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Meet the drag queens celebrating queer joy on ‘Drag Race Philippines’

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(Top row, from left) Viñas DeLuxe, Lady Morgana, Minty Fresh, and Brigiding. (Middle row, from left) Turing, Prince, Eva Le Queen, and Precious Paula Nicole. (Bottom row, from left) Gigi Era, Marina Summers, Corazon, Xilhouete. Photos by JL JAVIER

It’s a scene that feels too intimate to be seen — drag queens in the process of becoming. While the show may be known for the looks and lip syncs, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” also features the Werk Room conversations. With nothing but fresh glue on their eyebrows and one layer of foundation on their face, it is here that the contestants get vulnerable (read: prompted by the producers). They share stories about their childhood, educate each other on queer history, and maybe even stir the pot. These are the lived experiences of queer people documented on mainstream media.

During the Werk Room conversation from the second episode of “Drag Race Philippines,” Viñas DeLuxe talked about her waltz of going out and back into the closet as a means of survival. “‘Yung pinagaaralan ko kasi noon Christian school, tapos talagang parang cinocondemn talaga maging bakla. As in, ginagawa akong example sa harap… So, feeling ko noon, maling mali yung pagkatao ko… Third year high school, nagpakalalaki ako. As in, malalang pakalalaki, na nag girlfriend ako, na walang nakakaalam sa lahat na naging bading ako… ‘Yun yung pinaka hindi ako masaya.”

But while Viñas’ story ended in reconciliation, Gigi Era’s was a reminder that sometimes healing may take a bit more time. Her history of physical abuse and the nightmares that followed prompted the other queens to put their brushes down and hold their sister. The Werk Room conversation ends with a teary eyed Gigi making a request in between sobs. “And sana wala nang nambubugbog ng mga batang bakla.”

Queer experiences are not a monolith. The bullying that a queer kid experiences from living in a Southern US state may feel familiar, but it might not be the same, culturally, as the bullying that a queer Filipino kid experiences in a Christian school. This is a franchise where our stories are told.

When the video of RuPaul Charles herself inviting Filipinos to audition for the local iteration of the show was released, the queer community rejoiced. People started tweeting about potential judges, lip sync songs, and even Snatch Game characters. Reddit leaks and spoiler videos with the iMovie neon theme circulated. The desire to be perceived was palpable.

A year has passed and “Drag Race Philippines” is finally available for streaming on WOW Presents Plus, HBO GO, and Discovery+. The two-episode premiere had everything that we hoped for and more: Darna, a sagala, the choreography to Sarah Geronimo’s “Tala,” two trans women judges, catchphrases, and storylines upon storylines. At the heart of all of this is queer joy.

In other countries, a queen gets called for a mini challenge, and they emote or do a quick pose before doing the task. Here, it’s a full production. There’s screaming and cheering and there’s splits and flips. The challenge hasn’t even been done by then. It’s the kind of queer joy that goes viral on the Internet. But this time, it's front and center.

Now that they’re fully-fledged RuGirls, we spoke to the 12 queens about representation, the accessibility that the show provides, and their international sisters.

The interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brigiding. Photo by JL JAVIER

BRIGIDING

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

This is gonna be fucking different. Ibang level ang talent ng Pinoy. We do our art with heart. That’s how we do drag here in the Philippines. Hindi lang “Yas! Yas!” away away, ganda-gandahan. May puso. Meron tayong pinaglalaban. We want to show the world na kailangan natin ‘tong moment na ‘to; para maintindihan tayo ng buong mundo… ng Filipinos even, para matanggap nila tayo. I think that’s [how] we’re going to excel [among] all of the franchises.

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

Of course my favorites are my sisters, Viñas DeLuxe and Precious Paula Nicole. Precious, performance level. Viñas DeLuxe, comedy. The attitude… the confidence — we complete each other. I can only be proud of being best friends with the two of them.

Drag has a longstanding tradition here in the Philippines. How does “Drag Race Philippines” add to that?

Oh my gosh. Drag will never be mainstream [as RuPaul said] but at least, ‘diba, Filipinos will see drag as a talent, drag as an art. Hindi lang tayo patawa patawa, hindi lang tayo mga baklang nagdadamit-damit, we’re doing this with purpose, we’re doing this with pride, we’re doing this with passion. So ‘yung makita nila na [we] have stories to tell. And that’s very special and I’m very excited na makita ‘to ng mga Pilipino.

