Manila Luzon recently crossed the pond to perform for her fans in London, and while there sat down to talk with writer Michael Turnbull and pose for photog Greg Bailey. The two were kind enough to send their work our way, so check out the great interview and photos below, and see more of Michael’s work here and Greg’s photos here.
She may not have won Season Three of RuPaul’s Drag Race or even the All Stars cycle, but thanks to her Pineapple dress, her turn as a Monkey in Queens in Space, the ultimate Donna Summer lip-sync and much much more, Manila Luzon will always be one of the show’s most memorable queens.
Since sashaying away, she has gone on to release a bunch of pop/dance singles but is now preparing to get her swag on and venture into the world of hip-hop.
We caught up with her to throw some shade and serve some tea, as we discussed Fanilas, Sharon Needles’ teeth and how to turn an Elie Saab dress into a banana.
What age did you get into drag?
I was always sneaking myself into my Mum’s dresses. She was very petite when she was younger and never threw anything away, so she had this giant walk-in closet full of clothes from the 1960s. I’ve always been fascinated by drag.
Did you always go by Manila Luzon?
Yes. When I first decided I wanted to do drag, I knew I needed to have a really great name. I was just driving around in my car and came up with the name Manila Luzon. It was perfect because my mother is from Manila and Luzon is the island there. Plus Manila has the word ‘man’ in it and also has the same amount of syllables as Madonna.
Is she your biggest icon?
One of them, yeah. Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Kylie. I love Kylie. I saw her when she did her US tour a few years ago. And Barbra has just announced new dates too. I would love to go to a Barbra Streisand concert but I don’t have that money yet. I didn’t win RuPaul’s Drag Race. Trust me, tickets would probably be one of the first things I would buy if I had the coin.
Have you claimed all your prizes from the challenges you won on RuPaul’s Drag Race yet?
From the All Stars season, I won the first challenge with Latrice. The prizes were these custom gowns from Sequin Queen. They were made in Thailand and were hand-beaded and very draggy. Although that’s not my style necessarily I’d make it work. But I was emailing them trying to claim my prize and waited several weeks with no answer. In the end I put them on blast on Facebook and they called me immediately. I felt a little bit like Lady Gaga with her monsters – except I have my Fanilas. I was able to collect my prize after creating a little bit of a stir. A little controversy goes far. That’s how Kim got her start, right?
What is Manila’s style?
I’m a huge fan of theatrics and costume but I like to mix it with fashion. I like my style to evoke some kind of nostalgia or a nod to something in pop culture. That’s why people know me as the drag queen that wore something like that looks like a pineapple or the queen that dressed like Big Bird. I love Jeremy Scott because his stuff is always fun and tongue-in-cheek, very kitschy. Does he send me stuff? No I just buy it. Jeremy Scott, pleeeease send me something nice! I love Katy Perry. I love how she dresses up as candy. I want my look to be iconic. I don’t want people to be like “Oh yeah, she wore that dress, it was….pink.” No, I want them to say “Oh wow, she looked like a giant stick of bubblegum.” I like seeing how I can take the design of this pretty Elie Saab dress and turn it into a banana.
Everyone seems to like different types of drag; glamour, comedy, camp, fishy…
I’m lucky because I feel like I am a mash-up of all kinds of drag. I consider myself a camp queen but everyone says “Oh no, you’re too glamorous to be a camp queen.” So in order to be camp you have to be ugly? I can deal
with that. Some people take drag way too seriously and when it all comes down to it, you’re just a dude in a wig and a funny costume.
When you talk to a drag queen you expect it to be camp, witty and some shade to be thrown.
Yeah, see that is the kind of drag I love. I get in trouble because a lot of people are very sensitive these days. We are bringing a lot of attention to the LGBT community just by being played on TV around the world. But I’m not trying to be the activist. Drag queens are a cartoon character, well, at least I’m a cartoon character. I love awful bitchy comments.
A lot of queens’ style gets better when they leave the show…
Yeah, before you start the show sometimes you’re doing gigs that pay $100, which has to pay your rent AND for a fabulous outfit. Then after the show you start to work more and you can afford to make your outfit a little better. But take Sharon Needles for example, when she started her season her drag was really crunchy. But look at her now, she has bright white teeth instead of whatever color they used to be. And yes, that was shade, by the way, honey, that was shade.
Do you spend more on clothes for yourself or Manila?
Well I don’t usually buy clothes off the rack. I went into Harrod’s the other day and was like “Ah! Ah! All these beautiful dresses I will never buy because I can just get Ivy Winters to make them for me a lot cheaper.” When I was suggesting her to the casting people for this season, I was a little reluctant because I was like, “Well I hope you don’t do too well because I still need you to make me clothes!”
It feels like it’s time for Paris Is Burning V2.0
I kind of think RuPaul’s Drag Race is like that. No one watches documentaries these days anyway, it’s all about Reality TV. It’s kind of amazing because Paris Is Burning is like the bible to a small part of the gay community. It has its own vernacular. Now we are getting to re-introduce it to everyone around us and actually create our own.
Is there any more music coming?
Yes. I’m cutting a rap single with Cazwell and that’s really fun because I never thought I was a rapper. He taught me. I guess I have a little swag. When I was in the studio I was like, “I am actually going to have to get myself into drag to feel the whole thing.” Usually when I record my singing stuff, I am so used to being in drag that I can just turn it on, but to be a rapper I had to have my fitted cap, my jacket, my gold chains, my hoop earrings, we even had a pitbull in the studio. I had to have a complete alter ego to rap, kind of like Nicki Minaj has Roman and Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce. Manila had to create Spongebabs. She was superghetto. She was half Puerto-Rican, half Filipino, half black.
What about acting?
I’m a realist, I’m half Asian. Not Oriental. I don’t really have a place where I fall. There are only so many productions of The King and I or Miss Saigon every year. But if I’m going to act it’s going to be as a drag queen. I’m not going to be a tranny. I’ve auditioned for those things where they want you to be a drag queen only to come on set and they want you to be a transsexual hooker who gets bludgeoned to death in the bath. I’m like “Why don’t we leave that for Willam?”