CULTURE

Making herstory at the ‘Drag Race Philippines’ finale

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Precious Paula Nicole was crowned the first ever "Drag Race Philippines" winner. Photos by JL JAVIER

At the finale viewing party of “Drag Race Philippines” on Oct. 12 at Okada Manila, the 12-queen cast, the competition’s jury, local drag artists, and supporters witnessed not only the crowning moment of Precious Paula Nicole as the country’s first drag superstar — replete with confetti, applause, and crowd chants — but also a celebration of a community that has long been pushed to the periphery. The night was certainly the culmination of the show’s turbulent yet promising debut season.

“Tonight is a celebration of not just whoever wins the crown,” said Top 4 finalist Eva Le Queen during her entrance walk at the event. “This is a win for all the drag kids, for all the [members of the] LGBTQIA+ [community] who are told that we are not good enough. Finally, we are taking space, and now we are celebrating that.”

After “Drag Race Philippines” premiered on WOW Presents Plus, HBO GO, and Discovery+ on Aug. 17, it has since gained a steady and committed audience, despite the local franchise’s birth pains, especially in terms of production quality.

In a span of less than 20 episodes, combining the main show and its complementary “Untucked!” segment, spectators were treated to a holistic, whirlwind “Drag Race” experience, from the most dramatic to the silliest moments: Brigiding and Minty Fresh’s iconic confrontation, the breathtaking “Pop Off Ate!” performance, Marina Summers’ genius and Eva Le Queen’s comedic timing in the Snatch Game challenge, Xilhouete’s meme-worthy speeches, the intriguing confessionals, and the queens’ runway and lip-sync slayage, just to name a few.

Shortly after this, more viewing parties were hosted, as more business establishments began to offer drag performances featuring the “Drag Race Philippines” queens, discussions on Twitter Spaces became a habit (for better or worse) after each episode, contestants dropped their own respective merch, and videos of their live performances went viral — all in an attempt to hold and create more spaces for the local drag scene, center the art form’s highly political history, and keep the tradition alive.

Hosted by Baus Rufo and enlivened by DJ Mike Lavet’s set, the finale viewing party reflected a similar vibrant atmosphere, especially when the show’s host Paolo Ballesteros, popularly known as Mamwa Pao, crowned Precious Paula Nicole as the first “Drag Race Philippines” grand winner.

“Drag Race Philippines” judge Kaladkaren, Marina Summers, and Eva Le Queen with Precious Paula Nicole, the moment she was announced the winner of the first season. Photo by JL JAVIER

"Inuunti-unti ko pa siyang ma-feel, kumbaga nasa cloud nine pa ako,” said Precious Paula Nicole on her win. Photo by JL JAVIER

In the show’s final episode, Precious presented her “Bongga Camp Day” and “Indigenous Extravaganza” looks which gagged the audience. She then booted Eva Le Queen out of contention in the first lip-sync battle to the tune of “Sissy That Walk” by RuPaul. For the last round of the “Lip Sync for the Crown,” Precious went head-to-head with Marina Summers, performing Gloc-9’s “Sirena” and eventually claiming the victory.

Staying in the scene

However, in a sit-down interview with CNN Philippines Life, Precious admitted that she wasn’t expecting to take home the title.

“Before they announced the winner, I was really expecting a different name, not mine,” said the Bicolana drag queen. “So parang kanina sabi ko lang, gusto ko lang siyang matapos na kasi I know I was not expecting at all that tatawagin ‘yung name ko. So ngayon, I’m still, you know, processing [the win]. Inuunti-unti ko pa siyang ma-feel, kumbaga nasa cloud nine pa ako.”

Precious said that her story joining “Drag Race Philippines” was one initially rooted in slight jealousy when her “Divine Divas” co-members Brigiding and Viñas Deluxe signed up for the competition.

“Before they announced the winner, I was really expecting a different name, not mine,” said Precious Paula Nicole. Photo by JL JAVIER

“When it started, ayaw ko munang lumaban kasi I know na hindi talaga ako prepared mentally, financially, lahat,” she confessed. “Pero nakaramdam kasi ako na parang sabi ko sa sarili ko, ‘Ayaw kong mawala sa eksena,’ parang ganun. Gusto ko papasukin namin ‘to nang sabay-sabay kasi lahat naman ‘to inattract namin nang sabay-sabay.”

Onstage, Precious shared the win with her family, including her brother John-John whom she transformed into a drag queen in the show’s “Twinning!” episode.

Elevating the art of drag

In a separate interview, Eva Le Queen noted how important the show is for the art form to flourish in mainstream spaces.

“To have our own ‘Drag Race Philippines’ means there is a spark of hope in such a conservative country in Asia,” said Eva. “This is a very conservative country. We’re the only country that doesn’t have divorce. We don’t even have a SOGIE bill. So to know na a huge franchise, a huge name such as ‘Drag Race Philippines’ is already taking chances here in this small country, parang it gives hope that we are finally being heard, we are finally being seen. It starts to normalize the conversation about the LGBTQIA society.”