As a “Drag Race” contestant, how do you think you represent the queer community?

I think I’ll represent a certain group or member of the community. It’ll be more special kung aabangan n’yo na lang siya. (Laughs). Ayaw kong magsalilta baka maka-spill pa ako ng kung ano.

Corazon. Photo by JL JAVIER

CORAZON

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

Definitely we are unique. First, girls from our country are amazing and we have different personalities. We are not using the drama to trend on social media. Filipinos [queens] are fighting for their dreams so we’ll fight for what is right. We’re fighting to be the first Filipino [drag] superstar!

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

[There’s one queen that really gives me goosebumps] and it’s Shea Couleé. On my audition tape, I created it like she would. She’s really beautiful, talented, she can do everything. I know I can’t sing pero dahil makapal ‘yung mukha ko… I can sing. (Laughs).

As the first queens of “Drag Race Philippines,” how do you think this batch represents the forms of drag all over the country?

Filipino drag race queens are elegant, beautiful, talented, and queens in our own different way.

Drag has a longstanding tradition here in the Philippines. How does “Drag Race Philippines” add to that?

It helps us to show them who we are, where we came from. We’re a country of diverse cultures, we have different [languages], religions, cultures, so we should show the world how beautiful Filipinos are.

Eva Le Queen. Photo by JL JAVIER

EVA LE QUEEN

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

For the first time, a huge collection of Filipino talents [are going to be in Drag Race]. Filipinos are born performers eh. We’re good at singing, we’re very talented… we serve looks but we are more than that. So we’re more than happy to show what Filipino queer talent is all about.

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

My favorite “Drag Race” queen is Sasha Velour. Very cerebral, very intellectual when it comes to her art form. In the Philippines, we’re starting to call ourselves drag artists instead of drag queens. Sasha Velour is really the embodiment of drag as an art.

As the first queens of “Drag Race Philippines,” how do you think this batch represents the forms of drag all over the country?

I would say that this is the best of the best. When we saw it… ano pang natira after this season? (Laughs). This is the collection of the most talented… and it’s really diverse. Everyone has something different to offer. We have pageant queens, we have performers, artists, impersonators… different queens from all walks of life.

As a “Drag Race” contestant, how do you think you represent the queer community on the show and beyond?

Being in drag itself is already a huge statement for the queer community. We are biologically male dressing up to the image of our imagination. That is how we represent it. We live our life unapologetically, you live your truth, you don’t have to apologize for being different and standing out in the crowd. That’s what drag is all about. That’s how I live my run in the season… I’m just truly myself and living every moment.

Gigi Era. Photo by JL JAVIER

GIGI ERA

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

How does “Drag Race Philippines” stand out? Girl, you know what to do. I mean us Filipino queens, not just drag, but also the beauty queens, boxing kings, we have it. I think we have all the gags and the goops. Kasi ang galing talaga ng Pilipino, alam mo ‘yun? When I found out that I was gonna do this, sabi ko talaga, “Fuck, am I doing this, really?” I know the standards of drag in the Philippines. (Laughs).

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

I look up to Alyssa Edwards. I met her a couple of times. Like in Sydney and Melbourne, we’ve partied together. She’s just an amazing queen. And also at the same time, she’s a business woman so I’m kinda sorta that bitch as well. Also Tayce is such a good sister as well. She’s also my regular client. [She] spends money on my wigs!

As the first queens of “Drag Race Philippines,” how do you think this batch represents the forms of drag all over the country?

You know, we have so many islands. We have so many different flavors, so many different characters, and it’s very Filipino. We have the mix ng comedy, drama, suspense, horror, andun lahat! So it’s very Filipino. Sabi ko nga, when Ellen discovered Jake Zyrus, I was like, “Come on, bullshit.” I feel like in the Philippines, kumbaga, limang piso per tumpok ang singer sa Pilipinas, hello. (Laughs). Andaming talented na mga Pilipino. So “Drag Race,” hello, ano pa ba ang kailangan mo, ‘yun talaga ang representation ng Pilipinas.

As a “Drag Race” contestant, how do you think you represent the queer community on the show and beyond?

