. It has a positive message and I think we really need that on TV right now. I think RuPaul deserves an Emmy and I’ll pick it up if Ru’s too busy!

SL: I think Ru would let you!

Manila: Yeah, right! (Laughs) Hang on, I’m just trying to take off my nail polish from last night. I’m getting on a plane. I’m in Ohio right now, so it’s a little more conservative than I’m used to, so I thought I shouldn’t go through airport security with pink nails!

SL: That’s probably a good idea…

Manila: I mean, it’s so funny because last night, I decided “I want to go to Denny’s – just like the good old days!” I had a few drinks in me, a couple of cocktails, but I had myself together and I was hungry! So I went to Denny’s – the club promoter took me – we sat in there and had a funky time with a bunch of cops and some frat boys. It was fun! And the afterwards, I went to Wal-Mart! (Laughs) I had just run out of baby oil, which I use to remove my makeup, so I had to get some and luckily there was a Wal-Mart right there! Welcome to Wal-Mart – at 3:30 in the morning! In full drag, honey!

SL: So we’ll be seeing you on the People of Wal-Mart website soon, hmmm?

Manila: (Laughs) Well, I put in my application to be one of those greeters, but they said I was too young – they’re looking for someone like Raja!

SL: That’s not kind!

Manila: Oh, I love my sister Raja but sometimes I have to make fun of how old she is – and honestly, she’s not that old. But, you know, I think I’m the only person who can put her in her place – keep her grounded a little bit! Yeah!

SL: What was your initial reaction When you were approached about appearing on Drag U?

Manila: YES! I want to do it! I was really, really happy that I was asked. It just meant that RuPaul really thought that I had something to offer and that the producers of the show felt that America was not done watching me on TV! It was very exciting. I was very happy to be a part of it because as a drag queen, I feel like sometimes there aren’t that many opportunities to get the exposure that me and my cast mates got from being on the show – and Drag U is an extension of Drag Race and I’m happy that my Drag Race experience is lasting longer than I expected. I think it’s really fun and I was really excited to go back and see the old crew members and some of my sisters and some of my “sorority sisters” from seasons past. It was really fun to work with them because a lot of them I hadn’t worked with before. And filming the show was a lot different than filming Drag Race so I had a lot of fun.

SL: When I spoke with Raja after the season was over, he said the hardest challenge for him was the jock makeovers. In your experience, was it easier to makeover the women on Drag U or the jocks?

Manila: Well, it was kind of the same….Those jocks were rowdy, young, strapping men who were trying something new, however being very careful not to let themselves go too far – because they were straight men. There was a little more resistance from the jocks, but that’s what makes it so much fun. But with the women it was a lot more of an emotional experience, a lot more of a personal experience making over the women. You’re literally applying their makeup and they’re watching themselves in the mirror as their faces transform before them and they start having emotions – they start crying and stuff! And I’m like, “Girl, stop crying! You’re going to ruin your makeup! Did you not watch what happened when I started crying – this stuff’s not waterproof!” (Laughs) We affect these women’s lives. Instead of the kind of dare that we did with the guys from Drag Race, these women really were affected on a personal level. Whether they didn’t think they were beautiful anymore, or they’ve just been letting themselves go, or they just haven’t felt pretty in a while – and it was fun to see that.

SL: This season on Drag U you give your own sister a drag makeover. How was that experience for you?

Manila: Oh my God, it was so much fun! I was so happy when I found out my sister was going to be on the show. I was super excited for that because I love my sister and she’s absolutely beautiful. You know, I’ve put her in drag a few times before because we used to live with each other in New York City and so I always needed a partner to go out with me to the parties. I’d be like, “Well, I going to get into drag now…but if you want to come, there’s a wig over here and a pair of false eyelashes if you want me to put them on you…” and she’s like “Okay, let’s do it!” It was really great because she’s married and lives in New Jersey with her husband. She has her family and she’s been working and stuff like that so I really haven’t gotten to see her and it was really fun for me to hang out with my sister and have her kind of experience in some way what my life has turned into, so that was kind of fun to see.

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Manila Luzon in @thealrightdarling magazine U.K.

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SL: On the show, the women’s transformations bring something unexpected, or give them a new lease on life – did you had a similar transformation moment in your life?

