Interview: Drag queen superstar Manila Luzon


Pink Season has arrived. The much-awaited series of LGBTI events is starting on Saturday October 10 and running until the end of November, with a spectacular kick-off party at Kee Club featuring international drag superstar Manila Luzon (born Karl Philip Michael Westerberg).

Image courtesy of Brett Saari

Luzon is probably one of the most popular drag artists to have emerged from the acclaimed RuPaul’s Drag Race TV reality series, which sees a group of drag queens competing and undergoing extreme gag-worthy challenges to become America’s fiercest drag superstar.

The Filipina-American diva was the runner-up for season three and since then, she’s garnered even more recognition from touring the world with her cheeky and glamourous looks (imagine her iconic pineapple dress and matching pineapple bag) and releasing sexy music videos like her latest single Ice Cream, featuring an army of gyrating men with bubble butts, bursting pecs and abs you could eat off. Her lyrics ask, “Now which one ya’ll gonna come eat me up, come and put your tongue right between my…what? What is song about? Ice scream, you scream, we all scream yummy! Mmmm yummy! Sprinkle it on top of me, you can do it sloppily.” The song is hot, humorous and plays up perfectly to Luzon’s animated and extremely over-the-top personality.

Her performance is part of Kee Club’s annual charity fundraising event, Avant G’art, which raises money for Aids Concern – a local NGO committed to HIV and Aids awareness programmes. This year’s sixth edition is entitled Avant G’art: Sultry Pulchritude and, besides Luzon, the event features a special art exhibition, fashion displays and a heap of other musical performances. The only requirements for guest is the dress code, which states, ‘dress to express.’ So get out there, put on your craziest clothes and have a blast.

Ahead of her trip to Hong Kong, we speak to the fabulous island of beauty that is Manila Luzon about her fame, music and how she was most likely conceived in our city.

Hi Manila, what have you been up to lately?
I just had dinner with Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, Jiggly Caliente and Ivy Winters. We are all actually collaborating on Christmas album that’s coming out this winter. There are going to be some duets, group numbers and new music with 16 queens. Alaska, Willam and Sharon Needles are also going to be on the album – basically all the fun queens.

Are you excited about coming to Hong Kong?
I’m super excited and I’m literally packing my suitcase as we speak. I’ve never been to Hong Kong, so I have no idea what to expect. I actually prefer it that way. Hopefully I’ll get to meet  new people and form new friendships, so, hopefully when I get back to LA, I’ll have someone to visit in the future. All I know about Hong Kong is that it’s the place where my parents went on their honeymoon.

With all your touring lately, have you noticed the difference between the styles of drag in Asia compared to the states?

Usually in Asia, the queens are Asian, so they are automatically beautiful. In fact when I was in the Philippines, I thought I should put on more makeup because I look like a gigantic man next to these tiny Filipino queens.

How was Manila Luzon born?

When I first started doing drag, I wanted to really commit to a persona and name and be something that represents me as an artist. I chose my name because when I started out I was in a predominantly Caucasian drag scene. No other queen was Asian, so I wanted to play up the fact that I’m Asian – that was my gimmick. I chose Manila because it represents my Filipino heritage and because it has the same syllables as ‘Madonna’. I chose Luzon because it’s the island that Manila is on. RuPaul would always say my name in a French accent and I would think, ‘ooh, so fancy.’

Where do you get your style inspiration from?
I get my style from my mother. I like big, bold and colourful things. I’m never satisfied with just a sparkly dress. I’d add a household item, food or a cartoon character to my look – something that evokes a memory or nostalgia. I also like to add tongue-and-cheek hilarity and sarcasm to my looks.

Are you big on cartoons?
I’m basically a cartoon because of my crazy-ass faces. I love Spongebob, he’s crazy. I could go on and on about cartoons. That’s a whole other interview. I’m a kid at heart, but I want to give myself a sense glamour. I’ll go through big budget 1950s musicals and get a sense of what was classic feminine and add a cartoon to it.

Image courtesy of Brett Saari

When did you know that you had this ability to make impactful facial expressions?
I’ve always known it ever since I was little and my sister would play with my face and say, ‘why is your skin on your face so stretchy? Once you put make up on it, it becomes so over the top, which is why I like drag – it creates a hyper sense of reality, it’s a fantasy. When I perform, it just comes out. Sometimes people say, ‘hey when you do that, can you not go cross-eyed?’. As glamourous as I think I am, I am still a man in dress. It’s a parody. I don’t want people thinking that I think I’m the most beautiful women in the world, even though I probably am.

What do you think is the most challenging part about being a drag queen?
That’s a hard question. There are a lot of challenging part to being a drag queen.
For me, it’s hard to keep up and bringing new ideas to the table. My memoirs are going to be Chasing the Pineapple Dress [a reference to Luzon’s iconic look on RuPaul’s Drag Race]. What is my next crazy dress going to be? I just want to make sure I keep myself inspired and keep doing new things. I’m competing at myself at this point.

What is the most important part about being a drag queen?
For me, it is to express my creativity. I wanted to be a painter as a kid and although I don’t paint on a canvas, I get to paint my face. I want to express my visual art through my craft of drag. It makes me so happy to have ideas that I can express.

You’re also quite creative with your music…
It makes sense for me to work with music. If I’m going to be performing at a show where everyone comes to see me, it makes sense for me to perform my own stuff.
I’m not musically inclined so the music is actually just a soundtrack to my music videos where I can showcase my collection, wardrobe and visual art.

What can we expect from your performance?
I’m coming up with that as we speak. I’m going through my wardrobe too see what my favourites are and plan my performance around it. It’ll be fierce and something the audience will gag over.

Avant G’art: Sultry Pulchritude, Sat Oct 10, Kee Club, Central; $250 (advance, inc one drink and week trial access to Kee Club), $350 (door).


Add your comment