Well, I grew up as a punching bag bitch. No, seriously. I grew up being bashed by my brothers and my father because of me being bakla. I feel like being on a show and representing the LGBT community, I feel like I stand for the young, poor, brown-skinned girl. It started from that and now I’m here. This is my whole life. Whatever success I have, it’s because of the struggle that I had.

Lady Morgana. Photo by JL JAVIER

LADY MORGANA

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

“Drag Race Philippines” stands out [because there’s] more talent, more charisma, and uniqueness of course! And Drag Race Philippines stands out because of drama, lots of drama. And lots of fun and laughter! And good vibes!

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

Of course, Plastique Tiara! She’s one of the most beautiful — kung sa Tagalog, Diyosa. Diyosa siya! And out of drag, he’s handsome and he’s beautiful! The total package.

As a “Drag Race” contestant, how do you think you represent the queer community on the show and beyond?

I represent in Drag Race PH an LGBT community that has good vibes, more energy, and of course, lots of fun! I love good vibes. I don’t like drama, (Laughs).

Marina Summers. Photo by JL JAVIER

MARINA SUMMERS

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

I think here in the Philippines, we are filled with creative and culturally disciplined queens. And I think that’s what we’re going to be bringing to this competition. Not only the queens but the production itself. It’s very Filipino, it’s very international, it’s a mix of [classic] and modern drag. And there’s a lot of talent in this cast and I’m very, very proud to be part of this. To be able to finally show what the Philippines has to offer… I feel like there’s also gigil eh. Parang gigil factor na, ang tagal tagal na! Kaya when we came to the show, everyone was fueled up and ready to fight and show the world what Filipino drag is about.

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how is your drag influenced by them?

I’m very, very much inspired by Aquaria, Sasha Velour, [and] RuPaul herself. You know, I like queens who think, who market themselves, who know their brand, and can make a living. They can make something out of drag apart from performing.

Drag has a longstanding tradition here in the Philippines. How does “Drag Race Philippines” add to that?

I think this is a new era for drag here in the Philippines. We’ve seen drag thrive in pageants, in barangay pageants, in clubs, in stand up comedy, and I think this is really the boiling pot of drag. The pinnacle of Filipino drag is here. Very, very excited to show it off alongside the cast, the producers, and the hosts. To be able to show as well two strong powerful women in the [judging panel], I mean, it speaks volumes. We’ve never had something like that in “Drag Race” history, so that alone proves the feminine power and the queer power in the Philippines, diba? Very that.

As a “Drag Race Philippines” contestant, how do you think you represent the LGBTQIA+ community on the show and beyond?

I grew up in a small province in the North. It’s called Nueva Vizcaya. So, growing up I didn’t have that many queer icons or queer individuals who I looked up to, just because it was very secluded. Even in the media, wala masyadong very good, very big examples for young queer kids like me growing up in the province. So to be able to be that image of hope for those young kids like me who grew up not only in the province but remote areas, I think that’s what I’m representing. I represent brown, Asian, queer kids who don’t have anyone to look up to and just wanna make a difference.

Minty Fresh. Photo by JL JAVIER

MINTY FRESH

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

Siyempre, biased ako (Laughs). Alam ko kung paano ‘yung drag here. ‘Yung drag kasi dito sa Philippines, powerhouse talaga siya. Lahat kayang gawin ng halos lahat ng drag queens. Hindi lang iisa ‘yung talent nila. Multi-talented! So pag pinagsama-sama mo sa isang season, iconic!

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how is your drag influenced by them?

Siguro si Aquaria. I love Aquaria kasi ‘yung aesthetic niya, binebend niya ‘yung stereotype ng drag eh. Kunwari, when you think of a drag queen, diba meron parang standard kang naiisip? Siya talaga, nililiko niya! Binebend niya.

Drag has a longstanding tradition in the Philippines. How do you think “Drag Race Philippines” adds to that?

‘Yung drag community natin dito, hindi naman siya exposed na exposed eh. Ang nakakapanood lang naman ng shows, ‘yung mga mahilig magpunta sa clubs, tapos ‘yung mga umaattend ng Pride, so parang nasa community lang rin ng LGBT. So, with “Drag Race [Philippines”], malalagay mo siya sa mainstream world. Malalagay natin ‘yung mark ng drag queens sa mainstream. Big help siya. Feeling ko deserve talaga ng Philippine drag community to be exposed.