Asked about professionalizing and elevating the art of drag, Eva said that she wanted to honor the “Golden Gays” who pioneered the local drag scene.

Eva Le Queen. Photo by JL JAVIER

“Ang swerte na natin ngayon na we get to have ‘Drag Race’ and we have queens [who] are more vocal and straightforward when it comes to taking drag as a business, as a franchise,” Eva said. “Pero back in their day, ₱150 ‘yung bayad sa kanila. Tapos babayaran sila kapag nakapagpuno sila ng bar. You know, you are an entertainer [but] imagine bukod sa worrying about how you look, taking all the hours to dress up, iintindihin mo pa na mapuno ‘yung bar. Kapag walang customer, wala ring mababayad sa ‘yo. So you know that’s how dire the situation was.”

“Ang swerte na natin ngayon na we get to have ‘Drag Race’ and we have queens [who] are more vocal and straightforward when it comes to taking drag as a business, as a franchise.”

The Tampalpukean queen — a name she gained after her Rufa Mae Quinto impersonation in the Snatch Game — also lamented how drag has been monopolized in the country.

“Even before the pandemic there were still bars [that] monopolized the art of drag,” she said. “Hindi ba kayo nagtataka ba’t hindi natin nakikita ‘yung drag elsewhere? It’s because there were clubs [that] really monopolized the art of drag. They’re not allowed to perform elsewhere. And kung hindi ka magpupuyat nang ala una, kung hindi ka papasok sa LGBTQ clubs, hindi ka makakakita ng drag queen. We’re like animals in a zoo.”

Eva added that the love for drag is just a matter of access. “So now that we already have the upper hand, finally we can already start talking about professionalizing it and finally giving the queens the benefit that everyone else who does a decent profession deserves.”

“‘Drag Race Philippines’ means livelihood, exposure of talents, challenge, and a responsibility for the community because now that we are going to be seen with public eyes, we have to get our acts straight, not that we don’t, but you know, we’re now role models," said Tita Baby. Photos by JL JAVIER

Inspiring other drag artists

True to Eva Le Queen’s words, hope is also what “Drag Race Philippines” provides to other local drag queens outside the competition.

“[It’s] very hopeful not just for myself,” said drag artist Tita Baby, “but especially for the young ones who message me on social media: ‘Tita, can you be my drag mother? Tita, how do you do your makeup? Can you teach me?’ And a lot of young ones are actually looking up to those who are being seen by the mainstream already, so it’s very hopeful.”

Tita Baby also stressed the responsibility that comes with drag.

“‘Drag Race Philippines’ means livelihood, exposure of talents, challenge, and a responsibility for the community because now that we are going to be seen with public eyes, we have to get our acts straight, not that we don’t, but you know, we’re now role models,” she said. “We’re not hiding in the dark anymore. We do not [only] perform under clubs anymore. We perform in brunches. People look up to us, to the community, and to specific drag queens, so we have to get our acts straight.”

“Drag has been put in a box for so many decades,” Tita Baby noted. “Now, Precious and Season 1 of ‘Drag Race Philippines’ queens have broken that box.”

Similarly, this culture of breaking stereotypes and granting the recognition the local drag scene long deserved is what drag queen Myx Chanel appreciates about “Drag Race Philippines.”

“It’s nice to see that the drag community is finally getting the recognition it deserves,” said Myx Chanel. Photos by JL JAVIER

“It’s nice to see that the drag community is finally getting the recognition it deserves,” Myx Chanel said. “The drag community are some of the most hardworking people kasi [kaming] drag queens, we are our own makeup artists, we are our own hairstylists, fashion stylists, sometimes we are our own tailors. Alam mo ‘yun parang drag is like a lot of the time a one-person production, and it’s nice that drag is finally getting the recognition for all the hard work that’s been put into it.”

After the airing of the finale episode, the Season 1 RuGirls capped off the viewing party with their signature “Pop Off Ate!” performance. Everyone made sure to document the moment with relentless photo and video-taking, lights and music drowning the place. That alone was a significant feat — a herstory — especially for a community that has long been confined to marginal spaces and largely treated as mere entertainers devoid of human rights and basic respect. So despite the show’s flaws, it’s still a moment of triumph to have this nuanced discussion about drag that would otherwise be relegated to the fringes of cultural conversation.

Like Eva Le Queen said, “drag is embracing everything.” Beyond an expression of the LGBTQIA+ experience, drag acts as an active resistance against material and cultural violence and a way to reclaim the narratives of the queer struggle that are often threatened to be whitewashed — which is to say that, under this climate of erasure, drag will be our witness.