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MANILA LUZON: I am so, so happy to be here. LA is fine, but this is where it’s at, especially when you’re young. I haven’t performed in New York in forever!
How did Manila get her start here?
I had a little care package of drag when I moved out here, but it wasn’t until I started dating Sahara Davenport [from RPDR Season 2] that I started doing shows and hosting stuff. She had weekly gigs and I’d go and support. I was following her around, carrying her bags, and eventually I was like, “You can book me, too.” But at that point, it was just putting myself in drag and getting on the 6 train downtown from the Bronx. And going out in the East Village and getting drunk!
Tell us about your experience on Season 3 of Drag Race.
It was a lot different because we only had two seasons to go off of. But we had the most information going in than any other season. Season 1 had no clue, Season 2 had a completely different budget, so we had kind of figured out the pattern. But social media wasn’t a big thing, so we never thought about what the fans were going to say, so we never really performed through that filter. Hence why some of us were kind of bullies to the other girls. But in those days, it felt more like a beauty pageant. Now there’s more categories and outlets for queens on the show.
What were your first impressions of the other queens?
I remember watching previous seasons and thinking the girls’ hair wasn’t big enough. And the winners, Bebe Zahara Benet and Tyra Sanchez, both had huge hair! So, I walked in with, like, three wigs stacked on my head, but when I got there every bitch had pinned up, backcombed, teased out hair. And then Raja walked in wearing an eyeball on her head.
Well, I knew Shangela already, so I knew we were going to have fun, which we did—even though it didn’t look like that on TV. I was interested in becoming friends with Raja because she seemed cool, and she was creative and I looked up to what she did. Carmen and I had worked together several times at Escuelita here in NYC. Even Mimi Imfurst, we had some kikis and strategizing before she went crazy. I had learned from Sahara that I had to make friends in the cast. Seeing her come back from Season 2 with these brand-new friends who experienced something unique. The world gets to watch it but only we know what really went down, and that’s something special.
Is that why the Heathers became a thing?
Delta, Carmen, Raja and I just melded into this group, and then noticed another group was forming. It’s how it goes, we only had each other to bond with; we had no phones or boyfriends or anything, only each other! And then for an episode we had to be in groups we naturally went into those two. But already there was kind of a popular girls vs. nerdy girls thing happening. Me and Raja wanted to name ourselves after Mean Girls, but other than Regina George, we couldn’t remember any of their names. All the girls in Heathers are named Heather, plus it was vintage, so it was cooler. We only expected to do it for one day, but the producers ate it up!
Stacy Layne Matthews ain’t mad anymore. She was just at narcbar a couple weeks ago and she told us it’s all good!
I love Stacy. She didn’t quite get it and I don’t blame her for being upset. I was young and we were being silly and stupid. The banter in a dressing room with drag queens is so shady, and when you’re looking in it from the outside it can seem like we really don’t like each other, but that’s not true.
But then, in one of the most iconic lip-sync’s in the show’s history, you had to send Delta home.
I didn’t think we should have been in the bottom. Delta was sending girls home with her lip-syncs, so I was worried, but it wasn’t my time [to go] and I wanted to win, so I pulled out all the stops. It was almost because we were so close we had to lip-sync against each other. It’s like Ru was like, “One of you has to kill each other to prove you are the queen!” [Laughs.] So, I started pulling my lashes off, crying on stage, going crazy. It was the added weight of the story behind that moment, one of us having to send the other home after watching a friendship form, that made it so intense. A lot of energy comes from that.
At first I thought, ”How great! Yes, bitch!” But watching it, it seems very difficult. How do you vote your friend off? It’s very brutal.
How did it feel when you got the call to be on the inaugural season of All Stars?
It was really exciting. There had been rumors circulating about an All Stars season, but I didn’t pay attention to that stuff until I got the call and it caught me off guard! When you audition for Drag Race, you know you’re auditioning, so you’re mentally prepared and your closet is prepared to turn it out. So, anything you bring, the people on TV haven’t seen, but for All Stars, people had seen me on social media and at gigs, so I had to spend a whole bunch of money for Ivy Winters to make me a bunch of costumes and go back.
Were there any surprises with the lineup of queens?
Back then we didn’t have Reddit or the spoilers we have now. The fanbase dives in deep now to look at our schedules and guess who is going. But at that point there were only four seasons, so we kind of expected the biggest and baddest to be there.
And then Ru announced you’d be competing in teams! Were you shocked?
We all gagged, honey. We had no fuckin’ clue. We all hated it. But that’s Drag Race. You can’t expect anything, so we made it work.
You paired with another legendary fave, Latrice Royale. How did you two work as duo?
I had only worked with Latrice a couple times on Drag U and on a cruise, and we had a lot of fun. Everyone else kind of made sense. Chad and Shannel had been working together for years and are queens of a certain age. [Laughs.] Raven and Juju were top three together, and Nina and Tammie were on Season 1. The only surprises were me and Latrice and Pandora with Mimi Imfurst, which we saw wasn’t working, so me and Latrice knew we’d be good.
Yeah, Pandora really shut down when she had to team up with Mimi.
We all had that shut down moment. It was not what we were expecting! Latrice and I have such different styles, and sizes, of drag. We didn’t prepare for the show thinking we’d have to match another queen. It was really hard.
Season 10 is almost done and there’s already rumors of an All Stars 4. How does it feel watching this show blow up?
Well, I am a drag queen, so I’ve always thought my fan base to be bigger than it actually is, so now actually having Drag Race be such an international phenomenon is amazing. It was a long time ago for me. I’m always happy to have people recognize me and run up to me on the street. I mean, obviously partly because I am in full drag, but you know.
I love this season. It’s one of my favorite seasons of Drag Race. I think—
[Housekeeping knocks on door and Manila sweetly answers she doesn’t need service yet.]
I love how she was like, “Woah,” when I answered the door, but only for a second. She works at The Standard. What were we talking about? Oh, yes! I love having Untucked back on the major network this season, but I’m ready for us to crown a winner.
This top four wasn’t what everyone expected. What do you think?
I saw Asia doing very well. I’m loving her personality. That’s drag to me. She’s kind of cunty and you’re forced to respect her opinions because of the way she holds herself. I love that about her. We all thought Kameron Michaels would be the eye candy out of drag. Even her castmates called her a “he” even when she was sitting there in full drag in a pink wig. But that allowed her to sneak up. We didn’t know what a fierce performer she’d be.
She really comes alive on stage! We had her earlier this year and she tore up narcbar!
That’s not gonna happen with me. I’m gonna walk in a circle if the stage is big enough.
Perfect. So, to wrap this up, what’s next for you? Anything you want to plug?
I just got married! We eloped in Vegas. So, I am creating this wedding tour. I had a bunch of wedding gowns made and I’ll be traveling to different countries, some of them without legal gay marriage. I want to give hope to the kids.