As a “Drag Race Philippines” contestant, how do you think you represent the LGBTQIA+ community on the show and beyond?

Siguro, ako kasi, I did drag because gusto ko. Like, walang nag-put ng pressure sakin kundi ‘yung self ko lang. And na-achieve ko ‘yung dream ko to be a model because of drag. Before kasi, feeling ko di ko siya maa-achieve because I’m gay. Pero, nabigyan ako ng opportunity to achieve my dream and walk Philippine Fashion Week in drag. Parang, siya ‘yung naging gateway to achieve this.

Precious Paula Nicole. Photo by JL JAVIER

PRECIOUS PAULA NICOLE

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

All I can say is that “Drag Race Philippines” is full of love. Binuo namin ‘yung franchise with so much love and effort, with blood and tears. So ‘yun ang makikita ng tao talaga — na binuo mo siya dahil sa pagmamahalan and sisterhood. Alam mo ‘yun? Nagkaroon kami ng mga ano, you know, we had, healthy competition.

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how is your drag influenced by them?

I love Sasha Velour ‘cause she’s so artsy, you know? The way she performs has so much art. She’s like a moving painting. Napaka-hirap isipin na possible pala ‘yung ganoong klaseng performances live. The way she does performances using those visuals, my god. I’m a big fan of hers because of that. Most of my performances are inspired by her.

Drag has a longstanding tradition in the Philippines. How do you think “Drag Race Philippines” adds to that?

Well, being a 12-year-old drag queen… It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting this, I’ve been waiting for this for a very, very, very long time. Lagpas isang dekada. So, you know, ang magkaroon tayo ng sariling franchise, I’m sure that it will change a lot. Like, I’m sure that lahat ng drag queens dito sa Philippines magu-upgrade because finally we already have our own. Imagine?

As a “Drag Race Philippines” contestant, how do you think you represent the LGBTQIA+ community on the show and beyond?

I represent my heart. I represent those queens who always put their heart first before performing. Because I perform not just to impress, but to inspire. That’s why I’m Precious Paula Nicole with a precious heart.

Prince. Photo by JL JAVIER

PRINCE

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

What sets it apart is the culture. We’re known for being colonized by a [several] countries but then we have our culture na very Pinoy and it’s something that’s going to separate the aesthetic and the atake of Drag Race Philippines and that’s really exciting. I believe na it’s really fun that we get to show that to the whole world.

Who are your favorite Drag Race queens and how are you influenced by them?

My first ever favorite is Sharon Needles but she was kinda canceled lately. (Laughs). So I’d have to say it would be Aquaria because she’s very young, very polished and she knows her shit. Straight up just fabulous.

Drag has a longstanding tradition here in the Philippines. How does “Drag Race Philippines” add to that?

I think… nakikilala lang kasi ang drag sa nightclubs eh so having [the show] as a platform… it’s going to reach a lot more people and mawawala ‘yung mentality na drag is just a pageant… it’s a form of art and it’s the purpose of the show, na drag is not just this and this… it’s everything.

As a “Drag Race” contestant, how do you think you represent the queer community on the show and beyond?

Ako kasi I’m very shy and very reserved. It’s something na representative of people who are like me and also, just because mahiyain ka and all of that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.

Turing. Photo by JL JAVIER

TURING

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

I think number one is our talent. I mean, you cannot… laging sinasabi na Filipinos are very very world class when it comes to performances and talent… they give a different flavor. I think that goes with drag also. I think doon tayo mas lamang, na we are very powerful performers.

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

Before, these two queens I got to love si Bob the Drag Queen and Sasha Velour because I followed them even before they made it to “Drag Race” [through] their YouTube videos. Sasha Velour, she used to do nightgowns, and Bob has amazing videos doing comedy stints and all that. I’m just so happy that these queens that I look up to were winners.

Drag has a longstanding tradition here in the Philippines. How does “Drag Race Philippines” add to that?

I think it will not add because drag here in the Philippines is amazing as it is, I think it will just give light and mainstream platform for these amazing talents. Kasi ‘yung kultura ng drag natin dito sa Pilipinas sobrang bongga talaga. And I think “Drag Race Philippines” is the best platform to highlight that.