Manila: Of course! The thing is I take it for granted so much because it happened to me at such a young age and it happened to me such a long time ago…well, a young age, I mean it happened to me yesterday – let’s not get twisted! (Laughs) When I was very young, still in high school, and I decided to put some makeup on and play in my mom’s cosmetics drawer in the bathroom. I remember putting my makeup and looking in the mirror and well, to preface this, I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Minnesota and I’m half Asian and half white, so most of the population is white, so I felt a little weird being kind of like the weird brown kid in a sea of white faces and I kind of look Asian but I kind of don’t, so no one really knows what I am. So I’ve always felt a little bit like “Am I attractive?” – in the normal sense. It wasn’t until I first put lipstick on and kind of made up my face and I looked in the mirror and I smiled, and I was like, “Oh my God! I kind of make a pretty girl!” and I felt really pretty when I was looking at

myself and mugging in the mirror and then I took it off and the feeling of being beautiful kind of stuck. So I did kind of have an epiphany and I was like “Oh! I am an attractive person and yes, I do look different, but that’s what’s beautiful about me.” And, I look great in a sexy red shade of lipstick! (Laughs) So yeah, I did have that experience and when I was participating in Drag U and I was seeing these “aha moments” that these women had and it reminded me of the first time I felt that way and it’s kind of invigorating to have that happen again.

SL: Did you learn anything yourself from working on the show?

Manila: Oh, of course! On Drag Race, the experience was so “me-based”. It was all “Me, me, me” and “I need to do this so I can advance.” or “I need to do this so I can win this or win that.” When you get to Drag U, it’s no longer about “me”. If my girl wins, I don’t get the money. I don’t get any prizes, I’m not winning anything. But you really do want to put all of your energy into it. I mean, you’ve just met these people that day and you know nothing about them. You find out a lot about the person and sometimes you meet someone and they have some deep-rooted problem but they tell you what it is and because they’ve been dealing with it for such a long time that they don’t even see that it’s right there on the surface. And an easy way of dealing with it is to make yourself look beautiful so that you can feel beautiful and then everything kind of lines up in place. It’s kind of weird and a maybe a little bit shallow, but it really does work. It’s kind of crazy. (Laughs)

SL: Did you get any words of wisdom from Ru or Lady Bunny?

Manila: Of course! The greatest thing was working with Lady Bunny. I mean Lady Bunny is a legend. I remember when I was still very young I had known about her and I know her, I see her around – we’re always running into each other in New York City – but it was great to actually work with Lady Bunny. She has been doing it for years and she’s got some great advice and I learned some tips from her…I think I need to get a bigger wig because I look so tiny next to her! (Laughs)

SL: You’re on the show with Ongina and Jujubee – just between us, who’s the fiercest Asian queen?

Manila: I think it must be Raja, because she f**king won! Don’t forget, Raja’s Asian too! She’s Indonesian, she’s the fiercest one – she got the money and the crown!

SL: I know that! I meant who’s the fiercest Asian drag professor this season?

Manila: Between the three of us as professors…I am, shit! I’m not used to it – these other girls have done it before! I made it the furthest on Drag Race of all of those girls, so I’d say me!

SL: What does the future hold for you?

Manila: Well, currently I’m touring and I’m really enjoying this and I’m going to be touring for a very long time. I have Drag U coming out, I’ve been approached by some music producers and they want me to make music – so I thought, I’m on a reality show and Kim Zolciak from Real Housewives has “Tardy for the Party” and the Countess has “Money Can’t Buy You Class”, why not do some music? It’s an obvious next step and it seems like it would be a lot of fun. I mean, I had a lot of fun doing the music challenge on Drag Race so, why not? I’m trying to work on some projects with Sahara because that would be so much fun to do something with her. What it is, I’m not sure…so keep your eyes peeled, there’s going to be a Manila and Sahara show coming out soon! (Laughs)

SL: I’m glad to hear you’re open to giving music a go. The last time we talked, you told me you were “nobody’s singer”. I’m glad to hear you’ve changed your tune!

Manila: Honey! I mean, it’s the age of autotune! If Ke$ha can have a number one album, throw some autotune on my voice and we’re good to go darling! I mean, I don’t really consider myself a great singer. I’m not going to hold a candle to Aretha Franklin – or even Britney Spears. (Laughs) But still, I want to give it a try and if it sucks, oh well. I’ll move on to the next project. I don’t know…I’m just enjoying living life right now so much that I really haven’t thought that far ahead. So what lies in the future for me can only be greater and better because it’s only been getting better since…well…forever. It just keeps getting better and I love it!

SL: Any opportunity for us to see more of you, I’m all for it!

Manila: Of course! And whenever I have something new to promote, I’m going to be on your phone, calling you, and knocking on your door at your house saying, “Here, baby! Put it on Socialite!”

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