Since her initial star making turn as first runner up on Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Manila Luzon has crafted music videos galore and collaborations with fellow Drag Race alumni like Alaska and Latrice Royale. Her continuous content culminated in a much heralded return to All Stars 4, reuniting with original team partner Royale, as Latrila. Recently, Luzon made a kitsch-tastic appearance with the Garcon Orchestra, playing conductress to the Garcon Orchestra! We sat down too talk about this ultra-cheeky production (directed by the ever-visionary Brad Hammer), her Drag Race experiences, and she dropped some advice to the newer queens about to make a splash on Season 13.
Michael Cook: The video for ‘Jingle Bells’ with the Garcon Orchestra certainly looks like one of the best gigs of the season!
Manila Luzon: Well you know, as a recording artist it was only a matter of time before I took my drag/pop career to the classics and became a full-on conductor of the Garcon Philharmonic (laughs)!
MC: The video looks like it was a lot of fun and that is definitely what we need this year right?
ML:Yeah this year has been kinda crazy with the pandemic. Unfortunately, it means I have not able to do my shows the way that I am used to in nightclubs, theaters, or going on tour. I actually love creating stuff in the studio just as much though. I am in Los Angeles so when filming got back intro production and people figured out how to take all of the COVID precautions, we took everything one step at a time. We have to make entertainment for everyone, we streamed everything that we could in the first two months so we have to make some new content right?
MC: You are very right. It seems like just yesterday we watched Jaida Essence Hall win the crown for Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and who Season 13 is about to kick off.
ML: It definitely feels like five years ago and last week all at the same time (laughs)! I really interested to see how they are going to do it. I am really excited that Drag Race was able to go into production. I really give it up to all of the queens and all of the crew and the people behind the scenes making it happen. It is definitely something that we still want to be entertained by and these people are risking their health to give us that. I am really happy that they were able to make the new season and I am really excited about it.
MC: Your have parlayed your own Drag Race experience into music, holiday singles, online content, and collaborations with many of the other Drag Race alumni. Does Manila Luzon ever find it hard to come up with new and inventive ideas?
ML: In the beginning of this year, I had just finished my year fully booked touring after All Stars 4 and yes, I was a little bit exhausted creatively. In the back of my mind when the pandemic happened, it was like I could sit my ass at home, take some time away from getting on airplanes, sleeping in strange hotels, and dealing with strangers twenty-four seven. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to sit at home, re-collect my thoughts, and recharge the creativity. I do sometimes run out of ideas, I am always wondering what the new pineapple dress is going to be (laughs). I really love doing what I do and I am a creative person. All of the stuff that I do gets funneled and channeled into my drag. I am always trying to come up with something new.
MC: You and Latrice Royale performed at team Latrila on All Stars 1, and while many people have their opinions on that season, your partnership has definitely become professionally successful. You have released several singles together and arrived back together in the workroom for All Stars 4. Who would have thought that pairing would become what it has?
ML: They got us with the first season of All Stars when they forced us to compete as partners and we all gagged. That pairing was like serendipitous. We came from different seasons and a lot of the queens who competed on that season paired up with girls that were on their season with them like Raven and Jujubee, Tammie Brown and Nina Flowers, Yara Sofia and Alexis Mateo. Or they kind of knew each other; Latrice and I had only worked together briefly, we did a drag cruise together and I really enjoyed getting to know her, because I was a fan of hers from watching her season so I was really that we got to work together. The best thing that came out of that whole All Stars situation was the friendship that I got to create with Latrice.
You are in this competition and it is really nerve-wracking, so it is nice that you have someone that you can really trust. We were forced into a partnership so we had to trust each other. Season 3 I was able to make good close friendships with Carmen Carrera, Delta Work and Raja, so getting to make a friendship with Latrice on All Stars was really special.
MC: You mentioned you own season, and that was now ten seasons ago, believe it or not. Looking back, could you have ever dreamed that the season that you were on would go on to become the massive show that it has?
ML: Absolutely not. After Season 3, I thought that I would tour for a few weeks. One of the prizes back then was the Absolut Tour, and it was literally only ten cities, so it was over in less than a month. I thought that I would be doing a few club gigs in a few different states, and that I would be able to tour for about a year. When the next season came along, I thought that I would stop getting work and that I would have to return to my day job as a graphic designer-but it never ended. With the help of me producing music, music videos, collaborating with other artists and drag queens, it really kept me at the top of the list. It has been going on for ten years now. I would have never imagined that it would still be going.
MC: You are a New Yorker at heart and you are a hustler. Do you think that could contribute to your staying power?
ML: Yeah. Alumni from Drag Race all say that the real competition and work comes after the show. Maybe it’s because I have a background in marketing and graphic design, but I feel like you go onto RuPaul’s Drag Race and you treat the season you were on as the commercial for the world to get to know you. It goes out to millions of people worldwide. You have a chance to let them fall in love with you as a person and you as a drag artist. Once you’re off the show, you are no longer showing up in people’s living room on VH1 every week, it’s up to you to put yourself out there and create content so people will still be interested in you.
It’s much easier to make a splash on a television show that has a network putting millions of dollars in advertising behind you to keep you out there. What you do afterwards with just your social media is kind of up to you. It’s a lot of work but the payoff is great; it’s been keeping me fed for a decade. The stuff that you do afterwards, it really plays into getting invited back to compete on All Stars also. You could win the show or be in the Top Three, but if you don’t really try to put in a huge effort, the year goes by really fast and then you are being replaced by the new group of girls. You really have a limited window to make your mark.
MC: That has been something that so many people have felt empathy for regarding the Season 12 girls, as they have not been able to tour due to the pandemic, nor was their a live DragCon where they could meet the fans.
ML: Yeah, and I really feel for the girls from Season 12 and All Stars 5. They put in a lot of effort but they were not able to cash in on the touring aspect. I do see Heidi N Closet literally, everywhere. There are different ways besides showing up on stage. That is the greatest thing about the pandemic actually, it gave people the opportunity to switch it up. People used to make fun of those “living room drag queens” and now they are the ones with the leg up! After watching the Season 12 finale, I literally had to clear space in my living room to make space for my own Gigi Goode at-home studio! The drag queens, we can do it all and we will always find a way to get an audience. You never have to worry about not being able to see drag; we will create a show. I am doing digital drag shows, although it’s not the same experience for the audience or for the queens.
MC: How have you been staying inspired and creatively fueled during a time like this when many of us have been isolated?
ML: I actually am staying inspired by taking a few steps away from my drag. I consider myself a visual artist first, before I am a performer or a drag queen. I have a background in fine arts, so I like the fact that I am able to use all of my creative skills and funnel them into my drag career. This year since I have more time, I have been sketching more, I have taken up painting again, and other things that can spark some new ideas and new skills. That is how I have been staying busy, I have been sketching my husband while he lays on the balcony tanning, and I have painted him. Trying out different things for sure….
Follow Manila Luzon on Instagram