As the first queens of “Drag Race Philippines,” how do you think this batch represents the forms of drag all over the country?

We represent a lot of drag here in the Philippines. For one, Cora is a pageant queen. I represent the body and skin… iba’t-ibang flavor ang binibigay namin and I think that’s amazing. We give different flavors of drag so kapag pinanood siya ng world audience, ng ibang bansa, they will see na Filipinos are not just camp queens, look queens… lahat kaya nilang gawin.

Viñas Deluxe. Photo by JL JAVIER

VIÑAS DELUXE

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

Kailangan ba mag-stand out? Family kami lahat, ‘no! (Laughs). So pare-parehas, pantay pantay. And kailangan naman talaga, lahat panoorin natin. Let’s support lahat. Kasi, kung di natin masupport ‘yung iba, hindi tayo magkakaroon ng “[Drag Race] Philippines,” diba? Blessed nga tayo na nagkaroon ng franchise dito sa Philippines, diba? Finally! Ang tagal na nating hinihintay! Tapos ang swerte pa nila nandoon ako kaagad!

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how is your drag influenced by them?

Bianca del Rio! Talaga, super. Siya ang first queen na napanood ko ever. ‘Yung season nila ‘yung first season na napanood ko, kasi mga Grade 2 ako noon. Charot! ‘Yun ‘yung first season na napanood ko and sabi ko, I wanna be like her. Tapos pinanood ko rin ‘yung kanyang one-woman-show. Grabe, sobrang inspiring. Hindi mo kailangan ng malalang ilaw, malalang set, malalalang kahit ano. Kailangan mo lang ng talent. Kailangan mo lang tumayo doon and grabe, ang bilis, ang witty. Sobrang inspiring for me.

Drag has a longstanding tradition in the Philippines. How do you think “Drag Race Philippines” adds to that?

Mas bongga na nandito na ang “Drag Race” sa Philippines kasi mas nakikita na ng mga hindi natin nare-reach na mga tao. For example, ‘yung mga underage, or ‘yung mga hindi pala-bar, kasi diba usually sa bar lang nakikita ang mga drag queens. So dahil meron nang “Drag Race Philippines,” parang mas madaming nacu-curious kung ano nga ba ang drag. ‘Eh ang drag, ang tagal nang nageexist nito sa Philippines, diba? Parang ‘60s pa yata ang pinaka-early na naitala na mga drag queens! Tapos ngayon, nandito na ang “Drag Race Philippines!”

Mas naa-accept na rin tayo, mas nagiging mainstream na, mas hindi na siya underground lang na, “Ay, drag queen ka?” Na parang hindi siya totoong trabaho, hindi siya totoong linya. Ngayon, pwede na! Pwede ka pala mabuhay as a drag queen. Mas normalized na siya, hindi ka na ijujudge, especially sa mga awra! Pag nalaman na drag queen ka, umaatras sila, “Ah, drag queen ka.” Ngayon, ‘day. (Laughs). Ayoko na lang magsalita! (Laughs)! Char!

Xilhouete. Photo by JL JAVIER

XILHOUETE

There are now several “Drag Race” franchises around the world — with more to come. So what sets “Drag Race Philippines” apart?

Well we have different stories to tell but those stories share the same space, which is the heart. Ang Pinoy, emotional ‘yan ‘eh. We’re very dramatic and we love family. Even though we are not connected [by blood], we are connected by heart.

Who are your favorite “Drag Race” queens and how are you influenced by them?

Jinkx [Monsoon] because I love Jinkx’s humor [and] aesthetic. I love Raven, Raja, and Sasha Velour.

Drag has a longstanding tradition here in the Philippines. How does “Drag Race Philippines” add to that?

It would be the culture. Kasi finally we will be able to showcase the strength, the beauty, the wit, [and] the humor of Filipina drag queens.

As the first queens of “Drag Race Philippines,” how do you think this batch represents the forms of drag all over the country?

Spectacular! Siyempre no! Mommy’s here. (Laughs). If I have to say one word lang, it would be “legendary.” Super love ko everyone. I know the strengths of these girls and these are the best of the best. Especially the younger ones. (Laughs).

***

With additional reportage by DON JAUCIAN